Web3 primer

“Why it matters and why you should care.”

What each individual put of content and meaning behind brands and definitions can wary a lot. I don’t believe I have the full and correct understanding; I’m just sharing my views.

This topic can get muddy really quick, so this primer will be very focused and as little technical as possible.

Web3 is the realization of The Semantic Web

The Semantic Web (sometimes known as Web 3.0) was a term coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee back in 1999, and it was a dream he had.

Web3 was coined by Gavin Wood in 2014, which is distinct from Web 3.0, but also as Wikipedia states: “Furthermore, some visions of Web3 also incorporate ideas relating to the semantic web.”.

Most content that exists today, especially the content that was made before the introduction of Bitcoin, is largely free form text entries. Basically, random text stored on the hard drives of computers all around the world.

Some of this text, or data, has attached metadata. Like a Word file can keep track of the authors who have edited the file.

The Semantic Web was all about giving structure to text, or data. It has taken a long time since 1999, but with the advent of Web3 the dreams that Tim had 23 years ago is starting to become reality.

The idea was simply when a “name” appeared on a web page, it would be more than simply random text, it would have context and metadata attached to it. The text, or data, would follow a specific schema. Schema is just another document that describes how some data can or should be structured.

A lot of open standards has been defined around The Semantic Web, but adoption has been lacking. While we could investigate reasons why adoption lacked, I believe the primary driver is an economical one (resource and energy).

Verifiable Data (Text)

With the The Semantic Web, we got the schemas for defining data and with Web3, got the ability to verify the data (text).

This makes a world of difference, and it changes the semantic web from being one of unlimited resources to one of scarce resources. When there are scarce resources, the economics changes.

Humans is a scarce resource, and with Web3, we are the actors whom creates data that is verifiable. This can be in the form of a Bitcoin transaction, or in the form of a statement about trust. A statement about verified facts. These things are valuable, either to individuals or groups.

Anyone can state to another person any factual event, but to verify this statement, comes at the cost of energy.

Energy is what we all attempt to acquire as much as possible; we work to save up for the future. Money is a means to store future output of energy. Energy we need to survive and thrive.

Our human brains are optimized for low energy usage. We build trust with other humans, and through this trust, we automatically accept statements made by others as true. This is a mechanism to conserve energy, but it has for ages been exploited by individuals with bad intentions.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, this natural behavior of humans has been, and is being exploited, on a massive scale. By states, governments, media, corporations and individuals.

When the media announces a new regulation from the government, most people will assume what is reported is correct. To verify everything, is costly, because it requires effort.

Web3 makes it effortless to perform verifications.

Programmable Money

The most important technological achievement in recent time is the creation of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin enabled something unique that has not existed in human history before. Bitcoin made money, one of the most essential tools of human societies, into a programmable asset.

Web3 adopts the technology of programmable money and by doing so, creates a whole economic system around verifiable data. It streamlines the existing technology platforms into something that is much more performant, must more resilient and less dependent on existing institutions.

What changes for developers

The biggest change for developers when adopting Web3, is the loss of power. A lot of developers will have a negative reaction to Web3, especially initially. Developers thrive on the power they have to create, but the power to create comes with a lot of responsibility. This responsibility has traditionally been owned by the developers (and system administrators).

This must change, because humanity is soon uploading into the metaverse.

The power that used to belong in developers’ hands, is moving into the hands of the users. Web3 is empowering the users with some incredible abilities that has never in history existed, and that’s amazing.

There are incredible opportunities, but we must work hard to ensure failures does not have too bad of a negative effect on the society and individual.

In traditional software and services, developers (and hackers) can very easily manipulate, distort, fake, modify the data (text) that a system delivers to its users. This can be done by mistake or bad intentions, and it happens every single day.

Building the future on these kinds of (centralized) architectures, have already shown to be very costly for the individual and society as a whole.

By losing power, we as developers also reduce our responsibility. Which opens up the ability to do things we never could before. This is empowering, if you allow it to be.

What changes for users

The most important benefactor of Web3, is the users. Users will be the owner of their own data, not a corporations or institutions.

Owning your own data comes with a lot of responsibility. That responsibility is not for everyone, but the important point of Web3, is that we are building technology that allows anyone to adopt that responsibility, as oppose to the traditional systems where users have zero rights.

If you don’t want to take the responsibility, you can purchase custodial services by someone else and outsource that responsibility. Similar to how we do a lot of things in our economy and society. Just because everybody can’t be responsible for everything, should never distract from the need to have systems in place that allows individual autonomy.

In closing

I know that Web3 is a very hyped and debated topic, and definitions are very different depending on which ecosystem you belong to. I see many have asked for new definitions for “The Decentralized Web”, but I think it’s better to simply accept that Web3 is going to stay, and it will continue to evolve, just as Web 2.0 before it. Web3 becomes what we build it to be.

Let’s stop fighting and arguing about semantics and details, and let us get our hands dirty and realize a better future for everyone.

Written: 2022-01-08

Author: Sondre Bjellås

Photo: Shubham Dhage