Brave new World Wide Web: Have we arrived at Web 3.0?

In the world of IT, there has never been any shortage of buzzwords. Although some of the buzzwords that get thrown our way gain longevity, many are short-lived and easily forgotten. Back in 2004, such a buzzword was Web 2.0. But that may be about to give way to another buzzword: Web 3.0.

What was Web 2.0?

Like all good buzzwords, the term Web 2.0 is filled with ambiguity and could mean vastly different things depending on who you were talking to. To some, Web 2.0 referred to a much more interactive version of the Web. It meant moving away from the static Web content that dominated the Internet at the time and embracing user-generated content such as product reviews, comments left on Web pages, and even social media posts. Of course, I just can’t help to think that if this definition is to be believed, then we have Web 2.0 to thank for Internet trolls.

Others (including myself) saw Web 2.0 as being something a little bit different. Shortly after the new millennium, the tech industry went through a period of severe upheaval in the now infamous dot-com crash. It was a very trying time for the IT industry. Giant tech firms were going bankrupt seemingly overnight, and droves of IT pros found themselves suddenly out of work with absolutely no prospect of finding another tech job anytime soon. In 2004, the tech industry was just starting to emerge from the dot-com crash. For the first time in years, attention began to turn toward innovation as opposed to being laser-focused on mere survival. This innovation led to new and different Web technologies that have been referred to by some as Web 2.0.

Where are we today?

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Many years have passed since the days of Web 2.0, and the term has been largely forgotten. Even so, I can’t help but wonder if we are on the brink of Web 3.0. Remember, the 2.0 in Web 2.0 did not refer to a software version, but rather to a new and improved Web browsing experience thanks to the adoption of new technologies. Obviously, Web technology has continued to evolve since the Web 2.0 days, but my guess is that we are about to see a paradigm shift (there’s another one of those buzzwords) that may be worthy of the label Web 3.0.

What is changing?

To discuss the paradigm shift that is taking place, let’s forget all about technology for a moment and consider history in general. Throughout history, there have primarily been two things that cause a complete change in the way that we do things.

The first of these change agents is innovation. The invention of the automobile, for example, led to an almost universal transition away from the horse and buggy. An elderly relative once told me that in the 1920s, horses were commonplace, but the wealthier people had cars. In contrast, today cars are commonplace, and horses have (at least for some) become a status symbol.

The smartphone is another example of paradigm-shifting innovation. This morning alone, I have used my phone to check my email, book a flight, and yes, even answer a phone call. It really wasn’t that long ago that all of the things that we do with our smartphones would have required a number of different devices. The point is that true innovation brings about massive change.

The other thing that has driven major paradigm shifts throughout history is a situation that has become so intolerable that action has to be taken. The American civil rights movement, for example, was an example of people standing up and saying that enough is enough.

We’ve seen examples of “enough is enough” in the tech world, too. There was a time (roughly coinciding with the Web 2.0 era) where malicious Web pages became such a huge problem that Microsoft actually stopped work on Windows Vista and focused its attention on securing Windows XP because something had to be done.

What is Web 3.0?

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The interesting thing about where we are today with regard to technology is that both of the driving factors that I discussed in the previous paragraph are occurring simultaneously. The intolerable change agent, in this case, is online fraud. This is a subject that I have written on several times because phishing sites and other online scams have become so pervasive.

This is where innovation comes into play. There are a number of different innovative security and fraud prevention technologies that have been introduced in recent years, but the one that has the greatest potential to transform the Web is blockchain. I firmly believe that blockchain is the technology that is going to usher in Web 3.0 by virtually eliminating issues of trust.

If you are not familiar with blockchain, it is essentially a multicopy distributed database in which each transaction is mathematically linked to the previous and to the next transaction that has occurred (hence the word “chain”). The technology works in such a way as to provide irrefutable proof of activity, and can also be tightly woven into identity validation. In other words, blockchain has the ability to make sure that you are really you (not someone posing as you) and it can keep a perfect, unalterable record of your online activities. Sukesh Mudrakola wrote an excellent article on this site, on how the technology works, and its potential for future use. As great as that article is, I prefer to think of blockchain in slightly simpler terms.

Today, we use the Internet for all manner of tasks. We send email, we shop, pay bills, and book travel, just to name a few. But although performing business transactions over the Web has become the norm, the question of trust has always been an underlying issue. Just think about how many times you might have wondered if it is safe to shop at a particular website. Similarly, online retailers struggle with how they can protect themselves against credit card fraud.

Blockchain has the potential to eliminate the issue of trust. Even though blockchain is most commonly associated with financial transactions or cryptocurrency, to think of blockchain technology solely in financial terms would be incredibly short-sighted. blockchain technology could conceivably be applied to any situation in which there is an issue of trust.

To show you what I mean, let’s talk about a nonfinancial example. I have publishers contact me on a regular basis asking me to write books on various subjects. About half of these offers are perfectly legitimate, but some are clearly scams. I also get contacted occasionally by small independent publishers who may or may not be legitimate (sometimes it’s hard to tell). So with that in mind, let’s pretend that an unknown publisher was to send me a contract for a book. As it stands now, both of us would have to take a bit of a leap of faith. The publisher has to trust that once the contract is signed, I will actually write the book, and won’t just tell them that the contract was signed by someone posing as me. Similarly, I have to trust that the publisher really is who they say that they are, and just as importantly, that they are not going to alter the contract after it has been signed. (Yes, that has happened.)

If properly implemented, blockchain could definitely help with this type of situation. Blockchain could be used both to establish identities and to ensure that neither party tries to do something sneaky after the contract has been signed.

A safer place

Web 3.0 isn’t going to look anything like the Web 2.0 transformation. Web 2.0 dramatically increased the capabilities of the Internet by moving away from static Web pages to content that was highly dynamic and interactive. Web 3.0 will likely go largely unnoticed because it has nothing to do with improving the way that Web pages are rendered or introducing new capabilities. Instead, Web 3.0 is going to be more focused on making the Web a safer and more trustworthy place. Because of the way that blockchain can associate activities with specific people, it may ultimately do more than just reduce the occurrence of phishing attacks. Blockchain might even help to get rid of Internet trolls if the technology were implemented in a way that kept would-be trolls from being able to hide in anonymity.

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