Web 3.0 is often referred to as the next phase in the internet's development, but what is it? This article introduces the concept of Web 3.0, its defining characteristics, the technology that underpins it, and what we might expect to see in the coming months and years.
A journey from Web 1.0 through Web 2.0
The Web has come a long way since the early 1990s. In its infancy, the Web represented a vast but relatively static information system that enabled its users to passively receive (i.e. read) content, without interacting with it in any meaningful way. Web 1.0 users used dial-up modems to access plain text and static images – the huge popularity of webcomics such as NetBoy was indicative of the content created during the Web 1.0.
The Web 2.0 era saw the rise of interactive content that facilitated and encouraged content creation, sharing and social collaboration. Web 2.0 coincided with improved internet connection speeds and the proliferation of personal email, both of which combined to increase Web content peer-to-peer sharing and virality. Web 2.0 evolved to resemble what we know as the internet today, with large technology and social media companies dominating the market and holding vast amounts of their users' personal data.
Towards Web 3.0
The term Web 3.0 is imprecise. What will contribute to this next evolutionary phase remains the subject of debate and academic curiosity. Broadly speaking, the characteristics most commonly associated with Web 3.0 include: (1) ubiquity; (2) the 'semantic' Web; and (3) intelligent connectivity.
Faster, ubiquitous connectivity
An internet that can be connected to anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Ubiquitous connectivity as a concept predates even Web 1.0, but today the dream is closer to reality than ever, driven by increasing connection speeds, the 5G cellular network roll-out, and the explosive growth of the Internet of Things. Voice activated virtual assistants are well-known examples of this movement, but true ubiquity takes this further and connects appliances and devices in new and novel ways.
The 'semantic' Web, refers to a proposed extension of the Web through standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) relating to the organisation of content based on tags. Presently, content is untagged and therefore search engines rely on keywords to identity relevant content for their users. This approach has its limitations – a search for 'jaguar' for example will likely return images of both big cats and cars. Semantic tags are designed to organise the Internet and make it more machine-readable. The purpose of such organisation and machine readability is to create a common language across the vastness of the internet, and therefore enable computers to do work that is more useful.
The ubiquity and semantic tagging of Web 3.0 will enable it to become more intelligent and connected.. Users will be more connected than ever before, using internet-connected devices that use a common semantic tagging schema to deliver a more relevant, intuitive and personalised Web experience.
The Web 3.0 vision is built upon a number of technological innovations. Its ubiquitous nature is underpinned by the growth of the Internet of Things, which in turn is driven by the rollout of 5G cellular networks. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a crucial tool used to tag Web content, and a truly semantic Web will enable AI systems to leverage it in new and novel ways. An increasingly popular idea is that distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain will underpin an intelligently connected Web 3.0, by facilitating data exchange and transactions between divergent systems, manufacturers and devices.
We are seeing an increase in investment and M&A activity for Web 3.0 businesses, and expect this trend to continue throughout 2020 and beyond.
In particular, we are seeing more interest in early stage companies that are developing innovative Web 3.0 concepts – we work with many of these companies within our Corporate and Commercial departments, and as part of our M:Tech programme. There are even VC firms dedicated to investing and supporting Web 3.0 businesses, for example London-based Outlier Ventures.
Web 3.0 will bring with it unique commercial, legal and regulatory challenges. The importance of data as an asset class will continue to grow, bringing with it data protection and ethics considerations. Businesses storing and processing data will need to give careful consideration to their cyber security practices and structures. Corporate structures, incentive programmes and commercial agreements will need to reflect new and exciting business models.
Our expert teams are comprised of lawyers, computer scientists, cyber security experts and academics – they are well-placed to advise their Web 3.0 clients on all aspects of their business. Get in touch to find out more.