The internet, as you know it, is what we’ve begun to refer to as “Web2”. It’s a platform dominated by companies and businesses, driven by advertising and services that are traded for user data in return. What is being called Web3 is quite different from what we’ve grown accustomed to as the shape of the internet. Web3 is built around the basis of a decentralized internet: one unbound by the needs of corporations or advertisers, entirely built and operated by the users themselves. While the function of both of these internet models is inherently similar, they differ greatly once you get down to the minute details of each.
What is Web3?
Web3 that has people so enraptured about it as a concept, but let’s talk briefly about what it truly is. Web3 is the name given to the concept of a decentralized internet, based around the shared ledger systems used by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether and utilizing blockchain technology.
It is, in short, an unrestricted and user-guided approach to internet service: completely decentralized and completely free of gatekeepers or middlemen. Proponents of Web3 have envisioned the platform taking a multitude of different forms: forms like that of decentralized social media platforms, pay to win betting sites and video games (the rewards of which would be cryptocurrency), and NFT marketplaces, like OpenSea or Rarible, that let users buy and sell tokens at will. Idealists in the space envision the platform revolutionizing the way every person uses the internet: creating amore open, easily accessed, and entirely digital economy, with the goal being to allow anyone and everyone all the vast possibilities of a decentralized internet.
So then, What is Web2?
Web2 describes the current form of the internet: the one that you’ve most likely learned your internet abilities on and are currently using. This form of the internet is defined by a few elements: broad control being overseen by internet service providers and the owners of sites/content; the gig economy; high performance and low barrier to entry in terms of implementation; and participation being deemed by central authority. Web2 has also been referred to as the centralized internet.
Web2 vs. Web3: Practical Comparisons
Aside from the core differences already mentioned, Web2 and Web3 are diametrically opposed by the nature of what they’re trying to achieve and how each platform goes about doing so. With Web2, the owners of a website are in charge of the content moderation on said site. With Web3, all of that central control is dismantled: making the internet entirely run by the people who use it. From there, we can compare the practical differences between the two forms of internet.
Websites can censor content and creators at will under the construction of Web2. In a Web3 ecosystem, social media sites and the like wouldn’t be able to do that because control has been entirely decentralized. Payment services in the current Web2 space can decide not to allow payments for certain types of work (i.e. adult content) and also can require personal information to do complete said payments. This wouldn’t be an issue in a Web3 world because those services would be under conditional “smart” contracts and would no longer be able to require personal data to complete payments. The gig economy that we’ve become accustomed to under Web2 is at the will of sites and server uptime, making it possible for jobs to disappear overnight. Because Web3 servers are built upon blockchain technology—specifically Ethereum—this is not a possibility, as Ethereum has a decentralized backend of 1000s of computers.
Limitations of Web3
While all of this Web3 stuff sounds well and good, it is important to note that there are (like with anything else) some caveats to keep in mind. At the current moment, Web3 scalability is quite slow. Transactions on a blockchain require validation through a node and then propagation through the rest of the network, which requires more time and resources than what we might be accustomed to with Web2. The user experience of Web3 is miles behind what is currently available with Web2 apps: as Dapps (decentralized apps) struggle to be usable outside of the inner circle of Web3 developers and enthusiasts. Therein lies one of the central limitations and drawbacks of Web3 at the moment which is its approachability and accessibility. There is very little integration between Web2 and Web3 apps currently, so convincing everyday users to manage this integration themselves is too hard. And, last but not least, the cost of Web3 dapps and services is much higher at the moment than anything with relation to Web2.
The Future of Web3
Web3 is a vision of an internet that is decentralized: created and operated by users. The basic premise is that every facet of the platform is both entertainment and business opportunity: in form and functionality. Web3 could afford the average consumer a level of power and autonomy not seen before on the internet. Even with all of the potential shortcomings and exploitations that come with that type of unfettered freedom, hopefuls envision a new era of democratic internet usage. There are very real concerns about Web3 becoming a hyper-capitalist, overly monetized platform for greedy business minds, but that possible future remains to be seen. For now, Web3 could be an exciting step forward, but we have Web2 to keep us company in the meantime.