Over the past three decades, the internet has transformed the lives of billions of people. For most of us these days, it’s rare that we go more than a few hours without interacting with the world wide web in some way or another. Whether it’s work, social media, online shopping, or gaming, the internet has become ever-present in many facets of our lives.
Even so the internet today is barely unrecognizable from what it once was. We can trace our digital lives back to the late 1980s, where Tim Berners-Lee first created what is now known as “Web1”, or the early internet, which he envisioned as a kind of global communication system made up of interconnected computer systems.
The Birth of Web1
At the time, the early internet had few users, most of them being academics and governments. It wasn’t until 1991 that the internet as we know it today started clicking into gear when the first commercial organizations began using it to do business.
The masses were first introduced to the web in 1992 with the birth of HTML pages that could be accessed via early web browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Mosaic. This is where Web1 started, bringing with it the advent of hyperlinks between documents, allowing users to click on text within a page and navigate to another website somewhere else on the internet.
It was around this time that it became much easier for people to create their own websites and share them with others, helping to accelerate the internet’s growth.
Rise of Web2
The early, largely static websites of Web1 gradually gave way to Web2 beginning around 1999. With the advent of technologies such as WordPress, it became possible for more people to make their own websites and blogs. Meanwhile, a new search engine called Google arrived on the scene that made it far easier for people to find the information they were looking for.
Web2 also saw the rise of social media sites, first MySpace, and later the names that have come to dominate the web today, such as Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, commercial use of the internet exploded too, with companies using it as a means to advertise and sell products and services online, while the likes of Amazon and eBay began establishing their massive online marketplaces.
Some say Web2 is the era in which users gained more control of their online experience. They could finally choose to create or consume any kind of content they wanted to, without restrictions. However, Web2 also created a highly centralized internet, where users are not in control of their data. User information is highly prized in Web2 because it’s used to deliver more personalized experiences and more targeted advertisements. This means more money for the advertisers and the companies selling their services online.
This centralization of data is one of the main factors driving the development of Web3, which has the primary goal of giving users back control over their data.
Web3 & The Decentralized Web
The term “Web3” was first popularized by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, who believes that centralization is not sustainable in the long term. The idea with Web3 is an internet that’s built atop of a decentralized infrastructure in order to eliminate the need for highly centralized organizations such as Google and Facebook (now called Meta), which have built up such a monopoly over the web that they can now act as gatekeepers to information.
Web3 will therefore be a decentralized version of the internet, wherein applications are built and owned by their communities. In Web2, users may have control of the things they consume and create, but they have very little choice about which platforms they can consume and create things on. With Web3, people will not be forced to rely on big tech firms any longer.
This decentralized future is being made possible by the rise of technologies such as blockchain, which underpins the Bitcoin cryptocurrency and enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof transactions as well as the secure storage of data without needing any third party. Web3 has already led to numerous innovations in areas such as crypto, decentralized finance, and NFTs, which are slowly but surely transferring control of the internet back to its users.
Why Do We Need A Decentralized Web?
The dominance of big tech firms has led to some serious concerns over the influence they pose in areas such as the privacy, security, and censorship of the web. As explained in a blog post by the cryptocurrency exchange AAX, the likes of Google and Meta may not control the actual infrastructure on which the internet runs, but they have complete power within their own ecosystems, and that allows them to set their own rules and enforce them as they see fit.
The complete dominance of the services they provide causes big problems. When it comes to internet search, for example, most people cannot live without Google. For anyone who needs to stay in touch with far-flung friends and relatives, Meta’s Facebook is a must-have.
“The solutions of these companies play such a crucial role on the web that most people and organizations can’t bypass most or all of them without significantly sacrificing user experience, stability, or hurting profitability,” AAX pointed out.
The highly centralized nature of services on Web2 means that while almost two-thirds of the world’s population has access to the internet, only a handful of companies control their data. It’s a similar story in terms of the physical infrastructure too, with public cloud computing providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure providing on-demand availability of fully-managed computing resources such as compute power and data storage. This convenience has resulted in 94% of enterprises using the cloud, according to AAX’s data. The problem is that this leads to further centralization of the web, with only a handful of tech giants responsible for hosting much of the internet’s websites and services.
“Through their control over social media platforms, cloud computing solutions, and digital marketplaces, large technology companies have the authority to censor content, enforce controversial policies, and limit users’ privacy,” AAX explained in its blog post.
Web3 promises to reduce this reliance on centralized providers and democratize computing, putting power back into the hands of individual users.
Probably the biggest difference between the traditional, highly centralized tech platforms and these newer blockchain-based decentralized networks is the area of control. At Meta, for instance, all of the data that’s uploaded onto its platforms and transferred to users must pass through one of its corporate data centers, which represents a single source of potential failure if something goes wrong. With decentralized networks based on blockchain, control is spread across hundreds or even thousands of network participants, which each contribute storage capacity to the system. So there are multiple users and no single point of failure – if something goes wrong with one node, there are hundreds of others that can ensure the network keeps running.
Decentralized networks also improve security. The recent high-profile breaches at companies like Equifax and Marriott highlighted the growing sophistication of hackers and exposed the private information of millions of users. But such attacks would be almost impossible to pull off on a decentralized network, as it would require the hackers to find and breach every single node within a network, an incredibly complex and prohibitive task.
It’s not only security that benefits from decentralization. User control is improved too. A recent poll by the Associated Press found that 9 out of 10 Americans are worried about their digital privacy. That’s not surprising because these days almost every detail of our lives is stored online, including our health records, social security numbers and financial information, plus more trivial information such as the kinds of music we listen to and the movies we like to watch.
With the rise of the metaverse, the line between the digital and physical world will become increasingly blurred, resulting in the need for more secure networks. Moreover, users are demanding to have more options over where to store their data that do not feed the monopolistic ambitions of big tech firms like Google, Amazon, Meta et al.
Consumers are rightly concerned about the challenge that the influence of these companies poses for security, privacy, and accountability. Until now, they haven’t had much choice but to go along with them.
Decentralization will change that. Through user-based peer-to-peer networks, it becomes possible to opt-out of storing your personal data on the servers of those big tech firms. Users will gain full control of their information, knowing where it is and how it’s being used. Moreover, because Web3 is an open-source infrastructure, everyone can participate in reporting problems, suggesting fixes, and creating new tools that improve this new internet for everyone else.
AAX believes decentralization will also lead to a reduction in the “digital divide”, making the web accessible and affordable to the billions of people in the world who are still disconnected from the internet.
“Simultaneously, innovative solutions like SpaceX’s Starlink project, as well as a more diverse range of web solutions, can also enhance the resilience and decentralization of the internet even in times of crisis,” AAX said.
The internet today is at a crossroads – we can stick with Web2 and increase our reliance on a handful of highly centralized and super-powered big tech firms, or we can take back control and set the rules for ourselves in a future built on decentralized networks.
The presented content may include the personal opinion of the author and is subject to market condition. Do your market research before investing in cryptocurrencies. The author or the publication does not hold any responsibility for your personal financial loss.