The World Wide Web, often simply referred to as the web, has undergone several transitions in its history and continues to evolve to this day.
The web wasn't born at the same time as the internet itself. The earliest iterations of the internet relied on text, had limited user interaction and lacked a simple way to browse sites. The creation of the web in 1989 changed the direction of the internet from a tool used by researchers, academics and technical users, to a technology anyone, anywhere could use to browse websites and access information.
Web technologies later evolved and expanded, adding new ways for internet users to interact. The web became the catalyst for the modern digital economy.
It's generally accepted that there are three primary evolutions of the web, simply denoted by the terms Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. With interest in Web 3.0 picking up steam as blockchain and security technology become increasingly popular, it's important to look back at the previous generations and compare them with what's next
What is Web 1.0?
The first generation of the web was originally defined by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 and provided basic connectivity and hyperlinks. The Web 1.0 era was largely about static pages that provided information but limited interactivity.
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The foundational element that kicked the Web 1.0 era into high gear was the creation of the web browser, which enabled web users to easily view webpages. The first popular web browser was Mosaic in 1993. It was co-created by Marc Andreessen, later the co-founder of Netscape, one of the leading companies of the web's first generation. Andreessen went on to become a venture capitalist with his own firm, Andreessen Horowitz.
Web 1.0 was a pioneering age with many firsts, as the world learned what the so-called "information superhighway" could provide.
But the first generation of the web was relatively static, with limited to no video content and a page format that didn't stray far from the formatting used for a printed page. That all changed around 2004 with the advent of Web 2.0, the second generation of the web.
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 ushered in an era in which the web redefined itself as a new medium. It was separate and distinct from every other medium that preceded it, such as traditional print and video. Instead of just static websites that pushed information to users, Web 2.0 introduced new forms of interactivity. Activities such as blogging became popular, and social networks began to emerge with Friendster, MySpace and eventually Facebook.
A host of technologies redefined the web from its nascent origins to the Web 2.0 era, including the following:
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is another defining characteristic of Web 2.0. In the early era of the web, developers had to format pages with tables, which didn't allow for much control. By the early 2000s, CSS became more common and more powerful, enabling complex design layouts that changed the way the web looked.
What is Web 3.0?
There's a lack of clarity around the term Web 3.0, also called Web3, as it's still emerging and very loosely defined. There are even debates as to when the term was coined and how to spell it. In 2006, journalist John Markoff and Berners-Lee both used the term Web 3.0 to describe what they referred to as a Semantic Web. Gavin Wood, co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain platform, used the term Web 3.0 in a 2014 blog post, later starting the Web3 Foundation to promote his vision. Berners-Lee has also been critical of the blockchain approach, which he labels Web3 to differentiate it from Solid, his alternative decentralization technology for Web 3.0.
Over the years, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has attempted to create standards for the Semantic Web, which aims to provide new approaches to linking data and content together. Instead of just linking content together based on keywords, a semantic layer can be informed by AI to help connect data and websites.
But the Web 3.0 concept goes far beyond the Semantic Web espoused by Berners-Lee and the W3C and is more often used in reference to higher-level concepts such as the following:
- Decentralization. Rather than the same centralized approaches to connectivity and data that are the basis of both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, Web 3.0 is built on peer-to-peer and consensus algorithms. Blockchain technology, or a competitor such as Solid, is key to the distributed data model of Web 3.0.
- Cryptocurrency. Another key element in the Web 3.0 approach to decentralization is cryptocurrency, which provides another payment option besides the currency issued by governments. In addition, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) give users another way to create, manage and own assets using Web 3.0's foundational blockchain technology.
- AI. The use of AI to enable workflows and automation and improve the user experience is another hallmark of the emerging world of Web 3.0. AI helps to enable scalability and performance of the web itself, as well as powering new forms of intelligent search.
For more on Web 3.0, read the following articles:
Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0
The world of Web 1.0 was largely static and concerned with providing information. With Web 2.0, the web became dynamic and social. With Web 3.0, proponents say the web will become smarter and more distributed than ever before.
What's next for Web 3.0?
Web 3.0 is still evolving and being defined. Because of this, there are a lot of unknowns about what Web 3.0 will ultimately look like.
Nevertheless, a few likely directions are discernible for the near-term future of Web 3.0 and beyond. They include the following:
- New web standards. Web 3.0 could include a set of new internet standards that change how the web works. One such protocol is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), a standard for web servers that has long been based on TCP/IP protocols. HTTP/3, or HTTP version 3, is an emerging standard of the Internet Engineering Task Force. It makes use of the QUIC transport protocol to replace TCP/IP and provide more resilience, performance and scalability.
- IPv6 addressing. Both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 rely on the IPv4 address class, which has a limited number of web addresses. In contrast, IPv6 has a larger address space, which will enable the increase in devices expected in the Web 3.0 era to have their own public IP addresses.
- Growth of DAOs. Web 3.0 includes the concept of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) as a new management and governance structure for web services and organizations. Much like blockchain, DAOs rely on distributed consensus to make decisions rather than a centralized authority.
- Decentralized finance expansion. Decentralization in Web 3.0 likely will also lead to the continued rise of decentralized finance (DeFi) services that circumvent traditional banking structures and could have a profound effect on the global financial system.
- More decentralized apps. Web 3.0's emergence could spur the growth of decentralized apps that make use of blockchain, and smart contracts that control much of the automation of distributed applications.
As Web 3.0 continues to evolve and be defined, this focus on decentralization, automation and intelligence will likely continue to be the foundation for a new generation of web products and services.