money·4 min read

What Is Web3, and Is It the Future of the Internet and Economy?

What you can do on the web: Web1, read; Web2, read & write; Web3: read, write, and own.
Design: the Skimm | Photo: The Cold Wire
Feb 17, 2022

Welcome to a brave new internet. You might've heard the term "Web3" (or Web 3.0), which is generating a lot of buzz. See: the latest job listings, corporate announcements, influencer moves, and gaming news. While it sounds like something from a sci-fi future, it could be on its way to non-fiction status. And it could mean real-life changes for the way we interact — and spend and earn money — on the internet.

Back up. What's Web1 and Web2?

The first iteration of the internet, aka Web1, launched in the 1990s and introduced us to basic online publishing with static web pages. Shoutout to dial-up and AOL. Today's internet, Web2, came with the creation of social media (and the companies that own those platforms). People can not only read content, but also create and distribute it themselves.

And what is Web3?

Somewhat TBD. Web3 is one vision for the next evolution of the internet, allowing people to not only to read and write content, but also own things in the digital world — their own piece of the web.

Today, posting a story, sharing a photo, or messaging friends usually means logging on to platforms (think: Google, Facebook, and Twitter) owned by big tech companies that make money off users. Web3 would be a decentralized internet built on blockchain instead. (That's the technology that backs up NFTs, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies.)

It puts the emphasis on individual property rights and entrepreneurship — and takes power away from tech giants. Aka no more having to remember a million passwords, thanks to a more unified internet ecosystem that's owned and maintained by users via blockchain transactions. This means you'll be able to share your own content — and potentially earn money off of it. Web3 aims to reward quality content creators with tokens. Right now, the vision is that all payments for purchases or posts would utilize crypto.

Does Web3 affect the economy?

Fans say Web3 is a way to spread the wealth. Because if billionaires and huge corporations no longer run so much of the internet, then more people could profit from what they're doing on the web.

Supporters also say this decentralized economy could eventually lead to a more inclusive and virtual financial system. Meet another element of Web3: decentralized finance, or DeFi, a system where financial transactions are handled directly on the blockchain, rather than through a bank or financial institution as a middleman.

Sounds *disruptive.* What does Web3 mean for me?

Probably not much for now. Nobody knows when Web3 could become a mainstream reality. It's still in the hands of software developers and early investors, tinkering with different ideas. And there are always critics to slow things down. One common concern is that Web3 will be bad for the environment (just like Bitcoin). Hint: The energy needed to encrypt and verify blockchain transactions = huge carbon footprint. Some also say it'll be harder to use than Web2. But many think Web3 will ultimately work alongside Web2, where tech companies incorporate Web3 elements into their platforms. Twitter and Reddit are already looking into ways to do that.

So I can wait to get to know Web3 better?

No big rush. But some are worried that women are already being left out. And some are trying to make sure that doesn't happen. Like Serena Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mila Kunis. And this Boys Club. Getting in on the ground floor — especially if it disrupts the economy as much as proponents say — can mean making sure it's built as a level playing field. Which is why it’s important to get familiar with Web3 asap.

theSkimm

Web3 is a vision for a new kind of internet — one that could eventually reshape the way we interact online and transfer power and money away from Big Tech to individuals. But the idea is still under construction.

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Updated Feb. 17 to include the latest Web3 developments.

Skimm'd by Liz Knueven, Casey Bond, Kamaron McNair, Stacy Rapacon, and Elyse Steinhaus
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