People are talking about Web3. Is it the Internet of the future or just a buzzword? : NPR

Web3, short for Web 3.0, is a vision of the future of the Internet where people work on decentralized and semi-anonymous platforms, instead of relying on tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

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Web3, short for Web 3.0, is a vision of the future of the Internet where people work on decentralized and semi-anonymous platforms, instead of relying on tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Ani_Ka/Getty Images

There is a buzzword that I have become fascinated with technology, crypto, and venture capital lately. Conversations are now filled with it, and you’re not really serious about the future until you add it to your Twitter bio: Web3.

It is an umbrella term for the divergent ideas that all point in the direction of eliminating the big middlemen on the Internet. In this new era, navigating the web no longer means logging into the likes of Facebook, Google, or Twitter.

Think of it this way: The nascent days of the Internet in the ’90s were Web 1.0. The web was seen as a way to democratize access to information, but there were no great ways to navigate it other than by going to your friend’s GeoCities page. It was very disorganized and overwhelming.

Then came Web 2.0 starting in the mid-2000s. Platforms such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have emerged to bring order to the Internet by facilitating online communication and transactions. Critics say that over time these companies have amassed a lot of strength.

Web3 is all about grabbing some power again.

“There is a small group of companies that have all of these things, and then there are us who use them, and despite the fact that we contribute to the success of these platforms, we don’t have anything to show for them,” Matt Dreyhurst said. , a Berlin-based artist and researcher who teaches classes at New York University on the future of the Internet.

Thus, the answer, according to Dryhurst and other Web3 fans, is the iteration of the Internet as new social networks, search engines, and marketplaces without corporate leaders emerge.

Instead, it is decentralized, built on a system known as the blockchain, which already supports Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Imagine it’s a type of bookkeeping where many computers simultaneously host data that anyone can search. It is operated by users collectively, not by a company. People are given ‘tokens’ for sharing. Tokens can be used to vote on decisions, and even get real value.

In the world of Web3, people control their private data and move from social media to email to shopping with a single personal account, creating a public record on the blockchain of all that activity.

“To the average person, it sounds like a sorcery,” said Olga Mack, an entrepreneur and blockchain lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. “But when you press a button to turn on the lights, do you understand how electricity is generated? You don’t have to know how electricity works to understand the benefits. The same goes for blockchain.”

Right now, the idea of ​​completely reinventing the Internet may seem like a distant digital utopia. But Web3 Leading new conversations — and generate a lot of new money, especially from cryptocurrency investors.

“Confusing at first,” but Web3 is becoming more mainstream and tech companies are taking this into account

The Web3 movement was fueled along with the advent of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital holdings and other online files that can be bought and sold with cryptocurrencies. Then there are the advertising stunts. Recently, a group of crypto enthusiasts gathered together to try to purchase a copy of the US Constitution with digital currency. They are organized under the name ConstitutionDAO. (DAO stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization, which is the name given to a group of online crypto-supporters who huddle together in a group governed by blockchain and tokens. It’s totally Web3.)

Dreyhurst acknowledges that trying to explain Web3 can be infuriating, because it is a loosely defined term and takes a slightly different form depending on who defines it, but he said, it is the case with all new prospects of technology.

“Every new coming of the web is initially baffling,” he said.

For techies and crypto workers, Web3 has been a major theoretical vision for years. But in recent months, pressure for a blockchain-powered future has come to dominate tech conferences and social media talks in certain circles. It even forced major tech companies to assemble teams dedicated to Web3.

This has led to some irony in the evolution of Web3: Enthusiasts hope that Web3 will mean that sharing photos, connecting with friends and buying things online will no longer be synonymous with Big Tech but is done through the many competing microservices on the blockchain – where, for example, Every time you post a message, you earn a token for your contribution, which gives you an ownership stake in the platform and one day a way to profit from it.

In theory, this also means avoiding fees, rules, and restrictions imposed by tech companies. However, major tech platforms are also jumping on the idea.

“This means that all the value created can be shared among more people, not just owners, investors and employees,” said Esther Crawford, senior project manager at Twitter.

Crawford said Twitter is studying ways to integrate Web3 concepts into the social network, such as one day being able to log into the social network and tweet from an account tied to a cryptocurrency, not a Twitter account. She sees the future differently: It’s not an encrypted version of Twitter that replaces Twitter. But instead, Twitter offers Web3 features on top of the standard Twitter.

“For a long time, Web3 has been very theoretical,” she said. “But there is now an increase in the momentum to build.”

Will Web3 be the new standard?

Experts say, in a best-case scenario for Web3 fans, the technology will work in tandem with Web 2.0, and not completely replace it.

In other words, blockchain-based social networks, transactions, and businesses can grow and thrive in the coming years. However, eliminating Facebook, Twitter or Google entirely isn’t likely on the horizon, according to tech scientists.

“I am not in a position to say who will win,” Durhurst said. “But Web2 companies will incorporate Web3 ideas into their services to stay relevant.”

He believes that many people would like to be able to take their data and the history of their online interactions wherever they go online, rather than staying on individual web platforms – what some call the “walled gardens” of big tech companies.

“This is a fundamentally different experience from what we are used to today,” Durhurst said.

But he acknowledges that unlimited freedom can lead to disturbing results for some.

“The Faustian deal is that for the same reasons that it’s exciting to have nothing holding people back to build whatever society they want, I can’t stop anyone from building something obnoxious,” he said.

Decentralized social networks have proven attractive to white supremacists and other far-right groups, but Sam Williams, founder of Arweave, a blockchain-based project for storing online data, said he trusts most small communities to decide what speech is allowed online.

Overall, he said, mass voting on sharing rules would be better than what users are experiencing on the major social media platforms today.

“If we stay in the current model, we will move more and more into a world where a small group of companies run by a small number of people manage our experiences in cyberspace,” he said. “And in this world, the problems of the big tech companies are getting worse.”

Another issue, of course, is government oversight. Blockchain-based tokens are now in the regulatory underworld, but that could soon change as the Biden administration begins the process of setting new rules for the industry.

How does Web3 fit into that other vision of the future of the Internet – metaverses?

Facebook recently rebranded itself as Meta, and said its priority will be to build a “metaverse,” a digital future where everyone lives, interacts and works together in virtual reality.

Among the company’s stated principles is “strong interoperability,” which means users can move their accounts or avatars from site to site or service to service seamlessly, rather than having to log into accounts controlled by separate companies each time they visit sites New.

This is also one of the ideals of Web3.

But true believers say that there is no place for Facebook in the world of Web3, no matter how hard the social network tries to be part of the next generation of the Internet.

“Facebook will always be motivated to enrich Facebook,” Williams said. “And that’s not how cyberspace should be governed.”

What chance is Web3 just an exaggerated imagination?

It doesn’t take long to find Web3 skeptics.

James Gremelman, a professor at Cornell University who studies law and technology, has become vocal about his skepticism.

“Web3 is vaporware,” Grimmelmann said, referring to a product that was advertised but never delivered.

“It’s a promised future internet that fixes all the things people don’t like about the current internet, even when it’s contradictory.”

He said that if part of the motivation is resistance to giving away personal data to big tech companies, then blockchain is not the answer, as that will make more data public.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “The vision is that the problem with the Internet is that there are too many central intermediaries. Instead of having too many different apps and websites, we will put them all on the blockchain, putting them all in one place.”

For Grimmelmann, Web3 represents the technologists who come up with the perfect spirit of the dawn of the Internet – everyone can use the information highway freely! – It has long been overtaken by tech companies.

He said that the evolution of the internet has always been a tug of war between fragmentation and centralization. When it swings away in one direction, a backlash tries to pull it away in the opposite direction.

“Blockchain is interesting and solves some difficult problems in new ways,” he said. “It is possible that they will end up in the toolkit from which the next Internet was created, but that does not mean that the Internet will be built around them.”

But many people who have found fortune during the pandemic by investing in cryptocurrency are looking for something to sink their money into beyond the NFTs of “bored monkeys” who are members of the cartoonish “yacht club.”

For now, he said, Web3, albeit mostly theoretical, is the thing.

“There are a lot of people who have money to invest,” he said. “And they need some vision to throw money at them.”

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