What is Web 3.0?

I’ve been wanting to find a way to help bring my friends and family members into Web 3.0 with me. There is a lot to this new iteration of the internet, and most of my friends and family are surface level users of very user optimized Web 2.0 tech. Web 3.0 at the moment is in the “we’re early” phase. Anytime something goes wrong someone tweets, “we’re early”. Anytime you stumble across an opportunity, “we’re early”. It’s a never ending phrase if you get involved on CT (Crypto Twitter).

So what is Web 3.0 then? I’ve heard a lot of people try to explain it by comparing it to the prior iterations of the web, the static Web 1.0 where things were published as html files and maybe some css (if you were lucky) and you could view content if you knew where to find it.

Web 2.0 became more dynamic and interconnected. Websites like the search engine Google, the social networks Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and more became social hubs for the daily users of the internet. At least the average individuals. There were social aspects to Web 1.0 if you knew where to find them but similar to where Web 3.0 is right now, a lot of it required some technical knowhow or just blind confidence to run into situations you didn’t fully understand with the expectation that you would be learning as you go.

In Web 1.0 you could get away with that Leeroy Jenkins maneuver but in Web 3.0 that’s the fastest way to ruin yourself financially. You see in Web 1.0 the average user had the ability to read info. In Web 2.0 the average individual gained the ability to publish. And in Web 3.0 the average individual receives the ability to own what they and others have published. Running in blind is not advisable in Web 3.0. Especially when it’s in the current “prototype that sparks and shorts out from time-to-time” phase. Additionally, there are bad actors who will take advantage of new users’ ignorance and trick them out of their digital items.

In Web 1.0 the average user had an internet connection and could view what the content owners published on their own websites. Yes you could own a website, but generally your content is on someone else’s rented server space. Unless you were hardcore and ran your own servers at home but that opened you up to the risk of being hacked. A computer always on the internet back then was ripe to be screwed with. The risks and technical skills required to run a website yourself when all you really wanted to do was post about a specific topic pushed people to rent space from more proficient server hosts.

In Web 2.0 the hosts grew, consolidated, and created huge server farms around the planet to allow for the transfer of data at better speeds. With the ability to post their own content on a few of the main social hubs users began to populate the internet with their personalities, art work, philosophies, educational content, and more. But generally speaking once you’ve pressed publish on that digital content the server owner or website owner takes over ownership of that content. Just looks at the terms of service.

In Web 3.0 the users have many options for distributed file storage (rather than reliance on a centralized server farm) as well as ways to prove they own/have control rights to the items stored on those distributed systems. We are currently in the “early” phase of this iteration. User experience is lacking and some of the tech is clunky. But as the space has matured over the last few years best practices have begun to emerge and educational information is becoming easier to obtain.

Everyone in the space daydreams about when all their friends and family will also be here, understanding the technology, and joining us in dreaming up use cases for this new proof focused method of using the internet.

So there are differences between the different iterations of the web. But they’re not hard lines like a nation’s borders on a map. They’re more fuzzy, liken to the invisible national borders in the real world. The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was clunky, and a flurry of activity all at once. But there are points in time where one type existed and then effectively got phased out as the new method of using the system took over. Only wanting to publish things the user was actually interested in (be it personal and private or educational and public) led many users to migrate away from self hosted html websites and towards the emerging new social network platforms like MySpace and Facebook. They gave you the ability to be you with minimal friction, and took over because of it. 

We’re at the beginning of the transition to the new system of usage. There is a lot of pushback from people who either don’t understand the new technology or are blinded by ideology. Their type was around when the internet was invented, they were around when “digg was a rounding error”, and they’ll be around when everyone is able to track, verify, and control their ownership over digital objects. The internet is dancing around this idea of owning the things you put online. But if you watch the headlines about websites, apps, and users getting shut down because of politics, religion, or the human urge to control each other, there is now a growing voice wanting more control over their existence in an ever increasingly digital world.

Web 1.0 had digital objects too. MUDs/MOOs, text-based multi user dimensions / object oriented chatroom-like games, where you could play with your friends, explore the things people created (written with painstaking focus to details to create an image of the virtual world around you in your head via imagination). You could go on adventures, slay beasts, breed dragons, etc. Like I said above there were places to go and experience the future of the web even back in the early days but you needed to know where to look or be told how to find it. And following the trend of Web 1.0 ownership, generally those game makers didn’t actually own the live files that represented their content, it was hosted/owned by their server provider.

So you can own things on the internet now. How is that possible? An encryption protected distributed ledger called a blockchain. There are a lot of blockchains. If you know what you’re doing (or follow a YouTube tutorial) you can learn how to make your own if you wanted to. I don’t want to, most people would prefer to use the ones that already exist and are being maintained by individuals around the planet who are skilled at their programming tasks, are great at responding to high pressure situations, and are generally passionate about using technology to improve the world.

There are a few different blockchains out there, some of them have overlapping use cases, some have only one or a very limited amounts of use cases.

The blockchain Bitcoin for instance is (currently) a distributed ledger focused specifically on storing value and enabling the transfer of value directly between individuals in a censorship resistant way. Bitcoin was created around the time of the 2008 financial crash by a pseudonymous individual called Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin is essentially a network of connected computers operating a piece of software that can download and view the entire blockchain as it currently is and if that software solves a very difficult computation it receives the privilege of creating the next block of transaction data for the chain, and is rewarded with some BTC for having solved the problem before any other computer could. All the computers in the network compete to solve this first, this process is called Proof of Work. The first to solve it wins and then the process repeats for them to solve the next block. You can almost think of these blocks being solved like a bus leaving a depot. If you want to send money to another entity you queue the transaction up and wait for the block to be solved. Once the block is solved the BTC on the queued transaction is sent to its new owner.

There is a lot to this Bitcoin process, I’m sure I’m not getting it 100% correct but if you wanted a basic idea of it that should help you understand some of the nuts and bolts to this. This idea of digital ownership rights being distributed across the planet allows for the next level of this system. Digitally native things like art made on a computer, video files, audio files, presentations, websites, any kind of data you think of or would want to make can be stored on blockchain like distributed systems. They can be accessed via an internet connection as you would normally access any other website, but they are not hosted on any one server farm in any one spot where if someone didn’t like what you had to say, could have your content deleted by the server owner.

Using file distribution technology (remember Napster?) distributed file storage networks for various purposes are popping up. IPFS (InterPlanetary File Storage) and Arweave are two I’m currently aware of but am still learning about. Their communities host the content uploaded to their network via the network’s specific software and are tasked with always being connected to the internet. If a user visits a website that has data stored on IPFS that causes a chain effect behind the scenes where the image information is routed from the community storage system to the user’s browser.

The part of Web 3.0 I’m excited about is where that distributed file storage system gets paired with that distributed ledger technology and suddenly not only can I prove that a website I uploaded to IPFS belongs to me, but I can transfer the ownership of it (control over it, and any rights I’ve programmed into it) to another user, without ever needing to involve a middle man. I can directly transfer those digital items around however I want. This gets us into smart contracts. And with smart contracts comes Ethereum.

Ethereum is a smart contract focused blockchain founded by Vitalik Buterin and launched in 2015. The chain sought to solve the digital item ownership issues that Vitalik himself ran into in the online gaming industry. Apparently an item he spent hours working to earn was unceremoniously removed from his (as well as others I suppose) inventories. This lost time and disillusionment caused him enough grief that it became the catalyst to start growing the Ethereum network. The idea that you could (and should) be able to own the digital objects you earned (in some cases ‘bought’ or licensed) and that no administrator should be able to take them away from you grew for several years. 

To me, this digital ownership really is at the heart of what Web 3.0 stands for. Having built my own website and websites for various marketers/businesses over the years, I have been directly involved in creating digital systems that allow users to become more informed about the clients business/operations. To me these finished packages are just website or e-commerce stores. But various aspects of it are digital items that I was licensing from various web hosting companies or registrars. In Web 1.0 and 2.0 I could register a domain name and have the right to use it until it expired but if for any reason that domain name became a target, you could have it removed from your account by the registrar. You didn’t actually own it you were licensing it for a short period of time.

The hosting was the same. If you missed a monthly payment suddenly a website would be down. You could host it yourself, like I said, but that brought on the risks associated with that as well. Even the files themselves, once you put them on another persons server they took on liability of them. They didn’t exactly ‘own’ the intellectual property you published, but if for any reason your property rubbed someone the wrong way, they could and often do get pressured to remove the content. It’s still yours but you have no where to put it. 

In Web 3.0 and in this case specifically on Ethereum, I own my domain name, the ability to control it is controlled with a piece of software (in some cases hardware) called a wallet. The wallet is a slightly confusing term, because it shows you what your account has control over, but the wallet itself doesn’t hold those items. They’re hosted on the distributed file network, your wallet just shows you that you own those things. The Ethereum wallet is basically your keycard to access your stuff. It has a long special key phrase stored inside it that allows it to sign transactions on the Ethereum network and let your digital items move around. If I want to sell my domain name I don’t have to ask my registrars permission anymore. I can go straight to the open market and list it. It can’t be taken away from me because the only person with the wallet keys that control its ability to be transferred is me.

But it’s not just domain names and control of them. You can also control the images, videos, audio files, etc and who owns the ability to control them via your wallet. The Ethereum blockchain currently is churning out blocks of transaction data (smart contract code that shows where items are, who has rights over them, etc.) using the proof of work method mentioned above. This will be changing soon, to another type of system called proof of stake, which we can dive into more later. But the main idea I wanted to convey in this initial article is that this is a different way of using the internet in general, it gives realism to digital items, and it is enabling some really remarkable things for some of those who need the help most.

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