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Is Web3 'just' another name for the “decentralized” Web?

May, 2023
Is Web3 'just' another name for the “decentralized” Web?

Web3 is (supposedly) another (acronymised) name for the “decentralized” Web. Web3 works a lot like the Internet you use every day, but with a few important technical differences.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Web3 still has familiar websites and apps—from social media and streaming services, to news outlets, financial tools, and more. And it’s more open, in that there’s no Big Tech (or government) gatekeepers, so how you connect to these sites and apps is fundamentally different.

Confused? Don’t worry (except this). Let’s back up a bit, and review the basic structure of the Web and how this new concept of “decentralization” fits in.

How the centralized Web works: What are (actually) servers?

The Internet is home to millions of websites and apps, all of which are just a click away on devices like smartphones, laptops, smart TVs, and other Internet-ready gadgets. But these sites all have to “live” (or be stored) somewhere. That’s where servers come in.

A server—which is really just another computer—physically houses the stuff on the Internet. When you access online services, sites, or apps, you’re communicating back and forth with the servers where they live.

And, in most cases, apps and sites need lots of servers. Maybe very small sites (like a personal portfolio page) can be hosted on a single server, but Web apps that support millions of users need much more storage. That means that most sites and apps are stored across multiple servers—in a “distributed” manner.

If you operate a site, app, or service, you either need to provide your own data storage (aka servers), or rent from an established data storage provider. That’s where Big Tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google come in…and part of how they’ve become so powerful: They monopolize.

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These tech giants offer servers and maintenance at a (relatively) low fee, and it’s often easier for people (or businesses) to rent servers than run their own. The big service providers also often have lots of server farms around the world, making it easier for apps and sites to distribute their storage across multiple remote data centers.

Centralized control of the current Internet model

Whether someone runs their own servers, or rents them from a storage provider, they (mostly) have control over them. This model is called “centralized” because the owner is the ultimate authority over the servers, and thus the service. Even if their servers are widely distributed, they’re still always controlled via a centralized authority.

This is core to how the old Web works. In Web 1.0 and 2.0, governments, Big Tech, and Wall Street (to name a few) are the central authorities that verify your identity, transactions, rights to publish content, even basic access to the Web.

The term 'Internet governance' refers to the processes that impact how the Internet is managed. The historic and future success of the Internet as an open and trusted platform for innovation and empowerment depends on a decentralized, collaborative, and multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.

Web3, then, is about moving away from these principles. It’s about decentralization.

Some say (like Gartner): Web3 won’t overtake Web 2.0 in the enterprise before the end of the decade, but you can start talking today about a world with less authority and more automated business execution.

Decentralization in Web3: technical and ideological differences

In Web3, we still need servers to host apps, sites, and services. And they’re often still distributed all around the world. What makes the new Web3 model so unique is that the servers (or “nodes,” as they’re known in Web3) are owned and operated by independent parties rather than centralized authorities. In other words, they’re not only distributed, but also “decentralized.”

This may seem like a small difference, but it has big implications for the future of the Internet and how we use it. It’s both a technical and an ideological difference. Decentralization is the heart of Web3, and it’s all about putting control of the Internet into the hands of the people who use it and contribute to it, rather than Big Tech companies.

If you’re reading this then you are a participant in the modern web. The web we are experiencing today is much different than what it was just 10 years ago. How has the web evolved, and more importantly – where is it going next? Also, why do any of these things matter?

The technology that makes decentralization possible

The Web3 model of ownership is, however, much more complex and trickier to achieve from a technical perspective.

To have truly decentralized ownership, Web3 relies on cutting edge technology like blockchain and crypto to coordinate nodes, and to incentivize independent parties to run those nodes.

Anybody can then build on top of these networks, effectively choosing to use decentralized nodes to host their sites, apps, and services.

Learn more about the technologies that are powering Web3 and how they work. (by CloudFlare, for example: What is Web3?)

The result is that the networks powering Web3 are said to be decentralized, meaning no single party (or group of parties) have complete authority or control over them.

Nobody has special privileges like the ability to see all the network traffic, or to shut off access for certain users.

Blockchain networks rely on independent participants (rather than centralized Big Tech companies) to keep things up and running. And individual participants are incentivized to do so by earning crypto rewards for supporting blockchain networks.

Decentralization: No permission is needed from a central authority to post anything on the web, there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure … and no “kill switch”!
— History of the web by Web Foundation

The apps and sites that are built on the blockchain networks of Web3 are called “decentralized applications” (or “DApps”).

This term really just means that they’re collectively hosted by nodes that belong to independent parties, rather than the servers of one singular, controlling entity. Technically, anybody can make their computer available to the network as a node. But practically speaking, it’s advanced computers that perform best as nodes, so most nodes are still operated in large-scale setups—just without the centralized ownership.

Learn more about DApps and what else is being built on Web3. (by the Brave)

Why decentralization matters: security, privacy, accessibility, democratization

Web3 works much like the old Web, but with different—i.e. decentralized—infrastructure backing it. Why’s that such a big deal?

There are two main reasons. First, Web3 is much more secure, private, accessible, and resistant to censorship than Web 2.0. Second, Web3 also represents a new philosophy for how the Internet should work, and who should be in control of it—offering individuals a chance to shape the future of the Web. Advocates of Web3 say that, in this regard, it democratizes (or de-monopolizes) the Web. It puts the power back in the hands of users.

Compared to today’s centralized version of the Internet, Web3 is arguably more:

  • Secure (thanks to cryptography)
  • Resilient (thanks to globally distributed infrastructure)
  • Resistant to censorship (because there aren’t central authorities to block access to content)
  • Open (because nobody needs permission to participate)
  • Private (thanks to the lack of centralized servers, there isn’t privileged access to data)

Let’s look at each of these benefits in more depth…

A new paradigm for the Internet

This is where Web3 comes in. The last two decades have proven that building a scalable system that decentralizes content is a challenge. While the technology to build such systems exists, no content platform achieves decentralization at scale.

There is one notable exception: Bitcoin. Bitcoin was conceptualized in a 2008 whitepaper by Satoshi Nakamoto as a type of distributed ledger known as a blockchain designed so that a peer-to-peer (P2P) network could transact in a public, consistent, and tamper-proof manner.

That’s a lot said in one sentence. Let’s break it down by term:

  • A peer-to-peer network is a network architecture. It consists of a set of computers, called nodes, that store and relay information. Each node is equally privileged, preventing one node from becoming a single point of failure. In the Bitcoin case, nodes can send, receive, and process Bitcoin transactions.
  • A ledger is a collection of accounts in which transactions are recorded. For Bitcoin, the ledger records Bitcoin transactions.
  • A distributed ledger is a ledger that is shared and synchronized among multiple computers. This happens through a consensus, so each computer holds a similar replica of the ledger. With Bitcoin, the consensus process is performed over a P2P network, the Bitcoin network.
  • A blockchain is a type of distributed ledger that stores data in “blocks” that are cryptographically linked together into an immutable chain that preserves their chronological order. Bitcoin leverages blockchain technology to establish a shared, single source of truth of transactions and the sequence in which they occurred, thereby mitigating the double-spending problem.

Bitcoin — which currently has over 40,000 nodes in its network and processes over $30B in transactions each day — demonstrates that an application can be run in a distributed manner at scale, without compromising security. It inspired the development of other blockchain projects such as Ethereum which, in addition to transactions, allows participants to deploy code that can verifiably run on each of its nodes.

Today, these programmable blockchains are seen as ideal open and trustless platforms to serve as the infrastructure of a distributed Internet. They are home to a rich and growing ecosystem of nearly 7,000 decentralized applications (“Dapps”) that do not rely on any single entity to be available. This provides them with greater flexibility on how to best serve their users in all jurisdictions.

Security

Web3 is often considered more secure and private than Web 2.0 thanks to the cryptography that’s baked in.

For example, a Web3 user accesses a DApp with a private key—sort of like a cryptographically secured passport—instead of a username / password. This puts you in control of your own data; there’s no need to trust a central authority to store and verify your credentials when you log in.

Resiliency

While nodes / servers can be distributed in both Web3 and Web 2.0, there’s typically more distribution in Web3 because the Big Tech companies of Web 2.0 tend to concentrate server farms in “strategic” areas.

With nodes spread all over the world, owned and operated by independent parties and individuals, it’s much less likely for one event to cause an outage or downtime on the networks that make up Web3. In this regard, Web3 is more “resilient,” meaning it’s less likely for something like a simple power outage to disrupt the service. And widespread outages—like when there’s a problem with Amazon Web Services that affects all their data centers and everything they host—are practically unheard of in Web3.

Resistance to censorship

Decentralized hosting on Web3 (example: Decentraweb / covered in an article coming later) means that sites and apps are more resistant to censorship than their Web 2.0 counterparts.

In Web 2.0, it’s possible for authorities like a government or an Internet service provider (ISP) to block your access to a site by restricting access to its servers. But Web3 has no central authorities ruling over its blockchain networks and the DApps they support—meaning there’s no controlling parties that can limit access to these services.

Openness is the Web3 word?

The decentralized nature of Web3 makes it open, permissionless, and transparent: Anybody with an Internet connection can access it regardless of their location, nationality, age, gender, or any other factors.

What’s more is anybody can download the required software, become a node operator, and participate in securing a blockchain network as well. There’s no need to seek permission, because there’s no central authority in charge of granting it.

Web3 Data privacy

When you connect to DApps on Web3, you’re communicating back and forth with nodes that are independently owned.

Contrast this with Web 2.0 where you communicate back and forth with servers that have centralized ownership behind closed doors.

In Web 2.0, you have to trust the owners of the service you’re using to respect your privacy. And, realistically, Web 2.0 Big Tech companies have shown time and again that they’d rather sell your data than protect it.

Hoskinson, Ethereum Cofounder, Warns After Price Boom That Bitcoin And Crypto Are Now Prepared For $540 Billion Crisis ..
(read more)

In Web3, you’re dealing with independent parties. There’s no central “Ethereum corporation,” for example, that has privileged access to all of the data sent through its network, or that’s following you around the Web with trackers.

Is Web3 an ideological movement?

Aside from its technological advancements, Web3 is somewhat of a rebellion. It’s a rejection of the current mismanagement of the Internet that disregards everyday users in favor of mega corporations looking to cash in.

Web3 is a whole new philosophy for how the Web should be managed and how users should access it: We’re no longer dependent on monolithic, centralized authorities like governments, Big Tech, and Big Banks. Web3 democratizes the Internet so that anyone can participate in these networks, run nodes, build DApps, and enjoy the services of Web3 no matter where, or who, they are.

How Web3 is sparking tech innovation

Aside from ushering in a more equitable version of the Internet, Web3 is also spurring the creation of some really exciting new technology.

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Web3 is anywhere, but Hola! (Get your own copy of You Had Me @ Hola by Alexis Daria ~ it won't tell you a thing or two but an emotional rollercoaster) From a review - "RITA Award-winning Daria has created extremely smart and appealing characters, and the scenes of their shooting the show are delicious fun. Fans of Susan Elizabeth Philips will enjoy the humor and chemistry Daria whips up." -- Booklist

Web3 is built on blockchain and cryptocurrency, which have opened the floodgates for all kinds of new technological innovation.

Cryptocurrency introduced the concept of “tokenization”—taking an asset and creating a blockchain-backed digital version of it. That led to all kinds of new crypto tokens that capture the value and innovation of Web3.

Take the Basic Attention Token (BAT), for example, which Brave (browser) leverages to create a better world of online advertising for users and advertisers alike.

Then tokenization expanded even further as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) first took the digital art world by storm—though NFTs have grown to entail much more than just digital art. NFTs have sparked a new generation of Web3 users to reconsider digital assets and how we own, store, display, and interact with them.

NFT galleries gave rise to instances of the “metaverse,” for example, where digital artworks can be displayed for all to see. In turn, metaverses will surely give rise to even more new technologies. For example, tryout the NFT's at the opensea?

But just as much as these new technologies are exciting and innovative for the tech space, they’re also powerful and full of potential to benefit other sectors. The first industry to be strongly impacted by Web3 tech was finance (with the introduction of decentralized finance, or DeFi), but many more will surely follow. Many industries stand to benefit in various ways from the streamlined, automatic, and trustless systems of Web3. This includes anything from supply chain, healthcare, insurance, real estate, gaming, social media, and more.

Exploring Web3 for yourself? Do's and Dont's (and a final story)

The more people who join the Web3 movement, the more momentum the revolution gains.

As people become aware of the problems and inefficiencies of Web 2.0, and make the shift to Web3, the Internet should gradually become a more equitable and innovative place.

Joining Web3 is easy.

For example: switch to a privacy-centric Web browser with built-in Web3 capabilities like a crypto wallet?

In other words, use a browser like Brave. Download Brave Browser now to experience one of the easiest ways to dive into Web3. There might be other ways, and other browsers available as well (Firefox, LibreWolf, Maxthon, or MetaMask extensions for your existing browser, or deeper blockchain based browsers etc..) but if you're a novice, Brave browser will do the trick got you too.

Is Web3 a 'once upon a time there was a time' story?

Not for the very last, but for the very last, we prepped you a short story of what happens when you, or anyone, decides to CONNECT and join the Web3 movement.. I hope you'll like it:

Once upon a time, there was a man named Joe who heard about the exciting world of Web3. He was fascinated by the idea of decentralized applications (DApps) and decided to give them a try.

Joe explored various DApps and got hooked on a game called "CryptoKitties." He loved collecting and breeding digital cats, and soon enough, he became obsessed with the game.

One day, while playing CryptoKitties, Joe noticed that he had run out of ether, the cryptocurrency used to play the game. So, he decided to connect his wallet to a DEX (decentralized exchange) to buy more ether.

As soon as he connected to the DEX, he was bombarded with pop-ups and notifications from various other DApps. Joe quickly realized that he had stumbled upon a Web3 rabbit hole, and he was in trouble.

He tried to disconnect from the DEX, but it was too late. His computer screen was flooded with endless tabs, and he couldn't keep up with the notifications. Suddenly, his digital cats started meowing loudly and jumping around on the screen.

Joe was in panic mode and didn't know what to do. He tried to close all the tabs, but they kept popping up. He even tried turning off his computer, but the digital cats continued to meow.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Joe managed to disconnect from all the DApps and regain control of his computer. He couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation. From that day on, he learned to be more cautious when exploring the wild world of Web3.

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