The global internet revolution was always considered to be an outcome of perpetual innovations. From Web1 to Web3, the way web and computer systems have evolved in the last two decades has set an unprecedented example of changing functionalities, communication protocols, interactivity, and user experience. There was a time when people were staring at a few static pages on a computer screen, and now they are having a real-life experience with a VR headset entering a Metaverse to shop for their favorite NFTs. Web3 is the third generation of the World Wide Web that is open-source and supported by decentralized networks using blockchain. What started as a military operation and what it has transformed into are completely different.
Did the internet start as a military operation?
Let’s start by learning how the whole global web revolution started and what initially it stood for.
Table of Contents
The Invention of the Internet
The current revolution of decentralizing the web roots back to the time of when and how the internet was invented. The story of the origins of the internet goes back to the 1950s when the cold war with the Soviet Union was at its peak and both the superpowers possessed deadly nuclear weapons. US’s defense department funded research called Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa). In 1969, Arpa created an immobile wired data communication system that was centralized and hence, could be easily disabled by a fragile attack. The whole of Arpanet’s infrastructure evolved into a decentralized system of many computers (with no central command station) distributed across the country. These computers can easily communicate with each other wirelessly.
A distributed set of computers communicating with each other?
Have we heard this in the definitions of blockchain?
In 1974, Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, two Arpanet researchers solved the biggest problem of that time of making two networks communicate with each other. This solution was a set of guidelines that led to the emergence of ‘internetworking’ and with their invention, we saw TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol presented before the world for the very first time.
Fast forward 15 years to the year 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berner Lee researching at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, created a protocol that could link hypertext documents into an information system. By October of 1990, Tim wrote 3 fundamental technologies that constitute the web even today - HTML (HyperText Markup Language), URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), and HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol).
After this, Tim wrote the first web page editor/browser (“WorldWideWeb.app”), and right here, the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented. By the end of 1990, the first web page was presented and visible to the world.
*Important - The Internet and World Wide Web are often mistaken for each other. The World Wide Web is a way of accessing information using the internet and the internet is the networking infrastructure between nodes or computers.
From 1991, the whole revolution of the internet to be used by anyone across the world started to grow like wildfire. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community devoted to developing open web standards.
New web browsers like Microsoft Explorer and Netscape Navigator came that made internet surfing mainstream. The whole Web1 movement was powered by regular computers. You could read data on your computer ‘boxes’.
There were a few thousand web pages created by technically-experienced ‘content creators’ and if you would want to download an image or a video from the internet, it was taking forever.
However, anyone was free to build on it. Clearly, Web1 was decentralized, open-source, and slow. It’s open-source nature enabled major corporations like Goodle and Amazon to start building their colossal empires, however, things took a different turn.
Web2: Read and Write (The Web of Today)
The early emergence of Web2 is accredited to the rise of commerce on the internet. Companies started to sell goods and services on the internet. This massive boom of ‘e-commerce’ platforms led of the early 2000s led to the .dotcom bubble.
E-commerce platforms made interactions with the website possible. Many businesses failed in this debacle although, they laid the foundation for enormous possibilities web was capable of.
The Magnificent Rise of Social Media
The very first possibility that revolutionized the internet era was to make everyone in this world capable of creating their own webpage without writing a single line of code. Everyone was capable of becoming a content creator and interacting with each other instead of only interacting with the website.
Platforms like Friendster, Friendfeed, and Myspace were developed by the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, California, and users around the world were able to share anything they wanted on the internet. For the first time, anyone in the world was able to have a social network on the internet. By 2006, we had Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, the three current giants of social media and the rest is history.
Users Became the Products
Both e-commerce and social networking platforms made their users have two fundamental requirements to interact with their platform:
- An identity to interact on the platform
- Blind trust on the platforms
Web2 began the era of centralized technologies and data storage centers where an enormous amount of data started to be stored in a few warehouses owned by a few giants. Censorship, surveillance, and practices like deplatforming were standardized for disagreeing with the platform’s terms and conditions.
These giants were, and are still able to, influence the data shared with the users, use it effectively to place ads for their advertisers or sell it to other companies to improve their products and their placements.
Users’ own data is no more in their own control. Data has now become an asset that is continuing to make the giants richer. As Tim ‘O’ Reilly once tweeted:
Identity and Ownership
In Web2, you have numerous digital identities on a myriad of platforms. Most of them are connected to a single account that can be your email id. When you sign up using your Gmail on any website, your email account becomes a point of contact as well as a source of your digital footprint that records each and every online activity connected to your account.
The most important question of this whole centralized shift again arises:
Do you control what you can do with this data and who you can share it with?
In simple words, do you completely ‘own’ and ‘control’” your digital footprint?
Over the years, we have seen data breaches consistently proving that the new Internet or Web2 has failed to protect user privacy. Global regulations like GDPR are not proving to be enough to protect users’ rights. Billions of dollars have been lost and spent to give the current users of Web2 this one fundamental right they rightfully deserve.
The debates around data and digital identity to be self-sovereign and privacy-preserved began and this whole movement started to take a new shape - Web3.
Web3 is the next evolution of a blockchain-based Word Wide Web that is decentralized, democratized, and more interactive. With the help of blockchain, developers will be able to build websites, platforms, and applications that are more secure, privacy-preserved, and censorship-resistant.
Web3 wants to change how you trust a website, how you connect your identity to a website, how your data is stored, and who possesses the control of your data. Web3 wants to make the web a space that is built by the people and for the people.
The Origins of Web3
The term “Web3” (often called Web 3.0) was coined by Gavin Wood, the co-founder of Ethereum, Polkadot, and Kusama, in 2014. By bringing a group of friends, developers, and pioneering entrepreneurs in the blockchain space together, in 2017, Gavin Wood also set up Web3 Foundation, an organization that rewards grants to innovative projects that are building decentralized web applications and protocols.
The whole Web3 movement gained tremendous popularity as the popularity of blockchain protocols and its products like NFTs, tokens, and Metaverse grew. The movement is joined by the Ethereum Foundation, Mozilla, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Dock, and many more.
Has Web3 Transitioned from AI-based to Blockchain-Based? The Role of Blockchain
The definition that was describing Web3 evolved over time and due to the popularity of blockchain since the invention of Bitcoin and Ethereum, it was no longer limited to a ‘smart internet’.
Tim Berner Lee proposed the first concept of Web 3.0 in 2006 which is different from the meaning it has obtained today. He thought ‘Semantic Web’ driven by emerging technologies like AI and Machine Learning are going to play a pivotal role in this evolution. The goal of this Web extension was to make data machines readable. His vision was to make the internet more dynamic, open-source, interactive, and intelligent.
Was it the shift in the popularity of technologies or the shift in the paradigm, Web3 (Gavin Wood’s iteration) became more popular than Web3.0 (Tim Berner Lee’s interaction), and now, in all the definitions across the Google searches, Web3 is defined as a form of ‘decentralized internet’.
The primary objective Web3 is now focusing upon is users should own and control their online identity and reveal parts of their identity only when they choose to do so.
Web3 - More Than Crypto
Web3 has often been mistaken for cryptocurrencies and NFTs. It is true that in the future, they may form a crucial component of Web3. But to limit the scope of Web3 to only tokens and NFTs will be an understatement of this vast technology.
Since Web3 is based on blockchain technology, we will need tokens to facilitate transactions between 2 users. For any type of content (art, text, image, audio, or video) to have value, they will be needed to convert into NFTs and then transacted for a price agreed between the buyer and seller. Adding to this, Web3 will have numerous incentive and reward mechanisms for user participation, governance, and other technical and non-technical operations.
However, cryptocurrencies and NFTs constitute only a small part of Web3. Web3 encompasses an extensive range of sectors, industries, and applications.
What Makes Web3 Important?
Ownership of data is the core objective of the Web3. This means users will be able to grant, revoke or modify access to their data anytime. This also means users will no longer need to disclose each and every data related to their online digital identity. Users will have features like ‘selective disclosures’ using which they will be able to disclose only the portion of their information that is requested by a third party.
Web3 repairs the deepest damage caused by Web2 on the idea of Web. Blockchain-based sign-in systems like Web3 ID become all the more more essential in fulfilling the vision of Self-Sovereign Identity that gives people full control and ownership over their digital identity.
Web3 is going to be powered by blockchain and tokenized assets (cryptocurrencies and NFTs). Decentralized technologies will enable peer-to-peer interactions between individuals, witnessed and verified by a decentralized network of nodes.
The P2P and decentralized capabilities of blockchain and Web3 fundamentally change the Web2 data infrastructure. Blockchain has the capability to decentralize storage, governance, and data authentication. Public blockchain infrastructures are open-source, permissionless, and trustless. With no single point of failure and a global community participating in the ecosystem at different levels, Web3 is more secure, dynamic, and interactive.
All the content, texts, audio, images, or videos will be created with a cryptographic signature signed by the public key of the user. Every content will have the stamp of its creator. There can be a voting mechanism to review the content. Reviewers can be rewarded for their reviews and creators can be rewarded based on the impressions and response on their content.
In Web3, users will carry a reputation based on the content they have created and reviewed. A reputation-based system will influence users to stay honest in the ecosystem and produce good-quality content.
A digital identity is a way of verifying who we are online and the body of information about an individual or organization that exists online. A digital identity is an extension of current physical ID documents like passports, bank cards, and driver’s licenses. On the web, it can be your emails, user names, and passwords, social media profiles, platform accounts, etc.
Web3 is going to change how your digital identity is created, authenticated, and linked to your online activity. Subsequent to this, Web3 authentication systems like Web3 ID (by Dock) let users or owners of the IDs to control the data linked to their digital IDs.
With the help of Web3 ID, how you will be able to authenticate your identity and sign in to websites and platforms is going to completely change. See more details here.
Security and Privacy
Web3 is capable of leveraging the most powerful features of blockchain to secure data breaches and user privacy. Each asset, financial transaction, or message can be encrypted using cryptographic algorithms. Encryption is the process of taking a message and scrambling its contents so only certain people (with a key than can decrypt)can look at your message.
Asymmetric encryption or Public-private key cryptography can be used to encrypt our online activity and make it secure and tamper-proof. Asymmetric encryption is when the encryption key (also called the public key) and the corresponding decryption key (also called the private key) are different.
No data is stored on the blockchain. Blockchain only maintains an online register of all the identities created on it. Blockchain also maintains the proof of verification of all online transactions. Zero-knowledge Proofs (ZKPs) can be deployed to provide extra layers of security for data authentication, verification, and disclosures.
When Elon Musk proposed to buy Twitter, the very first ecosystem he was willing to create on it was of “Free Speech.”
The ability to censor content, webpages, apps, websites or users is a power that comes with tremendous responsibility.
There will be no corporate censorship. User data is no longer controlled however, decentralized voting mechanisms can be in place with the help of governance tokens whether to continue keeping the content on the web or burn it. Interoperability of platforms will allow users to migrate content from one platform to another if the content is negative or does not contribute to the platform’s nature.
Ethereum brought smart contracts to blockchain and since then, it came to be known as the first decentralized computer. Smart contracts enabled any business model to induce automation from a basic transaction facilitation to building an entirely automated organization like DAOs where each and every operation is automatic and conducted based on the user’s interaction.
Web3 technology stack with developer-friendly APIs and smart contracts can help engineering teams enhance their technical functionalities and migrate to Web3 applications easily. Rewards, passive incomes (staking, interest, etc.), real-time analytics, payments, and many more operations can be automated which can make the business processes flow more efficiently, remove middlemen, and reduce costs.
Examples of Web3 in real-world
NFT marketplaces and DeFi platforms are seen as the two most successful use cases of Web3 apps where the apps are completely automated, open-source, and blockchain-based, and all activity can be traced on the explorers of the blockchain protocols they are built upon.
Currently, all the Web3 and blockchain-based applications want you to attach a wallet like MetaMask to enter the decentralized marketplace and interact on the platform. Other than these two, we have seen dApps experimenting with use cases in all sectors but not all have succeeded.
When we look at crypto projects that are in the Web3 space, the two most widely categorized use cases are decentralized storage and decentralized identities.
Wallets vs Web3 ID Sign-In System
Web3 IDs provide a lot more functionalities and features than wallet-based authentication. With crypto wallets, developers can verify publicly available data on the blockchain. With Web3 ID, developers can verify private user data.
With both wallets and Web3 IDs, you truly own what is stored or attached to them. With wallets, you in self-custody of your assets, with Web3 IDs you are in complete control of your data as all your data will be stored in your wallet only.
Your Web3 ID or DID doesn’t contain any wallet information and your wallet only stores the public keys of your Web3 ID and nothing else. This disconnect between the two helps verifiers to verify your private data with your consent. You will not need to connect the wallet to the platform. You will only need to scan a QR code on the login screen using your Wallet app and that’s it! You have signed in using your Web3 ID.
Web3 still has a long way to go to get an overarching worldwide adoption. Major corporations are still in their experimental stage and so are startups that are building innovative solutions. All these solutions are agreeing on a common ground of bringing the control of users’ digital identity and data back to who it belongs to the users.
Web3 is no more a radical concept. Since now Nike and Adidas are ready to sell Steph Curry’s sneaker NFTs on a blockchain and Dock’s Web3 IDs are allowing you to sign in using a blockchain-based identity system, it is not in theory anymore. The practical applications are available that are ready to use or integrated.
We are still in the early stages of this evolution. In the coming years, we will see new solutions targeting existing challenges with Web3 like security, easy and client-friendly accessibility, usability, and interoperability. Additionally, we will also possibly see how Web3 can be used with other emerging technologies like AI, Machine Learning, IoT, and Biometrics.
What developers can create with Web3 is limitless. Seeing what we have already created, it is clear at this point that it is the Internet’s future.