The web as we know today, has evolved rapidly over the last couple of decades. It got inception in 1969, with the creation of ARPNET network by the US Department of Defense. This network was meant to enable computers to communicate with each other using modems connected to the leased telephone lines. ARPNET opened the doors of opportunities for the creation of smaller networks in the limited vicinity and then around the globe – and the connection of all these networks together led to the
formation of what we call today “The Internet”.
Tim Berners-Lee, being the founder of the internet, developed his World Wide Web project at the CERN institute in 1990, a project based on linking documents on a network using the hypertext protocol HTML. In 1993 CERN officially opened the World Wide Web to everyone free for use, and it was estimated that as of 2005, 11.5 billion pages were created on the web, all of which were (and are) electronically accessible by the web users from all over the globe.
The World Wide Web a.k.a. Web or Internet, has irrevocably changed the way we all share, access and manipulate information – and has helped create a culture of participation and collaboration among the people at large. This has been achieved through a rapid but continuous evolution which has been driven by the demands of the web users. From its inception as a mere information portal, it has progressed to a stage where the it is regarded as an all-embracing web access platform today. This platform, commonly referred to as Web 2.0, which is a status-quo of the current world-wide communication mechanism.
However, the continued semi-planned, unplanned and unorganized growth in the content all at the same time on the web – and the variations in the way we use it, is making it increasingly difficult to find, access and maintain the desired information in a precise manner. In order to achieve a richer user experience for the web users, the underlying vision for the World Wide Web has suffered a gap which has developed between the presentation of the web content in natural language and technology’s ability to interpret this content. This gap offers a bottleneck for knowledge management as web searches for information content on the Web face potential issues with search engine algorithms, which work in machine-language, struggling to deal with the large volume of natural-language content understood by humans only.
A Little Background of World Wide Web
Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 are the eras of World Wide Web since it evolved through various technologies and formats – whatever was available at their times. The first generation of the web, Web 1.0, lasted from its creation by Tim Berners Lee in 1991 to 2004. It was majorly a read-only static web with minimal interaction between users. Most of users were content consumers, not producers. This was merely an online source of information with hyperlinks as the links to other sources on the internet. Then the world saw the advent of Web 2.0, a “read-write web” based on social networks, wikis and blogs, among other services which let users produce and disseminate mostly their own content, which increased their contribution and collaboration. Web 2.0 is generally considered to have begun around 2004 and continues till date.
Problem With Web 2.0
Today’s de facto Internet, that is Web 2.0 is an oligarchy.
Web 2.0, coined by O’Reilly and others around 2004 is prevalent in the current Word Wide Web era. Under Web 2.0 platform, the data which we are uploading pictures on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, which we are sharing the videos on YouTube, are owned by the companies and not by us. If they want, they can use our data in almost any way they want. These companies take it for granted and we usually take it as normal and don’t have a problem with this thing. Problem appears when revenue generated from the stuff which we are sharing and the ads we get in our videos – the profit that is generated from it and we can receive only a minor percentage of it. The remaining biggest piece of the pie is eaten up by these companies themselves which means, this web 2.0 is centralized. Those big companies have complete control over it whereas we don’t. We are only paying contribution by sharing our information, videos, photos and our likes but the real owners of our content are these big giants like Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube and Pinterest etc. Hence this process is centralized and, yet worse than that, it is centrally managed and controlled by these companies.
Under Web 2.0 paradigm, Google is dominating the landscape of the web by no less than 64%. Google Search Engine, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs and plenty of other applications are taking up an extensively large part of the user-base. Hence no healthy competition has ever been seen among tens or hundreds of potential competitors in these spheres. For instance, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is Google’s ranking mechanism which has become a standard in the web world to follow in order to appear in the first page against a keyword.
WhatsApp – Another Giant
WhatsApp has hundreds of million active users all across the globe. WhatsApp claims that it provides end-to-end encryption to the communication between its users. That could be a sigh of relief for the security and privacy seekers, who’re sharing personal and other confidential information with their dear ones.
What if WhatsApp confidentially introduced into their service a key that allowed them to decrypt the conversations? What’s the way for us to know whether this is true. We can’t go through the code, we can’t see how their service executes across the net, we can’t see their key structure – We have to trust WhatsApp, whether we’re convinced or not about our privacy being maintained with integrity.
Web 3.0, The Game Changer
Web 3.0, originally termed as the “Semantic Web” by Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s original inventor, which can understand, combine and intelligently interpret information to provide users with a much more enhanced and interactive experience. But it could also be a decentralized web that challenges the dominance of the tech giants by moving us away from relying so heavily on a handful of companies, technologies and a relatively small amount of internet infrastructure.
The term “Web3” was coined in 2014 by Ethereum, co-founder Gavin Wood, and the idea got popular in 2021 from cryptocurrency zealots and large technology companies.
Characteristics of Web 3.0 Paradigm
The proposed Web 3.0 stems from the following diverse key characteristics.
1- Semantic Web
W3C provides the following definition of the Semantic Web:
The Semantic Web is a Web of data. There is a lot of data we all use every day, and it is not part of the Web. For example, we can see our bank statements through Net-banking apps on the web, and our photos in applications like Pinterest, Instagram, and we can see our appointments in a calendar. But can we see our photos in a calendar to see what we were doing when we took them? Can we see bank statement lines in a calendar? Why not? Because we don’t have a web of data. Because data is stored and controlled by various applications, and each application keeps it to itself and exposes using its own methods.
In fact, the Semantic Web is not a sort of a new web but it is an extension of the current web in which the information about the entities of interest, scattered in so many places on the web, is well-defined and understood by the applications – in order to render more meaningful, relevant and useful content, as well as, to enable computers and applications to work in coordination – analogous to human intelligence.
The content of the current web (Web2) is designed keeping ergonomics in mind, that is for human use. So normally web content are quite intuitive for human being so that they can lookup related information from various web sources. Each source or website can be built in different platforms, but for the end user this is seamless to gather the useful pieces of information about an entity in question. For example, hotel and travel information may be published in different web sites. This does not provide any issues for web users as they can combine these sources of information easily even if different terminology is used across various web sites.
However, this sort of arrangement of the web content makes is nearly impossible for the computers to carry out the similar tasks as the humans do using their common wisdom, knowledge and past experiences. For computers, content is difficult to combine as no distinct relationship between the content is defined i.e. no linkage exists between content that may be related. Adding an extra dimension, content such as images and videos are complicated to represent in machine readable format.
The Semantic Web claims to overcome the issues the current web presents for computer applications by making web content more accessible to automated processes and by figuring out the hidden meaning of web content through semantic annotations. Hence the computers and other devices will be fully capable to understand the meanings, linkage and usability of information scattered across the web and render them for the end users. That innovative approach will open up new horizons in the web realm and will enable the web users to utilize the web to its real potential. Intelligent content retrieval will be the most significant part of the semantic web technology.
The Semantic doesn’t require the applications to be written in the same language but the data in any application should be represented using a common standard format that is well agreed upon in advance by other applications which understand this standard format.
2- Decentralized Data Networks Through Blockchain Technology
Decentralized data networks will make it possible for the data generators (for instance, an individual’s personal health data, a farmer’s crop data, a vehicle’s location & performance data, home appliances’ active status) to sell or barter their data without losing ownership control, giving up privacy or reliance on third-party middleware. In fact, decentralized data networks can bring the entire group of data generators in to the emerging ‘data economy’.
The famous Blockchain technology will realize the dream of decentralized data networks. When the name of blockchain technology comes into mind, cryptocurrency comes first. This is because cryptocurrency is the first application based on blockchain technology and the first and successful use case on blockchain technology is the “Bitcoin”.
Bitcoin works by saving records of financial transactions on a network of computers and is designed to bypass traditional financial giants and give people greater control over their money. But its critics forewarn that it is very likely to turn into a cartel, since a large part of Bitcoin wealth is owned by a very small number of people.
Web3 is essentially based on the idea of a “trustless” model. By using Web2, the traditional web, we have to trust companies to deliver the service they promise. But if Web3 products and services are built on blockchains and are decentralized then you’ll only have to trust the underlying algorithm to deliver that product.
3- Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Algorithms
These days, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are considered to be the integral participants in the realms of cloud computing, edge computing, networking, cyber security, and blockchain. Supposedly Web 3 will incorporate many of these software and data communication trends, AI and ML will certainly play a foundational role in the evolution of these and other Web 3 technologies.
Layers of Web 3 Intelligence
The addition of ML in Web 3 will not happen as a granular ingredient. It will be rather spread across different layers of Web 3 stack to function like a nervous system in a living body. Predictions and informed decisions through AI and ML in the computer systems constituting blockchain and Web 3 will contribute a great deal in the success of the functions and performance of the entire system. ML-integrated intelligence can emerge in three key layers of Web 3.
The currently operational blockchain platforms have focused on building key distributed computing components that enable or support the decentralized processing of financial transactions. Consensus mechanisms (among nodes, spreading across the world), oracles (entities that connect blockchains to external systems, thereby enabling smart contracts to execute based upon outputs from the real world.), and Mempool structures (a mempool contains the pending transactions which are about to be put in a node after the transaction is verified and the consensus on the blockchain network is made.) are some of these key ingredients. Just as core components of traditional software infrastructures such as networking, communication and storage are becoming intelligent with times, the next generation of layer 1 and layer 2 blockchains will natively leverage Machine Learning-integrated capabilities. For instance, we can think of blockchain runtime that uses an intelligent prediction
1- for transactions to enable a massively scalable consensus protocol
2- to help mitigate a possible congestion on head.
A decentralized app (dapp) operates on a blockchain network. It enables users to engage in transactions directly with one another instead of relying on a central governing entity like an authorized government institution.
Dapps are likely to become one of the best candidate components of Web 3 to rapidly incorporate ML-integrated features. We are already observing this trend in Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT), but it’s going to become ubiquitous in a short period of time. The next-generation NFTs will transform from static images to artifacts that manifest intelligent behavior. Some of these NFTs will be able to change their behavior based on the mood of their audience or the profile of new owners.
Smart contracts and protocols are other components of the Web 3 platform that will start leveraging ML capabilities. DeFi seems to be the prototypical example of this trend. For instance, we can envision a lending protocol that could be able to use an intelligent score to balance the types of loans from various types of wallets.
Some experts are of the opinion that web3 will provide increased data security, scalability, and privacy for users and resist the influence and monopoly of the large technology companies. Others have expressed their concerns about a decentralized web, perceiving the potential for low moderation and the proliferation of careless and harmful content (public content contribution to the social networking sites’ is a clear-cut example), the concentration of wealth to a small group of investors, or a compromise in personal privacy. Still some have argued that web3 is currently deemed to be only a buzzword – we’re still far cry from realizing it.
Decentralized web won’t necessarily eradicate unequal power structure, but rather has a potential to replace one with another. For instance, Bitcoin works by saving records of financial transactions on a network of computers and is designed to bypass traditional financial giants and give people greater control over their money. But its critics point out that it is more likely to turn into a cartel, since a large part of Bitcoin wealth is owned by a very small number of people.
So we have to wait and see but keep an eye on the on-going development in the Web 3 technology landscape to figure out what actually is going to happen both in the near and far future.