What in the hell is Web 3.0?
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Web 3.0 is coming, its here or if you are Jeffrey Zeldman then you brought up the idea way back in 2006.
I set myself a challenge this month. I like things to be clear, concise and precise. I want to summarise things down to their very principles. Lately I have been swimming around in the Web 3.0 ocean without a clear view of where I am going, hell without any swimming togs. The challenge was this: What in the hell is Web 3.0?? and better, could I surmise a succinct definition that could have me right back in that ocean, and this time with some flippers to really swim around.
As with many fundamentals and principles, one needs to know the journey that has lead us to today.
A journey of human comfort, Web1.0
Let's begin with finding out a little bit about Tim Berners-Lee, the man who is best known for the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989.
Here is Tim, say thanks to Tim.
We begin with Tim to help us understand Web 1.0 better. You see, even finding the precise definition for Web 1.0 can lead you down all sorts of paths. But I'd like to see it from the perspective of us Mere Mortals, in search for human comfort. There has always been things humans have been good at, and things that computers have been good at, with overlaps between the two. As Tim puts it "One of the things computers have not done for an organization is to be able to store random associations between disparate things, although this is something the brain has always done relatively well." With that and the blessing of his boss at the time, Mike Sendall, Tim went on to write the program called 'WorldWideWeb', a basic point and click hypertex editor which ran on something called the "NeXT" machine (go check the wikipedia page to see some familiar faces).
The dream now realised, the early web allowed humans from all over to slowly share information, albeit rudimentary and restricted to static information. This helped in part transform information from local to global, to facilitate conversations from individual to individual in a realm where a reflection of the way we work, play and socialize started to take shape online.
Web 1.0 Definition
"The static web, aka the click and read web"
Let's go back to our great friend Tim to show an example of web 1.0 . Look at the beauty of 1998 in all its glory. If my 5 year old self at the time could have opened this web page from some scratchy Colombian internet (hint: that wasn't going to happen) I would have been mesmerized.. no scratch that I would have been confused, with no idea what any of the words there meant even if I spoke English.
Looking at it with more mature eyes, this is probably the single best description of what Web 1.0 was, or is given these pages still exist. It's a one-way street of information, with HTML so simple even I understand it. The lack of algorithms found in Web 1.0 is refreshing depending on how you look at things, and back then the phrase "just Google it" didn't exist, so you either knew where you were looking or the information could dangle out of sight. Classic examples of Web 1.0 are also sites like MySpace.
Terms that have been coined to explain Web 1.0:
Web of Documents
The static Web
A journey of human interaction, Web 2.0
Back in the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed what is now known as Dunbar's number - a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships, to the extent that you also know how each other person also relates in the known group. The number is widely quoted to be 150, give or take a few.
Web 2.0 butted in with the likes of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to give two big middle fingers to how much people you "know" and how well you "know" them. As an example, my childhood Facebook profile currently contains 648 friends - a friend list which I have once gone through one by one and been able to recall how each of them is "known" to me. How well they each know each other is well beyond me. Looks like Dunbar's number still stands.
Web 2.0 Definition
"The social web, aka the click, interact and contribute web"
Interaction. That's the crucial word if I had to describe the difference between 1.0 and 2.0. Remember that static page our friend Tim showed us earlier? Now imagine you add some functionality that allows comments (user-generated content), greater compatibility for devices, maybe a way to rate comments and before you know it you stumble upon a website like Amazon - give or take a few steps. But its the wonder of interaction that allowed the web to move away from a one way highway of information to the social web that allows data to bounce between various nodes, platforms, humans.
Terms that have been coined to explain Web 2.0:
Web of People
Read and interactive Web
The social Web
A journey towards omnipresence, Web 3.0
Here is what we came for, Web 3.0 - The evolution of the web as we know it. How? Why? Do we need it? Can we turn back? Do I need to participate?
Before we dive into the definition, let's consider four key distinctions: The ubiquity of the web across people, systems and things, moving towards semantics, when the robots take over and going beyond our 3D world.
Huh? What does this even mean. Firstly, Ubiquity in itself means having the capacity to be everywhere and anywhere at the same time, aka omnipresent. But Web 2.0 already does this right? Like if I post a picture of my food on Instagram today, I share it and everyone see's it everywhere at anytime. Where Web 3.0 starts shifting the landscape however is the next step this ubiquity is experienced, specifically moving beyond what we know today as being 'connected' and bringing everyone into the party of being connected - that is all things can join in on the connected web.
Rather than being stuck in the web of documents, where the structure of the web might look like data being sourced up to be surfaced in a presentation layer, Web 3.0 moves toward a web of data. A wonderful example of this is shown in Nupur Choudhury's 2014 document "World Wide Web and Its Journey from Web 1.0 to Web 4.0 " (I know the document goes all the way to Web 4.0 but lets stick to Web 3.0 for now shall we).
In other words, Web 3.0 is simply the state of sharing the underlying distributed databases, in whichever form they may take (blockchain or not) across many, MANY things. Things here include devices sure, but also things like hey why not your toothbrush. Why your toothbrush? Well what if this 'thing' all of a sudden had access to even just a sliver of your data, perhaps the type of food you are eating to inform you of how long you should be brushing, or combining/sharing information with your dentist. What's the limit? There is none in such an omnipresent way. But data can be downright hard to interpret, so that's why another key aspect of Web 3.0 is semantics
Ok, this one is even more of a huh?? Semantics itself is the study of the relationship between words. Why would that be important? Well, words can have literal meaning but they also produce figurative meaning depending on the context, language etc. To you, me and even Tim something like a toy block could be termed a block, a cube, a toy or some other combination. We get it, we are humans. Say a similar word to a computer however, let's say 'run', will it know that it means to 'run its course' to 'run the system' or to physically get up and go for a 'run'.
Moreover, the ability to be connected to all data, everywhere, requires Web 3.0 to read said data with more meaning. Through smart organisation of data, the usage of web ontology language (OWL) and Simple Knowlege Organisation Systems (SKOS) this web of data starts to become a little more queryable.
Augmented Intelligence Web
Ah..AI. Artificial Intelligence. Now why does this keep popping up in the realm of Web 3.0 all the time. Has this not been around for decades already, albeit progressing at an ever increasing pace? Why yes it has dear reader, so I went a different tack in my distinction for Web 3.0 - specifically to say that it is the augmented intelligence that the new web will enable that is the game changer.
Artificial intelligence is for want of a better description, the intelligence demonstrated by machines. This additional intelligence is wonderful, helping us humans to quickly bounce around web searches, enables smart homes, translates languages and attempts to fight disinformation. They will even go ahead and write articles for you! Dayummmm.
Now in a world where we will have trillions, yes TRILLIONS of users, we won't just have intelligence that is serving us meat bags but every single damn thing in the connected web of data that Web 3.0 will become. It is imperative that the 'intelligence' used to support and allow for an executable web is an augmented system, where multiple systems, as well as humans, can build the working system around us.
Or as Gartner puts it:
"Augmented intelligence is a design pattern for a human-centered partnership model of people and artificial intelligence (AI) working together to enhance cognitive performance, including learning, decision making and new experiences."
Couldn't have said it better myself Gartner.
Ready Player One. Who else reading this watched the 2018 film, based on the novel of the same name. Set 25 odd years in the future, it shows humans using something called the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation, where you can go and escape this dreary world and go find some proper adventure and fun. I mean, hook me up!
Now let's rewind to today. Let's talk about the Sandbox. A "virtual metaverse where players can play, build, own, and monetize their virtual experiences."
Venture through the website and you can find a marketplace, game makers and much, much more. We are well on our way to a Ready Player One world, powered by the Spatial Web. in essence, Web 3.0 can also be defined by the way that it is blending or blurring the line between the digital and physical worlds. Now let's not get claim it for everything that it isn't. Web 3.0 is NOT Augmented/Virtual reality. As with the example above you could carry on your days in this spatial web of sorts without that technology, but something about us humans tells me we will end up bringing these technologies together. Why? Better question is why not.
This added layer of immersion, one that could breach not just gaming sectors but others like health, e-commerce and real estate, allows Web 3.0 to create multi-user virtual environments.
Web 3.0 Definition
"The open web, aka where data isn't owned but shared, can be accessed by anyone, anywhere on anything"
After a few strong coffees this is the definition that I have ultimately landed on. Web 3.0 to me is the open web, where the concept of a website or webpage disappears all together and instead we are left interactions on applications that can be browsers, virtual reality worlds and even my toothbrush. Make a note that I didn't add "everything" to the accessibility definition. It would be silly to think I would access my crypto wallet via my toothbrush. But the sheer ubiquity of Web 3.0, remember everywhere and anywhere at the same time, powered by systems that will truly find meaning behind everyday semantics is something equally exciting and terrifying.
Terrifying - why? Well back to some of the original questions I posed myself and maybe is in the back of your head, do we need it, can we turn back and do I need to participate in Web 3.0. From what I have read, seen and experienced is that humans quenching for growth will bring Web 3.0 to its full fruition, there is very little we can do to turn it back and you better believe everyone is going to participate or be left behind. It terrifies me because I remember the transition from physical to digital banking, something that seemed like a breeze of a move for me but not for my mum and dad - will this be me with this transition? I hope not, but I also know that there will be many people out there for whom this change will come and leave them in their wake. It was the main reason I decided to write out this article, as much to help myself come to grips with what Web 3.0 is and isn't - perhaps it has served you reader in a similar way.
One final point, you might have noticed that this post is lacking heavily in 'crypto' this and 'blockchain' that. Take a few searches of the term and you might find definitions that land on "possible future internet where all data and content is registered on blockchains, tokenized... etc". For one, I think that this technology is absolutely needed to democratise the internet, gives power to the creators and enables a true of web of shareable data. Or in another way, as I put it, an open web. However, when you read back through, the outlined items are the fundamentals which encompass what Web 3.0 is. Whether its a particular token or hell something even better in the next few years, that is of lesser importance than the general idea that Web 3.0 is open, accessible and permeates through our modern world.
In other words, it is our journey towards data omnipresence.
Thanks for reading, I hope you are having a wonderful time wherever you are in the world.