One of the things I learned as a researcher, interviewer, and forecaster was that most people who have acquired at least some knowledge of a given emerging technology aren’t looking at the horizon much. They tend to head down, perhaps working on just making the chosen tech work, or trying to discover new ways to make it work.
They may not have the opportunity or even the desire to build a broad, forward-looking perspective. They may not themselves be blessed with good research or due diligence habits, or a sense of how systems as a whole evolve and how the tech under focus fits into that evolution.
Then, when reporters new to the topic research what’s behind a fuzzword such as Web 3.0, often their research stops at an initial understanding that describes a mere stretch of a single lane of the emerging roadmap–not the whole highway. They may interview someone from a company gaining a name for itself embarked on a commercialization effort, and take their word for what the bigger picture looks like.
This is why I’m often triggered to try to enrich the collective perspective and get to the kernel of meaning in a term referring to emerging tech–usually beginning with some historical context.
The various webs and web evolution
The web began of course as a single, yet distributed networked, open content sharing environment. It started from a different place than corporate portals. The focus was any-to-any, open access to information that demanded to be shared and didn’t need to be access controlled. Silos and walled gardens were antithetical to the purpose of the web.
Before long, as inspired and innovative as it was, that focus began to fade.
Web 1.0, of course, started out as a standards-based document web, but one with SSL encryption that enabled e-commerce transaction security. As a result, e-commerce along the lines of Amazon and the other dotcoms quickly began to emerge in the last half of the 1990s.
Thus the original Web’s purpose was quickly overshadowed by e-commerce, a Web 1.5 of sorts.
The late 1990s and 2000s spawned Web 2.0–proprietary social networking, messaging, and social gaming web. Web 2.0 evolved from dial-up services such as Compuserve and AOL. Adoption grew along with higher bandwidth connections: First Friendster and MySpace, then Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn….
Then in the 2010s, a more diverse group including Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Discord, Slack, Telegram, etc. followed–providing consumer and business messaging, online scrapbooking, etc..
With the exponential growth of e-commerce that accompanied that of Web 2.0, the power of the network effect in online social interaction was quickly monetized. The locus of wealth shifted radically, and we really started to understand the value of mining scads of the social interaction data being collected–as well as the implications of data farming, feudalism and second gilded age.
The spirit of independence in web evolution re-emerged with several different convergent trends.
The late 2000s and 2010s saw the rise of the blockchain (another fuzzword beyond the scope of this post), followed by decentralized apps (dapps) and the decentralized web (dweb). It’s important to call these components out separately.
Many enthusiasts seem to focus only on the transactional environment (blockchains) + digital currency + tokenization (non-functional tokens or NFTs, etc.) + smart contracts as a silver bullet. They often overlook the simplified dev stack and broader collaboration/social interaction network of IPFS (a P2P data network with immutable storage inspired in part by Github–see https://www.datasciencecentral.com/profiles/blogs/a-window-of-oppor…) and layers being built on top that is emerging.
The three components that make up Web 3.0 can and should be interlinked and symbiotic, to enable the potential for a fully functional, decentralized foundation that can empower users consistent with the vision of Web 1.0.
The most compelling promise of this emerging three-component Web 3.0 goes beyond new asset classes and means of exchange. The bigger promise is user independence, self-reliance and the ability to collaborate with the help of a minimally siloed, data-centric architecture. And it’s that promise that is the most undervalued and difficult to realize, because we’ve become so dependent on pay-as-you-go services that are managed for us.
Breaking the cycle of old web codependency
Software stacks should commoditize over time. A lot of the existing web is essentially 20 years old. So why are we still doing identity management the same way we did 20 years ago, when folks like the Internet Identity Workshop have conceived and designed an alternative? Why are enterprises trying to collaborate across supply network boundaries with so many siloed services and such a lack of full integration, in a time when open, richly connected collaboration graphs are feasible and being used?
The nascent Web 3.0 stack can be much more agile and empower users in the process when it’s not carrying the burden of legacy software or architecture that is not data- and user-centric. Of course, we’ll need to build bridges between the old web and the new. But for both users and organizations,
it’s time to become more disciplined and harness the new hostless, more contextualized, open web and open software that gives us a running start so we can escape the walled garden that’s been built around us. And that means personal data protection, content, collaboration and semantic discovery in addition to transactions and digital stores of value.