The internet is a huge part of all our lives. This very article you are reading, being beamed to you, wherever you are in the world over a series of cables. Maybe over copper, maybe over fibre, maybe even from space via satellite.
During the relatively short lifespan of the internet, it has undergone just a single major “revision” of sorts. But we are on the precipice of the third iteration of the web as we know it, dubbed Web3. But what is Web3, and why should you care?
What was considered Web1?
Between 1989 and 2005, the world wide web was in what we consider the “Web1” phase. Web1 is a very different beast from what many of us are used to nowadays.
Web1 was all about static web pages, with very little if (if any) user interaction. The closest user interaction comes in the form of guestbooks. Web1 was home to many personal static home pages, usually hosted for free on ISP servers.
Back in Web1 days, paid hosting was usually done on a page hit basis. Back then, there was a huge focus on page hits. With a common sight being page hit counters brandished somewhere on a webpage.
Nowadays, we are in what is considered Web2. Web2 is all about dynamic web pages and user interaction and creation of content.
With Web2, thanks to an improvement in technology, communities are the main driver for websites. The rise of forums in the late Web1 to mid-Web2 would give way to social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Leading to huge communities for even the most perceived niches. Web2 is all about sharing user-made content.
In the early Web2 days, this was done across multiple smaller websites. But nowadays, we see the sharing of content mainly done on a few huge services including the likes of Facebook, Twitter, reddit, and Instagram.
During Web2, online advertising became a juggernaut. With huge amounts of data easily accessible to advertisers, allowing them to target ads more effectively than ever. With website runners making their money from clicks rather than pure page views. This shift in online advertising is what has led to the world wide web as we know it today. Optimised to show as many ads as you can stand and track your habits and browsing to continue advertising more economically.
Web2 and centralisation
Presently, many would say we are in a transitional phase from Web2 to Web3. Currently, in this late phase Web2, the most visited websites have absorbed the smaller more niche community-based websites. Forums are all but dead. Communities have moved towards fewer Swiss army knife services.
Facebook, for example, has a whole part of the platform devoted to communities with “Facebook Groups”. Another example is reddit, home to a huge number of communities. Not all of them in the past would have had their own websites to convene, but many would have.
Discord, is another more recent addition that is taking not only the targeted gaming audience by storm but also just about every hobby in-between. The more instant nature of the communication fits with Web2 sensibilities. Odds are, if you are partaking in some kind of hobby, you are currently in a Discord server or two.
To go further into this centralisation, these huge internet services are mainly run from the same cloud services. Such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. When these cloud platforms go down (and they do), large swathes of the internet go down. Including some of the most visited websites on the internet.
This happened very recently (again) when Google Cloud went down. Taking Spotify and Discord amongst others with it for around 4 hours. We warned against this in the blog “Awesome self-hosted privacy and security tools.”
Even putting aside, the technical concerns, take into account censorship. Throughout history, across the globe, we have seen the suppression of voices. Take China, the infamous Great Firewall, blocking access to sources the Chinese government deems inconvenient. Now take into account that the dissemination of information mainly happens through a few websites hosted on the same cloud services. It makes it easy to censor information.
The increased centralisation of the internet is a big problem. That is where Web3 comes in, offering the best of both worlds. Decentralisation, with the dynamic user-focussed communities we’ve all come to know and love.
What Web3 has to offer
Web3 is all about trying to marry the innovations brought forward by social media and the users that helped make these platforms what they are today. Making sure that future platforms are owned by the users, and not by huge corporations that harvest data and profit off the backs of its userbase.
This is why decentralisation is a major part of Web3. Nowadays, decentralisation is mainly associated with cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. Cryptocurrencies are a decentralised alternative to the centralised fiat currencies we are all familiar with. Another way to bring back more control to individuals, and move away from large organisations. Just like how Web3 looks to for the world wide web.
At its core, Web3 is the internet as we know it, but decentralised and distributed via a blockchain. Removing the power structures of old and replacing them with something where everyone can be equal.
Blockchain and Web3
A blockchain is a decentralised public database stored and shared by various nodes on a network. Each transaction on the blockchain is written and stored in this database for anyone to see. These transactions are stored in blocks. This creates an inscrutable record of events, in a zero-trust model.
Web3 was first coined back in 2014 by Gavin Wood, who at the time had just been done helping develop Ethereum. The second most valuable Cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. Gavin Wood would then go on to found the Web3 Foundation.
Ethereum’s ecosystem is one example of Web3 though still rather in its infancy. But there are many other alternatives too. The Blockchain exists in many different shapes and forms. Adding much-needed diversity for the concept to survive. These blockchains can communicate with one another as well, with bridges between ecosystems already a reality.
Trust and Web3
As mentioned earlier, a major part of Web3 is ownership. Moving away from the domination of major corporations and their ownership of our data. And towards a model that is owned by the users themselves. Another aspect of this ownership is the concept of trust.
We’ve previously written about the benefits of a “zero-trust” model. And that is what apps on Web3 can provide. As it currently stands, Web2 has all of us having to trust these massive corporations. Even if the likes of WhatsApp offer end-to-end encryption, there is no way to verify what is going on under the hood.
So, what about open-source? Whilst an improvement on closed platforms, there is still an element of exclusivity to an open-source centralised service. Take Signal, for example, an open-source encrypted messaging service. But ultimately it is still Signal in control. You could host Signal yourself, but it wouldn’t be able to communicate with the “main” Signal platform. Web3 is about allowing everyone to provide or co-provide a platform, no second-class citizens.
This is why the removal of trust is a big thing for Web3. Trust is inherently a bad thing when it comes to privacy and security. By removing trust, we remove the power any one party has in a system. Everyone is equally scrutinised. The blockchain is built to empower this.
NFTs and ownership
You’ve probably heard of Non-fungible Tokens by now. NFTs have taken the internet by storm. To most people, NFTs are nothing more than digital art. Each piece unique and hosted on a platform such as Ethereum, Polygon, or Kusama. And yes, this is a valid use of NFTs, as a way to bring ownership to digital assets (a core tenet of Web3). But NFTs can bring ownership to other things as well, not just digital art.
There’s an example extremely close to home. Here at hide.me vpn, we were the first vpn service to offer a vpn subscription via an NFT. Our Guy Fawkes mask NFT, made available on the Kanaria platform, gave each of the 20 owners access to a lifetime subscription of hide.me vpn Premium.
These masks are now theirs to do with as they please. If they so wish, they could sell the masks on, and transfer that ownership to someone else. Or pass it on to a friend or loved one. The choice is what makes this so exciting.
This is just one example of ownership and NFTs. The only limit is your imagination. And it is really exciting to see all the new ideas people come up with. And we are extremely proud to be the first vpn provider to dip our toe into the world of NFTs and Web3.
vpn“>Web3 and hide.me vpn
If it wasn’t clear already, we are very interested in what Web3 means for VPNs. The innovation of our Guy Fawkes Mask NFT was both exciting for us to be involved in, and to see the reaction of the community.
But that NFT is just the start of Web3 and hide.me vpn. We are constantly thinking of new ways we can intertwine hide.me vpn and Web3, in particular NFTs. Especially as the current NFT was very limited at only 20. We want to open the experience up to as many people as possible.
We’ve always been at the bleeding edge when it comes to technology. And we won’t be left behind when it comes to Web3.
Is Web3 subject to change?
Web3 isn’t a standard set-in-stone, it may not come to pass in the way many expect it to. Web3 just like Web2 and 1 preceding it are arbitrary aspects of the internet we’ve noticed have changed over time. Ultimately the technology is still the same. It’s just the way we all interact with it that has evolved.
Though Web3 has more in common with Web1 than Web2 regarding the decentralisation aspect and a focus more on the individual and ownership than a service model governed by tech giants. Some may consider it to be the “best of both worlds” of Web1 and 2. Decentralisation and individualisation with a dynamic user focus.
So, why should I care?
The world wide web as we know it is only 30 years old. In those 30 years, it has transformed a lot, and it has completely changed the way the world works. There is no reason to believe it’s going to stop evolving now.
But, like change in our real lives, it isn’t like flicking a switch. It is a slow and gradual change over time. We’re seeing people push back against the likes of Meta and Google. Scandal after scandal of using our data against us. To sell to the highest bidder.
As it currently stands, we are transitioning from a centralised web to a decentralised one. Right now, you won’t find a platform that rivals reddit or Facebook in sheer numbers. But there is little doubt that in time there could easily be a decentralised platform that rivals these centralised behemoths that give users control over data, privacy, and security.
It’s just going to take some time, and some clever people to help push Web3 in the right direction. In the same way, we already saw the development of many blockchains and cryptocurrencies that helped spawn Web3 in the first place.
You should care about Web3 because, on paper, it gives back ownership to every internet user. You included. Removing trust from the equation removes authority, improving security and privacy.
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