The web is constantly evolving. So what might the next chapter of the internet look like? In 2022, it seems we might have an answer to this question—it's called web 3.0.
Web 3.0 is a relatively new concept which started to gain traction in 2021. It represents the next phase of the internet, which is expected to be a more open, democratized way to access information. Large venture capitalists, like Andreessen Horowitz see tremendous potential in web 3.0, and are pouring billions into the field. Worldwide interest in the term "Web3" reached an all-time high on Google in December 2021. But despite all the buzz that web 3.0 has in the press, there is still a lot of confusion about what web3 actually is.
This article will discuss the evolution of the web, explain the difference between web 2.0 and web 3.0, and share some web 3.0 design recommendations.
A brief history of evolution of web
Much like human history, the history of the internet is defined by eras: namely, web 1.0, web 2.0, and soon to come, web 3.0. Those eras are represented by various technologies and formats.
Web 1.0 refers to the first stage of web evolution. This era lasted from 1991 until the early 2000s. Web 1.0 websites were mostly a bunch of static pages that didn't have much functionality for interaction with the content: all users could do is consume information on the page passively. One easy way to think about the web of that era is like a giant Wikipedia, and the individual pages of this online encyclopedia as websites.
From an aesthetic point of view, web 1.0 websites had a relatively simple design—page layouts closely resembled text documents, and underlined blue links were the primary interactive element on those pages.
The web 2.0 era spans from 2004 to the present. This is the version of the internet most of us know today. It also changed our perception of the web. Web 2.0 was built around the idea of the web as a platform: Web 2.0 websites were no longer static pages; they basically became web apps. Web 2.0 pages have a lot of interactive elements that could hardly be imagined in the era of web 1.0—dynamic page layouts adapted to different screens and resolutions, interactive data validation in forms, and even embedded videos.
Web 2.0 also changed the way we work with content—it’s when social media boomed. For the first time, site visitors had an option to consume content or create content themselves. Social networks made it possible to allow user-generated content to be viewed by millions of people around the world. There’s a reason why web 2.0 is known as the era of social media.
Advances in hardware design during this period also popularized smartphones for the first time, so users also had an option to choose the web browsing device they wanted to use, making mobile internet access and social networks the two driving factors of web 2.0.
The Web 2.0 era is also known as the era of centralized internet. In web 2.0, data and content are centralized within a small group of companies colloquially known as Big Tech: like Amazon, Google, and Meta, for instance.
The business model of companies like Meta is based on showing ads. Every time we visit a video on YouTube or write a post on Facebook, the companies provide those services in exchange for our personal data. And with the data companies collect from us, it becomes really easy for them to provide targeted ads that suggest products and services based on our interests or online activity. As a result, web 2.0 is often criticized for lack of privacy.
What is web 3.0?
There is no strict definition of what web 3.0 is, so let’s just go with a general introduction to the concept in this section. Web 3.0 represents a movement from company-owned internet platforms to community-owned internet platforms. It is distinct from the original concept of a web, coined by the father of the internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee in the 1990s. In the ‘90s, Berners-Lee mentioned a few essential ideas about the future of WWW, such as:
Bottom-up design. “Instead of code being written and controlled by a small group of experts, it was developed in full view of everyone, encouraging maximum participation and experimentation.”
Decentralization. “No permission is needed from a central authority to post anything on the web, there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure.”
The term "Web3" was coined in 2014 by Gavin Wood, founder of Polkadot and a co-founder of Ethereum. Gavin described web3 as a decentralized online ecosystem based on blockchain. Blockchain solves one of the most painful problems of web 2.0—the problem of a stateless HTTP protocol. Blockchain acts as a native state layer that allows it to hold and transfer users’ states (your history of browsing, favorites, online purchases, and other available data) independent of tech companies. Think of it as a natural extension to web internet protocol that enables users to keep their history and current state without the need to store local cookies (information about your web session). Once a user connects to the internet from a new device, the system will automatically transfer their state.
Web 3.0 is a movement towards democratizing the internet. Information in web 3.0 can be stored in multiple locations on the network simultaneously thanks to blockchain, and therefore be decentralized. In web 3.0, every online service will be run by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), or member-owned communities without centralized leadership. It means that web 3.0 networks allow participants to interact directly without going through a trusted intermediary, and allow anyone to participate without monetizing their personal data. Web 1.0 didn't have services, so web 3.0 is more like an evolution of web 2.0 but with more open, and transparent nature of ownership.
Decentralized finances (DeFi), essentially a stack of technologies that allow crypto and blockchain to operate in digital environments, is another crucial part of web 3.0. DeFi allows users to complete financial operations (i.e., send, receive, exchange money) without bank or government involvement, decentering Big Tech companies and financial institutions. So where does revenue come from? The truth is there’s no one correct answer, because so far we don’t have any solid monetization model, apart from NFTs, which we describe below.
Last but not least, web 3.0 will be built around the concept of semantic web envisioned by Berners-Lee in 2001. In Web 3.0, digital systems will be able to understand information just like humans. This will allow us to create systems powered by general artificial intelligence that will imitate how humans learn and think, and will gradually improve their accuracy in everyday tasks such as finding information for users or suggesting a relent product during online shopping. Rapid development of Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning will make it possible to understand the meaning of the content on the web.
Benefits of web3:
Better privacy for users. Web3 will provide increased data security because your digital identity is not 100% connected to your real identity. Users’ data are generally anonymized. In comparison with web 2.0, it's much harder for companies to track you in web 3.0. Since all your content is stored on blockchain, you can consume content (articles, videos) or make purchases without being afraid that companies will trace the real you.
It’s not monopolized by big tech companies. Web 2.0 services have a central authority (business owners) that decides who can use them (i.e., they can censor any account at any time). Web3 apps are open to anyone since there are no "gatekeepers" that can prevent users from using apps.
Better uptime. Web 2.0 services are based on network infrastructure that can become a point of failure (i.e. web servers that run a service can be out of order due to power outage). Decentralization, on the other hand, means that a network of thousands of computers is used as the backend. Even if a part of the network goes down, the remaining part will be able to keep the web3 app alive. As a result, web3 apps have much lower chances of going down.
Limitations of web 3:
Slow integration of web3 functionality in modern web browsers. Browsers just started introducing web3 functionalities like crypto wallets. For now, web3 is less accessible for mass audiences. And apart from digital wallets and NFT collections, we don't have web3 apps or websites around the web as of yet.
Difficulty of regulating a decentralized web. In web 3.0, there is no single controlling authority that can force users to follow their rules, and content created by users is owned by users, not platforms. Which can be both good and bad. The fact that there is no moderator for content can lead to a lack of censorship and the proliferation of harmful content. For the same reason, it will be much harder to prevent cybercrimes.
Key differences between web 2.0 vs web 3.0
Now that we've covered high-level differences between web 2.0 and web 3.0, it's essential to list and explain the main differences between the two concepts from a user point of view. This section will help you understand what you, as a designer, is expected to do when creating a web 3.0 solution.
From the design perspective, there are a lot of metaphors and patterns used in web 2.0 that can be reused in web 3.0. Web3.0 is an evolution of the web, not a revolution, so it allows designers to create a familiar experience for users. For example, when designing a financial transaction in web3, it's possible to use the same system states such as processing state, completion state, etc.
But there are a few new features in web 3.0, and crypto wallet is among web 3.0 main features. Crypto wallets act as mediators between clients and servers; they serve as authentication, payment, and collection tools.
Companies that want to support web 3.0 will introduce crypto wallets into their platform. From a UX perspective, it should be easy for users to connect their wallets to any web 3.0 app.
The mechanism of paying and owning things in web 3.0 is also different. You use a crypto wallet to pay with cryptocurrency, and all your digital property, such as a Non-fungible token (NFT), is linked to your crypto wallet. NFTs are a type of digital assets that are considered to be unique. NFTs can be any content — texts, photos, images, music, videos.
Another notable change is that web 3.0 is backed by cryptography. Encryption is used for securing user identity and data. Despite that web 3.0 apps naturally embrace security solutions, it's worth highlighting this fact in design to make users feel safe about using your platform. It's important to give users a sense of security so that they can work without any stress.
Last but not least, there is a lot of technical jargon in the web 3.0 space. "Blockchain," "gas fee," "decentralized apps" are just some of the terms we hear daily when discussing web 3.0. While those terms can be straightforward for technical specialists who work in this domain, they can be unfamiliar to average users. Increasing product accessibility becomes a top priority for web3 designers. When creating your solution, you need to use simple language to communicate with users. For example, when offering Layer 2 (L2) solutions to your users, you can describe it from the point of value it brings.
The web is a living organism that evolves all the time. In 2022, web 3.0 is more like a myth, a promised future internet rather than a solution that can be introduced in the coming years. Beyond niche applications, such as tools for crypto traders and digital art collectors (NFT), we don't have many web 3.0 apps. Transition to the new era of WWW won't happen overnight, but, at the same time, the changes that happen right now are granular, and they lead to the direction of the new web. And designers need to be ready to join this route.
Metaverse and web3: How will they work together?
Many people in the tech space see web3 as a possible solution to the over-centralized web2 that we have now, in which a few big companies like Amazon or Google own a significant part of the internet. If web3 takes over web2, it will have to work with metaverse technologies.