The internet is broken. Filter bubbles, myth traps and the Facebook scandals predominate. What started as a decentralized and democratic system is now controlled by a handful of large tech companies. We have become the product ourselves. We share our data en masse with these companies, with all the negative consequences that entails. In my view, the internet is the most important technological revolution that we as humanity have seen and will have an increasing impact on our daily lives in the coming years. But how can the weather become all of us? Web3 is the next evolution of the Internet, taking care of the many problems it currently plagues.

Data is used against us
Today’s web has turned out to be different from how the inventors envisioned it, according to world wide web founder Tim Berners Lee. The goal of enabling people to find and connect information has certainly been achieved, but the same possibility has also caused major problems. Combined with digital authoritarianism, data and information are being used against us as citizens right now. By directing our opinion, by algorithms that identify innocent people as perpetrators and even incite them to suicide. As Marleen Stikker writes in her book The internet is broken — But we can fix it: “We have lost our digital sovereignty. We are being tapped, directed, followed, lived, and we let that happen ourselves.”

The big technology companies Google, Facebook and Amazon offer amazing services that represent great value to billions of people on our planet. Google’s search engine simply works best when it has all the information. But on the other hand, they have acquired a terrifying power over our daily lives.

The World Health Organization warns of an infodemic. And the authoritative Edelmann, who annually surveys trust in various areas, indicates that public confidence in technology has never been so dramatically low (pdf).

Down with the walled gardens, welcome web3!
It’s time for a fresh new start for the web! With the right motivations, a safer and stronger infrastructure, fairer, more democratic and governed by the collective. Tim Berners Lee coined the term “web3” in 2006, but it was popularized again in 2014 by co-founder of the well-known blockchain Ethereum, Gaven Wood. According to him, Web3 is very simple: “less trust, more truth”.

With the endless stream of scandals surrounding technology companies, but also the increasingly far-reaching digital transition of our society, the call for web3 is growing. In my view it will be much more than a flat version of the internet. Take a look at the insane role the Internet plays in all facets of our lives: from learning to love, from entertainment to confidence, from shopping to even living in the Metaverse. Then I see endless opportunities and possibilities.

The biggest change is the architecture. From a handful of central parties that dominate to a decentralized environment where everyone regains control over their own data and is rewarded fairly for their contribution to the web.

The internet owned by the builders and users, orchestrated with tokens. — Chris Dixon

With the rapid developments in the field of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, we are building a new economic system. Where the motives of owners, participants and developers are fully aligned. Where the merits of services and systems benefit the users, instead of the ‘gatekeepers’, as is now happening.

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet. — William Gibson

From web 1.0 to web 3.0
What does web development look like? From 1991–2004 we saw the web 1.0 emerge. Static pages that were ‘read only’, without, for example, options for interaction and logging in.

From 2004 until now, the development of web 2.0 has opened up amazing new possibilities: create, share, collaborate and communicate. Think of social media, online shopping, blogging and vlogging, video calling and gaming.

The transition from web 2.0 to 3.0 is already underway, but is slow and unnoticed by the general public. If you look at existing web3 applications, they often have the same look and feel as web 2.0 applications, but the backend is fundamentally different. Decentralization is central to this. Applications and databases are not hosted and managed on a single server, but are built on blockchain technology. For example, the Bitcoin blockchain is currently hosted by over a million computers, not one exchange.

Web 3.0 will redefine the Digital Age. — Gavin Wood

When I look at the infinite limit of new possibilities that web3 offers, I get more excited about it every day. We already see a lot of web3 applications, which more and more people are using. Cryptocurrencies are the best-known use case here, next of course NFTs (part of tokanization). Recently I also wrote about Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and Self Sovereign Identity, which are also very important parts of web3. Basically they are all decentralized applications. Cryptocurrencies to send and receive money decentrally, NFTs to arrange decentralized ownership, DAOs to organize an organization decentrally and SSI to have an identity decentrally.

Decentralized data pods
We regain control of our own data and personal data. Not a separate account for every website or social medium, but one digital identity. With this you log in to the various sites and platforms and you have control over which data and personal data you want to share.

The Web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past. — Tim Berners-Lee

To immediately show how this can work, web inventor Berners-Lee set up Inrupt for this. This works with personal ‘data pods’, personal vaults with data. A website can then always request access to your data vault, in exchange for certain services. But they cannot extract or resell this data.

Several major websites such as Reddit are already using web3. Users can earn crypto tokens by posting on a web3 section. The number of tokens can also rise or fall, due to the number of up- and downvotes. Twitter is working on project Bluesky, which is to become the web3 version of the social media platform. Founder Jack Dorsey recently tweeted that he doesn’t believe this will democratize the internet.

The key to the Metaverse?
Web3 could also become the key to the real Metaverse, bringing together all of the aforementioned functionalities in one virtual environment where things ranging from social interactions and entertainment to work and shopping come together. As I wrote about this before, this may still sound fairly futuristic to many, but the speed at which web3 and metaverse applications are currently being developed and the amount of money invested in them can already make this a reality in the short term.

Gradually, then suddenly. -Ernest Hemingway

Still a lot of bumps along the way
The road to web3 is still full of bumps. Building web3 applications involves a lot of complexity to make it truly decentralized. The interaction of an application with the decentralized network, all requirements related to management, maintaining privacy, etc. are technically a major challenge.

Governments worldwide are also stumbling about what they should actually do in the field of legislation and regulations regarding decentralized applications. A lot of work is being done on NFTs and DeFi in that area, but a day in blockchain land equals a human life. The developments are going so fast that they are impossible to follow for many people and governments. We are therefore looking closely at what things like DAOs and the Metaverse could look like. Most makers and implementers of legislation and regulations I speak to about this have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

In the meantime, I continue to dream about decentralized countries and the transition of traditional nationalities in online identities and communities. With thoughts about web4 and the day-to-day developments in the web3 field, we are entering a very cool, decentralized time.

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.