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There is no doubt that the internet has transformed the way we live and work. It has made communication and collaboration easier than ever before. However, there is a downside to this increased connectedness.
The centralized nature of the internet means that a few large companies control most of what we see and do online. This concentration of power has led to concerns about data privacy, censorship, and other abuses of power.
It is becoming clear that the previous, and indeed current, iteration of the internet does not represent what the world wide web is truly intended for. To understand this and also the promise that Web3 holds, we will go over the history of the internet and how it has changed with time.
The current internet
The internet as we know it is largely a product of the 1990s. This was the decade when commercial use of the internet took off, and companies like AOL and Netscape became household names. The web browser was invented, and HTML became the standard markup language for creating web pages.
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The 1990s were also the decade when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded. The W3C is an organization that sets standards for how the web should work. Its best-known standards include HTML, CSS, and XML.
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of search engines like Google and Yahoo! These companies built their businesses by indexing websites and making them easy to find via search keywords. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin also developed the PageRank algorithm, which ranks websites based on their popularity.
The centralization of information and the gatekeepers of the internet
The search engine boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s led to the centralization of information on the internet. A few large companies came to dominate the market, and they continue to do so today.
These companies are known as the “gatekeepers” of the internet. They control what users see when they go online, and they have a significant impact on the way businesses operate. The problem with this concentration of power is that it can be abused.
The gatekeepers can censor content, restrict access to information, and collect data about users without their consent. Several instances of abuse have been documented in recent years. In 2018, for example, Facebook was embroiled in a scandal over the misuse of user data.
Though arguments are often made about the necessity of the centralization of information, it has become increasingly clear that this model is not sustainable in the long term. The internet was designed to be a decentralized network, and the centralized model goes against the spirit of the web.
Evidence for this can be traced back to the early days of the internet. The first iteration of the internet was known as ARPANET, and it was created by an arm of the U.S. Defense Department in the 1960s. ARPANET was designed to be a decentralized network that could continue to function even if parts of it were destroyed.
The next phase of the internet’s development was the creation of the TCP/IP protocol in the 1970s. This protocol allows computers to communicate with each other on the internet. It too was designed to be decentralized, so that if one part of the network went down, the rest could still function.
Even going back to the conceptualization of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine in the 1800s, it is clear that the decentralization of information was always seen as a key benefit of computing. It is only in recent years that the internet has become more centralized.
The rise of cryptocurrencies
In 2009, a man or woman (or group of people) known as Satoshi Nakamoto released a white paper entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” This paper proposed a new way of using the internet to send and receive payments without the need for a central authority.
Bitcoin is a decentralized network that uses cryptography to secure its transactions. It is also the first and most well-known cryptocurrency. Since its launch, Bitcoin has been used for a variety of purposes, both legal and illegal. It has also been praised and criticized by people all over the world.
The Ethereum blockchain is another popular platform for launching cryptocurrencies. Ethereum was established in 2015, and it has since become the second-largest blockchain in terms of market capitalization.
Ethereum is different from Bitcoin in that it allows developers to build decentralized applications (dapps) on its platform. These dapps can be used for various purposes, from financial services to social networking.
The rise of cryptocurrencies has led to the development of a new type of internet, known as Web3. Web3 is a decentralized network that is not controlled by any central authority.
Instead, Web3 is powered by a network of computers around the world that are running blockchain software powered by Ethereum and several other platforms. This software allows users to interact with each other without the need for a middleman.
Web3 has the potential to revolutionize the way we use the internet. However, it is still in its early stages, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will live up to its promise.
How Web3 can create the internet we deserve
There are several ways Web3 can create the internet we deserve — for example, enabling greener technology, fairer decentralized finance and economics, true censorship resistance and privacy-respecting alternatives to existing centralized social media platforms.
These use cases for Web3 are complex and deserve their own dedicated articles (which we will be sure to write and link to in the future), but let’s touch on each one briefly below.
Enabling greener technology
The current internet is based on a centralized model that is not very energy efficient. The data centers that power the internet use a lot of electricity, and this electricity often comes from dirty energy sources like coal.
Web3 can help to create a more sustainable internet by making it possible to run data centers on renewable energy sources — or abandon the idea of data centers altogether by providing a better infrastructure for edge computing. The closer your information is to you, the better it is for the environment.
Fairer decentralized finance and economics
The current financial system is controlled by central authorities, such as banks and governments. This system is not very accessible to everyone, and it often benefits the wealthy more than the poor.
Web3 can create a more equitable financial system by making it possible to launch decentralized applications (dapps) that offer financial services to anyone with an internet connection. For example, there are already dapps that allow users to borrow and lend money without the need for a bank.
True censorship resistance
The current internet is censored in many parts of the world. For example, China has a strict censorship regime that blocks access to many websites, including Google, Meta (Facebook), and Twitter.
Web3 can help create a truly censorship-resistant internet by making it possible to launch decentralized applications that cannot be blocked by censors. For example, there are already dapps that allow users to access the internet without the need for VPN.
Privacy-respecting alternatives to existing social media platforms in Web3
Algorithmic responsibility is an area current social media platforms have neglected. By keeping social media centralized, there is no way for the average user to know what lies behind the algorithms that run these platforms. These algorithms often determine what content is promoted and what content is buried.
As a matter of fact, studies have shown that the more extreme and polarizing the content, the higher the weight the algorithms place on it — which can have a harmful effect on society by promoting division instead of understanding. While there are some ongoing experiments with decentralized alternatives to these algorithms, it is still in its early days.
Decentralized social media would be much more transparent, and users would be able to understand and change the algorithms if they so choose. In addition, decentralized social media would give users the ability to own their data — something that is not possible on current centralized platforms.
Web3: Creating the internet we deserve
So tying back to the problems we’ve mentioned — what would an ideal internet look like? What are the parameters that define it? We think an ideal internet should have the following properties:
- It should be accessible to everyone.
- It should be energy efficient.
- It should be censorship resistant.
- It should respect user privacy.
- It should promote algorithmic responsibility.
These parameters are achievable with the promises of Web3 technologies. In the coming article series, we will delve deeper into what factors have led to Web2 becoming a pandora’s box of problems, and how the next iteration of the internet will have the potential to turn the internet into the platform we deserve — one that is sustainable, equitable, and empowering.
Daniel Saito is CEO and cofounder of StrongNode.