If you wanted to access ‘Web 3.0’ right now, you would take the following steps:
Download a compatible browser
Navigate to the web app
Allow access through MetaMask
Do the thing
This post is not intended to bash MetaMask. The developers have done a great job. Adoption in cryptocurrency is one of the most difficult things to do, so the fact that MetaMask is so ubiquitous means it is an excellent product. It is reliable, open source, and has enabled many crypto-focused web apps. However, MetaMask and similar providers encourage poor user experience as a side effect of their designs. MetaMask allows you to achieve novel functionality in a web app. A similar case is BitTorrent, where you can use a web app (torrent tracker) to achieve novel functionality in BitTorrent (peer to peer distributed file sharing). In neither case is the functionality baked into the platform. For the same reasons that I do not consider BitTorrent Web 3.0, I do not consider MetaMask Web 3.0.
So what is Web 3.0? To understand that, we should first understand what has come before it.
Understanding the Web
The term Web 2.0 was coined by Darcy DiNucci.
“The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens.”
As she speculated, Web 2.0 was a portal into a much richer web. APIs, user participation, and involvement across multiple devices have shaped the web into what it is today. You no longer click on static links, instead sharing vibrant content. This is our baseline. The web has transformed into an interactive medium.
To differentiate, Web 3.0 should be about more than interaction. How do we improve on APIs, user participation, and involvement across devices? We should consider an equivalent jump from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. Users shouldn’t simply participate, but their participation should be scalable. APIs should be standardized in a way that allows your content in one API to maintain state if it is used by another API. Involvement across devices should be seamless and simple. Let’s explore these three a bit deeper, and express why owning your data is core to all of them.
Understanding Web 3.0
People often conflate blockchain with Web 3.0. Truth be told, blockchain has become a sort of shorthand for anything distributed or logged in multiple databases. The internet is already distributed, and your data is already in multiple databases. Web 3.0 changes the nature of the relationship. You control your data, and can decide if you want to loan it to a website, via native API. If you want to modify, change, or move your data from a website, is it easy. You would ‘remove’ the website from having permission to access you.
If you did decide to move your data, it would not only retain the context from that website, but gain additional context from the new website. For example, say you have a photo that gets 5 likes on one platform, and 20 likes on another platform. That information could all be shown side-by-side in the data on both platforms. This means user participation is viewable across all platforms. However, as I mentioned, you could still limit visibility.
Involvement across devices would become even more fluid. A good benchmark of our current ability here is Spotify. I can continue playing a song from one device to another device. Web 3.0 would offer this sort of functionality across everything. I could start a game on my phone, and then switch over into the same match instantly on my computer.
Innovation means that things will be worse before they are better. Web 3.0 will be a large change for many websites. With weaker monopolization of data, it will be much harder to maintain an audience. As many sites today rely on their data for their business, they will have to consider new and clever ways to continue their growth. This also means that websites as we know them will change. Web 3.0 will change the way we interact with websites so deeply that we may not even use the web browser as we know it today. Consistency in experience will also be important as individuals rely on more and more powerful mobile device. Therefore, a shift towards a more appified browser may occur. This will initially be jarring, but like tabs in web browsers, will ultimately be embraced.
Once these shifts occur, Web 3.0 will be here. Until then, I am anxiously awaiting the benefits of Web 3.0. Web 2.0 has allowed us to make the internet into what we know today. Web 3.0 will build an internet that we can only speculate about now. When it arrives, it will allow a new and substantial improvement to the capabilities of web apps. Web 3.0 will connect the world in a way that will empower us to create exciting new developments.
When I originally wrote this in April of 2019, it was the second most clicked article on This Week in Crypto. It clearly resonated. Since then, a few things have changed in Ethereum, namely the intense growth in NFT’s. This led to a growth in adjacent projects and methods for people to interact with these tokens. While these projects have largely improved the interactions between crypto platforms, I still think we are not quite there with Web 3.0.
Rainbow is a great mobile wallet that has enabled better visibility into NFT’s. This is on top of the numerous marketplaces that now allow purchase of NFT’s. I believe the field of NFT’s is starting to develop novel experiences and use-cases which we will continue to see throughout 2021. But the link between desparate platforms, and the currently absurd gas fees, disable the fluidity that a real marketplace may have. Some of these issues seem to have coming resolutions, like gas fees being addressed by the optimism Eth project. However, others like true linking between platforms seem to be less well addressed. For that reason, this post still feels relevant, and still addresses a wish-list of things that are yet to come.