There has been a lot of buzz lately around the topic of Web3.
Which begs the question: What is Web3?
It's definitely a buzzword, but it does have some meaning. And even buzzwords can be helpful to our human brains that love creating shortcuts with heuristics and vocabulary.
Web3 broadly means a more decentralized version of the internet.
It also serves as a marker for different points in time. So to understand it, we need to understand Web1 and Web2.
For the tl:dr; version, check out this Tweet-sized explanation from Chris Dixon:
Web1.0: Static websites with limited functionality
Web1.0 (shorthanded to Web1) was mostly simple, static websites. We're talking pure HTML and the content was saved in files. Things were read-only, and there wasn't much interaction you could have with a website as a visitor.
This era lasted from the inception of the internet through the mid-1990s.
Web2.0: The web becomes participatory
Web2 saw massive improvements in how users could engage and participate online. Static websites became more application-based with databases, user accounts, user-generated content, etc.
Basically, Web2 is what you and I interact with on a daily basis.
This brings us back to Web3.0...
What's the difference between Web2 and Web3?
I love this description from the Ethereum blog:
Web2 refers to the version of the internet most of us know today. An internet dominated by companies that provide services in exchange for your personal data. Web3, in the context of Ethereum, refers to decentralized apps that run on the blockchain. These are apps that allow anyone to participate without monetising their personal data.
Back to Chris Dixon's description of read/write/own.
Web2 was built around applications (apps) like Facebook, Google, Twitter, even banking applications from Chase, Wells Fargo, etc...
These applications were operated and maintained by centralized organizations. A lot of crypto/web3 proponents use the word centralized in a strictly pejorative sense. If you start exploring this space, you'll begin thinking that all centralization is bad.
But centralization comes with some benefits. A comparison, again from the Ethereum blog:
The speed and cost components are critical to understand. Transacting online today is really fast because most of our transactions run through centralized banking networks like VISA. The cost to VISA is very low so the cost to the user is very low. The throughput is really high.
Transacting in Web3 is much slower and much more expensive by comparison (at least today). In order for a transaction to be confirmed by a blockchain, a whole lot of network participants have to agree. That takes time and computational effort, which makes the transaction much more expensive.
However, most Web3 optimists would say this can and will improve.
And in a decentralized world of transacting, our data is not owned by a centralized bank or financial institution – it's ours. We also don't need to trust the central authorities and the information they give us – in a Web3 world, all information stored on a blockchain is transparent and accessible.
More on the trust component in this interview in Wired with Gavin Wood, who coined the term "Web3" in 2014. His argument for Web3 is the transparency provided by a blockchain.
Web3 allows for decentralized applications (dapps) that create resilience in the network as well as more democratization. Resilient because a decentralized app would be much more difficult if not impossible to bring down. Democratic because the application would be governed by the participants across the network, not a central governing body.
There could be a Twitter-like dapp that does not have a central, governing body. Today, Twitter as an organization can turn your account off, whereas decentralized Twitter could not.
I'll talk about this more in a future post, but Web3 has the potential to position the user (individual, creator) in the center of their internet experience. YOU own your data. YOU choose who can see what parts of it. And YOU could get compensated for sharing that data.
A massive challenge in the Web3 space is UI/UX. The Web3 tooling at this point is pretty gnarly and doesn't yet integrate with most web browsers. In order to interact with Web3 applications, you will likely need a third-party tool to integrate with your browser (like a digital Wallet).
This creates a pretty big hurdle in terms of additional steps and education required by the user. And once you've gotten your set of tools in place, they are still pretty unintuitive (and borderline terrifying) to use.
This is a challenge, but it's also a big opportunity for creators. By creating user-friendly, accessible Web3 content and experiences, you can stand out and help a lot of new people step into this new world.
Much more on that in coming essays.
I have as much contempt for buzzwords as the next guy. But they do have some utility – buzzwords are shorthand for aligning with someone quickly on what exactly are we talking about here.
When it comes to Web3, we're talking about decentralization. We're talking about a world with fewer central authorities that can neither a.) dictate our actions or b.) profit from our actions.
Web3 gives more control back to the user. But for that to be true, we still need several advancements in technology. People aren't going to be excited to pay the high transaction fees for most everyday purchases.
But we are seeing more Web3 activity around a LOT of the spaces that creators play in...art, community, memberships, and allowing more individuals share in the upside of projects.
I intend to highlight and showcase some of these experiments. The early Web3 experiments of real creators as these technologies launch, grow, and mature.
Further reading: Wtf is web3? (and does it actually exist yet?)