The blockchain industry is flush with claims of Web 3.0’s arrival. There is no shortage of protocols, technologies or applications claiming to be the conduits to, or harbingers of this “next” version of the Web.
However, the notion that Web3 is a logical evolution that arrives after Web2 can be challenged.
One of the flaws emanating from the Web3 cheerleaders is to start with a technical architecture vantage point. What ensues is a series of technical claims or features that appeal to technical stakeholders, and fall short from reaching a required mainstream to effectively make a dent in declaring the arrival of a new paradigm.
Even the term Web 2.0 is technical jargon to the actual end-users that ended-up validating that era. If you ask common users that consume social media today, they will not be familiar with the term “Web 2.0”. What they know is they can post a photo, share a video, publish their thoughts, debate topics, or broadcast themselves doing silly or smart things.
Other technically-driven revolutions with high paradigm shift expectations have had a history of failure. Two recent ones come to mind.
In the mid-2000’s, SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) was all the rage, and it was going to change everything. It was a “do or die” for IT departments in mid to large companies. IBM and other big software companies were at the forefront of this trend. A few years later, that flame fizzled, because SOA didn’t deliver its revolutionary promises and remained a niche.
In the early 2010’s, the Semantic Web was another attempt at owning a “Web 3.0” narrative, and it was supposed to move us beyond Web 2.0, because linking content via meta depictions was going to be so important, and it was the original goal of the Web that Tim Berners-Lee had envisioned. Many readers probably don’t remember the semantic web. No worries, that promise also fell flat and fizzled away a few years later.
Fast forward to now, and we have blockchain technology fueling another Web 3.0 resurgence. (and I’m not counting those that believe that AI and machine learning are rather the harbingers to a Web 3.0)
One of its most ardent flag bearers is the Web3 Foundation, but it is a front-house to Polkadot’s blockchain, and disguised as the industry’s next lighthouse.
The problem with all these technically-driven so-called paradigm shifters is that they are of technical nature, and their scope is limited to a technical segment of the market. Technology is always an enabler for something bigger, and it is a lever. Technology alone cannot reach a mainstream market. Rather, it’s usually something else that is enabled by technology that makes it into the mainstream.
Web 2.0 happened because mainstream users started to share content on the web and get gratified from instant publishing. This was not a technical trend, but it was a powerful use case that reached societal and business levels.
Today, we take it for granted that anyone can write and immediately read on the web what they just wrote. But that wasn’t the case at the beginning of the Web.
Do you know what this read/write feature was called when it first started?
Well, it started being called the two-way web.
I remember being at an O’Reilly P2P Conference in 2001 in San Francisco, where my friend Rohit Khare (from CommerceNet Labs) demoed this cool feature showing a screen where you type something and it was immediately re-published on the web. Wow.
Imagine if we had continued to market this new new feature as “the two-way web”. Two-way web was just a technical depiction for an enabling fundamental technology that later became known as read/write web. Much later, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others didn’t even call it read/write. They called it “share”.
Four years later after this seminal demo, in 2004, Web 2.0 was officially kicked-off via the first Web 2.0 conference, as the market started focusing more on the application of the technology instead of the technology itself.
I’m offering this historical backdrop as a useful perspective for those who are rushing in declaring ownership of, or leadership in Web 3.0. The reality is that no one will really own Web 3.0, just as no single organization owned Web 2.0.
A new era is more visible by its applications, not its enabling technologies that later become largely invisible. If you are a technologist, all you see is technology.
With all that being said, do I believe that the blockchain-driven Web 3.0 trend includes innovative technologies that have the potential to usher us into a really new Web era?
However, until the patchwork of Web 3.0 technologies finds itself inside mainstream applications that have a broad and large market reach potential, we will not have a Web 3.0 yet.
This post was a part I and a precursor to another post that I will publish in a few days that will list the potential applications that have a promise of being the next mainstream drivers for blockchain-technology. It will be more than one, but less than 5.
The real promise of Web 3.0 is still up for grabs, and there are options worth waiting for.
There is no Web 3.0 future until there is a present one.