As we prepare to leave the year 2021 behind, the IT industry has added a few new terms to our lexicon. For the past few months, the Metaverse has made headlines, and for the past week, Web 3.0 has been under the spotlight, with Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk talking about it for days now.
There have been many talks around the internet’s upcoming iteration, called Web 3.0, and based on virtual reality and augmented reality, that enables Metaverse. However, according to Jack Dorsey, the founder and former CEO of Twitter, it is only a capitalist gimmick, and Elon Musk agrees!
Where Did It All Start?
It all started when Cardi B, an American rapper, asked Twitter whether cryptocurrencies could replace fiat currency. Dorsey responded to her tweet by stating that Bitcoin will replace the dollar, “not crypto,” displaying his allegiance to Bitcoin.
So, in our previous story, Web 3.0: Marking an End to Monopolistic Tech Giants? We stated that an ideal Web 3.0 represents a decentralized blockchain system. Targeting Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm based in America who has been among its prominent promoters along with related companies, Dorsey stated that people don’t own Web 3.0 (1).
He indirectly called the entire pursuit of Web 3.0 a gimmick when he stated that it is a “centralized entity with a different label.” The founder of Twitter also went ahead and said that Web 3.0 is owned by venture capitalists and limited partners.
The discussion went on with even Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, joining in on the fun, asking, “Has anyone seen Web 3.0? I cannot find it.” Musk’s tweet prompted a response from Dorsey, who hit out at a16z, and stated that “it is somewhere between a and z.”
Chris Dixon, a venture capitalist at a16z, took a jibe at Musk and Dorsey with the popular quote of Mahatma Gandhi – “First they ignore you.”
Dorsey responded to the tweet stating that “you are a fund determined to be a media giant that cannot be ignored…not Gandhi.”
The Duo Also Took a Jibe at Bitcoin and Ethereum
On 23rd December, Thursday, Elon Musk seemed to agree with a tweet by Billy Markus, the co-founder of Dogecoin, about Bitcoin giving power to only rich people. And the Tesla CEO and the most influential Dogecoin promoter weighed in to state that that’s why he supports DOGE (Suggested Reading: Elon Musk’s Influence on the Cryptocurrency Space).
It’s worth remembering that he has remarked multiple times in the past that DOGE is the “cryptocurrency of the people.”
Dorsey also denounced Ethereum as a type of corporate establishment after slamming Web 3.0 as something owned by Silicon Valley VCs and centralized.
But is it BS? What is it about Web 3.0 that led Elon Musk to side with Jack Dorsey’s Web 3.0 debate?
Keep reading to know whether Web 3.0 is as revolutionary as the general public and investors anticipate it.
What’s Web 3.0?
Earlier this year, in August, we published a long article about Web 3.0 and the promise of ending the monopolistic tech giants that it holds.
In short, the internet first started as a “read-only” service, Web 1.0, where people can consume information. We are currently using Web 2.0, where we can create content on it (5, 6). Yet, its platforms are mainly owned by the “Big Five,” also called GAMAM, Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft (We used to like FAAAM!).
In contrast, Web 3.0 is a vision where the internet is decentralized, with users having control over their data via blockchain technology, similar to NFTs and cryptocurrency.
Advocates of the vision believe that ushering this technology will bring in much-required decentralization that will also tackle data exploitation that companies in this industry practice regularly, with scant if any regard for individual privacy (Read Also: The Data of Your Mobile’s Location is Worth Multi-Billion Dollars).
Even though it may sound like a drastic shift from how we use the internet at the moment, we have witnessed this before, with the internet itself.
A few days ago, Elon Musk shared a video where Bill Gates of Microsoft was seen speaking about the internet when it was a new thing. After a few decades, everything he described has become mundane things we do on the internet today.
The Decentralization of the Internet
For most privacy professionals, a user-centered internet-only exists in a utopian world (7). However, as blockchain technology evolves, individual ownership, transparency, and security are consistent themes that cryptocurrency platforms and blockchain enthusiasts attempt to tackle.
In the distant future, a cryptographically secured digital identity may allow us to complete transactions requiring the exchange of personal data and various verification layers.
The developments of web protocols like HTTP, data communication, and SMTP, email transformed the world. Yet, even in 1996, the father of WWW, the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, foresaw some privacy and security concerns that we face today (8).
Fast forward to two decades more, several companies possess vast silos of personal data available on the data. These personal data are susceptible to misuse by bad actors.
We can also go as far as to say that even though big tech giants have a substantial influence in the development of the internet infrastructure we have today, they see personal data like gold. And this development has happened kind of at the expense of users.
In addition, even though app and website development has witnessed a dramatic change since the creation of the internet, the layers of web protocols have remained the same at most.
What Makes Web 3.0 Different From the Internet Now?
The blockchain and cryptocurrency platforms are attempting to become the decentralized protocols of Web 3.0. Unlike the previous web protocols, primarily maintained by developers or tech companies, decentralized protocol layer creators receive incentives to enhance and maintain these protocols.
It is excellent for Web 3.0 users since their incentives align with the developers instead of app or website owners. It focuses on multiple profit centers sharing value across an open network. It is in sharp contrast to today’s social media platforms and other Web 2.0 apps where users are the “product.” In other words, Web 3.0 will allow users to be customers again (9, 10).
Decentralized File Storage
Massive tech companies such as Google run app stores and control user data on their centralized databases and servers on the present internet. Even if user data is not sold to third parties or monetized, there are still possibilities of a security breach at these servers and databases (11).
In Web 3.0, instead of storing data in any centralized servers, all user data is stored in decentralized and secure data storage protocols. It has an important implication on data ownership since personal data would no longer be stored in large data centers owned by tech giants. Instead, all users, applications, and connected devices interact directly, and a few entities no longer control personal data.
Promoters of the Web 3.0 believe that it would also lead to a dramatic drop in data breaches.
However, the bigger question here is who would develop the massive infrastructure for Web 3.0. Facebook has already rebranded itself as Meta, and it would come as no surprise if other tech companies also start to follow the suite. And that’s exactly the point Dorsey was making in his tweet.
Is Web 3.0 Truly Decentralized?
Web 3.0 brought a paradigm shift among tech enthusiasts with the promise to transform the digital economy with a decentralized internet, free from the monopolistic nature of the tech giants (14).
However, after listening to Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, We investigated whether or not an alternative path to a genuinely decentralized internet is possible.
Impenetrable Monopoly on The Internet
The first thing we realized was that only a handful company own a virtual monopoly within the critical areas of internet services like emails services, infrastructure like content distribution networks, global transit, cloud computing services, and even to some extent, internet standardization like IETC, ICANN, IANA, W3C, etc. (15).
Their position has become virtually impenetrable as of now.
The genesis of the current domination is best explained with the famous “network effect” – the bigger a web player, the bigger it gets. If a platform has more users, it becomes more interesting for subsequent users to join that player. And while all these services appear to be free, making them more attractive, they come at the price of commoditization and sometimes the violation of users’ privacy.
Moreover, the internet giants have also made massive investments into their pipelines, with the most notable being the submarine cables to bring their content as close to users as possible. A few years ago, these “priority access paths” had about 25% of the world’s web traffic, today, they stand at 64%.
It reflects the quality of the service these internet giants offer; a latency time reduced significantly compared to their competitors. Imagine a platform that competes with Netflix or Youtube but has a 10x longer loading time.
In the end, we’ve all become reliant on a small number of powerful service providers.
As the decentralization of the internet started to become a holy grail, many projects like ThreeFold, Dfinity, and Filecoin emerged to meet the challenge (16).
Most of these projects have the same goals:
- To “distribute” the cloud and offer alternative hyper-concentrated data centers and centralized cloud providers
- Improved user privacy and data sovereignty
- Let apps deploy with the same level of scalability and quality that the present web offers.
In other words, challenges are immense and also need massive user adoption.
The Merger of the Internet with the Blockchain Technology
The next level of the internet can be an actual merger of the existing internet protocol, TCP, IP, with blockchain technology. The result would be the internet capable of executing data packets and services in a decentralized manner.
Such a merger can foster a resilient, open, and plural internet that can offer essential services like information search, digital identity, decentralized domain names management, data storage, AI, confidentiality, and electronic signature.
However, the biggest challenge is to combine the TCP/IP functionality with a certain intelligence that allows packets to encapsulate a service market. Such service markets can be read and interpreted by all network infrastructure components like switches, servers, and routers.
In doing so, whether critical or universal, services would be brought back to the protocol internet level. The packet activates access to these services from a dedicated server or node. It’s one of the nodes of a decentralized network.
These nodes can be operated by existing internet providers, government agencies, or specialist firms such as software publishers and data centers. There can also be hybrid ownership of these nodes, shared between these different entities. And it has a fundamental implication in the internet’s physiognomy, including decentralized governance, native traceability, interoperability, and confidentiality (17).
The search engine industry is the most concentrated on the internet, with Google accounting for about 63 percent of all searches and 94 percent of mobile search traffic.
In the decentralized internet, the internet network can offer this essential function through its augmented protocol. It would lead to a more complete, objective, and privacy-friendly search engine. Besides, the network will store search data in a decentralized way, not centrally within servers of private companies.
To make the internet truly decentralized and take a step ahead of the Web 2.0 we know and use today, we need to promote active collaboration and complementarity between all projects pursuing the same or related objectives.
Remember, many scoffed at the idea of the web when web 1.0 was introduced, and There are still many grounds to believe that we can convert this planet into a utopia where people can reclaim their power.