When experts and online communities talk about the next generation of internet technology, arguably the most common buzz phrase that pops up is the answer is web 3.0.
The obvious follow-up question is then usually what is web 3.0? This article elaborates on how the core of Web 3.0 leverages blockchain technology to store data in a distributed and decentralized way. This data is then applied in a variety of use cases that originated with finance but have spawned out to anything that the imagination can conjure.
To most people, the internet is arguably the most critical and revolutionary technology ever invented in the history of humankind. According to Statista, over 5 billion internet users worldwide, which is about 63% of the global population. Most people can’t go for an hour without viewing their Instagram feed, looking up something on Google or simply watching a video on YouTube.
Although the internet has become an everyday tool, its current stage is still akin to the auto industry in the early 1920s. Although it has evolved considerably since its inception, it’s still relatively immature and in need of significant improvements. If history has taught us anything, technological change is inevitable — in the Internet sector, this change is in the form of Web 3.0.
In this article, we will go through What Web 3.0 is, why it’s essential and the architecture of a Web 3.0 internet. However, before we dive into this, let’s recap on the revolution of the internet.
The evolution of the internet
The internet has evolved a lot over the years, and its current applications are almost unrecognizable from what Tim Berners-Lee proposed. Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web founder, thought of the internet as a collaborative medium and a system of interconnected computers that would allow users to share data.
Although the first version of the internet, Web 1.0, achieved Berners-Lee’s vision, it quickly evolved into a more dynamic ecosystem with Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0.
What is Web 1.0?
Web 1.0 was the first internet iteration that lasted from 1991 to around 2004. Most of the users of the internet at this time were only consumers. During this time, developers were only able to create a static website that only displayed information in text or images. Web pages primarily serve content and data from a static file system rather than a server. You can view Web 1.0 as a read-only web.
The second iteration of the internet came in Web 2.0 — an interactive and social web. Unlike Web 1.0, Web 2.0 is a read-write ecosystem that allows users to interact with the internet and other users. Moreover, most of Web 2.0 allows almost anyone to be a creator.
For instance, if you want to share a video with the world, you only need to upload it to YouTube, and anyone can view, comment or like the video. Web 2.0 facilitates this through a front-end, back-end and database architecture. While the front-end interface is the simple and elegant web pages we see, much of the technical aspects of Web 2.0 are handled in the back-end.
In our example above, if you want to upload a video to YouTube, you’ll need to upload it to the YouTube platform on the front-end. The front end then communicates with the back-end, the logic layer, and the database, which stores the video later. Today, the internet hosts most of its data on centralized servers and users can access it through browsers.
Some of the drawbacks of Web 2.0
At first glance, Web 2.0 applications seem to be serving customers directly in a B2C model. However, according to Andrew Chen, many Web 2.0 companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter run on a B2B model. To most of these companies, the customer adds information to the B2B AD inventory.
A good example is the 2018 data deal case where Facebook was exposed for sharing user data with other tech firms like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Yandex. Today, most websites track user activity and keep a record of the data without the users’ consent. This data is then owned and controlled by a few centralized companies.
The exploitation and centralization of user data is core to how Web 2.0 as we know and use it today functions. Two significant risks arise from a Web 2.0 architecture — data privacy and security.
Web 3.0 aims to solve these shortcomings by rethinking the fundamental architecture of the internet, communication protocols used, and users interact with each other from the ground up.
What is Web 3?
Unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 eliminates the need for a middleman, and there is no centralized database that stores user data. Instead, Web 3.0 leverages blockchain technology to store data in a distributed and decentralized way.
According to Samuel Brooks, blockchain is fundamentally a system for managing valid state transitions. This means that at its core, a blockchain is a machine (virtual machine) that maintains the attributes of a given program and future attributes accepted on that machine. Think of the Ethereum protocol as a state machine that maintains a consistent record of its blockchain.
Additionally, within the machine, strict rules are enforced through smart contracts. Where Web 2.0 uses the back-end to implement an application’s logic, Web 3.0 implements smart contracts. Unlike Web 2.0, smart contracts can execute autonomously and honestly as per some pre-set rules and conditions.
As a result, Web 3.0 eliminates any third parties needed for back-end services. Web 3.0 stores data by distributing it among the nodes on the network rather than being stored on a centralized server. This eliminates the risk of a single point of failure since all participating nodes collectively maintain the data.
The core concepts of Web 3
Web 3.0 allows users to take control of their data and digital assets. Since it resides on the blockchain, any data stored on it is verifiable through smart contracts and digital keys. This verification process attaches assets or data to a specific digital wallet. This gives users a choice to select whether or not they want third parties to access each piece of data on the blockchain.
The current power dynamic on Web 2.0 between platforms and users is largely imbalanced. Centralized organizations like Google and Facebook have total control over what is acceptable. If your application, content or even views do not align with what they believe is true, these centralized platforms can delete the data. Web 2.0 requires that users trust the platforms not to change the rules.
On Web 3.0, however, your data resides on the blockchain. Only the owner of the digital wallet associated with data can change or delete data. Moreover, when you decide to shift from one platform to another, you can take any data associated with your digital wallet and plug it into another interface. Censorship resistance is a core feature of Web 3.0
When using centralized platforms, you would have to create different accounts with each platform. Further, if you want to change any information, you must do it independently for each platform. When you delete your profile from any centralized organization, your data remains on their database.
Web 3.0 allows you to solve this problem through digital wallet addresses. Using a digital address provides you with a single login across multiple Web 3.0 applications securely and anonymously.
Web 3.0 payment infrastructure does not rely on payment cards, online banks or banks to execute transactions. It uses cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and digital tokens Ethereum. These digital currencies are stored on your digital wallet, and the transaction requires no third party.
What the Web 3 architecture looks like?
Web 3.0 is significantly different from its predecessors when it comes to architecture.
The first layer in the infrastructure of a Web 3.0 application is the user interface and decentralized applications (Dapps). Currently, users can connect using a peer-to-peer server network on the blockchain. While most Dapps resemble the user interface of conventional platforms, the back-end operations are quite different. Dapps rely on smart contracts and blockchain technology to run.
The application layer allows users to interact with Web 3.0 through Dapps like MetaMask, Uniswap, Filecoin, or Brave. However, it is crucial to note that traditional browsers like Chrome and Firefox cannot connect directly to Web 3.0. You will need a browser extension like MetaMask or a mobile application to access Web 3.0.
This is the second layer of the Web 3.0 infrastructure and is perhaps the most robust layer. It covers all the crucial tools needed to create Dapps. It usually covers:
Data feeds provide a mechanism to acquire updated and credible information, which they later send to a decentralized application. An excellent example is the ChainLink data feeds which provide an efficient and fast way to connect smart contracts to real-world data like market prices of assets. In simple terms, Dapps uses data feeds to get data from blockchain platforms and conventional data sources but in a credible way.
Smart contracts are perhaps the backbone of Dapps. They eliminate third parties, and users don’t have to deal with trust issues. You can send your digital assets such as funds, personal data, a blog post, or even proprietary rights conflict-free. Smart contracts also contain the logic of DApps.
Layer 2 solutions
Although they are optional, Layer 2 solutions solve the scalability challenges in blockchain protocols. For instance, Off-chain computing allows blockchain protocols to handle the computing process outside a blockchain application. This makes the blockchain less costly and saves time compared to on-chain computing.
On the other hand, a state channel is also a layer two solution that allows users to communicate and transact outside the main blockchain. These channels are also private to the users. The list of Layer 2 solutions is endless, and different Web 3.0 applications implement other solutions.
Since Web 3.0 resides on the blockchain, its applications are inherently governed by smart contracts — where code is the law. This means that they need minimal human managerial supervision. Instead, they are governed by Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). These organizations run according to the rules written in the smart contract. DAOs run on the protocol of a decentralized blockchain.
Another clear-cut feature of Web 3.0 is cryptocurrencies and digital assets like NFTs. Unlike conventional Web 2.0, which depends on financial institutions, Web 3.0 allows users to transact peer-to-peer using cryptocurrencies.
Moreover, creators can control their content by representing them as NFTs to ensure that there will ever be one authentic piece of their content or digital asset. The blockchain records any transfer of these assets or any other category of assets, and users can transact without any third parties.
Digital identity and digital wallet
In order to interact with any Web 3.0 application, users need to have a digital wallet. Each digital wallet has a unique address that acts as an online identity. However, unlike traditional personal profiles, a digital address is not tied back to your data.
Moreover, most transactions and activities on Web 3.0 need to be digitally signed before they are executed. Web 3.0 achieves this through a multi-signature system that provides public and private keys. Users use both keys to sign and verify data on Web 3.0. BitGo is an excellent Web 3.0 application that provides security-as-a-service to investors through multi-signatures.
The protocol layer
The protocol layer covers the consensus mechanism, the blockchain protocol, and the virtual machines used to execute the smart contracts.
Since Web 3.0 lacks human governance, it requires a mechanism to ensure that all participants agree and the data on the blockchain is consistent across all nodes. In order to achieve this, blockchain implements a consensus mechanism — a fault-tolerant mechanism that increases the efficiency of Web 3.0.
There are many consensus mechanisms, with some of the most popular ones being proof of work, proof of stake, proof of replication, proof of history and proof of storage, to mention a few.
As the name suggests, a virtual machine is a program that simulates an entire computer within a computer. Although virtual, it has all the necessary hardware required to execute computations within Web 3.0, or more precisely, the blockchain technology. Web 3.0 applications use a virtual machine to execute smart contracts and update the state of the underlying blockchain. Moreover, it also focuses on maintaining security and executing unreliable transaction requests from the computers on the network.
While Web 2.0 implements a firewall and detection system to scan traffic, Web 3.0 goes a step further and runs all the network traffic on the virtual machine. If an attacker executes a malicious program or a DDOS attack, it will not affect the physical node or Ethereum network. Rather, the network will contain the fault in the virtual machine environment.
5. Network and transport layer
The network layer covers the communication protocols that facilitate peer-to-peer communication. Web 2.0 implements an IP (Internet Protocol) system for addressing nodes to pass data from one node to another across the internet.
However, these protocols need to be authorized by specific third parties to pass the data to a node. Some of the protocols used are the File Transfer Protocol, the USENET protocol and the HyperText Transfer Protocol, to mention a few.
However, unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 introduced a decentralized architecture that allows peer-to-peer communications. Data is directly passed from one node to the receiver without any third party. As such, the blockchain community developed new protocols that facilitate peer-to-peer communication.
Some of these protocols and network mechanisms implemented on Web 3.0 include:
- RLPx is a network protocol suite used to aid in general-purpose data transportation between nodes. It was designed for Dapps, and it currently runs on Ethereum.
- Roll Your Own – a process used when standard protocols are incompatible with a DApp’s architecture.
- A trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is an isolated environment or server away from the main Web 3.0 network that solves scalability, security, and storage issues.
- Block Delivery Network – a distributed network system that delivers web pages or other web content to the users who request it.
6. Infrastructure layer
Lastly, the infrastructure layer covers the network nodes, Web 3.0 data storage, native blockchain cryptocurrency tokens and virtualization.
As Web 3.0 resides on the blockchain, it’s inherently decentralized. This means that participating nodes on the network govern Web 3.0 and do not need a central authority to maintain the system. Therefore, every user will get the privacy they so wish.
In order to run the Web 3.0 ecosystem, users need to download a particular type of program like Geth, a command-line interface that allows users to run the Ethereum blockchain. This also allows you to create virtual resources like desktops, servers or operating systems to execute transactions. This is similar to a virtual machine, but it’s implemented in a node that runs the Web 3.0 network.
Web 3.0 consists of thousands of nodes which act as the major centre points where traffic is primarily routed to its destination. On a decentralized web, nodes keep track of transactions, changes, and updates or decide on the validity and authenticity of a certain piece of data.
Nodes are why the decentralized web (Web 3.0) is possible to create. They act as the governing entity, storage facility, and communication routers of data across the network.
While Web 2.0 depends on centralized servers, Web 3.0 implements a decentralized storage unit. Within the ecosystem, some nodes can offer a certain amount of their local storage space to store the network’s data. Companies or organizations can also offer storage space, but all the users will still govern the network. In return, the nodes are rewarded with the native cryptocurrency of the blockchain that the Web 3.0 application resides on.
Filecoin and IPFS are excellent examples of decentralized storage ecosystems.
Web 3 in the future
Like any other change, technological change is inevitable, which is certainly happening to Web 2.0. In a new blockchain world of distributed and decentralized database systems, it’s only normal to get a newer version of the current web system. As seen above, Web 2.0 poses security and privacy risks. With the integration of blockchain and the internet, blockchain technology provides a new framework that will create a semantic and distributed internet — Web 3.0.
Although it is a young and evolving system, various organizations like Ethereum and Filecoin are developing new solutions that facilitate the transition to a Web 3.0 ecosystem.