The web has evolved from a tool used exclusively by academics and computer geeks to a need we can't live without in the previous 20 years. That expansion has come at a price, with certain tech behemoths dominating the platforms we use.
The internet's future is a multi-trillion-dollar conundrum that the technology sector, which includes some of the world's wealthiest corporations and investors, is grappling with.
An idea known as Web3 is at the centre of a heated dispute about how our online experiences will grow.
First, there was web1 – aka the internet, we all know and love. Then there was web2 – the user-generated web, heralded by the arrival of social media. Now, wherever we look, people are talking about web3 (or sometimes, web 3.0) – the supposed next big evolutionary leap forward of the internet. But what is it, exactly?
Blockchain technology is the same technology used by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, where data is controlled by all of the computer systems that operate on the blockchain rather than a centralised server or authority.
Gavin Wood, a co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain, coined the name Web3 in 2014, but it only got popular notice this year, thanks to enthusiasm from blockchain enthusiasts and technology investors.
According to Kelsie Nabben, a researcher at RMIT University's Blockchain Innovation Hub, the technology underpinning it might allow internet users to earn money, assets, or ownership for creating content or otherwise contributing to the online.
Web3 provides services in the form of decentralised apps (dapps) that operate on the blockchain network. Ethereum is perhaps the most well-known of these networks.
The beauty of a decentralised system, according to Sam Richards, an Ethereum engineer, is that it does not require authorization to utilise. He explained that "Anyone who is on the network has permission to use the service," "No one can block you or deny you access to the service."
Richards offers Twitter as an example of a decentralised system. At the moment, Twitter has the ability to restrict any account or remove any Tweet. Information cannot be blocked using Web3, on the other hand, because control is decentralised.
Web3 may be used for more than just social networking. Supporters of the idea point to applications in gaming, communication, banking, and other areas.
When can we expect Web3?
In some ways, aspects of Web3 are already part of our existing internet, such as cryptocurrencies that employ blockchain technology, virtual worlds in the metaverse, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are tokens that give ownership to items like digital artwork.
Your social network profile photo may, for example, be an NFT of digital artwork or image you own in a Web3 environment. This is something that Twitter first launched in January, to mixed reviews.