In the first two articles in this series, we saw how the internet was conceived and began to operate as a de facto utility. We saw how it became diversified through the emergence of data and the cloud and how it morphed into a mainstream channel for international commerce, social networking, and entertainment.
Now, here in the third decade of the 21st century, the internet is being reconfigured into yet another new form: web3. This is all about new dimensions — 3D foremost among them — in experiencing entertainment, ecommerce, social connections, and travel. It is said that web3 will bring amazing new experiences to people using augmented-reality applications with blazingly fast data speeds to do virtual things such as:
talking to famous people in history;
visiting faraway places and feel like they're really there;
inserting themselves into a World Series game;
captaining an ocean liner;
becoming a cast member in a favorite movie; or
performing on the Broadway stage.
These are all bucket-list items for many people now. But with the rapidly improving augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware that's being developed, these things will feel so real to users that they'll be able to see, hear and, yes, smell what those experiences entail.
Web3 is defined this way: web3 (Web 3.0) represents the next iteration or phase of the evolution of the web/internet and potentially could be as disruptive and represent as big a paradigm shift as Web 2.0 did. Web 3.0 is built upon the core concepts of decentralization, openness, and greater user utility. Ostensibly, all of these attributes will make for faster, more efficient, safer, and more profitable e-commerce than the hacker-infested systems that plague Web 2.0.
Funny, those were the same attributes the original architects of the WWW intended for their network, but the security simply wasn't there to enforce clean and fair transactions and keep hackers out of the picture. That will be changing with the coming iteration of the internet. At least, that's what designers of the next web portend.
Web3 is being built right now, ostensibly to safeguard people's data from companies that attract users with free services, then profit by utilizing the massive amount of personal data they collect. In Web 3.0, users can create content while owning, controlling and monetizing it through the implementation of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. This is what enables NFTs (non-fungible tokens, which are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated). Blockchain technology incorporates concepts such as decentralization and token-based economics. It's also called zero-trust security.
Some of the promises of Web3 – like a whole new (virtual) world – seem almost like magic. And when AI is done effectively at scale, that can seem a lot like magic, too. But the truth is much simpler than that.
The term web3 was coined in 2014 by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, and the idea gained interest in 2021 from cryptocurrency enthusiasts, large technology companies, and venture capital firms. Some experts believe that web3 will provide increased data security, scalability, and privacy for users and combat the influence of large technology companies.
Others have raised concerns about such a decentralized web, citing the potential for low moderation and the proliferation of harmful content, the centralization of wealth to a small group of investors and individuals, or a loss of privacy due to more expansive data collection.
Ironically, all those potential red flags listed here for web3 are precisely what has happened in the original internet. Some thought leaders don't see all that much difference between the first 30 years of the internet and the next 30 years. But they are outnumbered by those who sincerely believe a new Web is on the way.
The internet, like the world, will look very different 30 years from now. Most of the access to applications, video networks, video games, live television, and events will be voice- and bio-activated and authenticated; passwords and questions asking for your mom's maiden name will be long gone. Fingerprints and irises will still be used for authentication purposes in some use cases. We also will be able to utilize augmented reality or virtual reality screens inside eyeglass-type devices if we choose to not use larger headsets, smartphones or tablets to use the new web.
Both the technologies of web3 and the metaverse support each other like yin and yang. Although the metaverse is a single digital space and web3 favors a decentralized concept, web3 infrastructure will serve as the basis for connectivity in the metaverse. Web3 and Web 2.0 will coexist for years because entrenched technologies never go away overnight.
Second Life, an early video game depicting a metaverse-type environment, is rudimentary compared to what we can do now, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said in a recent interview. He described the current activity and focus on the metaverse as still in the “hype cycle."
"You’ll have a few years of hype and exaggeration," Enderle said. "Once this (web3 and metaverse) matures, it will be Earth-shattering. It has the potential to eclipse the internet. It’s a different structure. But the effort devoted to this will be more than the internet.."
Stanford University professor and technology futurist Paul Saffo said in a December 2021 speech that "the idea of an alternate reality is a very old idea. There has always been a human being with a deep yearning for an alternate reality. There have been various iterations of the alternative digital world over the decades, but for the most part they have been shunned by the average user, because the technology is too expensive, not powerful enough, or uninteresting. Very large virtual reality headsets, which often cause headaches when transporting users to another environment, are also another drawback, while augmented reality — which combines computer-generated images into one environment physics — is still too complicated and expensive."
What is the ‘Metaverse’ and how much will it be worth? It depends on who you ask, Saffo said.
"The future Metaverse is theoretically a large arena that is expected to combine technologies and markets: cutting-edge computer hardware and chips, video game development, cloud computing, technical rendering digital, content creation, combined with opportunities for branding, advertising and digital currency," Saffo said. "But the actual experience is still being masked by tech companies and futurists with no real definition."
Just as important, perhaps even more important in the early days than the consumer experience, is finding ways for businesses to buy into the growth of the metaverse, Saffo said.
"Today, one can even treat experiences such as simulated flight training by commercial and military pilots as a form of virtual reality for businesses, as pilots train in takeoff situations, landing and emergency in real situations," he said. Microsoft, which has produced the popular Flight Simulator game for three decades, also has its own mixed reality headset, HoloLens, aimed at manufacturing, health care and education companies, to work precisely and hands-free, Saffo said.
Saffo concluded: "There is no one definition of what VR is, there is no definition of augmented reality. So far, it’s (the metaverse) been mostly in the world of video games, where alternative digital worlds have been realized, and where the proposed vision of a metaverse is closest to current reality."
“Does it exist and what is it?” Morgan Stanley equity strategist Edward Stanley asked in a recent report to clients. “Yes and no. Not in its purest form; this will take years and collaborations between companies to allow users to seamlessly move through millions of experiences and take digital avatars with them and their property with you.”
With the original internet and World Wide Web designed with trust implicit as a major part of its foundation, profit-seeking business people and con artists alike took advantage of unsuspecting users in multiple ways, and bad actors were able to coerce people into handing over their personal information — or embedding malware in their devices — in order to make illicit profits from theft or fraud. The idea behind web3 is to make it structurally impossible (or at least near-impossible) to be hacked in the same way people and organizations have been hacked and scourged by hacks and malware in the past.
This isn't going to happen overnight. We're stuck with Web 2.0 until at least the end of the decade, but in the meantime — and in the background — a whole new international communication platform is being constructed. When it will become mainstream is anybody's guess, and there's always the possibility that it won't catch on, but there are powerful interests backing it that won't give up easily.
B2B companies will be making purchases and payments in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum; they will do their banking and investing in DeFi (decentralized finance); they'll be doing all their marketing and sales communications using 3D video messaging and live streaming; all corporate data security will deploy blockchain-based processes. All cloud-based applications will become serverless subscription services.
A whole new industry is already beginning to develop that specializes in converting conventional web applications into those that will work seamlessly in the brave new web3 world. Internxt and Privy are two of those companies.
Consumer companies will be providing 3D headsets (which will eventually become as small as reading glasses), next-gen 3D video games, avatars, GameFi (where gaming meets crypto), NFTs, and a whole host of other unfamiliar items to a majority of consumers.
Those who want to do business in this arena have a lot of research to do. But a great number of web3 patents and ideas are already claimed by imaginative, progressive-thinking thought leaders.
When it comes to data, Web3 is projected to represent a quantum upsurge in the total amount of data traveling through digital channels. This is because of new and "heavier" analytics applications, 3D video, augmented reality and virtual reality files, NFTs and new categories of files that will be created and enabled by the big "pipes" of Web3 and the powerful new servers that are now being built to facilitate this future activity.
As happened in the 2000s with the advent of the cloud, there are varying points of view on the future of this technology. At this time, use of the cloud is now second nature for all people using connected devices; virtually all applications are now cloud-based. But how will this continue to develop as we move into the era of Web3 and metaverse?
"Web3 is, in my current opinion, an 'unsafe place.' Too many people are 'selling' it under the wrong pretexts and hiding much of its reality," said Dr. Christopher Royles, Cloudera's Field CTO for EMEA. "In simple terms, it is trying to re-invent the web in a heavily democratized way. I would suggest aligning with Tim Berners-Lee's view, with which I agree."
That said, the metaverse is something very different from Web3, Royles said.
"In simple terms, we help certain customers in specific industries, such as manufacturing, create a digital twin. At the simplest level, the headsets and controllers turn you into a digital twin, in order to put your avatar (digital twin) into virtual space. I have no doubt that the owners and builders of the metaverse will collect huge amounts of data about this experience, in order to inform their revenue-generating processes such as micro-transactions, Facebook stars/tips, engagement levels – the list goes on but can be summarized in one word: advertising," Royles said.
"As a more practical and concrete example, I did some work with an oil and gas company," Royles said. "In front of me was a physical pump, humming away, doing its thing. I put on a Microsoft HoloLens, and immediately (the pump) was overlaid with key stats, such as its RPM, oil pressure, water levels and other key metrics. Step back, and there's the data (you need for business).
"Data will be fundamental to the metaverse, in order to represent the virtual environments in 3D and at a convincing level of realism. When attached to digital twins, we can start feeding live data into the virtual world. This gets really interesting."
Chris J. Preimesberger
Chris J. Preimesberger is a journalist, editor, and researcher based in Redwood City, California. He is a former Editor in Chief of eWEEK, where he supervised all enterprise IT coverage. In 2017 and 2018, he was named among the 250 most influential business journalists in the world (No. 65) by Richtopia, a research firm that used analytics to compile the ranking.