What Is Web 3.0? Features, Definitions, & Examples

image article

There are enough arguments about “what Web 3.0 is” to make it impossible to point to a single authoritative definition. But that’s fine, it means we can propose our own definition of Web 3.0.

Here it is:

Web 3.0 is the third generation of the Internet—a global network that permits intelligent interactions between all its users and devices.

Now to explain ourselves…

Web 1.0 was the early Internet that persisted until about 2000. At first, websites were just places you could read the information posted on servers and interact with such servers in simple ways. There were search engines, and there were e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay.

Web 2.0 arose following the turn of the century. It was far more interactive, far more collaborative, and far more capable. There were technical reasons why, not least of which was the rapidly improved bandwidth available to users, and servers. It is this generation of the web that gave us smartphones and mobile computing. Web 2.0 could support near real-time interactions and thus collaborative activity was feasible. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter were part of this, but so were graphical multiplayer games. It also included the birth of Big Data and the machine learning algorithms that sifted through it.

Web 3.0 is defined by intelligence. This intelligence is not just in interactions between people and websites, but between software and software. And, there’s more than that. The difference between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 has multiple aspects.

We will discuss them one by one.

The Underlying File System

Web 1.0 and web 2.0 are defined by the HTTP protocol and the simple file systems it provides access to. The protocol enables resources to be accessed (via a URL) and also files, particularly HTML documents.

It is a client-server protocol that currently provides the foundation of all data exchanges over the Internet. The term client-server means that there is a requesting side (a client – usually a web browser) that calls for information from a server (a computer that serves up information – usually web pages or parts of web pages).

The protocol works by virtue of Domain Name Servers (DNS) servers. There is a large network of these which includes thirteen root servers.

You can think of the DNS servers as a postal service for the request you make from your browser via the HTTP protocol. They deliver that request to the address you specify, which will be something of the form:

http://www.thewebsite.com/the-page-I-want

When thewebsite.com receives this message, it sends you a message back, the page you want, using the same postal service.

It may be more complicated than that. In reality, it may involve multiple messages, including ads that you don’t want to see. Nevertheless, it all happens through a kind of postal service.

With Web 3.0 that mechanism will change. Indeed, we might be inclined to call it Internet 3.0.

The technology that will most likely replace the current DNS system goes by the name of the InterPlanetary File System, IPFS for short.

Why wasn’t it called the InterStellar Files System or even the InterGalactic File System? Perhaps its designers lacked ambition.

The IPFS is also a postal system, but it is not centralized around a group of root servers like the HTTP protocol. The goal in the design of IPFS, which is a child of blockchain technology, was to create a peer-to-peer file system that worked after the fashion of BitTorrent, the file streaming service that is frequently used to download and share videos and music.

IPFS separates the act of seeking information from the act of retrieving it. It does so through the magic of content addressing.

Content addressing is a math trick where you apply a hashing algorithm to some content (such as a web page) and it generates a unique key that acts as its address. To cut a long story short, (click here if you want a long story) you provide the network with that address and a server that holds the information sends it to you.

IPFS has lots of advantages over HTTP. Here’s a list:

  • It is more secure (and SSL is no longer required).
  • It keeps all the versions of a file, as well as the file.
  • The data can be distributed in many places. For example, a website does not reside on a particular server and may not even have a specific origin server, but it’s there somewhere in the file system.
  • Because the address relates to the content, the address never needs to be updated when the content is moved.
  • There’s no real distinction between client and server. Remember its like BitTorrent where there are multiple servers both holding and requesting data, including your own device).
  • It is significantly faster than HTTP.
  • It is transport-layer agnostic, which means it can work over any transport layer (from TCP to Bluetooth)

Assuming IPFS is successful, all of these advantages become Web 3.0 advantages.

Digital Identities

Digital identities are another technology that was spawned by the blockchain, and it may become the most important feature of Web 3.0. The point is that Web 2.0 is infested with cybercrime—dark deeds of every description from identity theft to click fraud.

It happens because the connection between two computers is not properly authenticated, and currently cannot be authenticated. Let me spell it out.

With web 2.0 a server never knows for sure that the client software accessing it is what it pretends to be—a browser under the control of an identifiable human being. Neither, on the other side of the equation, does the browser know whether the server and the files it is accessing are the ones it intends to access.

However, if everything involved in such an interaction had a verifiable identity, fraud and deception would be far more difficult to perpetrate. With Digital IDs, individuals can only have one verifiable identity, since each ID has to be linked to a unique credential, like a birth certificate. Similarly, organizations can only have one verifiable identity. As regards everything else (hardware and software) involved in the interaction between a client and server, these things can be directly tied to a unique ID belonging to an individual or an organization.

What is more, because of a brilliant technology that goes by the name of zero-knowledge proof, it is possible for either side to prove they are authentic without even revealing their identity.

Digital IDs enable two important features of Web 3.0:

  1. The severe reduction to the point of elimination of cybercrime.
  2. Individuals will be able to manage and grant access to their personal data.

(As you have probably realized, Permission.io‘s business model is strongly connected to this aspect of Web 3.0)

Micropayments

The blockchain is fundamental to Web 3.0, in several ways. We have mentioned two so far: bullet-proof Digital IDs and a distributed file system. Perhaps its most important contribution is its primary use, its ability to create cryptocurrencies, and particularly the ability to use such currencies to make micropayments.

This stems from the low cost of a cryptocurrency transaction. In the non-blockchain world, the cost of a credit or debit card transaction is calculated as a percentage of the value plus a fixed amount (say, 10 cents). The seller pays. So sellers are unlikely to allow credit card payment for products with a ticket price less than about $10.

The cost of a blockchain payment is generally much lower. In practice, it varies quite a lot between different cryptocurrencies as it depends on how the blockchain is organized. Low-cost examples include an EOS transaction at $0.0105 and a TRON transaction was $0.0000901 (measured in March 2018).

With such low transaction costs, it becomes possible to sell things for a few cents. A few cents could be the fee charged for reading an article from a national or local newspaper or a magazine. Being able to charge per article that way will revolutionize web publishing. Low-cost sales of products and services will be a reality with Web 3.0.

Trust

Some might argue that the blockchain’s most important contribution is automated trust. This stretches beyond the security that the blockchain can deliver through digital IDs by building a web of trust.

Some blockchains enable the creation of “smart contracts”, programs that are attached to the blockchain and that execute when triggered by a specific blockchain event. The important point about smart contracts is that the program code is the contract.

This makes smart contracts far more certain than a legal contract. Legal contracts are enforced through the legal system, which varies in reliability from one place to another but is never perfect. The outcome of a challenge to a legal contract is never certain.

However, smart contracts can be trusted 100%. A simple example of a smart contract is given by the movement of goods through a supply chain. Goods are dispatched with an RFID tag that reports their location when read. When the goods reach specific locations the smart contract can automatically enact payment—for transport or for warehousing or import duties. Payments are thus predictable and can be trusted 100% to occur.

Naturally, smart contracts can be far more complex than that example. They can cover many situations that are currently covered by legal contracts, diminishing the possibility of fraud.

Semantic Data and Information

Another facet of Web 3.0 is the presentation of data in a semantic form. We will not dive into the technology behind that here, but you can get a sense of it from Google’s Knowledge Graph which places blocks of organized data to the right of some of your search results.

If you don’t recognize what I’m talking about, do a search on “Galileo’s trial”. Notice that Google gives you a succinct summary of your search topic, as well as the usual collection of links. That’s the work of Google’s Knowledge Graph.

But now try a search on “Who attended Galileo’s trial?”

At the moment such a question is too complex for Google to unravel. However, it could if it had a greater grasp of the meaning of the question and if the websites it surveys organized their metadata in a more semantically friendly manner.

OK, that’s academic, not economic.

But now think about searching for products. It’s here where the commercial magic of Web 3.0 steps in. Nowadays in the US, more product searches happen on Amazon than on Google. Yet neither of these Web 2.0 giants can answer detailed product questions like “what is the best deal available for a 55” HD TV for delivery within 2 days.”

From the consumer’s perspective, a practical answer to such a question would serve up a range of information, offering possible choices rather than just a set of web links.

That kind of capability will be part of Web 3.0 by virtue of semantic technology. It will save buyers and sellers a good deal of time in the sales cycle.

Software Negotiating With Software, Bots for Everyone

The paradigm we have become accustomed to is that of “browser and website”.

We have browser plugins that provide certain services for us (clipping copies of web pages, filling in passwords, ad blocking, and so on.)

On the website side of the equation, websites have been fairly unresponsive in interacting with their visitors, with the exception of the web giants with the big bucks who can afford Big Data AI and thus software that responds to the user in real-time.

The paradigm for Web 3.0 will be different. The individual user will begin to regard what we now call a browser as a kind of operating system that runs applications. What we now think of as plugins will become our applications, and while they will still be able to show us documents or videos, as before, some apps will be capable of much more.

For example, a shopping application will help its owner buy, say a car, by gathering data from him or her and then going out to find suitable links for the user to visit. Ultimately such software should be able to help the user through the whole buying process, including negotiating a reasonable price.

Just as nowadays hackers and some websites run bots, in Web 3.0 the user will be able to buy and configure bots that serve them directly. Bots are, after all, just applications.

This development may take a while as it depends on the proliferation of digital IDs and also good semantics.

AI and Big Data, for Everyone

Most web users are painfully aware of digital ads that follow them around the web or the ads that Facebook drops before their eyes or Amazon’s efforts to tempt them to buy something else “they might like” when they are about to place an order. Among the websites with big budgets, the twin weapons of Big Data (your data mainly) and AI provide commercial firepower that puts the customer at a disadvantage.

However, intelligence can cut both ways. AI could equally well serve individuals if they take control of their data and collaborate in finding effective ways to exploit it. In short, with Web 3.0 the possibilities of AI are likely to broaden, but to the disadvantage of the big guys.

3D Graphics

The advent of 3D Graphics is a natural consequence of graphical software evolution. If you are not sure what 3D graphics is, here’s an example. Such animation owes a great deal to WebGL (Web Graphics Library), which is a JavaScript API that can render interactive 2D and 3D graphics within web browsers without the need for any plug-in. It is based on the OpenGL graphics language and uses elements of HTML5. An important technical detail is that it can exploit GPUs and thus performs well.

3D Graphics will make an impact outside the obvious areas of online games and entertainment. It is likely to be used in education, health care, real estate, and other areas of e-commerce. It’s also likely that, in time, individuals will design and use their own 3D avatars.

While you can view blockchain-related technology (Distributed file systems, Digital IDs, micropayments, etc.) as related developments, 3D Graphics is simply an evolutionary development. It was inevitably going to develop in a given time; it just happens to be coming to maturity at the same time as these other Web 3.0 technologies.

Complete Connectivity (Ubiquity)

Over time, Web 3.0 will remove many of the inconveniences of Web 2.0.

We can expect the Web to be available on any device (pad, mobile phone, desktop) seamlessly. The Internet of Things will join the party, with every household device controllable from anywhere and, where appropriate, able themselves to be used as a web access device.

Ultimately, this means that your identity, and most things you own, and all your data, as well as every software capability you have a right to use, will be linked together and able to work together.

When Will Web 3.0 Happen?

New technology generations are never born on a specific date. Even Web 1.0 didn’t happen on a particular date.

You could say it began as soon as the first browser was released in a usable condition. But at that time there weren’t many websites. You might, therefore, claim that it was born when websites began to multiply. But realistically it didn’t happen until the first search engines appeared. However, you might want to argue that it didn’t occur then, but when the first true e-commerce sites began working.

The point is that it slowly emerged. Web 2.0 with its social networks, multiplayer games, and big data algorithms also took a while to come of age.

Web 3.0 will be the same.

Perhaps you will wake up one morning and realize that your browser embodies a set of bots that do really useful things for you, that you have a Digital ID and that you can interact intelligently with the Internet. When that happens you will have a right to declare: “Oh yes, this is Web 3.0.”

Robin Bloor
About the Author
Robin Bloor Ph D. is the Technology Evangelist for Permission.io. He was the founder and leading light of Bloor Research, in the UK and later The Bloor Group in the US, both prominent technology analyst companies. He is a published author, a frequent blogger and an acknowledged expert in many areas of IT. His books include The Algebra of Data and The “Common Sense” of Crypto Currency.
follow icon Follow @RobinBloor