Web3: What is it and how will it change the way we use the internet?

A network diagram

Web3 might be the future of the internet

Allan Swart / Alamy

Yet another new buzzword has got the internet excited, but what exactly is Web3? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Web3?

At a basic level, the idea behind Web3 is to take the world wide web as we know it and add blockchains – the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin – to everything.

Why would you want to do that?

The web was once seen as a utopia in which anyone could do anything, but proponents of Web3 say it is now dominated by big corporations and proprietary algorithms. Blockchains could give people equitable ownership of their presence on the internet. “Web3 is a way to deal with the trauma of the loss of a once possible great future for the internet,” says Niels Ten Oever at the University of Amsterdam.

Hang on, what about Webs 1 and 2?

The first web was just the world wide web, launched by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, which allowed people with technical know-how to put information online in a decentralised way. Web 2.0, first named in a 1999 magazine article, saw the development of easy-to-use tools that let anyone to create content online, not just experts, but at a cost of centralising into the tech giants we have today, such as Facebook and Google.

Web3 sets its own typographic trend by ditching the “.0” and a space, and will allow the best of both worlds, say its supporters: easy-to-use, decentralised tools.

 So what does it actually involve?

At the core of Web3 are distributed applications (or dapps) built using the Ethereum blockchain, which pays out to users who help keep its network online.

Dapps will play a similar role for Web3 that the App Store did in unlocking the potential of the iPhone, says Zoe Scaman, founder of London strategy studio Bodacious and a Web3 proponent. “We need friction to be removed and wide-ranging use cases to be created, which will happen when more third-party developers start to release more dapps built on top of the blockchains,” says Scaman.

What dapps are there at the moment?

Of the top five dapps at present, the most popular is one that allows people to swap cryptocurrencies, while another is for trading non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The other three are games, similar to early breakout successes on the App Store, but with a key difference: you can get paid in cryptocurrency for playing them.

I’m still not clear how the way I use the internet will change.

Proponents say it is a bold new future that is designed to wrest control away from big tech platforms and to put power in the hands of everyday citizens: a decentralised internet, where people power trumps individual companies. The same concept was behind a failed bid to buy a copy of the US Constitution last month.

It sounds like a headache.

Some people are sceptical about the Web3 utopia. “Web3 is introducing friction, without solving any real problem,” says Ten Oever. A lot of the claims behind Web3 – such as distributed architecture and decentralisation – are better achieved without blockchains, sceptics reckon.

“If you build a distributed architecture on a centralised infrastructure, you are not suddenly decentralising the infrastructure,” says Ten Oever. While web infrastructure is nominally decentralised, in practice much of the internet runs on servers hosted by a handful of companies, such as Amazon – and the same is happening with Web3, he says, as people run dapps hosted by just a few providers.

So are the sceptics correct?

The kinks have yet to be ironed out of Web3’s promise, and the word has been latched onto by those trying to make a quick buck. Even its boosters, like Scaman, have warned of scams and pump and dump schemes allied to the word. “There will always be people trying to make a buck,” she says, “but there are also incredibly talented people building amazing things.”

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