Since the dawn of the public World Wide Web in the 1990s, we’ve been bombarded with a new technology every few years that will supposedly revolutionize how we browse, click, interact, and send and receive information. The latest technological darling is Web3, which – according to its champions – will give the power to people by taking it away from corporate monoliths. Regular, everyday folks will control their data instead of the overlords at Google and Facebook.
Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want this to come true? Yet a utopian concept like Web3 has to be put through the test before we can put our faith in its promises.
To begin we need a quick lesson. Web 1.0 was based on traditional web pages that were constructed with commercial content. Web 2.0 introduced more variance with social media, which provided you and I and everyone else with a newfound ability to create and profit from our own content. The problem was that you still needed middlemen like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to gain exposure.
That’s the issue Web3 claims to resolve. Proponents say Web3 will push Big Tech out of the way to decentralize the web, similar to how crypto currency is battling banks and governments. As an extension, Web3 mainly centers on blockchain technology – the same as crypto currency.
Blockchain will create customized tokens for content, providing a consistent and neutral way to manage data across all systems. And best of all, you and I will be able to create and earn without the help of a corporation.
While the notion may make you feel warm and fuzzy, we still have to ask: What are the real-world, practical benefits of Web3?
For one, if you’ve ever seen an ad that seems a bit too personalized and targeted (“How’d they know that about me?”), you can’t help question exactly what companies have in their files about you. Web3 will essentially eliminate this issue by giving you 100% control of your data. All of your digital assets will be assigned to you with unique digital tokens that can be tracked across the Internet. A ledger of your data – and for that matter, everyone else’s data – would be shared while still protecting your privacy. Anyone you interact with could verify the authenticity of you and your assets – and they could only access your data with your permission.
With Web3, everyone’s equal. Companies can no longer profit from you.
But that was also the grand promise of social networking, where all of that connecting and collaboration got stuck in the thick mud of commerce and capitalism. We didn’t get as much autonomy as we imagined.
To execute on its mission, Web3 means tearing down and rebuilding every singe aspect of the Internet, as we know it. And any new design can suffer from the law of unintended consequences.
Let’s look at regulation. Currently, the powers that be protect us from hacking, fraud, theft, harassment, illegal business practices, and many forms of cybercrime. When something goes wrong we have formal avenues to resolve our grievances. With Web3’s anonymous nature, however, we may find ourselves in a world of cyber outlaws, where there are few rules and no one to enforce the ones that exist. Simply put, Web3’s tokenized system may allow criminals to hide forever from law enforcement. Some will rightly argue that anonymity helps those suffering under tyrannical governments to spread news to the free world. No one could argue with that benefit of Web3. The question society must ask is if an anonymous web provides more pros or more cons.
Web3, like cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, will also have a negative impact on the environment. The reasons are complex, but at high-level, the technological mechanisms that drive Web3 would drain electric grids and emit harmful effects into the environment. Some say Web3 could damage the environment in a manner similar to farming and the oil industry.
There’s obviously no clear-cut side of the fence to sit on, as Web3 could provide myriad benefits but also many potential negatives. Most analysts agree, however, that the web has always been an evolving concept, and some aspects of Web3 will naturally seep into the current web architecture. From that perspective, society will adjust, for better or for worse.