“Vague, but exciting.”
The words scribbled on Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s CERN memo
by his supervisor in March 1989. The memo, written by the British computer scientist and entitled “Information Management: A Proposal” was intended to meet the demand for automated sharing between scientists and universities, but Berners-Lee quickly realized its global potential. By devising simple yet powerful standards “to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will”, Sir Tim created the original, decentralized Web, today known as Web 1.0.
As we start 2022, a new movement under the banner of Web 3.0 (also known as Web3), is emerging and has become one of the most debated, discussed — and, for many, the least understood — forces in technology. This week, we unpack the evolution of the Web since its creation, with further editions to follow.
The Origins of the Web
For most of us, our earliest experiences of the internet dates back to the 1990s, but the internet itself had existed for decades, growing from the merger of several individual computer networks to increase overall computer power and decentralize information storage. The first workable prototype of the internet emerged during the Cold War with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, originally funded by the US Department of Defense as a systems communication to share information in the midst of a potential catastrophic event or nuclear attack.
By the time Sir Tim created the first version of the Web
, millions of computers were being connected together through the internet, which enabled him to create the fundamental technologies that remain the foundation of today’s web: HTML (the language for the web), URIs or URLs (the unique identifiers for each webpage) and HTTP (which allows for the retrieval of websites). In short, the World Wide Web sits on top of the internet and is the system (the protocols and code) that allows computers to host web pages and link from one to another on the internet.
And so, by the end of 1990, the first webpage was delivered on the open internet, and in 1991, people outside of CERN were invited to join this new web community. But what exactly was this version of the Web?
Web 1.0: Built for Consumption (1990 - 2005)
The Read-Only Web
Web 1.0 was decentralized and mainly a read-only
web, on which individuals could browse the content of companies between static webpages. Web 1.0 could be likened to an online magazine or newspaper, in which companies could provide brochures or catalogs on the web for individuals to read, with no active communication or information exchange between company and individual. Most of the participants on the web were content consumers, while the makers were largely web developers who built websites with material delivered primarily in text or graphic format.
And yet, despite its static limitations, the foundations of Web 1.0 were open and decentralized. This spurred innovation and brought with it the Big Tech companies we know today, from Facebook to Google to Amazon. Enter Web 2.0…
Web 2.0: The Social Web (2005 - Today)
The Read-Write Web
The static nature and lack of active interaction of individuals with Web 1.0 lead to the birth of Web 2.0. Unlike Web 1.0, where content
creators were few and primarily limited to companies or developers, Web 2.0 enabled the individual to participate and generate their own content through concepts like search engines, blogs, social media and video streaming. The likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon and more, which were built on the open Web, enabled individuals to both consume and
interact with content on the Web. Suddenly, you did not have to be a developer to publish your own content; you could do so in a matter of clicks by creating your own Facebook profile. These innovations drove a new and mass wave of online interaction, enabling Big Tech firms to build walls of ownership around this user-generated data and amass trillions of dollars of market value. Smartphones
came along and, fast-track to today, those same firms dominate the Web through the centralization of interaction and ownership of data.
Enter Web 3.0, which according to Chris Dixon
(who oversees Web 3.0 investments at A16Z) “combines the decentralized, community-governed ethos of Web 1.0 with the advanced, modern functionality of Web 2.0”.
Web 3.0: The Semantic Web (Today)
The Read-Write-Execute Web
While the Web 2.0 wave is widely adopted and bearing fruit today, we are seeing the first shoots of growth emerge from the next large paradigm shift in web applications: Web 3.0. In summary, Web 3.0
is characterized by internet services and mobile apps rebuilt on decentralized blockchain technology. It includes a broad spectrum of emerging technology like cryptocurrencies and digital assets like non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Some enthusiasts also associate the metaverse, augmented and virtual reality and gaming with Web3, because some virtual worlds rely on blockchain-based digital assets.
The core innovation
of Web3 is made possible through blockchain technology, by providing the ability to reach binding agreements with other users without relying on any intermediary, company or central authority. It comes with the mood of the times - with seemingly rising distrust of elites and institutional authority - and presents, in theory, a solution to the power of Big Tech. Why? It offers the potential for individuals to control their data and online life and to profit from it.
We have seen Web3’s use-case primarily in the crypto boom, which has applied this idea to money and has enabled individuals to transact without an intermediary. However, the full promise and potential of Web3 lies in using the same technical foundations to intermediate many other forms of human interaction. Think, for example, in the creative industry (or what has become known as the creator economy
, another buzzword of today), where Spotify acts as the intermediary between content creators and listeners and provides a percentage of the profits to creators, Web3 (through secure blockchain and distributed systems) offers the ability for artists to create pieces of property (in the form of NFTs) with no middleman taking a large share of the profits on sale. If an artist’s work is sold and resold countless times, that artist does not get paid once, but upon each sale; they do not have to trust an agent or broker or intermediary, because it’s all recorded on the blockchain.
It remains to be seen what additional practical applications of Web3 will emerge with much debate about the size of its potential. One thing is for certain, it’s vague, but exciting.
More to come in future editions!
About the Author: Emma Glyn is a Senior Associate at Motive Partners in the Investor Relations Team.