What is Web3.0 & Why Do We Need It?

NOTE FROM DANIEL: If you’re interested in this topic, I also did an accompanying podcast episode.

“You’ve got mail!”

It seems like 100 years ago, I can still remember a time when I was excited to get an email. 

The feeling of sitting down at my grandmother’s Gateway 2000, loading the latest version of America Online and connecting to the early internet (World Wide Web) still gives me shivers of nostalgia in my 30’s. The screeching sound of a 56.6k dial up modem was like a shot of adrenaline straight to my nascent brain.

So many good memories with this thing!

The feeling was one of endless possibilities.

This was Web 1.0.

The premise of the internet was simple back then: connection. Never before was it possible to instantly communicate with people all over the world, share information and make friends with so many different people outside of your immediate vicinity.

At this stage, we didn’t even have commerce online. People were skeptical if this thing was even going to last. I remember my great grandfather asking, “Why do I need to read something on the computer when I have my newspaper?” 

When he died at 99, he was an avid iPad user. Oh, how things change.

Web 1.0 sites were static, with some pictures if you were lucky.

(But not too many, otherwise the page would take forever to load!)

When buggy, chuggy, pixelated online video came along, it was revolutionary.

Amazon in 1995 looks like an ancient relic!

Web 1.0 was decidedly “decentralized.” It was a place for individual creators to speak their minds and collaborate. This version of the internet almost felt like a huge Reddit, with every website being a unique subreddit. The primary mode of instant communication was through online chat rooms, organized by topic.

Nobody knew what they were doing. We were all just happy to be there.

At this time, data privacy wasn’t an issue because most people didn’t use their “real” names online and we weren’t exchanging much sensitive information.

In the early 2000’s, things began to change. The average person began spending much more time online as essential services migrated to the digital world. Paying bills, shopping, reading the news and getting entertainment became the primary purpose of the internet.

It still felt fun. It was a natural progression.

This change in the use of the internet correlated in lockstep with the continued innovation of the cell phone.

What was once a brick tethered to a cord in the car became relatively lightweight and portable.

Then, the early flip phones. Next, the slightly more interactive phones like the Palm and Sidekick.

Finally, the fully internet-connected smartphone, complete with mobile applications. The iPhone was such a game changing use of technology that every phone since has been based partially on their design genius — specifically the work of Steve Jobs and Johnny Ive.

Web 2.0 had officially arrived.

By the mid-2000’s, the way we were using the internet was evolving again. The most important characteristic of this time was moving from the desktop to the mobile phone. And even more critically, from a very decentralized landscape to major centralization of the internet experience.

The internet bubble got huge and burst.

What was left on the other side of the explosion were a few companies primed to take control of the web by giving the world so much value that it need not look elsewhere to get its internet fix.

These 4 big companies spell the acronym “GAFA.”

  • Google 

  • Amazon

  • Facebook

  • Apple

It was through these 4 major lenses that the next 20 years of internet history would play out. Nearly every internet experience is touched by one of these 4 major players. 

In the early days, we marveled at how easy these gentle giants made our lives. How seamlessly they integrated with all the things we already wanted and needed. We even enjoyed the fact that they seemed to know what we wanted before we knew it!

The value equation made sense to us: we got access to a trillion dollars worth of technology that seemed to improve by leaps and bounds every year. We were able to make money more easily than ever with their tools and become much more productive. They were fun and easy to use.

The companies themselves were run by iconoclastic leaders who were for the people. Brilliant college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who were sent to democratize information and opportunity. 

(And btw…WTF happened to Zuck?)

But all that glitters ain’t gold. We soon learned (err…remembered) that there are no free lunches. Everything has a price and if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

According to the US Digital Trust Survey, Facebook ranks last amongst all platforms in perceived trustworthiness:

In the 2020 “US Digital Trust Survey,” we evaluated consumer perceptions of the major social networks within five categories of trust: security, legitimacy, community, ad experience, and ad relevance*. We ranked nine platforms—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube—according to how our respondents perceived them along those five pillars of digital trust. We fielded the online survey of 1,865 US respondents ages 18 to 74 between May 28, 2020 and June 3, 2020, using a sample provided by a third party.

We found that Facebook was the least trusted social media platform regarding data privacy. Nearly one-third (32%) of US Facebook users at least somewhat disagreed that they had confidence in the platform to protect their data and privacy. Just 10% of LinkedIn’s users said the same of the professional network.

Let that one sink in.

One the other side of the Web 2.0 panacea, we’ve seen the dark shadows of power, control and censorship take root. What was once a “free for all” has very obviously revealed the true price of admission.

Your data.

The centralization of the internet around these behemoths meant that they were in primary position to learn everything about you.

Google knows everything that you’re interested in based on your search history. Their algorithms “read” your emails and documents (including this article I’m writing in Google Docs) and they use that information to serve you targeted ads. In that way, they control what you see and begin to shape your world view.

Amazon knows your entire shopping history and has become so large that they’ve pushed out an untold number of independent competitors from the marketplace.

FORTUNE: Merchants Say Amazon Is Copying Their Products

Facebook may be the most notorious perpetrator of the “sell or be destroyed” strategy via social media. Mark Zuckerberg has spent over a decade creating an interconnected social platform so sticky and comprehensive that one dare not escape. Any competitors are copied until they scream “uncle” — and every year, there are new reports of nefarious ways that the company uses your data to track and sell to you.

Apple has done the best at retaining its “white hat” in all this, but the trillion dollar megalodon is not without fault. The main problem is its sheer reach. Just about 50% of Americans use an iPhone — and over 1 billion people worldwide use the device. This gives them an incredible amount of personal information and immense power to dictate our daily internet experience.

The centralized collection of our data also creates a vector for attacks.

The contributions that these companies have made to the world is indisputable — but we have to ask ourselves at what point their loving embrace becomes a crushing grip.

As we look at the amount of corporate greed involved in these companies (their nearly total skirting of tax liability and apparently brutal working conditions are outside the scope of this article), the amount of our data they harvest from us without our knowledge and the very real behavioral changes they affect us with, many people are waking up to the possibility of of a reimagined internet.

That internet is already evolving in front of our eyes in the form of Web 3.0.

Web 3.0 promises a shift back to the decentralized ideal of the early internet days with speed, anonymity and data security at the forefront of an entirely new experience. 

This will come in several forms — one of the biggest being the advent of blockchain technology across many industries.

What is blockchain?

Remember Web 1.0 peer-to-peer networks like Napster and Kazaa? These were “scandalous” at the time because they enabled individual users to share music, data and other digital assets across a network of connected computers, without the need for a central hub.

The powerful media agencies of the day were scared of this technology because it fundamentally undercut their ability to monetize content and intellectual property.

Amazon in 1995 looks like an ancient relic!

And they were right to be afraid. P2P networks played a big part in taking down the record industry because users didn’t want to pay for albums when they could download individual songs. This was a fatal blow that many major companies never fully recovered from and are still reckoning with today. 

Blockchain is essentially P2P of the future.

This technology, originally created for Bitcoin, is a network of individual computers that allows users to quickly, anonymously transmit data, digital assets and even currency in a secure way that can be verified for everybody on the network to see.

This will eventually allow the average person to take control of their data back without relying on big institutions to hold it for them. It will shake up banking, personal communication, media, entertainment and more.

One of the biggest innovations in this technological shift will be the integration of crypto currencies with society.

PODCAST: Why Crypto Will Run The World w/ Hillorie Le

If you could securely store, send and receive money, why would you need Wells Fargo?

If you could privately send messages without google snooping over your shoulder, wouldn’t you want to?

If you could buy something online without the fear of identity theft or getting hacked, wouldn’t that be better?

The full scope of the applications are unknown at the point — but it’s safe to say that everything will change.

To be sure, Web 3.0 is not going to solve every problem that’s been created with the internet up to this point. Our lords and masters who monopolize the digital world are not going to give up their position lightly.

They are going to create new tools that work with Web 3.0 in an attempt to retain as much information and control as possible — because that’s their business model.

Case in point, Facebook recently changed their name to Meta. And with that change, a shift in their narrative to that of a forward-looking company instead of one stuck in the past.

Still, the evolution of this technology will give the average person a new set of tools to create a more private, secure and personalized internet experience that Web 2.0 did not offer.

All of this is leading to our adoption of the metaverse, which is the interconnection between physical and digital reality upon which humans will build a new layer of existence.

But that’s an essay for another day.

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