2021 brought us a new wave of tech buzzwords – NFTs, crypto, DAO, and metaverse to name a few – and they went mainstream. To welcome us to 2022, in came ‘WEB3’. And in case you didn’t already know that you lived through WEB1 and WEB2, you’re excused, because no one seemed to know we had to call it that.
The internet was first created in the halls of academia and the military; it looked very different from today. Computers of companies and organisations were first being connected with each other to create the first web pages of content and the ‘world wide web’. Dial-up internet was still the way to get online and WEB1 was born.
The next phase of the internet, WEB2, was spearheaded by tech and social media companies which saw an opportunity for everyday people to create their own content. MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other platforms made it easy for us to create and curate individual content and develop connections to gather (and even monetise) an audience. Beyond the individual creator, WEB2 also brought about the centralisation of finance and commerce on the internet by creating easy-to-use platforms to sell products, collect payments, and maintain accounts. Salesforce, Paypal, eBay, Square, Shopify, and a host of CRM applications now underlie the purchasing and marketing relationships that thousands of companies have with their vendors and customers.
Now, with the development and popularisation of blockchain, and the potential of a decentralised internet, we are entering the era of WEB3.
So, how did we get here?
The backlash against social media companies like Meta (Facebook), a growing mistrust in the brick-and-mortar banking and investment system (or just looking for that next gold rush), and a focus on personal privacy and data security have led many people to consider alternative technologies to disrupt the hold that these traditional and technology companies have had over our economy and society. Many believe that decentralisation is the way to make the internet safer, more trustworthy, and give others (outside of FAANG
) a chance to build something better. Developers, influencers, and ordinary users are bringing technologies such as cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and DeFi into the mainstream and it will change the way we use the Internet. WEB3 is the possibility and potential of this change.
But is decentralisation of the internet really the way to go? WEB3 is a first attempt to create a future in which decentralisation will make the playing field more even for everyone. But are we truly ready to take on the technological and societal effort, and to pay the financial and resource costs, to dismantle WEB2 and turn to WEB3?
No one yet knows for certain. For example, there are increasing doubts about the future of blockchain. Already, we are learning that while some NFTs are kept on the blockchain, the underlying assets represented by the NFTs, generally speaking, are not. And some NFTs are not even kept on the blockchain (thereby losing the value and control of what a non-fungible token is supposed to be). Additionally, it is not altogether clear whether the blockchain really creates more privacy and allows individuals to own their own data. On top of that, what if you don’t want to learn how to host your own content using blockchain? Will you go to a platform that offers that service for you, and how many more people may be doing the same? Does this mean that we may gradually turn back to centralised content, albeit with different platforms in control? Lastly, the energy requirement of blockchain is still a concern. Mining crypto and maintaining NFTs and other decentralised features of WEB3 consume significant energy resources. As the global warming crisis continues to unfold, are we really going to build the new internet on a technology that directly results in global temperature increases?
WEB3 is definitely something we need to understand. We also need to work with our current (and future) clients to help manage the technological and advertising challenges that a movement to WEB3 would bring. However, given the uncertainty of the decentralized concepts that lie at the core of WEB3, we still need to see how this new era of internet development will unfold.
Veronica Millan is global chief information officer at MullenLowe Group