The idea of a decentralized web has been in the minds of many for around 20 years, but when you read much of the press about it today, you’d be forgiven for believing it was a brand new concept.
The concept is a response to the domination of Web 2.0 by the Big Tech companies, Facebook and Google in particular, explains Michael J. Casey, and their “data-driven economics.” Most of us understand by now exactly how those two companies in particular exploited the web and us, even as at the same time they reunited us with old friends, helped us grow businesses and made searching so more intuitive. After all, who remembers using search engines in the era Before Google? It was much slower and you really needed to know how to search.
However there is quite some debate raging around the concept of Web 3. On the one hand, as Casey reports, there is Chris Dixon who is a fervent Web 3 supporter and a believer that Web 3 projects are creating real value, and on the other, Jack Dorsey, who claims the “term is just a buzzword exploited by venture capitalists to boost their equity and token investment.” Casey says in response to this, “That smart people – including two famous “Tims” – have been exploring an exit from Web 2.0 for so long suggests Web 3 projects have worthy ambitions and that there will be public benefits and business payoffs if they succeed.” But he concedes, “this long history reminds us that solving a very big problem is hard and that investors would be wise to take grandiose promises with a grain of salt.”
It is possible not to side with either Chris or Jack, and instead focus on the core structural issues with Web 2.0 and why there’s a need to change them. The fundamental problem with Web 2.0 is the misalignment between the interests of the giant companies that dominate the Internet and those of the general public. Casey says that whilst blockchain is a solution, it is not the only one. As Casey says, “We need a mix of technologies (both decentralized and centralized), regulation and economic rationale to enable business models that bring those competing private and public interests together.”
Let’s not forget that Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Internet, said in 2006 that the web needed an overhaul. He allegedly coined the term Web 3.0, in reference to the evolution of universal data formats and artificial intelligence removing the need for intermediation by third parties to allow a true “machine-to-machine” communication network.
Currently, Web 3.0 is primarily associated with blockchain, cryptocurrency and NFTs, and the debate is still ongoing about what Web 3.0 could potentially be in the end, but as Casey remarks, there is still a long way to go before we can escape The Matrix!