Will all technology eventually become obsolete, replaced or abandoned? Or are some things so deeply rooted in our world that they can only evolve, just as we do?
It’s hard to imagine the internet as a technology of the industrial revolution. This giant and permanently entangled web of wires, routers, servers, towers, and electric currents passes information at a speed somewhere between that of sound and light.
This internet infrastructure exists everywhere, a cloud that lets us carry “the web” in our pockets and power our homes with smart devices. It’s no longer one technology, but an undefinable mesh of countless technologies, protocols, software and hardware, interoperating and speaking to each other.
Hundreds of thousands of kilometers of submarine cables connect us, but will these age well?
Over-centralization has become a threat to its accessibility and democracy. Officially governed by “no one”, the internetit has flourished into a commercial machine which serves a handful of powerful and self-interested businesses. Corrupt governments can cut off their citizens from the internet altogether. And if your personal data hasn’t been hacked yet, it’s only a matter of time.
But rebuilding the internet itself seems an impossible task. Instead, we can decentralise it.
The decentralisation of the web is a global movement, led by many different groups all working towards the same objective; to ensure equal, free and uncensored access to the web for all. We do this by taking the same physical pieces that make up the internet today, and repurpose them so they protect and serve users.
Before, we were merely plugged into the internet. Now we can become the internet itself.
Important sidenote – the internet and the web are two different things; when we refer to the internet, we mean the physical infrastructure – the wiring and protocols governing how computers communicate with each other. The “web” is made up of websites, web applications, web browsing. It’s a platform which hosts documents and applications, with clickable hyperlinks.
Before we dive into Web 3.0 and its mechanics, let’s take a brief look at the history of the internet.
In its early stages, the internet was made up of a distributed network of computers. Its original architects, including founding father Tim Berners-Lee, envisioned it as inclusive and open. To access and be part of this network meant to contribute directly to its growth and development, with everyone sharing responsibility equally. Each user could communicate with each other directly, without the need for third parties or businesses, such as ISPs today.
Towards the end 1990, the first web page became available on the open internet.
In 1991, this Web 1.0 was launched as a public domain, a digital and shared space like a public library or park. Users anywhere were invited to join this new online community.
In the mind of Berners-Lee, the internet was designed to be “a collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write.” But as more people connected and the network grew in size, Berners-Lee understood that to unlock the power of the internet, it had to be “permissionless”, meaning no one had to seek permission to join.
However, the web at this time was mostly static, offering read-only content. There were very few content creators, with most users of the internet “acting as consumers”. The internet was soon taken over by the first internet businesses like AOL and Yahoo, who became the gateways to the web.
In 1994, Netscape launched the first commercial-grade web browser, and the dot-com explosion began.
In the early 2000s, the internet became more interactive. The evolution of the read-only Web 1.0 to the read-write Web 2.0 brought us the “web as a platform”. Users could easily start creating and publishing content themselves, even learning HTML (HyperText Markup Language, the markup language for the web) to build their own websites.
As an interactive and dynamic system where anyone could participate, this read-write web is what catalysed the birth of many new systems and applications which today have become some of the biggest businesses in the world. Participatory social networks like Facebook and Myspace, online marketplaces like Amazon, AirBnB and Uber, content creation and entertainment – all these plug into Web 2.0, creating new economies and standards for socialising, communication and business. Social media in particular has reinvented the way we shop and consume news.
Unfortunately, the business models propping up the internet today are as exploitative as they are successful. It exists to serve those “who have something to sell”, who even in the 90’s were predicted to become the main beneficiaries of the web. Companies rely on user-generated content to keep their platforms running, yet our personal data is harvested and sold to companies we’ve never even heard of.
And if it’s not monetized, our personal information is routinely hacked due to the insecure centralized systems that have led to countless data breaches in the past year alone, exposing millions of records. These centralized databases are gold mines, making us targets for cybercriminals who can steal our personal information, banking details or simply sell our identities on the dark web.
So despite the internet being hailed as the greatest technological advancement of all time, it turns out corporations have really made a mess of things (but earned billions in the process). We desperately need to protect users and preserve the future of the internet itself, before it’s too late to turn things around.
There are many teams working to restore the internet to its former glory. The resurgence of decentralized, P2P technology has meant we can rewire the internet so that it becomes private, safe and accessible by default. It will protect and compensate users, instead of milking them for data and profit.
A slight digression… what is the “other” Web 3, the “semantic web” ?
It was once thought that the evolution of the Web 2.0 into Web 3.0 would bring us the “semantic web”.
The semantic web was to improve web technologies so they can “understand the meaning of words, rather than on keywords or numbers… In this version of the Web 3.0, computers can understand information like humans in order to provide faster and more relevant results. They become more intelligent to satisfy the needs of user.”
Tim Berners-Lee described this web as a “Global Brain” which could process content in a human-like way, interpreting the nuances of concepts and information. Though billions of dollars were invested to develop the semantic web, it has not been brought to life (at least for now).
The “new” Web 3.0 is often referred to as the decentralised web, as this is the main underlying technological and theoretical standard which powers it. As we shift into a new internet era, this adaptation of the Web 3.0 actually draws it closer to its original roots.
One of the biggest problems with the internet today is that it is heavily centralized, with a small collection of companies storing and powering the web via privately owned servers. Remember Web 1.0? That was a decentralized system, with a network of computers (and their users) storing that same data. There was no long line of middlemen, queuing up to connect us and take their cut. With that version of the web, no one had to pay a company or service to join, there were no centralized nodes, servers or governance systems, no single point of failure, and no “kill switch”. These are all qualities and components that the decentralized web hopes to restore.
With the introduction of new technologies like blockchain and distributed ledger technology, we can decentralize many different systems that were once dependent on centralized methods. (This can also be applied to systems beyond internet protocols, such as law and economics, but that’s a story for another time.)
Blockchain technology has democratic and self-governing architecture. Take the Bitcoin blockchain, for example; as a peer-to-peer system, it is run by its own users, who are rewarded when they help keep it running. Due to its heavy encryption and clever mechanics, it is practically incorruptible. And the best part is, a blockchain is available for anyone to verify and anyone to join.
Learning all the lessons of what Bitcoin did to money, we’re starting to do this to all other kinds of services. Torrents and other file sharing sites kickstarted the P2P revolution. Bitcoin entered the scene providing the final piece that was missing all those years ago – incentivisation. Blockchain’s economic model has changed the game, and makes it far more scalable.
And with the advent of smart contract technology, we can ensure the benefits of decentralized protocols are easily passed onto the user. (Smart contracts are pieces of code that can automate and self-execute tasks based on an agreement. And since the smart contract acts as the “middle-man”, it doesn’t need to be paid).
Now we take these unique protocols and plug them into the web itself. Instead of centralised servers, we can create peer to peer systems which allow people, not business, to securely share and store data online. Your computer becomes a node, acting as a miniature server (node). As a node, you help power the entire network by directly sharing your excess resources, such as bandwidth or processing power. And as a decentralized system, it runs without any kind of official host or authority at all, making it stronger from a security and network health standpoint, with no single point of failure. The bigger this distributed network grows, the faster it becomes.
You can imagine the decentralized web as a new layer, one which still utilises all the existing infrastructure of the internet today, but “rewires” it on a technical level and reimagines it on a social one. This new layer relies on people, not business, to keep it powered, open and free. In this way, the Web 3 alters the very way we access the internet, retrieve information and operate online. One of the best promises of this tech is its ability to return sovereignty over data ownership. Now we can truly own, protect and profit from our own data.
And perhaps the most important and new property introduced by the decentralized web is verifiability. It enables any user to verify and confirm the claims of the services they are using.
We can now check that services are being delivered in the way they’re promised, and that our data is being handled securely.
Pieces of the decentralization puzzle.
Some Web 3.0 companies.
Much of the decentralized community is already committed to open-sourcing their code, but with Web 3 platforms and apps, this transparency is often built into the technology itself. Verifiability is embedded in the infrastructure. Users no longer have to trust the teams and spokespeople behind the platforms, as the technology itself is trustless by design. This is a far cry from the current state of Web 2.0, where online businesses hide behind terms of service and codes of ethics, and we just have to take their word for it.
The Web 3.0 enables anyone to build all kinds of autonomous applications and networks. The practical use cases of blockchain and DLT have made their impact on industries from health, law, finance, energy, the sharing economy.
Mysterium Network is one such network that is helping to weave together this second layer of the internet. As a permissionless, decentralized network with a focus on censorship-resistant web applications, it helps us reformat the web, allowing people like you and me to own and manage the internet. The first app to be utilise the network is a world-first decentralized VPN (dVPN).
As with other decentralized apps and platforms which make up the Web 3.0, a dVPN service is powered entirely by other web users like you. Each person rents out their IP address and bandwidth to others in this P2P network, earning crypto in exchange. Due to its distributed infrastructure, none of your data can be physically stored anywhere, and all traffic being routed through these personal nodes is heavily encrypted.
You can use this Web 3.0 app to bypass unethical censorship and surveillance. Governments everywhere regularly attempt to prevent the use of encryption tools and anonymity in any form. With over a quarter (27%) of the world’s internet users living in places where they can be arrested for posting, sharing or even “liking” something on Facebook, it’s time to fight back. The Web 3.0 can protect its users, keeping them anonymous while they browse the web openly and safely.
We don’t have to keep making new privacy tools that can be blocked – we change the very nature of being online in the first place. We’re building safer roads, not inventing safer cars.
It’s invisible and undeletable internet infrastructure.