Deep Dive: Web3
Learn about what Web3 means, how it works, and how decentralized storage plays a part in the next phase of the internet.
At the beginning of its existence, the web was mainly a document repository, simply a collection of information available in hypertext markup language (HTML) with little or no interaction between the website and its visitors. This version of the web was known as Web1.
As programming languages evolved, web platforms were developed that offered more user interactivity. Web platforms in which the users are encouraged to interact with the website, as well as with other users, sparked the birth of what has come to be known as Web2.
Web2 is a term that describes any web-based platform that allows users to make social media activities, such as creating their own content and interacting with content generated by other users. Web2 is what most of the internet that we interact with today is considered to be. Web2 applications like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we live, profoundly altering the face of human existence.
Web 2 platforms are hosted on a server with one entity, usually a company or organization, controlling the platform’s activities. For this reason, Web2 is sometimes referred to as the ‘centralized’ web, since control of the web is centralized and regulated.
This aspect of control and regulation sparked an interest in a new version of the web that is decentralized and doesn’t have any single entity controlling or managing it. Instead, each user has equal permissions and say over the governance of the web. This is known as Web3 or the decentralized web.
Web3 technologies have redefined the way the back end of the internet is structured. Since each user has equal rights to the back-end functionality and technologies of the decentralized web, there are a variety of differences between Web3 and Web2, though the front end of both remains relatively the same. Websites and apps are still built in the same programming languages and user interfaces, but the back-ends are powered by different technologies.
The main technology that has led to the Web3 revolution is blockchain technology. Blockchains are comprised of ‘blocks’, each serving as a permanent store of immutable information and data. This information can be transactions, such as cryptocurrency transactions, or data associated with these transactions. Once data has been stored on a blockchain, it cannot be changed or edited. This provides a level of security and data integrity that Web2 does not offer.
Blockchain networks are made up of peer-to-peer networks that include nodes from all over the world. Nodes are independent of each other and are privately owned. Each node is added to the network by the choice of the owner. Blockchain networks are referred to as decentralized networks, due to the fact that they can be composed of nodes from hundreds of different countries or geographic locations at the same time, and are not centrally managed.
Cryptocurrencies are digital forms of currency that rely on blockchain technology for their creation, exchange, and sale. Cryptocurrencies are part of the decentralized web in the fact that they don’t rely on a single government entity or bank to uphold or maintain. Cryptocurrencies are created and distributed on the decentralized web and gain value based on their transactions on the blockchain networks that they are part of.
A cryptocurrency’s value fluctuates and changes based on a variety of factors such as the amount of currency in circulation, the number of recent transactions for that currency in the past day or week, and how that currency can be used outside of the blockchain. Some websites allow users to make online purchases and orders using popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Another feature of Web3 is that a user’s data is not centrally stored or controlled by a single entity. On Web3, the user’s data is owned solely by the user and cannot be distributed or accessed by anyone else.
Decentralized compute refers to a form of computing that leverages blockchain technologies. Currently, many blockchain nodes run on centralized compute servers hosted on cloud computing services like AWS or Google Cloud. Through decentralized compute, users can choose to either share their excess computing resources to be used by others for cloud computing, or they can utilize shared resources to run blockchain nodes.
Decentralized digital identity refers to a form of digital identity defined by any digital information created or generated by a user online. Traditionally, digital identities include data such as online purchase history, social media posts, or user search history. In Web3, digital identities are taken a step further to become decentralized digital identities, also referred to as the acronym DID. In Web3, decentralized identities include a user’s crypto wallet, their cryptocurrency holdings, and any digital assets that they might own like NFTs.
Most Web3 decentralized digital identities are associated with a user's crypto wallet address. Each wallet address is a unique string of characters, typically comprised of both numbers and letters. To make decentralized digital identities human-readable and easier to share and use, a domain name can be minted as an NFT on a blockchain network that can be used as an alias for a user's crypto wallet address.
Another technology being built off of blockchains is data storage. Traditionally, cloud storage services like AWS or Google Drive, store users’ data in centralized locations. Decentralized storage offers a different way of thinking about how to store and access your information. Data is distributed across nodes geographically distributed and connected through a peer-to-peer network. This is referred to as storing data in a geo-redundant manner.
Geo-redundancy is the practice of placing the physical nodes that are part of decentralized networks in a diverse variety of geographic locations. This allows the peer-to-peer networks that connect these nodes to be resilient to catastrophic events such as natural disasters, fires, or infrastructure compromise, ensuring that not all nodes on the network will be destroyed. Data stored on these nodes are stored in shards through erasure coding. When servers on these networks go offline, missing shards are automatically repaired and uploaded to new nodes, without any interruption to you.
These nodes store the data using data sharding and erasure coding. Sharding and erasure coding breaks objects into small pieces called shards, encrypts them, and distributes those shards across these storage nodes. Each node only has access to a small shard of the stored data at any given time. To retrieve the object these peer-to-peer networks only need a portion of the data’s shards to compose the data for transmission.
Typically, the term 'metaverse' is defined as a collective virtual shared space that's created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space. A metaverse space is navigated using avatars, which are popularly represented as 3D graphical art. Some metaverses are compatible with virtual reality devices and headsets, and support peer-to-peer financial transactions such as cryptocurrency transactions. The idea of the metaverse is meant to bridge the gap between virtual reality and physical reality that is built utilizing the Web3 Internet.
Minting at its most simple form refers to the process of validating information, such as the ownership of non-fungible tokens or cryptocurrencies, and registering that data onto a blockchain.
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are digital assets that include a digital certificate of authenticity to prove ownership of specific digital or physical items. These assets can range anywhere from digital art, video game items, or pieces of music. NFTs are created through a process called ‘minting’ in which a smart contract is deployed on a blockchain network, creating a unique hash identifier for the NFT asset, which then can be sold for a cryptocurrency or traded to another user. Minting does not apply to only NFTs and can be applied to a wide variety of blockchain assets.
Web3 also leverages as much open-source technology and applications as possible. Web3 is based on the idea of decentralized control, meaning that everyone has the ability to contribute as much as they’d like, and therefore thrives off of open-source, shareable technology.
Wallets, when referring to the decentralized web, are software applications used to store private keys associated with blockchain assets. If you own cryptocurrency or NFTs, your private key for these assets will be stored in a wallet. The digital assets themselves are not stored in the wallet, however, only the private keys are used to retrieve them.
Each wallet has an associated wallet address, similar to a traditional bank account number that is unique. When you need to send transactions to your wallet, you use this wallet address. Unlike a traditional bank account though, you can share this wallet address publicly. The contents of the wallet cannot be accessed without your private wallet key. Many digital wallet services, such as MetaMask, require that you have a private key sentence that is between 10 and 16 words as your private key. This assures that no one is able to access your wallet without this secret sentence, which is extremely hard to exploit.
Many are slow to adopt Web3 technologies due to the complexity of the current platforms that utilize them. New Web3 technologies are developed and released daily, most with the aim of user-simplicity and ease of transition from Web2 to Web3, which gives the future of the web a promising outlook toward decentralization.