Introduction - The internet, society, and our lives
The internet has undoubtedly played a significant role in our lives and communities over the past three decades. We can even argue that the internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. For it has changed (and will continue to change) the course of humanity forever.
Think about it for a moment, this article was written from Warri - a city in Nigeria and can be read from anywhere in the world. This is possible, thanks to the internet that has enabled people from across villages, towns, cities, countries, and even continents to share information in real-time, carry out economic activities and rendering of services to advance humanity.
We can’t even imagine what life will be like if we didn’t have access to the internet. Yet, with all of the tremendous impact of the internet in our lives and society, its history is relatively young.
Web1.0 - Read-only
At the most fundamental level, we can say that the internet is a global network of connected computers. And there are applications that run or are built on top of the internet. One of these applications is the web.
The early internet code-named “internet 1.0” or “Web1.0” existed in the period between the 1990s and early 2000s. These internet era was characterised by decentralization.
Web 1.0 was built on top of open protocols like HTTP, SMTP, FTP, IRC and SMS, which anyone can then build on top of. The vision for the internet (open protocols) - the cyberspace was to allow anyone to build and contribute to the web. And thus, advancing the course of humanity.
So at the core of web1.0 was community-governance (open protocols - HTTP, SMTP, FTP), decentralized networks, and being able to contribute and create contents for the web, if you had the technical knowledge.
Web 1.0 was known as the read-only web because few individuals (or corporations) created the contents and the end-users only consumed the created contents - static read-only content. This is the premise on which the term “static web” is hinged.
But web 1.0 had some limitations. Some of these limitations included:
- Stateless - Web 1.0 didn’t capture user data or state. This meant that if you a user visited a website, the website had no way of knowing that the user had previously visited it.
- No standard protocols. Today, we have different protocols that power the web - think for example payment gateways, search, social media. In Web 1.0, there were no standard protocols or technologies to make these possible.
- Strong technical knowledge/expertise - The regular people were cut off to a large extent in web 1.0. To contribute to web 1.0 even if it meant building a website and sharing content, required a strong technical knowledge.
In the quest to solve some of the limitations and challenges of web 1.0, web 2.0 was born.
Web 2.0 - Read/Write Web 2.0 was born or created to solve some of the challenges and limitations of web 1.0. One of these challenges was the capturing of “state” or user-data. In the Web 1.0 era, websites were unable to capture state or user data or even knowing if a user had previously visited the website. So as a web master, it was difficult to know the demographic of your end users, meaning that you couldn’t build products and render services targeted at these end-users.
The first attempt at solving this challenge of capturing state and user data was the HTTP cookie, which was created by Lou Montulli at Nescape. With HTTP cookie, a web master can tell if a user had visited a website previously.
And so with user state being captured, we transitioned into Web 2.0.
The Web 2.0 era span the early 2000s into the current period.
Web 2.0 is often referred to as the read/write web. And here’s why - technologies (products/platforms) were built to make it easy for users to create content and interact with the web in real time. In web 2.0, you don’t need to have strong technical knowledge to create contents and share these contents.
Organizations already have the technologies setup for you to do the content creation, all you needed was to sign up as a user and use the platform. What’s more, you could also interact with the contents of other users - read/write. At the fore-front of web 2.0 is? You guessed it right - social media.
Value was created in Web 2.0 and organizations made money from user data and building of products, services, and technologies that are currently powering the modern web.
Examples of these products built on top of Web 2.0 will include Email (recall SMTP), Cloud storage and transfer of files like DropBox and Drive (recall FTP), Slack (recall IRC).
And then for examples of services (and technologies) built on top of Web 2.0, include Payment platforms and gateways like PayPal, search like Google, social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-commerce like Amazon, and eBay.
As products, services, and technologies were built on top of user data, some of these organizations became extremely valuable and in the long run, powerful. In making our usage of the web easy and our lives better, there was a downside to this - our usage of the web, the internet, data and how we now see the world is largely controlled by these mega corporations.
Often referred to as state aggregators, these organizations became the dominant players of the web 2.0 era.
What’s more about web 2.0, is that the purpose for which the internet was created now seem to be defeated. For example, while Web 2.0 became the dynamic web, wherein everyone with access to the internet can create content and interact with the web, giving rise to the term “read/write” web, the monetary reward went to the corporations.
So think of Web 2.0 as a phase where users created content and corporations profited out of the users content and even used the user’s data to build products (and sell ads) tailored to the users via their captured data.
We often refer to Web 2.0 as read-write, since it gave users the power to read and publish contents of their own.
But in spite of the major wins and advancement of web 2.0, there were major challenges. One of these is the movement away from the main reason while the web was created in the first place - open cyberspace where everyone could contribute without control or gatekeeping from powerful individuals, organizations, and the government.
The limitations and challenges of Web2.0
Centralization is at the core of Web 2.0.
And here’s why - most internet traffic (web and app usage) goes through the network of a few large corporations. And by relying on these few large corporations to host all the content of the internet makes it possible for these companies to determine the course of our lives on cyberspace like controlling speeches, the choices we make based on the contents being fed to us, how we now use the world, and even shutting down entire services by the government.
Here are some of the challenges and limitations of web 2.0, listed in no particular order:
- Power and Control
- Monopolistic behavior
- Monetization of apps
Web 3.0 - Read/Write/Trustless
The original vision of the internet was for everyone to build on the network without fear of it being shut down or controlled across national borders. The internet was built originally to support a distributed system - a network without centralization.
Web3 is built on stateful protocols like Ethereum.
At the core of web3 is the idea of consensus protocols and standards with money baked in.
Web3 is built for interoperability. Think for a moment about DeFi - Decentralized Finance - which is attempting to build a new financial system without central financial institutions. This is one of the most promising layers being built on Web3.
Web 3.0 is hinged on decentralization - herein, ownership is shared and isn’t placed on a single individual, and/or corporation. And at the core of decentralization is community participation. Think DAOs - Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.
From the lens of monetary value accrued, decentralization is about moving money around to the people who create and the people who consume, and to the people maintaining and improving the protocol - network.
This article was originally written and published here.