A new generation of blockchain-based web applications aim to radically transform how we use the Web but, will they succeed in seducing Internet users?
I am sure that you have already heard of Bitcoin and even Blockchain but, unless you belong to the small niche of tech enthusiasts that envision a new era empowered by technology, probably discredit it. However, it is very unlikely that you have heard of Ethereum, Aragon, the Interplanetary File System, Storj, Experty or Esentia, some of the projects that aim to radically transform how we use the Web, and are willing to become the foundation of a new Web 3.0. Yes, blockchain technologies can not only be used to power cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but also decentralized applications.
First, we had the Web 1.0, which mostly included static information that users could read through their browsers. Second, we invented the Web 2.0, in which users were also active part of the Web by giving comments and interacting through blogs, forums and social networks. Now, some visionaries advocate for the Web 3.0. The problem with the Web 2.0 is that the ownership and control of most forums, messaging apps, social networks, marketplaces and platforms belong to a handful of companies. Actually, many experts believe that the Web is becoming increasingly centralized and less democratic than ever. Users tend to use a very limited number of platforms on which most of their digital lives occur.
Web 3.0 advocates have witnessed how the Internet, which was supposed to be a democratic decentralised communication arena, has mutated into a centralised, business-controlled space. Tools such as mail, news, chats, the web, etc are now immensely controlled by a few of companies: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft among others. The community now pushing for the Web 3.0 see with disbelief the control that these companies exert over the Internet. Imagine a phone system in which all your conversations were heard, recorded and even owned by a company; imagine that all roads in your country were controlled and owned by a foreign company and you were allowed or not to pass depending on these company policy; imagine that all you watch on TV is monitored and controlled; imagine almost half of the shops in your neighborhood belong to the same guy. This is something similar to what is happening on the Web today. 87% of the Web searches are controlled by Google, Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly active users and owns Whatsapp with more than 1.5 billion monthly active users. Amazon not only leads the e-commerce market but has also an important position in the Cloud. More than 40% of the US e-commerce is done through Amazon and its cloud service has almost 50% of the market. 7 out of 10 mobile phones in Europe run Android, an operating system controlled by Google and almost 50% of Europeans access monthly to Facebook.
Instead, the Web 3.0 will be powered by decentralized apps (Dapps) built and run on the (Ethereum) blockchain. Dapps are applications and services than can be programmed on the blockchain and therefore do not need of any type of centralized server. If the Web 3.0 turns real, these services would replace popular apps such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Gmail or DropBox among others. For instance, Aragon is a Dapp for decentralized governance, Storj offers decentralized cloud storage, Experty is a sort of decentralized Skype and Esentia is a decentralized Operating System and digital identity framework. Thousands of Dapps are being launched. Look at https://www.stateofthedapps.com/ for a list of them. Thanks to the Web 3.0 (and blockchain and Ethereum technologies) users would be the owners of their data, mail, identities… not companies. The advantages are clear and numerous as described in this article.
However, the Web 3.0 will face serious hazards to become a widespread technology. The problem is not that the Internet has become a network dominated by a few companies, the problem is that nobody cares about it. Users do not mind if their data is exploited by companies to sell them every kind of product. Users do neither care whether all their mobile messages are managed by a US-based company. Users do not care that their pictures are owned in perpetuum by a foreign company; users are not worried that they are not the proprietors of their digital lives.
For now only a bunch of tech enthusiasts and liberalists actually are concerned about it and that’s why they are creating the Web 3.0. Is it possible to change the world through technology? Of course, it has been already done many times in the past but technology will need to be necessary bundled with other actions. The Web 3.0 movement will have to overcome the following barriers in order to become mainstream:
- Complexity: the society needs to understand the importance of a decentralized web and this will only be possible if advantages are more clearly communicated. Focus should be on advantages and value not on the tech specificities.
- Scepticism: the Web 3.0 movement will need to open up and embrace other layers of the society to gain legitimacy and credibility. Most Internet users do not know what the Web 3.0 is and do not believe a change is needed. Today, they do not see the value in the decentralization. Throughout history, we have seen how the concentration of power has usually derived into the abuse of power. We need to strengthen the democracy, plurality and diversity of the Web, for the sake of everyone using it, to preserve its freedom.
- Policy: the support of policy makers is critical for the development of the Web 3.0. While the technology is an enabling driver, it will insufficient alone and public initiatives are needed. Politicians are also critical to ensure that users rights are protected on Web 2.0 platforms. European politicians have started to timidly look into this problem, worried about how privacy, ubiquitous digital lifes and the data economy interlink and are fostering some initiatives such as the GDPR, however, a stronger support is needed.
- Governance models: How Dapps are managed, directed, controlled and profited must be clarified; governance models must include not only technologists but must also offer mechanisms for other stakeholders from business and society to be involved.
- Business models: Dapps already include some mechanisms to create revenue sources but they seem to be insufficiently mature. On the other side, there are many Dapps projects that do not embed a business model yet. Business models and economic sustainability are substantial to ensure the feasibility of the Web 3.0.
The Web 3.0 will succeed if «it crosses the chasm» and gets to reach the Internet mass market. It is a challenging process because most users seem to be satisfied with the current Web 2.0 model. For the Web 3.0 to become true, their promoters will need a success recipe of technology, marketing, communication, policy and economics. But, how to start this revolution?
– Ethereum White Paper https://github.com/ethereum/wiki/wiki/White-Paper#applications
– Europe’s next competition clash: Online data, https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-competition-google-amazon-facebook-data-privacy-antitrust-vestager/
– Why the web 3.0 matters and you should know about it, https://medium.com/@matteozago/why-the-web-3-0-matters-and-you-should-know-about-it-a5851d63c949
This post was first published on LinkedIn by David Arias on March 1, 2018.