What Is Web 3.0? An Investor’s Guide

Is Web 3.0 the real deal, or is it all hype? Here’s the rundown.

There’s a term bubbling up across social media that is likely quite confusing. That term is “Web 3.0,” also called “Web3.” The phenomenon is being heralded by some as the future of the internet. To others, it’s just a buzzword. But what is Web 3.0? And how does it stand to shape the future? Well, in some ways, Web 3.0 already exists, and it’s already well on its way to molding how we connect online.

Cryptocurrency is opening up the gate for Web 3.0. Digital assets are laying the foundation for a decentralized, autonomous network, free from corporate authority. In just a handful of years, many believe Web 3.0 will be alive and thriving.

So, what is it exactly? Here’s everything you need to know.

Web 3.0 Frequently Asked Questions

What is Web 3.0?

Web 3.0 is — just as it sounds — considered to be the third iteration of the internet as we know it. Web 1.0 is the early foundation of the internet. Think of the archaic HTML, read-only websites you’d look at in the 1990s next to your beige computer tower. This is where it all started, and this period bred much innovation.

Web 2.0, or simply Web2, is the internet as we know it today, starting with prototypical Facebook pages and e-commerce. This is a period where connectivity is vastly emphasized; you can chat with friends, receive instant answers to any question in the world and buy nearly anything you want online.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, is one of the earliest predictors of Web 3.0, calling it the “Semantic Web.” Berners-Lee foresaw an evolution to where internet data is machine-readable, and computers can talk directly with one another. Of course, we now recognize that technology’s existence in the form of the blockchain and smart contracts.

The advent of the blockchain is helping to realize Berners-Lee’s vision by providing the tools explicitly required of this automation process. Blockchain-based protocols and the smart contracts on them communicate automatically, enabling the Semantic Web to operate as predicted.

Why do we want to change Web 2.0?

While Web 2.0 brought vast changes with it, it also brought many problems for end users. A lot of the criticisms people have levied against Web 2.0 have been in regard to who holds the power on the internet. Sure, the advent of companies like Meta Platforms (NASDAQ:FB) and Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google have brought huge conveniences, but they also have created a disruption in who is in control in the digital space.

Meta’s recent scandals have been the most shining example of this displacement of power. Whistleblowers have exposed ways in which the company manipulated its users — the end consumers of the internet. Moreover, the ways in which companies mine personal data and target specific users have become quite controversial.

How can Web 3.0 fix these issues?

Web 3.0 is the direct response to this power imbalance.

It seeks to address this by putting power back into the hands of users through decentralization. Data and power are centralized currently among the tech giants like Meta and Google. With Web 3.0, this data can remain as private as a user wants it to be. It also frees users from the control of these tech giants. The internet is considered a frontier for the freedom of speech, thanks in large part to the connectivity fostered by social media. And yet, users are still subject to rules made at the whim of the ruling corporations.

In short, the coming evolution of the internet will remove the necessity of relying on these corporate platforms. Blockchain-powered development will catalyze the Semantic Web vision Tim Berners-Lee theorized decades ago, automating processes and allowing users to make decisions for themselves.

How exactly will Web 3.0 “decentralize the internet”?

Thanks to advances in blockchain technology, the path forward for the Semantic Web is relatively clear… and it’s all about decentralization. You likely hear crypto bulls talking about decentralization all the time. There are decentralized applications, decentralized finance, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and so on.

The current web as we know it is slowly moving to the blockchain because that is where users can retain their independence. There’s a lot of demand for a place where people can invest their money the way they want, and for higher returns than banks can offer. That much is clear from the success of DeFi protocols, which allow users to stake assets for passive income.

There’s also high demand for a decentralized internet. With a blockchain-enabled Web 3.0, users will have access to social media dapps, where they can make rules on the type of content that can and can’t be posted through community voting efforts.

The Semantic Web technologies are how all of this decentralization is enforced. With machines communicating directly, and smart contracts executing functions automatically, there is less need for an authority managing content or controlling things up top. And, smart contracts will only become smarter through advancements in artificial intelligence technology. Automation is what makes renouncing ownership over a website or application a viable option. From there, the implementation of DAOs will allow users themselves to dictate changes to the platforms and networks they use.

Users will also be able to move with ease from censorship-resistant social dapps, to DeFi protocols, to decentralized search engines, and then, to the metaverse with ease. They can do all of this so quickly because their data will be stored on one personal account, log-in free. This will be made possible thanks to a process associated with semantics called ontology. Ontology is essentially the categorization and naming of data. Machines create linked data through this categorization. It is through ontological language and this linked data that machines will be able to quickly and accurately communicate with one another during these automatic processes.

For example, the Semantic Web will use ontology to create profiles around its users so they are easily recognizable across platforms. The possibilities are as infinite as the Web 2.0 we know today, but they don’t require users to sacrifice their data as Web2 does.

Is Web 3.0 just a buzzword?

As is typical of any emerging technology, there are plenty of skeptics who don’t believe that Web 3.0 is going to shake the Earth like the cell phone or the router. Lots of people think talk of the Semantic Web is actually quite overblown.

Indeed, Elon Musk is one such skeptic. The billionaire says Web 3.0 “sounds like bs.” Alongside this statement, Musk calls the explosion of blockchain tech and Web 3.0 hype “nuttier than ’99,” referencing the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.

There are a lot of naysayers out there like Elon Musk. We can’t know for sure what is holding the business magnate back from a Semantic internet. But, if his views fall in line with other skeptics, he likely thinks there’s nothing that makes it more compelling than the Silicon Valley-led Web 2.0 we experience today.

Musk isn’t the only entrepreneur with Web 3.0 doubts, either. Jack Dorsey is also a skeptic, voicing his displeasure that Web 3.0 isn’t owned by the users, but rather by venture capitalists. Through Dorsey’s eyes, the Semantic Web is already tainted in the same way the current web is.

Others think the idea of Web 3.0 is not such a ridiculous notion. However, they find it hard to believe the tech giants won’t simply adopt these ideas for their own products. These skeptics believe that Meta and Google will implement ideas of Web 3.0 into their own businesses in order to retain relevancy.

How far away is Web 3.0?

It’s difficult to answer this question because there’s no definitive timeline for this evolution. Users will continue to access the blockchain, developers will continue to build products for it, and one day, it will simply be ubiquitous.

As of right now, there are a handful of Web 3.0 crypto projects out there. Developers are creating protocols and apps for wireless internet, new browsers, sharing peer-to-peer files and better social networks. Broadly, they are creating the foundations for a decentralized internet.

Projects like Polkadot (CCC:DOT-USD) are leading the charge. Indeed, Polkadot has the full backing of the Web3 Foundation, which seeks to expedite development of the next iteration of the internet. Another major project, the aptly-named Ontology (CCC:ONT-USD), has been pushing for Web 3.0 adoption for four year now.

In addition to these two projects, which very openly push for Web 3.0 adoption, there are plenty of other projects that contribute to its progress. For example, Ethereum (CCC:ETH-USD) is a network which hosts thousands of decentralized applications; in this sense, it is already a major hub for this new, user-first internet. Filecoin (CCC:FIL-USD), too, pushes this adoption by removing reliance on corporate cloud computing and allowing users themselves to help each other share data storage.

What about Web 4.0? Is that a thing?

There is such a thing as Web 4.0. After Web 3.0 becomes the norm, developers won’t rest on their laurels and consider the job finished. There’s always room for innovation, and many have expectations already for the next steps.

Web 4.0 evolves beyond the Semantic Web into the “symbiotic web.” As the name implies, the next evolution of the internet beyond Web 3.0 will focus primarily on the relationship between humans and machines.

In essence, Web 4.0 will document the growing relationship between technology users and artificial intelligence. Machines will become smarter, able to better categorize data and their users.

It’s expected in this evolution that the internet will be “on” all the time. Users will have constant, untethered access to computer AI that will recognize them and have knowledge of the individual based on learned profiles of that user.

Of course, there’s still much development left for AI. Although, we do see bits of 4.0 in the present day. Take for example your Spotify (NYSE:SPOT) account; the company uses AI to learn users’ preferences and suggest new content.

The seeds of the future are already being planted. Web 3.0 is already becoming prevalent, and Web 4.0 is even closer than you might think.

This post originally appeared at InvestorPlace.

On the date of publication, Brenden Rearick did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.