What is Web3 and Why the Hype Around it?
A discussion on what Web3 is, how is it different from the previous iterations of the Web and what should we as software developers do about it
What is Web3?
Quite a few people are trying to find an answer to this question. And while there are several explanations (depending on which side is giving the explanation), there is also a lot of vagueness and misinformation around the concept.
If you have been following the latest tech trends on social media or elsewhere, you might have noticed Web3 popping up all over the place. It seems everyone is jumping on the Web3 bandwagon. Some people are claiming Web3 as the re-birth of internet. However, many are calling it a sham and a downright ridiculous idea.
One thing is certain though. There is a lot of hype around Web3 in general.
And that’s where a bunch of important questions pop up.
Was there a Web2 and if yes, what’s the problem with it that someone had to create a sequel?
And above all else – is Web3 relevant to you and should you actually bother knowing more about it?
Is it worth taking the red pill?
In this article, we will try to answer these questions. However, we will not be taking sides as to which version of the Web is good or bad. In my view, it is more often than not useless to fight over tech terms. Instead, we will try to understand the concept and whether it makes sense for us to learn more about it.
1 – Web1 and Web2
To answer this question, we need to understand the evolution of Web in general.
Long ago (in the lates 80s and the 90s), there was the Web (or more commonly known now as the Web1). It was also known as the read-only web. In other words, you would have mostly static websites providing content that users can consume. There was little to no interactivity in terms of the user experience except for accessing information hosted on servers.
Then came the era of Web2. This is the time when the growth of the internet literally exploded and it became such an integral part of our day-to-day lives.
In fact, Web2 is what we use today. An internet dominated by large companies providing various services. An internet where any person can create and share content that can be consumed by someone living thousands of miles away. Think of applications like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and many more. It has become extremely easy for people to become creators of content and reach a massive audience at the push of a button. It’s hard to imagine a world without Facebook or something like Youtube.
However, all of it comes at a price. Directly or indirectly, we have become dependent on platforms owned by these large corporations.
While Web2 brought the power of the internet to the masses, it also inevitably made the big tech companies extremely powerful. With vast accumulation of personal data, privacy has become a big concern. The personal data of the users has been monetized in return for the services. Moreover, the companies providing services have complete control over their platforms. They can essentially remove any content that is not in line with their guidelines. They can censor any information and go as far as even controlling the political scenario in countries.
Though Web2 has been extremely successful and has solved lot of problems, some of the shortcomings associated with it has fed into the progress of Web3 as a concept for the future.
2 – What is Web3?
The uneven distribution of power between the organizations and the end-users has led to the emergence of the term Web3. It has become a concept that promises freedom from this ever-increasing control and turn the internet into the utopia it was envisioned to be. Or at least, that is what the proponents of Web3 are trying to claim.
But what makes these claims even remotely possible?
In Web3, there are de-centralized applications that run on something known as the blockchain.
Lots of jargon in that previous statement! But don’t worry. We will understand the terms in the next section. Basically, you can think of Web3 as an attempt to solve the problems of Web2.
3 – Cutting through the Web3 Jargon
In the previous section, we came across a few terms. Blockchain. De-centralized Applications.
So what do they exactly mean?
Blockchain is basically a public network of de-centralized nodes. Important keywords here are public and de-centralized. In other words, these nodes are not controlled by a single entity such as a corporation. Also, they are de-centralized in nature. This means that there is no single point of failure.
But what do these nodes actually do?
Well, the nodes process transactions and add them to a shared ledger. A transaction could be something as important as transfer of money from one person to another. Or something as simple as posting a blog post on a website. Again, the important point is the shared ledger. This ledger is immutable. In other words, you cannot update the past entries. You can only read and append. This makes sure that the ledger remembers everything.
So how does this tie up with Web3?
To put it in extremely simple terms, Web3 is a stack of protocols that enable the existence of fully de-centralized applications.
There is a whole lot of depth to the concept. But that will be for another post about Web3 application architecture.
To summarize, these apps allow anyone to participate in the decision making without monetizing their personal data. On face value, I must agree that this is a pretty noble statement. At the minimum, it already sounds better than Web2. However, let us reserve our judgement and learn a bit more before drawing further conclusions.
4 – Web2 vs Web3
Let us now try and compare Web2 and Web3 on a more practical level.
CASE 1 – The Twitter example
You may have heard about Twitter censoring certain tweets or accounts from time to time on grounds of policy violation.
How can they do it?
They can do it because Twitter is based on the Web2 concept. The organization essentially controls everything that happens on their platform. The tweets and accounts are stored on Twitter’s data centres and are governed by the rules laid out by them. They can change the rules whenever they want. You or me can do very little except abide by the current set of rules if we want to use Twitter.
The same cannot be done on a Web3 application on a conceptual level. This is because a Web3-based application that does what Twitter does will be a de-centralized application that will not be controlled by a single corporation or a group of users.
Depending on your opinion, you might think of it as a good thing or a bad thing. But we aren’t discussing the moral or the legal implications of such a system. The idea behind Web3 is to have more consensus and less policing.
CASE 2 – The Banking Example
In our typical banking infrastructure, the central banks control everything. Though you can be a customer of Bank XYZ, your records are part of the overall banking system. As a customer, your identification is clear based on your account number and other personal details. You have to adhere to a central set of rules. If you break those rules, you may be liable to penalties and even blocking of your payments.
In Web3, payments cannot be blocked because there is no personal data involved. Payments also happen through cryptocurrencies which makes them adhere to the consensus-driven blockchain.
Again, this might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your viewpoint.
CASE 3 – Services Going Down
Recently, when Youtube went down, there was a huge uproar on various social media platforms. If a social media platform such as Twitter goes down, imagine where the users will even create the uproar.
Despite whatever you feel about social media, a crucial banking service going down can cause massive inconvenience to users. We live in a 24/7 always connected world. However, Web2 does not adequately address this reality. There have been great strides in cloud computing with scalable and redundant applications. And still, we do get these cases of crucial applications going down.
On a conceptual level, Web3 servers cannot go down. They use a de-centralized network of 1000s of machines. It’s not easy to compromise the entire network. If the promise really holds, I personally believe this is a great aspect of Web3. Of course, there may be downsides to this approach also in terms of performance. However, we won’t get into those as part of this post.
4 – Is the Hype Real?
So having understood all of that, we reach back to our initial argument. Is the hype real? And what should you be doing about Web3?
Having read numerous articles and exploring the tech, I can say that the hype around Web3 is definitely real. Every new tech or concept is somewhat hyped in the beginning before it becomes stable. The same was the case with Web2 when it first started and look how successful it has become over time. Though some parts of the Web3 technology are still fluffy and undefined, there is lot of good work already done on the overall landscape. We are already having real-world applications being built using Web3.
However, despite the progress, there are still a lot of implications of the overall Web3 landscape that need to be addressed on a social and political level. People are still debating over what is and is not a part of Web3.
5 – What should you do about Web3?
Having said all of that, it is definitely good to explore Web3 if you are a software developer. When cloud technologies came about, a lot of engineers were left behind because they were not ready to make the shift.
In my humble view, a software developer should always try to expand his/her horizon. But it’s not like you need to jump into the ocean right away and start swimming to the island flashing the Web3 neon sign. It’s not like you should simply abandon Web2 and dump it in the junkyard.
Web2 is and will remain the core of the internet for several years to come.
However, Web3 will catchup soon. In fact, I feel that Web3 and Web2 will co-exist in the future because there are certain things that can be done only on Web2. Even Web1 websites are present on the internet in 2022 and still being used. Moreover, the Web3 space is still evolving and there are a lot of challenges around working with it from a tooling and infrastructure point of view. But it is definitely important to track the progress of Web3 and continue learning as things mature.
Architect and Developer who loves to write and share stuff about programming and software development