“Web3” has emerged as a buzzword over the last few months. An underlying assumption in this term is that there was a preceding web1, there was a web2 and there will soon be a new phase in this process of technological change. There is a fight over what this future might look like—the opposing camps can be loosely framed as those who see it as web3, those who see it as Metaverse(s) and those who would like it to be open source—and there is overlap between the camps. Those who understand what these terms mean, how digital assets are involved and why the terms are garnering so much attention (and controversy) may be better positioned to spot new opportunities in the future.
Web3 was introduced by Gavin Wood in 20141, but it has since been popularized by Chris Dixon and his team at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz2 (a16z). Summed up as “read, write, own,”3 the term implies that online life has gone through three successive phases where users have gradually been able to extend what they can do online.
Google Trends, Interest over Time (2017–2022) in Term “Web3”
First, there was web1. Born out of the mid-1990s, a community of free and open-source software (FOSS) developers tried to build a digital ecosystem where users would be able to run their own servers, control/own their data and lead relatively autonomous lives online. Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web (www) is emblematic of this open-standard vision4. This vision spawned companies like GeoCities—customized home pages written in html with the liberal use of gifs5—and Napster and BitTorrent—which allowed peer-to-peer file transfer6.