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What is Web 3.0 and Why is it the New Tech Buzzword?

Dec 22, 2021 4:07 PM 5 min read

Every day is another new day when there is a new buzzword that tech, crypto and venture-capital types become infatuated with. ;)

For a while now, the latest buzzword has been Web 3.0. Conversations on social media about blockchain and the internet are now peppered with this term. The usual suspects in the Twitterverse (aka proponents of crypto) like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey have become the latest to engage in these conversations. 

But not in the way you might think! While Mr. Dorsey is bullish on everything blockchain, he has candidly disavowed Web 3.0 as a feasibility. Mr. Musk, on the other hand, tried to pour cold water on the Web 3.0 hype through subtle mockery. 

Despite that, the concept has gained immense traction in the past few months. Let's see what it's about and what it has to offer. 

The Web Genealogy

The internet, as we know it, has evolved over the decades through various technologies and formats. Towards the early 1990s, most websites were static web pages and the vast majority of internet users were consumers, and not producers, of content. This was the Web 1.0 phase.

Next came Web 2.0 which was based on the idea of "the web as a platform". It was built to a great extent on user-created content uploaded to social networking services, blogs etc. This is the phase that began around 2004 and continues until the present day.

Now, there is a third shift in the paradigm. "Web3" or Web 3.0 as it is popularly called was a term first coined by the co-founder of Ethereum Gavin Wood in 2014. It is the successive and more advanced iteration of the web that is supposed to take shape in the future. It is expected to give rise to a form of the internet that is more open, more autonomous, more intelligent, decentralised and of greater utility. 

Think of it in terms of movie analogy. If Web 1.0 is the black-and-white era then Web 2.0 is the age of colour/basic 3D and Web 3.0 would be immersive experiences in the metaverse!


The Four Pillars of Web 3.0

The current generation of internet (Web 2.0) functions through the storage of data in centralised repositories (aka servers, cloud etc.). Contrary to this, Web 3.0 networks are expected to operate through decentralised protocols - the foundation of blockchain technology. 

This means that data, instead of being stored in electronic bundles in virtual silos, will now be interconnected in a decentralised form. In short, managers of data such as platforms like Google, Amazon, Facebook etc., will be eliminated. The internet will shift from being controlled by a few gatekeepers to individual users. 

In a Web 3.0 world, users (and not corporations) operate and control their own data. Many computers at once host data that is searchable by anyone. The data will be generated by diverse and increasingly powerful computing resources like mobile phones, smart devices, appliances, vehicles, sensors etc., and will be sold to users through decentralised data networks. 

So, blockchain is essentially the first pillar of Web 3.0. 

The second pillar is Artificial Intelligence (AI). This was something envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, who coined the term "World Wide Web". His idea of Web 3.0 was a concept he referred to as Semantic Web. It refers to a reality where computers will be able to understand information like humans, through technologies based on machine learning and natural language processing. 

This will enable Web 3.0 computers to produce faster and more relevant search results. For instance, let's consider the following sentences:

  • Cats love Bitcoin.
  • Cats <3 Bitcoin.

The syntax of both sentences are different but their semantics are pretty much the same. Semantics involves the meaning or emotion of the content. So as Berners-Lee predicted, applying semantics in the Web would enable machines to decode the emotions in content by analysing the data

The third pillar of the imagined Web 3.0 focuses on a completely trustless and permissionless internet. Web 3.0 will be "trustless", meaning that the network will allow users to interact directly without passing through the scrutiny and supervision of a trusted intermediary (i.e. Big Tech). And, it will be "permissionless", meaning that anyone can participate without gaining approval from a governing body.

Connectivity through peer-to-peer networks will be the key to this truly liberating open-source network.

And the final and fourth pillar is ubiquity/connectivity. The network, the content, the software and the applications will be everywhere and more connected than ever before. Just like interactions in IoT or Internet of Things (a Web 2.0 construct) take place through interconnected and everyday devices, similarly, with Web 3.0, information and content can be accessed by multiple platforms on multiple applications. 


But Why the Hype Now?

Most of the hype is coming from the crypto-enthusiasts and communities which are bullish on the future of the internet being built and reliant on the technology they patronise. 

For technologists and web enthusiasts, Web 3.0 has remained a theoretical grand vision for many years. It is only recently with the growing push for a blockchain-powered future that the concept has gained steam.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord are looking to start Web 3.0 services and forums. There is a newfound corporate interest in the concept too. GameStop, which lent its coattails to Reddit traders to ride down Wall Street earlier this year, is reportedly planning to hire a "Head of Web 3.0 Gaming". 

In fact, the hype has made all its way into desi shores with the government of Telangana teaming up with a crypto exchange (CoinSwitch Kuber) and other firms to launch early-stage Web 3.0 startups.  

However, the most notable spike in interest towards Web 3.0 happened after a spur of investments from high-profile companies and even banks like Goldman Sachs. There is also an appreciable rise in lobbying efforts from venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz to promote Web 3.0 as a solution to Silicon Valley consolidation and to propose regulations for the ever-expanding virtual ecosystem. 


"You Don't Own Web3"

One may ask, if Web 3.0 is a largely crypto-construct, then why are crypto advocates like Dorsey and Musk dismissive of it?

All four pillars of the concept, as described earlier, represent an idealised version of Web 3.0 which, frankly, may not be egalitarian in practice. Meanwhile, the large number of corporations investing huge sums in Web 3.0 development make it hard to imagine that their involvement wouldn't amount to some kind of centralised power, contrary to its decentralised concept. 

Plus, at the end of the day, a truly "trustless" and "permissionless" internet might end up doing more harm than good because there is only so far that liberty can prosper without misuse (sorry, Rousseau)!

However, the appeal of Web 3.0 lies in its association with the blockchain technology. And due to that, proponents of Web 3.0 take solace in the fact that even if you don't own the internet, you can still maybe control pieces of it. 

But for now, Web 3.0 is simply a promised future internet that fixes all things people don't like about the current internet, even when it's contradictory. 


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