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So What’s This Web3 Thing?

This Friday at JCK Las Vegas show, keynote speaker Swan Sit will be discussing “web3,” a buzzy digital concept that’s on the lips of technologists, everyday futurists, and the well-caffeinated coders on break at your local Starbucks these days.


So, what is web3? In short, it’s an evolution of our existing Internet—one that uses decentralized blockchains, which are shared ledger systems (Bitcoin uses one). Have I lost you already? Stay with me.


On a Future.com post, tech investor Chris Dixon walks readers through the various eras of the Internet, leading up to web3. They are:


++ web1 (roughly 1990-2005), which he writes, “was about open protocols that were decentralized and community governed. Most of the value accrued to the edges of the network—users and builders.”


++ web2 (roughly 2005-2020), which “was about siloed, centralized services run by corporations. Most of the value accrued to a handful of companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.”


According to Dixon and many other techies, we’re currently at the beginning of the web3 era, which “combines the decentralized, community-governed ethos of web1 with the advanced, modern functionality of web2. Web3 is the internet owned by the builders and users.”


In even simpler terms: if the web1era was about publishers (people populating the Internet with content) and the web2 era was all about Google, Facebook and the other power players running the show, web3 is about tipping the power back to individual creators.


New York Times technology reporter Kevin Roos recently wrote that, “Proponents envision Web3 taking many forms, including decentralized social networks, ‘play-to-earn’ video games that reward players with crypto tokens, and NFT platforms that allow people to buy and sell fragments of digital culture. The more idealistic ones say that web3 will transform the internet as we know it, upending traditional gatekeepers and ushering in a new, middleman-free digital economy.”


However, cynics of web3, “believe it’s a dystopian vision of a pay-to-play internet, in which every activity and social interaction becomes a financial instrument to be bought and sold,” he noted.


But let’s get back to blockchain, a concept that’s central to web3.


How does blockchain storage work? Think about a typical database—it holds all the information in one place, and is therefore vulnerable to corruption, theft, etc.)  Blockchain, conversely, is a database that’s shared among the nodes of a computer network. It collects information in “blocks” that, one by one, close once filled, then link to the previously filled blocks, creating a chain that decentralizes (breaks up) data.


Bitcoin’s decentralized data and records are the most famous example of a blockchain system. Bitcoin transaction information is stored in chains of blocks, so the security of the information is built into its data storage. The method guarantees the security of a record of data, making a trusted third party—like, say, banks—unnecessary.


So, how could a decentralized web make online life better—or at the very least different?


Roos imagines, “Today, for example, Facebook makes money by aggregating user data and selling targeted ads. A web3 version of Facebook could allow users to monetize their own data, or even earn crypto ‘tips’ from other users for posting interesting content. A web3 Spotify could allow fans to buy ‘stakes’ in up-and-coming artists, effectively becoming their patrons in exchange for a percentage of their streaming royalties. A web3 Uber could be owned by the drivers on the network.”


If the concept of web3 feels abstract, don’t worry. It’s not as though we’ll awake one morning soon to a shiny new Internet that feels foreign and unwieldy. Web3’s arrival is akin to droplets in a giant wave hitting the sand at various points and times. What’s important to know is the wave is coming. —Emili Vesilind


Photo by Junior Teixeira


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