Blockchain's Impact on Web 3.0
When the internet first went mainstream in the 1990s, it was a game-changer. But it was also limited in what it could do.
We could type clunky search strings into Alta Vista to look for information, but for the average person, contributing content or playing games was out of the question. It was easy enough to chat, send email, and instant message, and even to make a personal homepage or simple business website, but the internet was mainly about research—very slow research with limited sources that weren’t always reliable.
We didn’t post our personal photos online unless we scanned and uploaded physical prints or took grainy selfies with eyeball-shaped webcams. Amazon only sold books. eBay was primarily a platform for buying and selling purple Princess Diana Beanie Babies at ridiculous prices.
Webpages loaded in horizontal bands from top to bottom. No one had multiple passwords unless they had more than one AOL username. The best games—Myst was a popular one—came on CD-ROM. So did the best encyclopedia, which was not the constantly updated Wikipedia, but the stagnant Microsoft Encarta. We didn’t have DVD burners or flash drives: we saved data to square, coaster-sized disks.
As more and more people got broadband internet, which was so much faster and more reliable than the dial-up internet that took over people’s phone lines, we gained the ability to do much more online, and web 2.0 emerged.
In the early days of web 2.0, we download pirated MP3s from Napster because, at first, there was no iTunes store, no way to legally buy digital music. Streaming music services like Spotify didn’t exist. Facebook launched, first as a service that only Harvard students could use, then as a service that only people with .edu email addresses could sign up for, then as a service that everyone and their neighbor’s three-legged cat could and would use.
Blogger and WordPress let people create their own blogs. YouTube lets people create their own videos. Both platforms let individuals share their content with the world, develop followings, and in some cases get rich from advertising or a cookbook deal or having a motion picture studio buy the movie rights to their content. Traditional gatekeepers like television networks and newspapers lost a lot of their power. And let’s not forget TikTok the latest video App that’s taking the world by storm and creating new, and sometimes wealthy TikTok celebrities.
We could also put on headsets to chat strategy and play games with friends or strangers living across the country or the world, blowing up each other’s avatars in Call of Duty. Pacifists could harvest and water digital crops with their friends through Facebook in a game called Farmville. This more-evolved internet, web 2.0, was characterized by interactivity.
Web 2.0 Challenges That Web 3.0 Might Solve
Web 3.0 is a decentralized form of the internet that we’re moving toward now. What do we mean by decentralized? And why do we need this new version of the internet? Web 2.0 has its own set of shortcomings, and innovators are trying to solve them.
- Personalized recommendations are hard to come by. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before, and the most intelligent search engines yet. But sorting through all that information to find the best information for you, despite Google’s best efforts to categorize it all, can still be drudgery. The closest thing you can find to a personalized recommendation with web 2.0 is usually a targeted advertisement based on all the data that’s been mined from your social media profiles, browsing habits, and other sources.
One promise of web 3.0 is that it will eliminate or at least greatly simplify research-intensive tasks like travel planning by using data mining and artificial intelligence to provide personalized recommendations. We already have a taste of what could be to come: think Amazon recommendations, YouTube recommendations, and Netflix recommendations – but more accurate and for tasks more complicated than picking a book or a movie.
- Protecting privacy is a constant fight. Internet service providers, search engines, social media platforms, and website cookies are four of the big sources that track us, collect and mine our data. We choose to share some of this information, certainly, but we rarely grasp the full extent of how it’s being used. We also entrust our business files, correspondence, and personal photos to big companies like Google and Dropbox and AWS (Amazon Web Services). But even when your files are encrypted, all this information is stored on centralized servers where it’s vulnerable to loss, hacking, and secretly being handed over to law enforcement agencies.
The hope is that web 3.0 will incorporate distributed ledger technology, or blockchains so that thousands of individual computers will each store small, super-encrypted pieces of your files in a way that’s much more private and secure. The technology already exists, but it’s not yet user-friendly enough to have gained widespread adoption.
- Websites are vulnerable to distributed denial of service attacks. Web 2.0 platforms tend to rely on centralized servers that are vulnerable to attacks that can take them offline. The operators of those websites have to spend resources trying to defend against such attacks. They can lose money and suffer reputational damage when a hacker is able to exploit a weakness anyway. And those websites’ users might lose money as well if the compromised site is essential to others’ business activities.
Here’s an example. When Airbnb’s site was affected by the October 2016 Dyn DDoS attack, both the company and the individuals leasing their properties through the site likely lost bookings and lost revenue. The distributed nature of a blockchain can help prevent DDoS attacks. New platforms can be developed, and existing ones modified to use this technology and strengthen their security.
Defining Features of Web 3.0
- Ubiquity: As web 3.0 matures, we can expect to have even more connected devices that add even more functionality to our lives.
- Artificial intelligence: Computers will be able to do more than just process commands. They will be able to “think” and “reason” and add more value to our lives.
- Semantic web: Software will be able to scan, categorize, and interpret website information in a more detailed way that makes search results more useful.
- Machine learning: Computers will be able to process and understand information better than ever.
- Recommendation agents: From vacation planning to financial advice to educational consulting, web 3.0 may reduce the time we spend doing research and making decisions.
As blockchain technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence continue to develop and gain adoption, the third generation of the internet will grow full-fledged. Web 3.0 will one day be a normal part of our everyday lives, with advances that will make our lives easier, our data more private, and our online interactions more reliable and more secure. It probably won’t look exactly the way we think it might. It will probably do some things better than we hope and fall short on other expectations. And then we’ll get to see how web 4.0 picks up the slack.