In the past year, Web3 has been a controversial concept advocated by some, critiqued by others, and fiercely debated by many.
From casual blockchain enthusiasts to major players in the technology sector such as Twitter former CEO, Jack Dorsey, many have weighed in. But what is Web3? And will it become a standard for the way we live our lives online?
Coined in 2014 by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, Web3 was envisioned as the next phase of the internet’s evolution. The prime characteristic of Web3 is that the World Wide Web will be decentralized via blockchain technology.
This builds upon previous iterations of user behavior. In the Web1 context, users are consumers of content, with their interactions monetized by companies like Yahoo and Google. Then, platforms for content creation defined Web2, and user-generated content on the likes of Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram sculpted our experience—with profits still flowing to the tech companies that operated these websites and apps.
Web3 is meant to facilitate ownership for users, dissolving the concentration of online interactions, data exchanges, and information flows. In its theoretically utopian form, the internet under Web3 will function based on the active collaborative effort of users, with revenue-sharing mechanisms shaped by “tokens” that are held by everyone.
Why do some people believe that we need Web3?
The proponents of Web3 say it’s a matter of decentralization.
Under the current modus operandi under Web2, major tech companies like Meta and Google dominate the online space. They wield nearly monopolistic control over their users’ data and information.
Web3’s supporters argue that Web2 users are subject to censorship, surveillance, and a lack of ownership over personal information. That means the “free services” offered by major platforms are not truly free. And, Web2 platform users do not have a stake in the decision-making process.
Web3 could be seen as a move to redistribute that power among users.
What are the downsides of Web3?
Critics of Web3, such as Dorsey, dismiss the concept for being too idealistic, suggesting that its promise of broad ownership is too good to be true. Dorsey singled out venture capitalist firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested more than USD 3 billion in Web3 developments.
You don’t own “web3.”
The VCs and their LPs do. It will never escape their incentives. It’s ultimately a centralized entity with a different label.
Know what you’re getting into…
— jack⚡️ (@jack) December 21, 2021
Elsewhere, Tesla CEO Elon Musk also brushed off Web3, contending that the idea is “crazy futuristic,” and is a long way from being implemented.
I’m not suggesting web3 is real – seems more marketing buzzword than reality right now – just wondering what the future will be like in 10, 20 or 30 years. 2051 sounds crazy futuristic!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2021
As it stands, whether the ideals of Web3 come to fruition remains to be seen. For now, it remains highly abstract and speculative. For most internet users, having centralized points of communication and commerce is still very much the norm—and the easiest way to access many types of services. It might be difficult to visualize an online experience that departs from that convenience.