Nearly 4 trillion hours. This is the amount of time users across the globe have collectively spent looking at just their mobiles in 2021. While this number sounds almost inconceivable, it should not come as a surprise given our growing reliance on the internet, which has become even more pronounced during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Since the creation of the World Wide Web in the 1980s, the internet has come to redefine the way people live, work and play. From work to entertainment, the internet of today has become an integral component in our everyday lives, even powering the global economy. In fact, according to App Annie’s State of Mobile 2022 report, seven out of every 10 minutes on our phones were spent on social or photo and video apps, attesting to Web 2.0’s dominance in our everyday lives. 

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Yet while the internet — and Web 2.0 — has indubitably become almost irreplaceable in today’s world, issues around data privacy and system outages have emerged over the course of the past two decades, leading to growing discontent as the general public start questioning the tech giants’ use of their personal data.

A new vision for the future or pipe dream? The case for a decentralized web

As calls for greater ownership and autonomy over data privacy and digital identity grow increasingly louder, the notion of Web 3.0 looks to be an appealing one. Yet even as Web 3.0 trends such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse gain in traction, issues abound, too — for instance, cybersecurity concerns or a continued reliance on centralized ecosystems as seen from the recent CoinMarketCap price glitch

This then begs the question: Can Web 3.0 live up to its promises or does it fall short of its lofty ideals?  

Underpinned by blockchain technology, Web 3.0 can be defined as the next iteration of the internet that promises a more independent, decentralized and autonomous web, one where the power is given back to the masses and reliance on centralized ecosystems is reduced to a minimum. 

As the public grows weary of the privacy breaches and data harvesting from big tech firms, Web 3.0’s underlying premise of decentralization has never looked more attractive. What this means is that data is stored across a distributed database so no single user has full control, while also allowing for consumers to own their data and bypass any middleman for each piece of data created. At the same time, blockchain’s immutability means that the data entered is irreversible and permanently recorded, removing the risks of tampered data, hacks and even potentially, fraud. Users are also able to view the data on public chains, thereby breaking the monopoly of the walled gardens and third party vendors, while creating infinite possibilities for users to monetize their data. 

Beyond transparency and immutability, blockchain-based Web 3.0 technologies also offer users a greater sense of ownership. For example, buying tokens or cryptocurrencies can allow users to have a “stake” in the network or protocol. Participation is easy — as long as you own the token, you would be able to vote for decisions regarding the protocol. In this way, users are able to participate in projects they believe in. 

Beyond buzzwords: Can Web 3.0 see mainstream utility?

Amid growing interest in crypto and blockchain, Web 3.0 has started to see greater traction among the general public, albeit with equal parts skepticism and optimism. Proponents of Web 3.0 have hailed it as the future of the internet. Meanwhile, detractors, in the words of Elon Musk, view Web 3.0 as nothing more than a “marketing buzzword.”

Despite the differing views, Web 3.0 and its associated technologies have certainly seen multiple use cases emerge since the term was first coined in 2006 by New York Times journalist John Markoff and popularized by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood.

Perhaps the most common and popular use case of Web 3.0 is in the crypto sphere — that of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). But the utility of Web 3.0 — and by extension, blockchain — can go well beyond mere cryptocurrencies. For example, decentralized applications (dApps) are available for finance, arts, collectibles and gaming, while NFTs can potentially reshape multiple industries spanning art, sports, entertainment and gaming, among others. Just look at the content creators who are able to monetize their content via NFTs, bypassing the middlemen who would have traditionally taken a share of the earnings. Or the gaming industry where gamers can participate in play-to-earn games and earn an alternative source of income in today’s pandemic-stricken world.  

Similarly, the concept of the metaverse is one that is inextricably linked with Web 3.0 and has seen much hype in the past few months. While much of what is happening with the metaverse thus far has been limited to niche industries such as NFTs and GameFi, the trend has been evolving continually and seeing increased interest among mainstream actors who are all looking to have a stake in this promising development. For instance, Nvidia Omniverse, a scalable simulation and development platform that was developed to build the metaverse, allows developers to simulate the digital world in real-time. This bodes well for the future of the metaverse as more developers come on board to develop the infrastructure for the metaverse. 

The traditional finance space, too, is seeing a change, with decentralized finance (DeFi) gaining steam, as evidenced by the 1,200% increase in total value locked (TVL) in DeFi protocols in 2021 alone. A core component of Web 3.0, DeFi allows for real-world financial transactions to be easily carried out on the blockchain while bringing about greater financial inclusion for those who have been traditionally kept out of the traditional financial ecosystem. 

Big tech vs. blockchain: the dynamics between Web 2.0 and a Web 3.0 world

Despite the potential of Web 3.0 in bypassing the walled gardens and putting the power back in the hands of the masses, criticisms have also emerged over such idealistic notions. For example, ownership of many blockchain networks is in actuality inequitable in their distribution. Instead, many of these protocols see ownership concentrated among early adopters or backed by venture capital investments, meaning that the actual power still lies in the hands of a few. Similarly, tech giants the likes of Meta and Microsoft entering the Web 3.0 fray have also raised concerns that Web 3.0 will simply be another walled garden. 

Ultimately, the entirety of Web 3.0 is likely to be composed of different companies developing different products across different sectors for different purposes. It is important to understand that for all of Web 3.0’s promise, it is but one part of a larger whole. Much like how Web 2.0 built upon the foundations of Web 1.0, we are likely to see Web 3.0 build upon that of previous iterations of the internet. 

How this will play out as Web 3.0 continues to evolve still remains to be seen. However, what is certain is that the masses will have a greater say in shaping Web 3.0. After all, the future of the internet is decentralized.