Business magazines are full of breathless prose about the upcoming Metaverse and the untold billions—or even trillions—of dollars that this marvel of technology will somehow create. Since we are not sure what this new social/financial/technological construct will look like, that remains to be seen. For this article, I will set aside a discussion of the emerging Metaverse and discuss something a bit clearer and more concrete: the changes to today’s Internet that will create ‘Web 3.0.’
Web 1.0 and Web 2.0
In the beginning (1969) was the ARPANET, a research network commissioned by the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) designed to allow command-and-control communications to survive widespread destruction (such as from a nuclear exchange). Universities and research facilities began using the technologies developed for ARPANET to create civilian networks and interconnect these networks to form a ‘network of networks’—an Internet.
In 1990 a computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee created three technologies that combined to construct the ‘World-Wide Web’ atop the fledgling Internet:
- HTML, HyperText Markup Language, allowed formatting of text and images on screens (web pages);
- URL, Uniform Resource Locator (the ‘dot something’ (.com, .net…) part of a web address), allows websites to be found by name even if the servers moved around;
- HTTP, HyperText Transfer Protocol, allows linking from webpage to webpage across the Internet.
The final technology needed for the WWW to explode, a ‘web browser’ named Netscape Navigator, came out a few years later. Thus began the Web 1.0 era.
Web 1.0 was a set of tools for accessing static content across the Internet. Think of it as the ‘read-only web.’
Since the early 21st century, websites have become richer and more interactive. Pages adapt to your device and your network, websites are personalized based on your profile, and collaboration and user content are the primary uses of today’s Web 2.0 ‘read/write web.’
Today’s Web 2.0 evolved over the last 20-ish years. The world has changed a lot during that time, in good and bad ways–and the Web must evolve to remain helpful in the future. Here are some significant trends influencing Web 3.0 design:
Do you sometimes feel like Google, Meta (Facebook), and a few other mega-firms control the entire Internet? That your security, your content, your interactions are all in their hands? Bet you do—so do I. Web3.0 will be—must be–more decentralized, with less power in the hands of giant firms and more power in YOUR hands (your firm’s hands and your own hands).
Executive takeaway: Consider how your firm might monetize its information, buy other information, or sell services to operate a part of the Web 3.0 infrastructure.
20-something years ago, the Internet felt a lot friendlier and safer. You were not being phished, spammed, skimmed, attacked with ransomware, and so on every minute of every day. You probably didn’t have 500 accounts with passwords, either (I have 672 apps on my Android phone and 424 apps on my iPad). We are harangued to keep passwords unique; we must fight with password managers; and giant firms (some of the same ones mentioned above) collect, maintain—and sell—troves of personal information about us. But we still do not have a simple, secure way to store all our medical or financial records.
Executive takeaway: Can your firm securely store, or help manage, some class of information for customers? What information you now store/maintain might you pay other firms to store/maintain for you?
Alas, do not think your security budget will decline as Web 3.0 improves security: there will always be an ‘arms race’ between defenders and attackers, and it will cost you. What WILL improve is convenience as distributed ledger (AKA ‘blockchain’) security and information storage tools gain traction.
Today’s kludgy password managers and complex SSO (single sign-on) systems will be augmented, then replaced, by standardized and vetted interfaces among our ‘personal digital wallets’ to identify us and authorize our access to information.
Expert forecasts vary regarding the number of internet devices connected and in use and in the mix of ‘human-connected devices’ (like me at my keyboard) vs. machine connections (like cars, TVs, thermostats, lightbulbs, and every other device being made today). They agree that the number is vast and that the growth rate is accelerating.
Even more interesting, the number of machines connected to the Internet (Internet of Things—IoT) already dwarfs the number of people on earth. And IoT connections are growing faster than the number of human device connections. Web 3.0 is designed to scale massively. For example, the original Web 1/Web 2 addressing scheme (called IPV4) supports 4.2B unique addresses (which has been stretched over the years by clever engineering)—its replacement, IPv6, 340 undecillion IP addresses (that’s 3.4 followed by 36 zeros).
Every device connected to the Internet sends and receives data—and in the case of IoT devices, an increasing amount of data. Think about it: the amount of data that flows to and from the Internet as I type this article is a few characters per second and falls to zero when I walk to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. My two thermostats and three outdoor video cameras send 1000x that much data every second of every day.
Modern fiber-optic technology allows almost limitless bandwidth across the world’s fiber backbones, and 5G (which comes in many flavors) plus satellite Internet providers like Starlink provide increasingly higher bandwidth (and lower latency) anywhere we or our devices may roam. Web 3.0 lives in the world of always-connected sensors and actuators, which was a pipedream back when Web 2.0 emerged 20 long years ago.
Executive takeaway: Design everything you build to collect and send information somewhere, to receive information from somewhere, and to take action based on that information if appropriate (maybe fix a defect or add a new capability). Consider the statement, made by Walter Wriston around 1980, that “Information about money is as valuable as money itself” when you design products (and plan for revenue streams).
Final Thoughts on the Next Internet Generation
Web 3.0 is not a tangible thing that will be delivered as a product. It’s an evolution and will be delivered as a series of poorly fitting parts that get smoothed out over time. In the Acceleration Economy, it’s essential to consider the possible futures and plan for what might happen–or else some upstart will come out of nowhere and steal your best customers. Start thinking about how you’ll use Web 3.0 today, so you’re ready when it takes shape!
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