My first real encounter with the world of blockchain happened about two months ago when I joined SO-FAR. Before that, there was no contact between myself and crypto technologies. I was interested in this world, allured by the 2021 hype related to NFTs, but I could never quite grasp — what is Web3?
In my attempt to better understand the substance of Web3, I reverted to a simple Google search. Following the logic of Occam's razor, I dived deep into the ocean of articles to discern the meaning and nature of Web3. Dozens of searches were followed by hours of reading on the matter. Thankfully, the information explaining Web3 in all its aspects is widely available, and I feel my view toward the world of blockchain is now considerably less foggy.
Starting with a glance at the history of the internet, here is my attempt to explain and classify the most prominent features of Web3 today, aware its growth is perpetually in motion.
Web1 and Web2 - The Internet Before the Chain
Looking back at the most critical features of the early internet is fundamental to understanding the evolution of the web. The early internet looked very different. It was staged as a read-only data network, which users could consume but not participate in. The network evolved considerably since its early days to become what we know today — a space where different social media platforms exist through which we are all connected and through which we take an active part in creating content every day. These two iterations of the world wide web are often referred to as Web1 and Web2, while Web3 would be the latest one.
What is Web1?
By October 1990, Tim Berners-Lee, computer scientist and the inventor of the internet , had created the three crucial hypertext technologies that will become the web. He wrote HTML — HyperText Markup Language, URL — Uniform Resource Locator, and HTTP — HyperText Transfer Protocol, including the first webpage browser called WorldWideWeb.app. A series of web browsers followed while the communication happened via email. There was virtually no user content creation. Although Web1 was extremely static from today’s point of view, some of its features are still in use today, such as HyperText languages and the concept of the web browser and email, albeit in an evolved form.
Web1 dominated the global net until the early 2000s when the first social networks appeared.
Web2 - The Internet We Know
Also called the “participative social web”, Web2 is the iteration of the internet as we know it today. It is the space where social media networks reign, companies that provide services in exchange for users' personal information.
Web2 introduced novelties in web design and coding where how web pages were viewed — and used — changed dramatically. Moving away from its early days, the second version of the web became exceptionally pervasive, particularly with the appearance of smartphones and interactive applications. For the first time, people could create and organise virtual communities and exchange opinions in groups, in real-time, usually at no cost for the end-user. They could use different platforms to express their views and opinions or show their creativity. We must not forget its impact on education and work, especially during the lockdown periods globally.
Still, the utility Web2 applications and platforms possess comes at a price. The cost is “merely” all the personal data users share and enter into an application, accepting its rules and regulations. Applications and platforms use this data to serve promotional content to end-users, thus generating revenue while the user is constantly motivated to spend. Dominant Web2 platforms — FAANG companies — are among the world's biggest companies by market capitalisation. Web2 has become a centralised, commercial-company-ruled engine of consumerism at its core.
The next version of the web, Web3, seeks to overcome the centralisation and rigidity of Web2 through a completely different approach.
What is Web3?
“Web3 is the internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens.” This is how well-known Web3 advisor Packy McCormick defined it .
Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood defined Web3 as “an inclusive set of protocols to provide building blocks for application makers. These building blocks take the place of traditional web technologies like HTTP, AJAX and MySQL, but present a whole new way of creating applications. These technologies give the user strong and verifiable guarantees about the information they are receiving, what information they are giving away, what they are paying and what they are receiving in return. By empowering users to act for themselves within low-barrier markets, we can ensure censorship and monopolization have fewer places to hide.”
In the third iteration of the internet, the focus shifted toward decentralisation in the form of decentralised organisations (DAOs) and decentralised applications (dApps), and user participation and ownership. This new generation of entities and principles is designed to deflect from the rules and interests of FAANG and create a more democratic world where every individual matters, not only because of their clicks.
The interface of Web3 will closely resemble the ones we are used to, at least in the beginning, although a new vocabulary will be in use.
Key Features of Web3
Getting to grips with some critical features of Web3 can help get a clear picture of the new internet and its potential.
- Decentralisation — A core doctrine of Web3, decentralisation introduces a different model for data storage. There will be no need for massive databases, but the information and content would be stored in multiple locations simultaneously — and not in one central location. Meaning that user-generated data would remain under the user's control, traded through a blockchain network at will.
- Permissionless and Trustless — Users will require no permission or authorisation from an administrative body to participate in Web3, and the network will allow participants to interact directly without an intermediary, meaning that denying services or access to data will become impossible.
- Artificial Intelligence — Web3 developers will apply advanced AI and machine learning technologies to process language and data, allowing computers to distinguish the relevant information better and faster and provide more accurate and thorough results, only improving this feature over time.
- Metaverse and worldbuilding — Technologies supporting advanced three-dimensional design and virtual reality will enable the creation of metaverses, networks of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection.
- Connectivity and Ubiquity — Semantic metadata will grant better information connectivity, while all content will be accessible by different applications and devices at all times, regardless of location. Also, users will be able to switch between platforms with one single account, the only necessary guarantee of their identity.
A work in progress, Web3 has some limitations — problems related to the speed of informational transactions, UX, lack of integration with Web2 and inadequate coordination are some of the practical ones. We are still to see what user behaviour will be like when Web3 becomes more popular and if its ethical postulates will indeed be honoured. And then, what will happen with Web2 and the prevalent platforms of the moment?
Web2 vs Web3
The language upholding the development and accessibility of Web3 is mainly supportive and often detracting against Web2 protocols. Still, we are all very much present on Web2, and it’s only logical to ask — what will happen to it?
Blockchain technologies and applications will continue to thrive in the coming years, but it’s improbable that any FAANG companies will cease to operate or exist. Ideally, they will coexist and run next to each other . And although there may be no known “winner” of this duel, we can expect some integrations of Web3 protocols in Web2 to improve the user experience and retain relevance.
In the table below, find a list of key differences between Web2 and Web3.
Key differences between Web2 and Web3
- Dominant platforms censor content
- Banks can deny service or transactions
- Servers can shut down and affect work and data accessibility
- There is always a central authority (Google, Facebook/Meta etc.)
- Vulnerable to malicious attacks
- Censorship is not possible because of decentralisation
- Transactions are direct and require no personal data, so they can’t be denied
- There are no servers, but simultaneous multiple storage locations
- There is no central authority
- Not vulnerable to malicious attacks because the network exists in manifold places at the same time
Crypto Twitter and The Thriving Community
A Web2 original platform, Twitter quickly assumed the position of a Web3 pioneer, with its burgeoning blockchain-oriented community earning the nickname “Crypto Twitter”. A place of quick thought exchange and rapidly alternating trends, Twitter directly addressed its prevalence in the Web3 world by introducing hexagonal NFT profile pictures , allowing users to connect their profiles to their crypto wallets and elegantly marking its transition to Web3.
The community responded by using the hexagonal PFPs and welcoming new members daily from all fields of interest. Traditionally a platform of choice for those who love good online bickering, Twitter quickly became where trends and memes emerge — Web3 jokes are common, whether mocking or supporting. Crypto Twitter influencers are considered leading voices in the blockchain sector, while the hype about Web3 doesn’t seem to stop. Twitter is where all NFT drops and giveaways are announced, where the influencers connect in Spaces regularly and where new ideas form and take shape. People also seem to have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
Web2 me vs Web3 me
One of the ongoing viral meme trends in the crypto Twitter community is “Web2 me vs Web3 me”, in which users post two different profile images, one presumably from the Web2 era — often an actual photo of themselves, and one NFT — usually an illustrative iteration distantly resembling the original photo. What sounds like a straightforward comparison instantly turned into a whimsical take on how the blockchain influences our perceptions of the self.
The profile @adriyoung initiated the trend on 28 January 2022. The user posted an image of herself next to her Companion-In-A-Box NFT. A Crypto Coven NFT  holder quickly mimicked this action, which marked the beginning of the spread.
Since the “Web2 vs Web3” concept became alive on Twitter, it also permeated textual tweeting. People often comment on the differences between the two, and one artist even decided to create a profile dedicated solely to the trend.
As we advance in building the future of the web and the shape of Web3 crystalises, it’s becoming evident that the comparisons and the criticism between Web2 and Web3 supporters will continue. Learning as we go, predictions are hard to make, and many challenges await. Finally, we can stay dedicated to two things, no doubt — Web3 ethos and priceless memes.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989.
Facebook/Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google
Gavin Wood, Why We Need Web 3.0, Medium, 2018.
Semantic metadata is metadata that describes the “meaning” of data. In Web3 it refers to detailed descriptions of content.
Bobby Allyn, “People are talking about Web3. Is it the Internet of the future or just a buzzword?”, NPR, 2021.
An NFT project offering a collection of witch-themed portraits for minting. All the witches/NFTs have been claimed.