Anyone spending as little as a moment online is likely to have been bombarded with content featuring or related to Web3. From ads for browsers custom designed to surf this new web to articles and explainers from news outlets, most users feeds are riddled with this new trend.
Among the emerging technology crazes brought to us by cryptocurrencies, Web3’s proponents promise increased security and privacy. They say this arises from the decentralized nature a blockchain-based internet would have, effectively shifting control from Big Tech over transactions and interactions to all Internet users. While all this sounds exciting in theory, the question remains is any of this tangible and will its dividends equally extend to users in less privileged corners.
To answer our earlier question, we need some background to Web 3. Web 3 was first coined by Gavin Wood, a co-founder of Ethereum (a firm that is also positioning itself as a pioneer in the new vision of the web) in 2014. He proposed it as a successor to the current state of the web called Web 2.0.
Now, Web 2.0 is characterized by the dominance of platforms where users interact and generate platforms. However, the firms running these platforms have suffered backlash extensively for how they handle them. So that in 2021, in a world that was raving about cryptocurrencies, a pandemic and growing distrust of centralized structures, the idea of a blockchain based, decentralized platform caught fire among investors, cryptocurrency denizens and technologists.
Several interests are rushing to join in the emerging concept. Including large heavyweight companies like Big Tech companies, cryptocurrency exchanges and blockchain and investment firms along with fledgling start-ups. Google is one of such Big Tech firms with plans towards Web 3. Binance, Coinbase, Ethereum and MetaMask are just few of the vast blockchain-related firms throwing their hats into the ring.
As a result of all this vigor, many in the developing world are hoping to jump onto Web 3’s bandwagon that is widely hailed to be a vehicle to prosperity for all. It is no secret that many developing nations missed the industrial revolution, one of the reasons for the wide gap in global inequality. Hence, a section of its youth today believe seizing the digital revolution is the way to catch up.
Therefore, many are embracing the blockchain. For example, faced with fluctuating local currencies bleeding away the value of their savings, they turn to Bitcoin and the likes as stores for their earnings. Again, many looking to find another source of income, turn to cryptocurrency trading which is open to more people than other financial markets.
So looking at this, we can see why the promise of decentralization is financially tempting to them. But it runs deeper than that. The opportunities for free expression such a platform would offer for people living under repressive regimes is also a large positive. This is as a result of it’s decentralized nature meaning that it would not be as beholden to governments as current platforms or so its proponents claim.
However, some skeptics are yet to be won over by the trend due to the belief that Web 3 is an intangible idea with little meaning. This is seen to be the reason for Google’s reluctance to follow along. Also, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, co-founders of Tesla and Twitter respectively have argued that Web 3 is merely a buzzword. As of today, Web 3 is a very nebulous concept that has been yet to be fleshed out meaningfully. Consequently, they warn that intersts should exercise caution
Again, others are cynical about Web 3’s promise of decentralization. They have pointed out that far from being decentralized, the blockchain market is dominated by large companies such as Ethereum, MetaMask along with Alchemy and Infura, which manage integral cryptocurrency platform APIs. Hence, they say that Web 3 would offer the same centralized structure as today with only a switch of the dominant firms as change. Also, these corporations would still be subject to the authorities
The cryptocurrency world’s lack of regulation is also a big concern. Security breaches, pump and dump schemes and high risk contracts are just some of the downsides to this. Most of those who fall prey to losses are overexuberant developing world users with a poor understanding of the system. As a result, some worry about the consequences of extending the model of the current crypto market with its many pitfalls to the Internet. Particularly that it would be a tool for exploiting ordinary, ignorant users.
From Bitcoin to the NFT, the blockchain has really impacted the world’s technological and financial landscape. Now, some pioneers hope to extend this impact to the Internet. Whether or not this is realized or even possible is yet to be seen. But we can be certain that it’s reach would extend equally from places like The Hague to Lagos, albeit with different consequences. Summarily, it is important to approach this new idea rationally and with caution.