From the web through blockchain and a dream of decentralization? This is the Web3 project that some technophiles keep talking about at the end of 2021. But the logic of financialization that underlies this new trendy concept is the subject of debate.
At the end of the year, Web3 has joined the list of technological controversies, alongside the metaverse and the uses of artificial intelligence. For some, it’s a coming revolution that will transform the Internet as we know it. For others, a technophile delirium. But behind this nebulous expression, what do we mean by Web3?
Where does the notion of Web3 come from?
If the expression resonates strongly today, the concept actually dates from 2014. The Web3 was designed by the British Gavin Wood, the co-founder of the famous cryptocurrency Ethereum, with Vitalik Buterin. The idea of Web3 actually germinated more or less at the same time as the establishment of Ethereum: its conception dates from 2013 and it is in 2015 that the platform was launched.
Today, Web3 benefits from the support of an ad hoc foundation, founded and managed by Gavin Wood, which is aptly called the Web3 Foundation. On her home page, it is announced that she is here to ” fund the research and development teams that build the foundations of the decentralized web “. Two associated projects are mentioned: Polkadot and Kusama.
For several years, the Web3 project remained far below the radar, but in 2021 it sparked renewed interest from the media, Internet users, but also investors and businesses. Why talk about it again now? Because the technologies and notions mobilized by Web3 are starting to be rather widespread, thanks to the fashion for cryptocurrencies.
What is the philosophy of Web3?
The project behind Web3 is to decentralize the net, using so-called blockchain technology, a mechanism that is the basis of cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Bitcoin and all the others. . It is the equivalent of a digital and public ledger in which all cryptocurrency transactions are recorded and kept.
In a Web3 environment, what is built on it wouldn’t belong to anyone. ” Platforms and applications will not be owned by a central actor, but by users, who will gain their share of ownership by contributing to the development and maintenance of these services. », Details Wired, during an exchange with Gavin Wood in November 2021.
In short, Web3 would therefore be a third generation of the net, where we would witness a transition from the current model, with online services and platforms, to an approach mobilizing current cryptocurrency technologies: cryptographic tokens and the blockchain. By owning these tokens, you then have a certain amount of power – of decision.
The ideology behind Web3 is to tackle the current web, which is characterized by economic concentration in the hands of a handful of net giants – which is roughly summed up by the acronym GAFAM ( Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and sometimes a few others) -, which the public authorities have difficulty in regulating.
This growing monopoly has, moreover, given rise to a formulation that is quite striking to illustrate the monopoly of a few key players: the ” step ”, Where Internet users would spend most of their time surfing between Google, Amazon and Facebook, to the detriment of the rest of the net. In short, the Web3 would like to dynamise all that and find a net (re) -fragmented.
Limits and criticisms for the Web3
If the enthusiasts see only merits in Web3, the fact is that it summons up complex notions and specific vocabulary that risk to overwhelm the public. We are talking about cryptocurrency, blockchain, decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), decentralized finance (DeFi), cryptography, tokens or even NFT. It is dense.
In an article from December 3, The Atlantic, on the occasion of a long subject devoted to Jack Dorsey, the former boss of Twitter, returned to the Web3, a subject that interested the American. In its description, the magazine points to the fact that “ this web model represents a financialized vision of the Internet, strongly supported by investors and speculative currencies ».
« Blockchain-based projects are sometimes confusing, they can present barriers to entry (like the need for a cryptocurrency wallet) “, Adds the site, which admits that beyond the fact” that there is a lot of money to be made With, Web3 also has the merit of offering room for a counter-culture, a new playground.
Jack Dorsey qualified his speech, reports Bloomberg, which sums up its position by saying that it is a new toy for venture capitalists. On December 21, Jack Dorsey wrote on Twitter : ” You do not own the Web3. Venture capital firms and their financial partners own it. He will never escape their inducements. It is ultimately a centralized entity with a different label. Know what you are getting into … »
This logic of financialization is the main point of tension around the Web3. ” Keep the web free, say no to web3 », Pleads Yesterweb, which lists down the menu everything that is wrong and points out several very hostile external articles: ” Web3 is a scam, not a revolution », « Web3 is bullshit », « Web3 fraud ” or ” Web3 is not decentralization ».
On a previous version of the site, Yesterweb observed that while decentralization is a good thing, cryptocurrency is not an essential element. Above all, the site pointed to the fact that ” much of the ‘decentralization’ in the Web3 world relies on a handful of nodes that are very expensive to manage, hosted on Amazon Web Services “. Decentralization on centralized platforms?
For his part, Elon Musk, who is never far from buzzwords in fashion to give his opinion, asked a question, both naive and provocative, but ultimately enlightening on the new effervescence around the Web3, which is slow. to give birth to something concrete – or at least perceptible by everyone, and not by a few specialists in their corner.
How does this relate to Web 3.0?
Any. At least, there is none if we are talking about “Web 3.0” conceptualized by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web. His own Web3 concerns the semantic web, that is to say, an organization and structuring of web pages so that software can perform more complex tasks for the benefit of Internet users, by linking and standardizing the data available on the net.
This semantic web is the result of an old reflection, because we find traces of it since 1999. The Scientific American Magazine spoke in 2001 as ” a new form of web content that makes sense for computers and will spark a revolution of new possibilities “. In short, it is more a question of processing and understanding the data, than of decentralization.
That said, Tim Berners-Lee could be sensitive to the objectives pursued by Web3. The person concerned has indeed often expressed his dream of seeing another Internet emerge, more decentralized, where the hold of the major Internet platforms would be much weaker. Since 2020, Tim Berners-Lee has been trying to make this vision a reality with a project called Solid.
What about Web 1 and Web 2?
If we are talking about a Web3 (or a Web 3.0 for that matter), is it that there was a Web 1 and a Web 2? This is indeed the case. Broadly speaking, Web 1.0 denotes an era, ranging roughly from 1990 to the mid-2000s, while Web 2.0 followed shortly thereafter. It is considered that Web 2.0 is still in effect today.
The distinction that is generally made between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, and which is sometimes seen as a marketing expression, lies in the role of Internet users. Web 1.0 designates a static web, with rather fixed web pages and a rather vertical link: we read content, but we do not participate significantly in production (even if there were forums and … guest books ).
Web 2.0 is presented as a much more dynamic and participatory web: the web is becoming more social with community sites and the emergence of more and more platforms to produce and share content of all kinds: YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter are examples. In short, Web 1.0 made it possible to read and discover, Web 2.0 to interact and write.
Other divisions have sometimes been imagined, with more or less questionable presentations. We have also been able to cross terminologies such as Web 2.1, Web², Web 2.5, Web3D, Web 4.0 to describe more or less marked evolutions of the Web. But this succession of formulations also had the effect of accentuating the impression of witnessing a battle of slogans.
What if there was another Web3?
The idea of a decentralized web is not new and certainly did not originate with Gavin Wood. For example, Numerama evoked the idea of Web 3.0 in 2007, combining both Web 2.0 and peer-to-peer (P2P) exchanges, exactly in the same way as BitTorrent or eMule. Clearly, instead of hosting data on centralized servers, we would store it ourselves.
It’s exactly like BitTorrent for example. At the height of piracy, there were certainly sites indexing BitTorrent links to retrieve movies, video games or music without the consent of the rights holders. But once the small BitTorrent file was recovered, the exchanges no longer went through a central server, but took place directly between Internet users.
Obviously, history has not yet taken this trajectory. It is clear that P2P has relatively fallen into disuse. If these exchanges were vigorous during the time of piracy and still exist today, the evolution of cultural practices (with the legal offer, audio streaming, SVOD, etc.) has sent P2P back into the shadows.
Initiatives to decentralize the Web have been launched, but they are struggling to go beyond Internet users already convinced by this need: we have thus seen projects like Diaspora (a kind of Facebook-like, without the controversies), Mastodon ( like Twitter) or PeerTube (like YouTube), but there is still a way to go. And it is not won.