OK, it’s a buzzword – or at least Elon Musk says so. As does Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who believes it’s nothing more than a toy for venture capitalists. That alone is reason enough to take a look at what it actually is.

Web1, Web2…

‘Web3’ implies that there was a Web2 and a Web1. That’s true. Web 1.0 was where we first posted HTML ‘pages’ online, and you could only read and jump from page to page via links. The need for more interactivity led to Web 2.0: fully interactive web applications, software through the browser. The disadvantages of that are now obvious: the big boys like Google and Facebook hijack your data and private information. It’s time for a rethink and a quest for a new way to deal with online content.

Web3 is based on blockchain. That makes it possible to store data in a distributed way with better security based on encryption. You no longer have to give away your data to a huge corporation that stores it in its data centre. Whatever you put online remains yours for all eternity. Unless you transfer or sell it to someone else—via blockchain, of course. The benefit: ultimate privacy. You never have to share data with anything or anyone else unless you choose to do so.

NFTs and cryptos

Web3 is still in its infancy, but because it is based on blockchain (which has been around for a while), we can already imagine how it might work. NFTs are a bit like that. You buy something digital—like a work of art or an avatar for a game— and thanks to the blockchain it is really yours: you get a non-fungible token (NFT) with it. ‘Fungible’ means replaceable by another identical item, so an NFT is a non-replaceable token. This contrasts with cryptocurrency, which is far from unique and therefore fungible. As with all currencies, one bitcoin is fully exchangeable for another. Cryptocurrency is also inextricably linked to Web3 because you can use it to buy NFTs, for example.

Of course, the big data companies are also getting in on Web3. They certainly don’t intend to miss the boat! For example, Meta (Facebook) has already anticipated Web3 with its Metaverse. You can buy a digital plot of land there—an NFT—where you can create your own place. That raises the question of how safe your data will remain there, but it’s still too early to judge.

Who’s the boss?

By its very nature, Web3 is unregulated. There is no Facebook that can remove posts because they contain fake news. And there’s no Google that can reject YouTube content for the same reason. On the other hand, no government can take unwanted websites offline either.

According to critics, this is also the great weakness of Web3. In this day and age, do we really want a system where anyone can just casually post whatever they want online? How can we prevent a country or a president from spreading utter nonsense and manipulating public opinion?

Smart contracts

The answer from Web3 enthusiasts is ‘smart contracts’: automated contracts that are executed once certain conditions have been met and that are used primarily in value transfers. Smart contracts can be used to request a service from another company via the blockchain: for example, a payment in cryptocurrency. Likewise, the NFTs we mentioned are changing hands with the help of smart contracts. People are still debating how exactly smart contracts can provide regulation, and many experts think that human intervention is inevitable in many cases.

There is still a lot of thinking and development to be done before there will be any tangible evidence of Web3. But all indications point to a strong need to curb the power of the big players in the data and information market. A blockchain-based global web seems to have the best chance of achieving this.