Web1, Web2 vs Web3 (Understand the Differences)
In this article we will discuss the advancement of web1, web2 and web3. The table below gives a good summary of the main characteristics of each generation.
Read and write
Read, write, execute and own
HTML / PHP
XML / RSS
ERC-20 / ERC-721
Online banking / Paypal
Cloud / CDN
We will explain each of these points in detail.
The GIF below shows the evolution of features and user interactions with each stage of the web:
Soon after the creation of the internet and the first browsers like Netscape, the internet was all about static and simple websites, consisting basically of fixed text and few images.
In most cases, users could just read content, without interacting.
From a development perspective, creating a website was not simple, as there were no tools to facilitate this process. Using raw code, developers created websites and small systems, to run on limited hardware.
Slowly, the internet migrated from stage 1.0 to stage 2.0 (web2). In web2, creating a website became much easier with the help of CMS’s. Let’s talk a little about that.
In general, a CMS is a software application or set of related programs that are used to create and manage digital content. This content can be in the form of text, images, videos, or any other type of digital media. CMS platforms typically provide a backend interface that allows users to create, edit, and publish content.
This content is then stored in a centralized database and can be displayed on a front-end website or application. Most CMS platforms also offer a range of features and plugins that can be used to extend the functionality of the system.
In other words, CMS’s allow the user to drag, drop, copy and paste visual elements when creating web content, without having to deal with programming languages like PHP all the time.
Examples of popular CMS’s are WordPress, WIX and Tumblr. With these CMS it is not only possible to create the entire structure of a website using a custom domain and private hosting, but it is also possible to create and maintain content for free hosted on these web2 portals.
This has allowed thousands of new pages to be added to the Internet every day by users all over the world.
At the same time, in addition to this democratization in the creation and maintenance of internet content, users began to interact with each other on the Web2. Forums are the best example of this.
Forums are online discussion boards where users can post messages and reply to other messages. They are a great way to share information and ideas, and they can be used for both personal and professional purposes.
Forums were the forerunners of social networking and messaging applications. Additional formatting tools like BBCode and Markdown allowed users to make elaborate posts without having to use raw HTML.
In social networks, users now not only share specific information, but their own lives. Social media and video-sharing platforms have created the concept of “digital influencer”, allowing literally anyone to gain influence over millions from a studio set up in their own bedroom.
The interaction on the social networks became not only about content, but also about emotions. You don’t need to create a comment, you can simply mark that you liked it.
The main factors that allowed the creation, evolution and popularization of web2 were the creativity of the developers, the concept of open source code and, mainly, the improvement of infrastructure (connection speed, intelligent cashing, mobile devices with 3G and 4G connection, etc.).
Importantly, web2 has contributed greatly to globalization as real-time interactions have become increasingly common.
In the 1990s no one could have predicted how the Internet would unfold in the future. Anyone over 30 will still remember the time when the only way to connect to the web was over a telephone line. Making a video call with a friend somewhere else in the world while playing a game in real time seemed impossible.
In the same way, it is difficult to foresee all the possible developments that web3 will have.
But if web2 already delivered so many features, what would web3 be capable of?
First of all, understand that there are several possible definitions for web3. Until about 2014, a common definition for web3 was the semantic web, where search engines and platforms had a deeper understanding of the meaning of words and phrases.
The concept of the semantic web was originated by Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Internet). The initial goal of the semantic web is to make Internet data machine-readable, as can be seen in this definition from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
This capability is now a reality, which can be seen in features such as the Google featured snippets and, surprisingly, relies little on people creating “vocabularies and rules for handling data” and much more on advanced natural language processing capability thanks to AI.
Along with the semantic web, web3 should represent a performance evolution, which includes 5G, AR/VR devices, metaverse and the internet of things (IoT).
But with the arrival of blockchain technology, the concept of web3 quickly ended up incorporating the idea of decentralization. For example, in 2014, Gavin Wood (Ethereum co-founder and Polkadot founder) referred to web3 as being a “decentralized online ecosystem based on blockchain“.
In fact, perhaps including the term “blockchain” in the sentence of Gavin Wood is a bit restrictive, after all it is possible to have decentralization in a variety of ways. The term DLT (distributed ledger technologies) is a bit broader. Still, decentralized protocols like Urbit might not fit that description.
As the semantic web has evolved and mixed with AI concepts, even causing confusion in terminology, it is much more common today to find definitions for the web3 as associated with blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. This will be the focus of this article, so let’s go ahead.
Although we have many advantages with today’s internet, there are still many problems to solve. For example:
- User data should be treated privately, but in web2 large companies monetize this information by using sensitive data as input to maximize their profits on ads, or by selling data to third parties.
- Web hosting and domain registration services are centralized in a few companies. This brings the risk of censorship and security issues from the point of view of hackers and malicious actors.
- Social networks are centralized. This leads to a few agents deciding which content can circulate and which should be censored from an often ideological standpoint. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are some portals that have received a lot of criticism in recent years for their biased decisions.
- Money is centralized in banking services and the value of currencies are subject to decisions of government policies and central banks.
Web3 is changing all this for the better. It all started in 2008 with the release of the paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System“, which introduced the concept of decentralized money.
One of the innovations of decentralized money has been the creation of digital scarcity. For example, the maximum amount of bitcoins that can be in circulation is finite (21 million units). This is guaranteed by programming code, validated by the entire network of nodes that are part of the ecosystem. Since no one can create more bitcoins, this helps to prevent inflation and act as a store of value.
Another innovative benefit is that Bitcoin allows any user to have personal custody of their money, without relying on banks or financial institutions.
Anyone can participate in the development of Bitcoin, and all decisions go through a complex governance system.
This paradigm shift generated thousands of supporters, which made Bitcoin’s popularity grow over time. But web3 didn’t stop there.
In 2014, Ethereum was launched, allowing smart contracts to be written on a blockchain. This opened up a whole new range of options, like decentralized applications (dApps) and decentralized finance (DeFi).
Decentralized applications are systems in which there is no intermediary agent. Imagine a bookmaker where there is no company responsible for taking the money from those who lost and paying to those who won, but everything is managed by an algorithm in an automated way (smart contract), with public consent. That would be an example of a dApp.
But what about DeFi?
Decentralized finance (DeFi) represents complex financial activities such as trading and loan management that are performed without a centralizing agent.
Dapps and DeFi came true thanks to Ethereum. But in addition to Ethereum, hundreds of other decentralized projects and concepts have emerged in recent years. Decentralized social networks, decentralized file storage systems, NFTs and decentralized infrastructure are just a few examples of technologies that are in development today.
Criticism and challenges of Web3
Although promising, web3 has many challenges. We are far from a truly decentralized internet, and even solid projects at a later stage of development such as Ethereum still have many critical points that need improvement.
For usability and performance reasons, decentralized systems often end up depending on centralized agents, as this review by Moxie Marlinspike suggests.
Besides the points of centralization that still exist in web3 solutions, two other aspects that require special attention are security and scalability.
From the perspective of security, many thefts occur frequently in exchanges and DeFi projects due to code flaws, in addition to the constant scams that rake in millions of dollars at the cost of inexperienced and vulnerable people.
From the perspective of scalability, the trilemma “decentralization, security, and speed” has not yet been solved. It is very difficult to create a decentralized system that scales to millions of users using it in real time with low fees. Decentralization imposes a number of technical challenges and bottlenecks involving security and performance.
Fortunately, there are many researchers and engineers working hard to solve these issues, and it is possible that in the near future we will have a web3 that is closer to the ideal case.
But even without having a 100% functional and operational web3 today, the birth of the decentralization concept has already had a huge impact on the way we use and think about web2.
The true democracy
Before there was the idea that forums were a democratic and decentralized environment, after all anyone can start a new discussion topic and allow people to give their opinion.
But forums are hosted on platforms, which have owners. These owners are the real owners of all the information that circulates there. Users can be banned and content can be deleted.
In the same way, open source resources for the creation of blogs do not change the fact that these blogs are hosted by large corporations.
This reveals that users can write in web2 portals and use cloud services to store their content, but real custody only takes place on the web3, where there are no centralizing agents involved and you are solely responsible for everything.
In addition, the ability to create content and participate in discussions is important, but deciding the current and future status of large projects and platforms through consensus and governance protocols is only possible on the web3.
Such reflections are important for a more conscious use of the web2 and a more prudent exploration of the web3.