The Next Iteration of the Web

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Tim Berners-Lee is best known for inventing the World Wide Web. In 1989, while working at CERN, he proposed an idea: "a web of hypertext documents viewable by browsers".

You can see the appeal of such a technology. An industry ripe with innovation and experimentation requires rapid knowledge transfer.  The idea was so powerful that a few years later it extended to the general public. The Internet was born.

This first iteration of the Web, dubbed Web 1.0, lasted from the early 90s until about 2004. It was all about consuming static content, usually in the form of texts, links and images. Creators of this content were the "webmasters" who knew how to publish on the Web. An uncommon skill.

Web 2.0

Today we experience an interactive and social Web. Anyone can create and publish content with the click of a button. No webmaster needed. This is Web 2.0, the modern Web.

Personal computers and smart phones led the way. Tech giants like Google and Facebook followed. The applications created by these companies empower users to learn, shared and build. They grew faster than the open protocols created during the Web 1.0 era. A massive improvement, but not without consequences.

Web 2.0 is a centralized Web. Applications are owned by a single entity or corporation.  Within centralized applications, the owner is the single source of truth. They make the rules, and you play the game.

The owner has control of everything:

  • Permissions
  • Governance
  • Data
  • Equity

This has lead to issues of censorship, security and the topic that intrigues me the most: privacy.

Data wars

In 1973, the artist Richard Serra coined the phrase, "If something is free, you're the product." At the time he was referring to television. His point was that television was the audience. Its main purpose was to shuttle viewers to an advertiser. A funnel.

Today's most popular Internet applications, Google, Facebook, Twitter etc., act the same way. They're all free to use, yet they are among the richest companies in the United States. At the time of writing this, Google and Facebook are in the top 5 companies in the US by market capitalization. And their product is free!

The modern Web empowers companies to give away their technology at no cost. This removes barriers to entry so users can pile in. The company's only goal is to get you in and keep you in as long as possible, because you have something they need:

A pair of eyeballs.

The more users they acquire, the more data they collect and the more money they make off of advertising. This is THE playbook used by technology companies all over the world. Why? Because it works! It works so well that you and I, aware of this madness, continue to "use".

Enter Web 3.0

I was too young to recognize the dramatic shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. One day you wake up, and MySpace exists. Everyone's talking about it. Everyone's using it. It happened fast!

Now that I'm older, and I've been in this Web Development racket for almost a decade, I have my ear closer to the ground. I sense the paradigm shifting again.

Web 3.0, the rapidly approaching (pssssst! It's already here) next iteration of the Web, is a decentralized Web. It aims to flip the system on its head, turning the keys over to the participants of the network (the users).

Web 3.0 applications are usually referred to as Decentralized applications or Dapps. They are not owned by a single entity. They are not deployed to a centralized server. Rather, they're isolated pieces of code deployed to a peer-to-peer network: a blockchain.

The validity of the blockchain and its app ecosystem is upheld through incentives. These incentives take the form of digital tokens - Cryptocurrency. Awarded to participants on the network through various "tokenomics".

The use of these tokens is where things get interesting. The most basic function is paying for actions taken on the network. Any action that effect's the "state" of the blockchain costs money - a transaction. And that's only scratching the surface.

Anyone can use a decentralized app. Logins are anonymous. Payments are built-in, anonymous and backed by cryptography.

The early adopters

With all the buzz around Web 3.0, it is still early days.

Certain use cases still rely on some layer of centralization. Centralization makes things easier to coordinate. Achieving full decentralization introduces difficult problems like communication, incentives and consensus. But they are problems worth solving.

There is a mass migration of smart engineers and designers heading to the Wild West of Web 3.0. I am excited for its future.

Most of my work is still in Web 2.0 land, but I'm ramping up on Web 3.0 technology. A lot of the content I'll be sharing will focus on it.

Jake Wiesler

Hey! 👋 I'm Jake

Thanks for reading! I write about software and building on the Web. Learn more about me here.

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