Will web3 kill the web?

Web3 can breathe new life into the digital sphere by breaking monopolies and empowering users. A vision that, however, makes many skeptics.

In April 2014, in the midst of the Snowden affair, Gavin Wood, in an article published on his blog, imagined what a post-Snowden internet could look like, rid of the weaknesses that had allowed the establishment of the globalized spy system denounced by the alert launcher American. For this British engineer, co-founder of Ethereum, the solution would be based on decentralized applications based on the blockchainwhich would have the merit of preventing a government or any third party from appropriating the information of Internet users without their knowledge.

This new version of the web, having respect for personal data inscribed in its DNA and succeeding the era of centralized platforms, the British engineer gives it a name: web 3.0. Although relatively unnoticed at the time, outside of a small circle of insiders, this notion has now spread like wildfire, and web 3.0, sometimes abbreviated as web3, is now on all the lips.

Rebuilding an encrypted and decentralized web

Concretely, what are we talking about? “Web 3.0, or the ‘post-Snowden’ web, would serve the same purposes as the web as we use it today, but with a fundamentally different model of interaction between parties,” writes Gavin Wood in 2014. “Communication would take place only over encrypted channels, and identities would be pseudonymous and untraceable (unlike IP addresses). vision is implemented, since no government or company can reasonably be trusted.”

If the blockchain is then not directly named, its shadow, through the cryptography and decentralization, hangs over Gavin Wood’s entire article. Because it makes it possible to exchange value online in a secure way and without a trusted third party, it is the backbone of this new Internet which intends to free itself from the rule of States and large companies, the instrument which allows exchanging virtual currencies, works of art (the now famous NFTs), files and many other things with strangers without taking any risks, the cornerstone of this utopia supposed to give power back to Internet users, and revive thus the flame of the early web.

The rebirth of a utopia

Utopian? Maybe, but there are many who firmly believe in it. Eight years later, one company after another is launching to bring Gavin Wood’s vision to life. The Consensys platform makes it possible to build decentralized applications on the Ethereum blockchain. Livepeer wants to decentralize video on demand. Lepricon wants to do the same for video games, and NUSIC for music streaming. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, these digital titles of ownership based on the blockchain which make it possible to authenticate and trace the value of an asset, in particular virtual, on the Internet, give creators of all stripes the possibility of selling their works without intermediary with their community. OpenSea, the preferred platform for trading NFTs, surpassed thirteen billion dollars in valuation last January.

Because the big moneymakers of Web 2.0 are ready to put their hands in their pockets to finance the rise of web3. In June 2021, Andreessen Horowitz, the legendary Silicon Valley venture capital fund, launched a $2.2 billion fund specifically dedicated to blockchain and technology start-ups. cryptocurrencies. In 2021, the amount invested in these young shoots shattered all records, totaling 15 billion over the first three quarters of the year, an increase of 384% compared to the whole of 2020.

Among the thurifers of the web3, there are internet pioneers who are eager to rediscover the chaotic and anarchic web of the 1990s, before the advent of behemoths like Google and Facebook. This is the case of Gavin Wood who, eight years after coining the term, has not deviated from his principles. “The main problem with web2 is that it gives unprecedented power to unaccountable authorities. We live in a society where citizens have to trust opaque companies for many simple tasks. everyday,” he says.

“This was already a problem before the web, when this logic was limited to banks, hospitals, governments, supermarkets and their supply chain. But in the age of the internet, it has expanded to the way we inform ourselves, we express ourselves and form social relationships. The promise of web3 is to replace this approach which requires us to trust all these entities with cryptography and decentralization.”

Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Foundation, is also one of the pioneers of the Internet who campaign for web3. “The internet and online life is our reason for being. This is a first step to ensure that Mozilla and the web will continue to benefit society for generations to come,” he said. her in March 2020, as Mozilla launches a giant bootcamp inviting developers around the world to come and work on building “distributed Web 3.0.”

Decentralize everything

However, the avant-garde of Web3 does not only include veterans of the net, but also young Internet users who have grown up with Web 2.0 and now wish to explore new horizons. “Decentralization will rethink areas as diverse as power distribution, allowing many small producers to feed their electricity directly into the grid, without third parties controlling prices or imposing fees, and identity, by giving everyone an immutable identity on the blockchain that will allow them to easily prove who they are, what their diplomas are, their medical records, etc. We can also imagine storing digitized files forever and immutably: in the era of web3 , title deeds, inheritances could be stored on the blockchain, competing with notaries”, imagines Pierre Alvan, independent developer passionate about blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

But there are also apostles of web3 well beyond the circle of code and computer enthusiasts. This is the case of Mike Shinoda, the singer and guitarist of Linkin Park, who recently sold in just a few minutes some 5,000 digital copies of Ziggurat, a playlist composed for the occasion, at the individual price of 15 tezos ( around 40 euro). Or even Jessica Mathieu, an American author behind The Sovereigntii, a platform that mobilizes blockchain and NFTs to co-create a fictional universe with other writers and fans of her work.

The detractors of web3

However, not everyone is convinced by the evangelists of web3, which also has its skeptics. Ewan Kirk, entrepreneur, investor and web pioneer, is one of them. “Current blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, can only support a handful of transactions per second. In this context, the idea of ​​switching the entire web to the blockchain is unrealistic”, he asserts. “As is the desire to decentralize everything: centralization is a natural phenomenon, which saves scales for both business and user. We use platforms like Spotify or Apple Music because they are very effective in allowing us to discover new works and listen to the ones we like best. The era of Internet platforms, despite all its flaws, has also been a formidable tool for the democratization of technology: today’s web is totally accessible to Internet users who have no computer skills. Conversely, web3 risks requiring skills and knowledge beyond the reach of the uninitiated.”

A review shared by Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of the open-source encrypted messaging app Signal. In January, he attacked web3 in an article published on his blog. He affirms that the majority of Internet users being in search of services that are easy to use, centralized technologies will always tend to prevail. Thus, at the dawn of web 1.0, the idea that “we would all have our own web server for our website, and our own mail server for our electronic mail” was very widespread. However, […] this is not what Internet users want. They don’t want to run their own server.”

And even if the vision promoted by the apostles of web3 were realistic, Ewan Kirk would find it more dystopian than utopian. “One of the aspects of the web3 that I find particularly unpleasant is the libertarian propensity to financialize everything, to give a cost to each online transaction. However, the beauty of the original web was precisely the possibility of sharing information for free by beyond borders. And let’s not forget either that the web3, for the time being, is a gigantic playground for scammers of all stripes! Its only concrete result to date is that naive individuals have their money by crooks.” The blog Web3 is going just great, updated daily, also has fun listing web3 scams and failures. Others, like members of the Wikimedia Foundation, who announced in late April that they were no longer accepting cryptocurrency donations, highlight blockchain’s catastrophic environmental footprint.

We’re all gonna make it

The defenders of web3 are however aware of these various drifts, and of the fact that the popularity of the term brings with it its share of problems. Some consider it toxic and refuse to associate it with the vision of a decentralized and cryptographic web that they defend. This is the case of Jack Dorsey, the former boss of Twitter, who launched a decentralized social network project, Bluesky, repeatedly promoted Bitcoin and renamed his payment company Square to Block, an obvious reference. to Blockchain.

However, Jack Dorsey refuses to be associated with web3. “I have nothing to do with the web3”, he tweeted recently after an article in the Wall Street Journal presented him as one of the evangelists of this new version of the web. He also, in a series of tweets, criticized Silicon Valley investors’ grip on the term web3, and accused them of making money off the backs of Internet users with utopian visions through this concept which would, according to him, be more marketing than anything else.

“The essence of web3 is to free itself from the imperative of trust, through cryptography and decentralization. But many players today leave aside this decentralized dimension, and are therefore more avatars of web2 in disguise” , concedes Gavin Wood, who criticizes in particular the dependence of Ethereum on Infura, a service “very centralized and based on trust. However, other protocols, in particular Polkadot, are making excellent progress in offering a viable alternative.

The recent and spectacular crash of cryptocurrencies in any case gives ammunition to the skeptics of web3, who only see it as a hazy concept allowing them to promise the moon while setting up vulgar Ponzi pyramids. But it will take more to discourage its most fervent defenders: they are moreover accustomed to setbacks and have devised their own vocabulary to deal with them. In particular, the term “HODLing”, which refers to retaining ownership of a cryptocurrency, regardless of market fluctuations, because one has confidence in its long-term value. Or the expression wagmi, an acronym for “We’re all gonna make it”: “We’re going to make it.”

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Will web3 kill the web?

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