What technology benefits more than 3 Billion people for 80% of their waking hours every single day? Web 2.0.
Web 2.0, coined as such by O’Reilly and others between 1999 and 2004, moved the world on from static desktop web pages designed for information consumption and served from expensive servers to interactive experiences and user-generated content that brought us Uber, AirBnB, Facebook and Instagram. The rise of Web 2.0 was largely driven by three core layers of innovation: mobile, social and cloud.
With the launch of the iPhone in 2007, mobile internet access drastically broadened both the user-base and the usage of the Web: we moved from dialling up to the internet a few hours a day at home at our desktops to an “always connected” state — the web browser, mobile apps and personal notifications were now in everyone’s pocket.
Until Friendster, MySpace and then Facebook in 2004, the Internet was a largely dark and anonymous place. These social networks coaxed users into good behaviour and content generation including recommendations and referrals: from persuading us to share photos online with specific friend groups; to entrusting unknown travelers with our homes on AirBnB; and even getting into a stranger’s car with Uber.
Cloud commoditised the production and maintenance of internet pages & applications: new cloud providers aggregated and refined mass-produced personal computer hardware within numerous, vast data centers located around the world. Companies could shift from buying and maintaining their own expensive and dedicated infrastructure upfront to renting storage, compute power and management tools on the go. Millions of entrepreneurial experiments could benefit from low-cost resources that scaled as their businesses grew.
While the Web 2.0 wave is still bearing fruit, we are also seeing the first shoots of growth emerge from the next large paradigm shift in internet applications, logically entitled Web 3.0. As hard to believe as it might seem, Web 3.0 (originally coined the Semantic Web by Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s original inventor), is an even more fundamental disruption, one that in time will leave everything hitherto in its shade. It is a leap forward to open, trustless and permissionless networks.
- ‘Open’ in that they are built from open source software built by an open and accessible community of developers and executed in full view of the world.
- ‘Trustless’ in that the network itself allows participants to interact publicly or privately without a trusted third party.
- ‘Permissionless’ in that anyone, both users and suppliers,can participate without authorisation from a governing body.
The ultimate outcome of these new open, trustless and permissionless networks is the possibility to coordinate & incentivise the long tail of work, service, data and content providers that are the disenfranchised backdrop to many of the worlds most acute challenges such as health, food, finance and sustainability.
Where Web 2.0 was driven by the advent of mobile, social and cloud, Web 3.0 is built largely on three new layers of technological innovation: edge computing, decentralised data networks and artificial intelligence.
While in Web 2.0 recently commoditised personal computer hardware was repurposed in data centers, the shift to Web 3.0 is spreading the data center out to the edge, and often right into our hands. Large legacy data centres are being supplemented by a multitude of powerful computing resources spread across phones, computers, appliances, sensors and vehicles which are forecast to produce and consume 160 (!) times more data in 2025 as compared to 2010.¹
Decentralised data networks are making it possible for these data generators (from an individual’s personal health data, to a farmer’s crop data, or a car’s location & performance data) to sell or barter their data without losing ownership control, giving up privacy or reliance on third-party middlemen. As such, decentralised data networks can bring the entire long tail of data generators in to the emerging ‘data economy’.
Artificial intelligence & Machine learning algorithms have become powerful enough to create useful, indeed sometimes life-saving, predictions and actions. When layered on top of new decentralised data structures giving access to a wealth of data that would be the envy of today’s tech giants, the potential applications go far beyond targeted advertising into areas like precision materials, drug design and climate modelling.
Web 3.0 enables a future where distributed users and machines are able to interact with data, value and other counterparties via a substrate of peer-to-peer networks without the need for third parties. The result: a composable human-centric & privacy preserving computing fabric for the next wave of the web.
Web 3.0 will fundamentally expand the scale & scope of both human and machine interactions far beyond what we can imagine today. These interactions, ranging from seamless payments to richer information flows, to trusted data transfers, will become possible with a vastly increased range of potential counterparties. Web 3.0 will enable us to interact with any individual or machine in the world, without having to pass through fee-charging middlemen. This shift will enable a whole new wave of previously unimaginable businesses and business models: from global co-operatives to decentralised autonomous organisations and self-sovereign data marketplaces.
This matters because:
- Societies can become more efficient by disintermediating industries, reducing rent-seeking third parties and returning this value directly back to the users and suppliers in a network.
- Organisations can be intrinsically more resilient to change through their new mesh of more adaptable peer-to-peer communication and governance ties between participants.
- Humans, enterprises and machines can share more data with more privacy & security assurances
- We can future-proof entrepreneurial & investment activities by virtually eradicating the platform dependency risks we observe today
- We can own our own data & digital footprints by using provable digital scarcity of data & tokenised digital assets
- Through ‘modern mutual’ ownership and governance of these new decentralised systems of intelligence and sophisticated & dynamic economic incentives, network participants can collaborate to solve previously intractable or ‘thinly spread’ problems
The forthcoming wave of Web 3.0 goes far beyond the initial use case of cryptocurrencies. Through the richness of interactions now possible and the global scope of counterparties available, Web 3.0 will cryptographically connect data from individuals, corporations and machines, with efficient machine learning algorithms, leading to the rise of fundamentally new markets and associated business models. The result is akin to a “return to the global village” — daily immersion in the human-centric & highly personalised interactions from which we used to benefit, yet now delivered at the global scale of the internet and supporting an ever-increasing myriad of human and machine skills specialisations.