Web2 (aka the centralized web) is the web as we know it today. It is dominated and controlled by our tech overlords. Web3 (aka the decentralized web) is supposed to replace it, releasing us from our data servitude. It won’t. For reasons I will share with you, it will be obvious that it can’t. We are already living in a hybrid world where Web2 and Web3 technologies are each leveraged to their best purposes. You can call it Web2.5 – it’s a more accurate description of where we are now and where we are likely to go next. Let’s start with a very, very brief history of the interweb.
The internet predates the World Wide Web by almost 30 years. Web1 (which we will define as static HTML pages viewable in a browser over a TCP/IP connection) was invented by Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee and implemented circa November 1989. Like today, the first web pages were served by web servers, and web pages featured links (hyperlinks) that could be clicked to navigate around the page you were on or to access other web pages.
Near the turn of the century, the advent of Web2 brought dynamic websites and applications as well as audio and video streaming. It’s the web as we know it today. What we think of as modern websites and apps are created using a combination of technologies that generate the content we see in near real time and create value from the data generated by our interactions.
From this definition of Web2, it is easy to understand why people consider it centralized. You need web servers to serve the content, and while those servers do not need to be in the same location (and shouldn’t be), those servers need to exist under the control of a central authority. By definition, companies that are successful using Web2 technologies collect an exceptional amount of data from us and about us (in many cases, without our knowledge), and they excel at turning those data into action.
The goal of Web3 is to decentralize the World Wide Web and put us in charge of our data. In this case, “to decentralize” specifically means ending the dominance of Big Tech.
To understand how this will happen, we need to take a quick look at the main technological differences between Web2 and Web3.
Web2: “Location. Location. Location.”
To access content using a Web2 browser, you enter a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Said differently, you need to know the “location” or IP Address (Internet Protocol Address) of the resource you wish to access. For example, www.shellypalmer.com is located at 184.108.40.206. A DNS (domain name server) keeps an index of which name matches the IP Address.
Web3: “May I See Your Content ID, Please?”
Web3 websites and apps are decentralized (distributed over peer-to-peer networks), so by definition, the content is distributed on hundreds or thousands of client/server nodes. A web page has no IP Address for a URL to point to (there is a workaround). Instead, Web3 content is accessed by referencing a unique content identifier.
This is where Web3 starts to get interesting. Because you are distributing unique content to a peer-to-peer network, as soon as someone downloads it, the content becomes immutable. You can’t edit, replace, or delete it (there is a workaround). Each update generates a new, unique content identifier. Let this sink in. Every page is forever. For reference, most Web2 web pages last about 100 days online.
Centralization vs. Decentralization
Ideologically, or philosophically, decentralization empowers trustless transactions. In a properly structured decentralized marketplace, your business dealings are crypto-economically secure. This means (metaphorically speaking) you can’t help yourself without helping your trading partner 10x more and you can’t hurt your trading partner without hurting yourself 10x more.
This “safe,” trustless environment is made possible by the use of blockchains (aka distributed ledgers), smart contracts (which are digital versions of regular contracts with the additional feature that when the terms and conditions are met, they execute automatically), and cryptocurrencies or tokens. These are some of the technologies that underpin Web3.
Can you think up a business case where your customers would not know or trust you? Of course you can, but for most businesses, decentralization is not only unnecessary; it is also undesirable.
Brands Are Central Authorities
Brands are central authorities. In the United States, the NBA is the central authority for basketball, the NFL is the central authority for football, Ford is the central authority for F-150s, the US government is “the” central authority in the United States, etc.
Web2 tools are purpose built to empower brands (central authorities) to put the right content in front of the right person in the right place at the right time. Web2 technology is faster, more secure, more efficient, and easier to use than any current Web3 technology. (This will change over time – tech always evolves).
Importantly, it’s not just corporate tech stacks that need to evolve. To realize the full power and promise of the as-yet-undefined Web3, we will need far better consumer hardware and software, better network topology, more cloud computing power, more of practically every technology that is involved with moving bits around the globe. We are trillions of dollars away from meeting these needs. They are not out of reach; it’s just going to take a minute.
How Does Decentralization Help a Brand?
For primary consumer interactions, decentralization probably doesn’t help at all. Where could it help? Decentralized Web3 platforms are a perfect tool for creating a trustless, robust secondary marketplace for your goods or services. Decentralized platforms are also great for empowering your customers (users) to share in the value they help create (although you can do this faster, cheaper, and more securely with Web2 tools).
A combination of Web2 and Web3 tools are already in use, and both offer specific capabilities. Today, we clearly are living in a Web2.5 world, and it’s easy to imagine a future where both toolsets evolve together.
Will Web3 ever fully replace Web2? I never say “Never.” But historically, the most successful organizations have been (and continue to be) hierarchical. I’m not sure that the world will ever quite be ready for a World Wide Web that runs itself with no central authorities. But we are all ready for a world where we choose the right tools for the job at hand.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.