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Key Points:

  • The Web 1.0 was the internet in it’s adolescence to where it was basically a read-only experience.
  • The Web 2.0 is currently the iteration of the internet that we have been used to over the last 10-15 years or so and focuses on interaction and socialization over the web.
  • The Web 3.0 is somewhat conceptional but in effect today, shown by elements of the internet that are decentralized and generally more “open”.

If you are even a little interested in tech you have probably heard the term Web 3.0, commonly called Web3. Web3 refers to the next iteration of the internet. Proponents hope it will make the internet decentralized so that users have more freedom to shape it. But there has been a lot of confusion about Web 3.0, particularly what separates it from previous iterations of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. So, what are the main differences, why do things work this way, and what would it mean for the internet to be truly open source?

Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0 vs Web 3.0.


What is the Difference Between Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0: Complete Explanation

To understand the differences between these three “iterations” you must start with the history of the Web itself. The first important distinction to make is that the “Web” is not another word for the “internet.” Yup, totally different things, even though we don’t usually think of it that way. The internet refers to a chain of computer systems that store and send information. The Web is the sites and pages you access and interact with. They operate on the internet, but that is technically the web.

Next, let’s talk about some history. The concept of the World Wide Web, a global “network of networks,” stretches back to the 1930s. But the thing we call the internet today started around 1989. It was meant to be a network that could store and share information at multiple different points all over the world. That was the initial idea at least.

The thing about the internet is that it is always evolving. It is not like one day the internet was Web 1.0 then it got updated to 2.0. It’s a process. In many ways, Web3 is already a thing and has been as early as 2006.  Blockchain and NFTs are both Web3 technologies. These are ideologies as much as technologies, so it is important to understand what each means and how they have affected the web.

Web 1.0 – 3.0: An exact definition

Web 1.0: The Read-Only Web

Coined retroactively by Tim Berners-Lee, Web 1.0 or the World Wide Web is the first version of the thing we all know and love today. It’s called the read-only web because it lacked the social participation that today’s web is known for. It was marked by static web pages with content connected by hyperlinks. Only a few people were creating these pages and content and it was wholly owned by them. It didn’t have any of the interaction you can find on today’s web, pages like Myspace and Tumblr are on the way but still a way off. This first iteration of the web was for people looking for information and data.

Web 1.0
Fun fact: Web 1.0 sites aren’t interactive.

Web 2.0: The Social Web

At long last, we arrive at today’s Web. Web 2.0 is called the social web because it is centered around not only reading information but commenting, sharing, and interacting with content on the web. While 1.0 was focused on accessing the information on a static web page with little fanfare, 2.0 is all about user experience. User-Generated Content like videos on YouTube, Podcast RSS feeds, and social media profiles are all easy to use and available to anyone and can be used to grow an audience.

However, where 1.0 was open-source, 2.0 is a closed system and platforms are centralized. So, to use and benefit from the web, you have to follow the guidelines of the platform, giving companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter an enormous amount of power over the web.

Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0
Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0

Web 3.0: The Future?

Web3 is not just something that is on the horizon, a concept only. It is already here in the form of things like the Blockchain which is a decentralized shared database of transactions. Decentralization and openness are the hallmarks of 3.0. Proponents of this iteration believe that this will increase the power of the user and shift it away from large companies like Google or Facebook.

The idea is that Web 3.0 will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a fully autonomous, intelligent internet that understands content the way we do. So, it will analyze and comprehend words instead of numbers like the current iteration.

It is worth mentioning that 3.0 is not currently widespread. As I mentioned, it is represented in the blockchain, NFTs, and AR cloud. The metaverse is also based on the ideas of Web3 but both are a little way off. It isn’t clear how this Web3 will ultimately take shape. The Web is an ever-evolving thing and the vision of Web3 might not be what we get in the future.

How Do Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 Work?

The Building Blocks

The original version of the web was a patchwork of connected commercial servers and other digital hop points. It was technically open source, but it required you to understand how to code web pages from the ground up. Web pages were built with very simple HTML code so things were very straightforward graphically. It utilized GIF buttons connected to hyperlinks, very small size graphics, and plain colors. Not the curated, beautiful design of the current web.

Web 2.0 turned the web from a giant, digitized encyclopedia to a vehicle for digital communication and rich user experiences. Gone were the days of flat, boring web pages that admins barely kept up with. Now you could not only read information housed on servers but send messages to that server using hypertext transfer protocol or HTTP. Developers can use an array of languages to build for the web like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript but you still need a host to develop a web page.

web 2.0
The Web 2.0 is a more interactive and socialized platform.

Centralized vs Decentralized

This is the biggest difference between the three web iterations. Proponents of Web 3.0 believe that decentralization is the key to the Web’s evolution. But didn’t Web 2.0 “Democratize the internet,” you ask? Well, sort of. Originally Web 1.0 was open source meaning anyone with the skills to build a web page could just do it. The optimal phrase there is “with the skills” coding is not easy and not many people knew how to do it. Enter Web 2.0.

With Web 2.0, companies were able to create tools that made it easier for more people to create content. Video content creators can post on YouTube at any time and potentially reach millions of fans all over the world. The trade-off is ownership – you might own the video but Google, who owns YouTube, owns the platform. You might be making money with YouTube’s partnership program, but Google dictates how much you make and what guidelines you need to meet to do so. That’s what makes Web 3.0 appealing to some.

Right now, the power of the internet is “centralized” to a few major producers. Web 3.0 promises to decentralize the internet in a way that has never been done. Sure, Web 1.0 was open source much like Web 3.0 aims to be, but you still had to have the skills to build the webpage. Web 3.0 would give creators the tools not only to post their content but host it as well.

Where Did the Web Originate?

The concept of the web as a network of information that can be stored and accessed at multiple points is not a new one. Nikola Tesla theorized a “world wireless system” over one hundred years ago. The idea that one day we would be able to create a mechanical library of human knowledge is even older than that. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the web truly became more than just an idea.

Tim Berners-Lee is credited with the invention of the World Wide Web. He was a computer scientist and researcher who graduated from Oxford University in the late 1980s. He took his first job at CERN, a particle physics factory, and there he became interested in a new technology called hypertext. Berners-Lee supposed that you could use this technology to create a faster, easier way to share information.

The web has changed a lot from Berners-Lee’s original design idea, but we can thank him for three key technologies, HTML, URL, and HTTP, all of which are still foundational to the web today.

web 3.0
The Web 3.0 pushes towards decentralization and being open.

What Are the Applications of the Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0

So, by now we have a pretty good handle on the difference between the three iterations but what does that mean for the end-user? Web 1.0 technologies are still the bedrock of the web, but it has almost completely been replaced by Web 2.0. The main debate right now is between people advocating for Web3 and those who believe that there are other directions the web can take.

The Case for Web3

Proponents of Web3 come from a lot of different schools of thought but they all agree on one thing – the web should be owned by the users. As we’ve mentioned, the web is dominated by tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, the point of Web3 is to take ownership away from these corporations and give it to the users using blockchain technology. They want to remove the middleman that is the platforms and open the web wholly to users.

This would work in a couple of ways. It is hard to believe I am only just now mentioning cryptocurrency, but here we are. The point, or at least the original idea, behind cryptocurrency is there is no one centralized location for your money, no bank or loan service. Your money is spread out across the network and no one can dictate terms of service to you.

Web3 proposes to use that model for interactions. So, a public company like Twitter would issue crypto tokens instead of shares. Users could earn these tokens by going viral or building a strong audience. Then, they could turn around and use those tokens to vote on platform policy. Users who own these tokens would be incentivized to make Twitter better because the value of their tokens is dependent on the success of the platform.

A More Skeptical View

Opponents of Web3 aren’t exactly clinging to Web 2.0 either. Pretty much everyone in the debate agrees that Web 2.0 needs to evolve. The incentives of the current Web have led to some pretty questionable content. Skeptics believe that this would be magnified by the Web3 incentive model. There have also been issues with the blockchain itself. Once something is on the blockchain it is very difficult to remove. So, if something objectionable were to make its way onto the web, you wouldn’t be able to take it down.

The blockchain is not as secure as some would claim. Owners of NFTs have been victims of a new kind of piracy. Where fake NFTs are deposited in their crypto wallet and if they click on them, they can and have lost a lot of their tokens which translates to thousands of dollars.

The question of ownership is also a big selling point of Web3. Some opponents think that instead of placing power into the hands of users it would simply shift power from one center to another. Venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz are huge proponents of Web3 technologies and have invested millions in Web3 projects. The concern is that power would shift from the current Web giants to these institutions and the companies they support.

It is also worth mentioning that most people don’t even think Web3 is possible as advertised. The blockchain is energy-intensive and hosting your own server is very expensive. For the network to grow to the heights, it would need for Web3 to be viable, the networks would need to become centralized. That would defeat the entire purpose of Web3 and ensure that the power of the web stayed in the hands of those who could throw the most money at it.

Up Next…

Let’s look into more articles about the web and related topics.

Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0 vs Web 3.0: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why are there updated versions of Web 1.0?

Sometimes Web 1.0 webpages are beneficial due to their static, non-interactive nature. If you are interested in posting information but not allowing users to interact or change that information Web 1.0 is the way to go. For instance, restaurant menus might be built as static pages. They can be updated but no one can or should interact with them.

What is the main difference between the web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras?

Web 2.0 is defined by its ease of use and social interactivity. The main difference between Web 1.0 and 2.0 is that interactivity. Web 1.0’s information was communicated sort of like a dictionary. It was all about learning information individually. Web 2.0 is all about starting a conversation and building communities online.

Is web 2.0 better than web 1.0?

In most ways, yes. It is interactive, there are more tools than ever for content creators, and sometimes it is just downright beautiful. However, in terms of ownership, there are those that wish things had remained open source like in the days of Web 1.0

What is web 3.0?

Web 3.0 is basically the concept that the web would move from centralized (web 2.0) to decentralized using the blockchain. There are other key elements of web 3.0 like the use of machine learning and AI to allow the web to adapt and change depending on input as well. But the main drive is shifting from centralized producers like Facebook and Google to a more open system.

What is the importance of web 2.0 applications?

Social media is a Web 2.0 application, podcast RSS feeds, YouTube, and countless others. These technologies define our modern era, not just on the web but in many ways. Web 2.0 applications have allowed people from all over the world to connect and build communities like nothing that has ever existed on earth.

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