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Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0: What's the difference?

It's important to know what might happen in the evolution from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. Learn about their differences and effects on how the internet is used today and in the future.

The World Wide Web has undergone multiple transitions over its history and continues to evolve to this day. 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.

The first generation of the web was originally defined by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Sometimes referred to as Web 1.0, it was about basic connectivity and hyperlinks. The concept grew with the creation of the web browser, enabling regular users to easily view webpages. The first modern web browser was NCSA Mosaic in 1993. It was co-created by Marc Andreessen, later the co-founder of Netscape, one of the companies of the web's first generation.

Web 1.0 was a pioneering age with many firsts, as the world learned what the "information superhighway" could provide. Much has changed in the decades since the web was first invented, with several generations of technology evolution.

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 where the web defined itself as a new medium. It was separate and distinct from every other that preceded it, including traditional print and video. Instead of just static websites that pushed information to users, Web 2.0 introduced new forms of interactivity. Concepts 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. Among them is a technology approach know as Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). Ajax was first popularized by Google Maps, which completely changed the way the web worked. Instead of just a flat, static map, Ajax enabled Google Maps to zoom, scroll and manipulate the map image.

The use of 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 is a lack of clarity around the term Web 3.0, also sometimes called Web3, as it's still an emerging space that is very loosely defined. There are even debates as to when the term was coined. Berners-Lee used the term Web 3.0 to describe what he referred to as a Semantic Web in 2006, while Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood first used the term Web3 in 2014 in the context of cryptocurrency.

Over the years, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has attempted to create standards around the concept of 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.

The term Web 3.0 goes far beyond the Semantic Web concepts espoused by the W3C and is more often used in reference to higher-level concepts such as 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 as the foundation. A key part of the distributed consensus for Web 3.0 comes in the form of blockchain technology.

Part of the push for decentralization with Web 3.0 also integrates cryptocurrency, which provides another option for payments and wealth transfer. Moreover, the concept of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) provides another way to create, manage and own assets using blockchain technology.

The use of AI to enable workflows, automation and overall user experience is another key 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 and interactions.

Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0

The world of Web 1.0 was largely static and about providing information. With Web 2.0, the web became dynamic and social. With Web 3.0, the web will become smarter and more distributed than ever before. The table below helps break down the key differences between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0.

Web 2.0 Web 3.0

Centralized. Application delivery, cloud services and platform are governed and operated by centralized authorities.

Decentralized. Edge computing, peer-to-peer and distributed consensus increasingly become the norm in Web 3.0.

Fiat currency. Payments and transactions occur with government-issued currency, such as $USD.

Cryptocurrency. Transactions can be funded with encrypted digital currencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Cookies. The use of cookies helps to track users and provide personalization.

NFTs. Users can get unique tokens that are assigned value or provide some form of perk.

CSS and Ajax. Web 2.0 is defined by layout technologies that provide more dynamic control than Web 1.0.

AI. Smarter, autonomous technology, including machine learning and AI, will define Web 3.0.

Relational databases. Databases underpin the content and applications of Web 2.0.

Blockchain. Web 3.0 makes use of blockchain immutable ledger technology.

Social networks. Web 2.0 ushered in the era of social networking, including Facebook.

Metaverse worlds. With Web 3.0, metaverse worlds will emerge to meld physical, virtual and augmented reality.

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.

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), which has long been based on TCP/IP protocols. HTTP/3, or HTTP version 3, is an emerging standard for the Internet Engineering Task Force. It makes use of the QUIC transport protocol to replace TCP/IP and provide more resilience, performance and scalability.

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 allows more devices in the Web 3.0 era to have their own public IP addresses.

Web 3.0 includes the concept of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) as a new form of managing and governing structure for web services and organizations. Much like blockchain, DAOs rely on distributed consensus to make decisions rather than a centralized authority. Decentralization in Web 3.0 likely will also lead to the continued rise of decentralized financial services, which circumvent traditional banking structures and could have a profound effect on the global financial system.

Decentralization will also lead to the emergence of decentralized apps that make use of blockchain, and smart contracts to enable distributed applications across the Web 3.0 landscape.

As Web 3.0 continues to evolve and be defined, its focus on decentralization, automation and intelligence will likely continue to be the foundation for what's next.

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