Fifth-generation (5G) wireless broadband isn’t hard to understand. That it will be 10 to 100 times faster than our current networks has inspired promises that 5G will be “as transformative as electricity.” The rollout will begin with fixed, in-home service, then enterprises, with Gartner expecting 20 billion connected devices by 2020. So we wait for the faster pipes and new, more caffeinated mobile devices.
Web 3.0, on the other hand, isn’t easy to understand. It’s so difficult, in fact, that some have questioned whether it’s really a thing. As it’s a development built upon Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, we should begin with 1.0.
1.0: MOSTLY READ-ONLY
Web 1.0 was the idea of Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. It was an add-on platform to help colleagues share information over an already functioning internet platform. Berners-Lee’s decision to release his source code to the public was something of a digital Big Bang moment for the internet.
Web 1.0 was generally passive and as quiet as a library. It was an information depository running on slow dial-up modems and AOL. Rudimentary search engines like AltaVista helped you find things by sorting category tags, and you went there essentially to read.
WEB 2.0: READ, WRITE, PUBLISH
The phrase Web 2.0 was first used in an article by Darcy DiNucci in 1999. The information architecture consultant described Web 1.0 as essentially static screenfuls of text and graphics that were “only an embryo of the Web to come.” In Web 2.0, DiNucci saw a future transport mechanism through which interactivity would flourish. In 2004, O’Reilly Media and MediaLive hosted the first Web 2.0 conference where “Web as a Platform” got defined as the place “where software applications are built upon the Web as opposed to the desktop.” Faster speeds encouraged interactive content, and the Age of Social Media was born. Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr only exist because of user postings. Offering free website designs and free hosting, WordPress encouraged users to create their own websites or blogs with no knowledge of coding required. Today, WordPress powers 32% of the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 thrives in an environment of interaction within dynamic websites and social media.
WEB 3.0: NOT YET DEFINED
With no generally accepted definition for Web 3.0, we’re left with impressions from analysts and an assumption by many that three major forces are reshaping the web: cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Techopedia.com site offers, “Web 3.0 can be likened to an artificial intelligence assistant that understands its user and personalizes everything.” A major influence here is social media and the way it has factored human intelligence into the formula with social bookmarking working like a search engine and likes, votes, and ratings all amplifying the human voice online. AI-powered chatbots are refining search, and pop-up texting sales assistants are becoming common. The web and its parsing machines are becoming more adept at natural language processing.
Web 3.0 is often referred to as the Semantic Web, where all data and information are sorted and stored in ways that make it easy for both humans and computers to use. And as data ownership is shifted back to the individual and becomes more semantic in its accessibility, the way we as individuals value data will change. Shaun Conway of the IXO Foundation explains another change: “Currently, data is truly valued only by certain companies that have managed to monetize it. In Web 3.0, the currency of data—whether it’s personal, financial, or environmental—will power new economic models that are yet to be fully conceived.”
Zack West of MoneyMound expects increased security. “I think that some larger service to verify users’ identities will be a hallmark attribute of Web 3.0. [This] will create an internet landscape with much more credibility. People will still spout, but they’ll have to start doing it under their real names.” Mads Hennelund expects personal information storage to become more decentralized, with the emphasis on a human-centered web and controls like the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Web 3.0 could bring a privacy-enabled internet. Matteo Zago, founder of Essentia One, adds that with the decentralization of data there will be a dramatic reduction in hacks and data breaches.
Along with those who expect a fairer, more transparent, and more human-centric web with 3.0, there are skeptics who urge caution. Nonetheless, the changes are under way, and they’ll reach virtually all of us.