What is Web3, and How Will it Change the Way We Use the Internet?
The internet as it exists today, is essentially controlled by corporations. We as individuals do not own a single part of it. Amazon and Google control the servers and own the domains that point to "our" websites. Facebook is a major gatekeeper to the most effective forms of online advertisement, and controls "our" online storefronts. Twitter & Instagram own the usernames that we use to build "our" personal brands, and can revoke them at will.
In this way, every single person, small business, and content creator on the internet today is simply living on "rented" digital land. It's not all bad, though -- many of us have been able to carve out our own personal niche, and build our digital tribes working under the thumb of major internet conglomerates. It's the status quo.
But what if you could truly own your digital footprint? Much like owning a home in real life, what if your digital property was truly yours, and no one could take it away from you? This is where Web3 comes in. What is it? And how will it change the way we use the internet?
What is Web3?
In short, Web3 is the next generation of the internet. It represents a collection of blockchain networks that make up the growing Web3 ecosystem that will soon become what we know as "the internet."
Today, the internet as we know it is referred to as "Web2." It is where your favorite sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all live, and also where you can host your own website, and run your own online business. With the introduction of blockchain technology, the internet is "getting an upgrade," in that many of the underlying processes that we use to support the internet's infrastructure today (like Amazon Web Services) are being replaced by the blockchain, which no single company can own.
As such, blockchain technology has enabled Web3 to become a new ecosystem for online interaction that isn't tied to a single company, government, or organization, the way that the current Web2 ecosystem is. Web3 achieves this by distributing control across users, on a variety of blockchain networks. This is what people mean when they say that the Web3 world is "decentralized" -- the future infrastructure of the internet will essentially be owned by no one, and as such will be owned by everyone.
How will Web3 change the way we use the internet?
At first glance, it may seem like Web3 will only significantly impact the backend of the internet; things you won't really see or care about from day-to-day. But this new ecosystem of online decentralization will usher in many apparent changes that will revolutionize the way we use the internet. The most exciting are:
- Ownership of digital property, content, and real estate
- Regained control and monetization over your own personal data
- Enhanced security for individuals transacting online
However, these changes are just the start! The Web3 world is still very much in its infancy, and so these three changes may only be foundational. As more and more users and organizations onboard to the world of Web3, they will bring with them waves of innovation that we haven't even thought of yet.
A New World of Digital Ownership will Challenge Unchecked Corporate Control over the Internet
In October 2021, Facebook announced its rebrand to "Meta," in order to redefine the company's focus to all things Web3 and the metaverse. This was a pretty big deal, as it represented one of the greatest commitments to Web3 by a legacy Web2 conglomerate. However, this announcement didn't come without its issues.
Just a couple of months later, The New York Times reported that an Australian artist, Thea-Mai Baumann, found herself locked out of her Instagram account for "impersonation" after almost 10 long years on the platform. Her username? @metaverse. You can probably see where this is going...
According to The New York Times, Baumann was locked out of her account for weeks, trying to appeal Instagram's decision. She had no luck until her story caught the attention of reporters at the NYT, and was subsequently restored access to her account.
For many online creators, an unexpected blow like this -- being locked out of an account for weeks -- can be devastating to their online presence and business. More so, users have almost no recourse against this, and major platforms like Instagram and are almost always "within their rights" to ban anyone for any reason, without explanation. In fact, it's entirely possible that Baumann could have never been returned access to her profile. This is unacceptable for any online creator or business owner; having their livelihoods at the mercy of unsympathetic algorithms and moderators.
"[Mark Zuckerberg] built Facebook by creating a platform where other businesses meet their customers, but... [reserves] to itself the right to destroy those businesses through carelessness, malice or incompetence."
-From the New York Times, quote by Cory Doctorow, tech writer
This is one problem that a decentralized world of digital ownership may be able to solve, and that the Web3 ecosystem has already begun working towards. If Thea-Mai Baumann's username was instead supported by the blockchain and not Instagram, it would have impossible for anyone to revoke access to it. Web3 projects like Nametag are looking to do exactly that -- enabling users to purchase their usernames on the Ethereum blockchain and carry them over to platforms like Twitter (albeit with an additional browser extension.)
Ownership over a username is just one example of digital ownership, however. NFTs have enabled ownership over other digital items such as art, domains, virtual clothing, virtual real estate, and more. While many of the current applications of NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain are more fun than functional, they may see future implementations for ownership of property in real life. Things such as a home, a car, or a boat all require documentation including a deed or ownership title that can easily be supported by the blockchain, and may very well be the next step for NFTs.
Users Will Share in the Profits from their Own Personal Data, and be Compensated for Online Activity
You've probably heard before that access to social media platforms like Facebook isn't really "free." In exchange for access to your friends and family via Facebook, you're really giving away your own private data about where you've been, what you like, and where you can be reached -- all extremely powerful information that feeds the Facebook ads ecosystem, and is sold to other companies trying to get you to buy their products and services.
You may think this is a symbiotic relationship, where both you and Facebook benefit, but the balance of power -- and profit -- is very much out of your favor. Did you know that in Q3 of this year (2021) alone, Facebook generated over $29.0 billion in revenue? That's just ONE quarter. Moreover, did you know that over 97% of that revenue came directly from advertising? I can assure you that I certainly didn't see any of that money... did you? Of course not!
All of the information about you that powers Facebook's multi-billion dollar advertising profit engine becomes owned by Facebook the moment you log in. With which, they can do as they please, and you can't really take it back -- but Facebook isn't the only tech giant collecting your private data. Google, Amazon, and other data giants are consistently compiling personal information about who you are based on their interactions with you online. Each time you log in to check your email, or place an online order, these giants are learning more about who you are and how to target you with ads and products. This has been our status quo for decades on the internet, with individual users lacking any ability to share in the profits made from their own information. That is, until now.
There is clear asymmetry in access to your own data that must be addressed, and it's one of the core benefits of blockchain technology that will revolutionize how we use the internet. The idea that users can own themselves and their data is one of the major concepts behind Steemit, a new social media platform that allows its users to earn cryptocurrency just by being active and posting on the platform.
"Steemit… [is] building a living, breathing, and growing social economy - a community where users are rewarded for sharing their voice. It's a new kind of attention economy."
-Steemit.com FAQs, What is Steemit?
The Steemit platform functions sort of like Reddit, where users post content and either upvote or downvote their favorite posts. Like Reddit, this platform is free to use, but it is different in that Steemit also keeps a running tab of how much each post has earned in dollars, and estimates pending payouts to the original poster. More so, Steemit is just one part of a larger STEEM blockchain network, where they are building other decentralized content platforms for creators to earn cryptocurrency.
While the concept of monetizing content and paying online creators isn't new, and is effectively the strategy that YouTube employs to incentivize video creators, monetizing contributive content such as status updates and forum responses still has yet to become mainstream in the Web2 world. Not only is the STEEM network delivering great value to its platform users, but it is effectively concept testing an evolution of Web2's existing models for user interaction and activity.
The Steemit platform, like Reddit or Facebook, is almost certainly still collecting data on its users such as their likes and dislikes, and using this to profile them for third party ad sales. However, where traditional Web2 platforms like Facebook stop, and consider access to the platform to be "enough compensation" for a user's data, Steemit takes things a step further and actually awards users with monetary compensation for their activity (and by extension, their personal data.)
Such a paradigm shift in social media interaction can certainly tip the scale back to the individual user's favor and even encourage more online activity than ever before. Should existing tech giants refuse to more adequately compensate and award its users and creators, they may very well be left behind one day as users begin to adopt new platforms that enable them to make a living. I wouldn't be surprised if legacy social media sites begin testing this as blockchain becomes ubiquitous. Imagine being paid to tweet, like, and share photos without the need for a sponsor or influencer marketing deal. This is the future that decentralized social media platforms are starting to build.
Enhanced Security on the Blockchain will Make Online Transactions Safer for Users and Businesses
Part of what makes the blockchain an effective tool for storing sensitive information is the fact that the data it stores is not only encrypted, but also unchangeable. These are two key elements that will make online business much safer for both buyers and sellers of things like products, vehicles, and homes, when transitioning to Web3.
So, first things first, what does "encryption" mean in terms of Web3 and the blockchain? Cryptopedia has an excellent breakdown of this, so I'd recommend checking that out for a more worthwhile explanation. However, as an extremely basic summary: encryption refers to how the blockchain utilizes cryptography to scramble up easy-to-read information such as a social security number, into randomized sets of letters and numbers that no one can read. These numbers are difficult for computers to understand, and can only be unscrambled using keys that are unique to an individual's crypto wallet. So, in short -- encryption makes sensitive information difficult to access, and it's how every blockchain is secured.
Considering this, let's think about how these two elements: encryption and unchangeability -- can change how you buy things on the internet. Let's use a car as an example. Today, when you purchase a vehicle either new or used, you need to provide a vendor, Bob's Local Dealership, information like your social security number (to check your credit), your bank information (to set up deposits), and even information about your personal background (like verifying employment.) In many cases, Bob's Local Dealership will require you to send this information crudely over email, website forms, or even on paper. Once this information is sent over, Bob's will file it away somewhere on a computer, or in the physical office before approving you for purchase.
However, once Bob's Local Dealership receives this information, it becomes a clear point of failure where it can be stolen in a cyber attack... and, chances are, Bob's Local Dealership doesn't have nearly as many cybersecurity protocols as the entire Ethereum blockchain. As such, I think that the future of large purchases like a car will be streamlined utilizing wallet transactions.
If Bob's Local Dealership simply verified all of your personal information with an inquiry on the blockchain, there would be no need to ever hand over sensitive information like a social security number, bank number, or personal background in plain-text that can be easily stolen and read. Provided that the US government starts issuing social security numbers via the blockchain, your preferred bank links to your personal wallet, and your employer keeps your employment status updated on-chain, this can all work seamlessly together to eliminate weak links in an online sale.
Web3 is Redefining What the Internet Is
Web3 is an exciting evolution to the internet as we know it today, and will usher in many life-changing opportunities for everyone online. Not only will you be able to finally own your digital footprint, but you will also reclaim the opportunity to profit off of your own data the way that legacy tech giants already have, while still protecting your sensitive information with the power of encryption. Web3 will truly tip the scale back in favor of the user, and bring with it a new definition of what the internet is.
Just like how the internet changed everything decades before, by giving the world one place to transact and communicate, Web3 is doing the same with blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, while at the same time challenging the control of tech giants that have unfairly ruled the internet, until now.