Is Web 3.0 here? Not exactly. In the meantime, designers and developers should start preparing for the next generation of the World Wide Web. In this post, we’ll take a look at what exactly that entails.
The future of the World Wide Web is headed our way. Is there a specific date we should all be preparing for? Nope, there’s no “launch” of Web 3.0.
We have the tools needed to build a decentralized web right now—and we’re using some of those means already in web design. However, we don’t have an efficient or inexpensive way to implement these systems or structures across the internet. What’s more, there are other concerns and considerations slowing down the move to Web 3.0.
In this post, we’re going to look at what a decentralized web could look like, who’s involved in shaping it, and what designers should be doing regardless of whether Web 3.0 picks up speed in 2023 or 2033.
There have only been two generations of the World Wide Web to date. Understanding how the web has evolved over time will help us understand why Web 3.0 is needed now:
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. This is now referred to as Web 1.0.
Websites were rudimentary at the time. People mainly visited them in order to get information, not to perform transactions. Web 1.0 was defined by:
At the time, Berners-Lee’s goal was to give people greater access to one another. In 2018, he told CNBC:
“For a long time, 20 years, I thought all I had to do was keep it, just keep it free and open and people will do wonderful things.”
With the introduction of web browsers in the ’90s, internet users were in awe of what it enabled them to do—like checking email, reading news and connecting with people around the world. As people began to unlock its potential, that’s when we saw major movement in how websites were built and what consumers were able to do with them.
There was a shift in what the web was used for and who was creating the content of it in the early to mid 2000s. While it’s often said that Web 2.0 began in 2004, that’s really just when it was given a name by Tim O’Reilly.
Web 2.0 has evolved a ton since the 2000s. Even if you weren’t developing websites then, you were using them as a consumer, so you know how much has changed. Responsive design. Accessibility. Ethical design. We weren’t talking about these things in the early days of 2.0.
What has remained the same, however, is the general purpose. Web 2.0 has enabled users to create their own content for the purposes of social connectivity, interaction and commerce. It has also closed the physical distances between people around the world more than ever before.
Berners-Lee had high hopes for what people would do with the World Wide Web. We’ve seen some of that occur in Web 2.0 with the rise of:
While we can herald the good that’s come from Web 2.0, Berners-Lee and many others are right to be concerned with the dark side of Web 2.0. Berners-Lee spoke to Vanity Fair about this:
“We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places. [The increasing centralization of the web] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.”
He believes that we, the users of the internet, gave away our free and open web in exchange for the conveniences offered by companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon—who own the lion’s share of data and transactions now. And it’s not just these companies that have hijacked the web. Governments have misused it as well.
Berners-Lee has been working for some time to return the web to what he originally intended it for. He doesn’t want us going back to primitive web browsers and static websites or anything like that. However, he does want the power to go back to the people.
To accomplish this, he’s working on a number of initiatives:
He’s the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the maintenance of web standards.
Here’s a description from the website that describes how Solid’s Pods work:
“Solid is a specification that lets people store their data securely in decentralized data stores called Pods. Pods are like secure personal web servers for data. When data is stored in someone’s Pod, they control which people and applications can access it.”
When this project comes to fruition, it will take the control of data away from big tech and put it back into the hands of the people.
This concept is what lies at the core of Web 3.0 (which Berners-Lee originally dubbed the Semantic Web). The World Wide Web will become decentralized and the flow of information private, yet open. It will keep users from being exploited as they will control their personal data.
This autonomous version of the World Wide Web will be no easy task to execute though. In order to create this decentralized system, we’ll need more than just Solid. That’s why Berners-Lee is calling on startups to help create technologies to power it.
These are the key features that Web 3.0 will need in order to decentralize, anonymize and secure the web while empowering its users:
In a decentralized web, data will no longer be stored on databases owned by companies like Google or Amazon. The central authority will be removed from the equation, so that websites and applications are no longer stored in a single place.
The Internet of Things will have a role to play in this. Thanks to edge computing, data will be processed at the far edges of the network from all types of internet-connected devices—e.g., smartphones, computers, smart appliances, smart cars, sensors, etc.
There will still need to be someone or something that helps to organize the trafficking of all this data. It will likely be the responsibility of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).
There is no central governing body in these organizations. As a result, the members contribute to the decision-making process and act in everyone’s best interest—not a singular organization’s monetary interests.
The blockchain will be at the core of each app and service in a Web 3.0 world. There are a number of blockchain-based technologies that will make the autonomous and secure exchange of data as well as monetary transactions possible:
Thanks to blockchain’s ledger, online transactions will also become easier to authenticate.
AI is another critical component required to make Web 3.0 work. There are a number of ways in which these technologies will contribute to the decentralized web.
AI will be the engine that automates Web 3.0 interactions and transactions. Machine learning (ML) will give AI the ability to learn the way that humans do. This will enable Web 3.0 to produce faster and more accurate results than ever before. Results will also be more authentic as they won’t be driven by which advertiser is willing to pay the highest price.
Natural language processing (NLP) is also a big part of the vision that Berners-Lee had for the Semantic Web. NLP will take the emphasis off of keywording and put it onto the context of what is being searched for. AI-powered technologies that understand what words actually mean—as opposed to looking up a hyperlink or IP address—can provide more relevant and useful results for users.
If it’s carried out as envisioned today, Web 3.0 aims to make the internet a better place for its users.
It will be decentralized and out of the hands of big tech giants who don’t have users’ best interests at heart. Systems will become permissionless and cut out the middleman in transactions. Most importantly, users will fully own and control their personal data, keeping it from being exploited or hacked.
You can see a summary of the governing principles that Berners-Lee hopes to achieve with Web 3.0 on the website for Contract for the Web. This is a non-profit campaign he set up with the hope of getting governments, corporations and consumers on board.
That said, there are a number of reasons why we don’t all just go in on Web 3.0 now:
In a decentralized web, websites and apps aren’t stored on a single server in a single country. So, it won’t be clear which government’s regulations will need to be followed since they can all vary so widely.
While blockchain has made transactions costless, the technology itself isn’t. It has proven to be quite expensive. Blockchain tech is also energy-intensive. If there isn’t enough energy processing the transactions along the peer-to-peer network, transactions will be processed slowly.
We also have to consider the scalability aspect. While we might have all the technologies and know-how in terms of pivoting to a decentralized web, generating enough computing power to make it happen is going to be a real challenge. For instance, for something like the Metaverse, Intel says that alone will need a 1,000-fold increase in power.
Of course, we should also be concerned with the learning curve. The web has changed a lot in just the last decade and look at the things we need to do in order to ensure that websites and apps are accessible to all. While Berners-Lee and others who advocate for Web 3.0 have the best of intentions, blockchain is not something that a lot of people will be able to master overnight.
Realistically, Web 3.0 won’t be the dominant version of the web for another 10 years. Even so, the guiding principles of Web 3.0 are important ones to consider as you build websites and apps today. Because, at their core, they’re all about improving the user experience.
Rather than wait until zero hour, start preparing for the transition now. Here are some ways to do it:
Set up alerts on Google or your news aggregator (like Feedly) for “web 3.0,” “decentralized web” and “semantic web.” Keep your ear to the ground so you know what kind of progress is being made.
It’s also a good idea to follow Tim Berners-Lee as well as the organizations he’s involved with. You’ll be able to stay ahead of the curve just by paying attention to what’s going on there.
Web3 domains are DNS addresses on the blockchain. If you’ve never seen or set up one of these before, consider signing up for an NFT domain name through a provider like Ethereum Name Service, Unstoppable Domains or OpenSea to get a sense for how they differ from the DNS we use now.
For starters, Google hasn’t looked at the keyword tag in over a decade. What Google looks for now are signals. Using a focus keyword throughout a page can help reinforce the signal you want to send with a page, but it’s not a foolproof method for ranking.
Google ranks content because it’s written well, comprehensively unpacks a topic and comes from an authoritative and trustworthy source. So while keywording might help the indexing engine understand the overall point of a page, it’s not ultimately what gets a page to the first SERP.
So, if you have clients or employers stressing about each page being perfectly keyword-optimized, explain to them that context and natural language matters most. That doesn’t mean you’ll stop doing all SEO for them. It just means that human-first content is the priority. Then you can perform optimizations like structured data and internal linking to talk to the machines.
One of the major hurdles we’re going to have to get over before Web 3.0 is officially here is the resource inefficiency of it. One thing that web designers, in particular, can do to help is to design more lightweight websites and apps. For instance, start using lightweight file formats like SVG, WebP, WebM and Lottie. Getting into the habit of implementing caching will also be helpful.
With fewer resources to process over the peer-to-peer blockchain network, the digital products you build will load faster than those that have yet to optimize.
The primary devices you’re designing for right now are computers, tablets and smartphones. However, internet-connected devices of all types are going to play a more active role in connecting users with the internet in Web 3.0.
Because of this, you should start thinking not necessarily about how to redesign your UIs for TV or smart watch screens, but how to create IoT-friendly experiences. You may already be doing a lot of this when designing for accessibility. Like using multimedia to tell the story in different ways, adding captions to videos, creating voice-enabled search features, etc.
Web 3.0 is going to send major shockwaves through the internet user base. While tech-minded users and those already involved with blockchain won’t have much of a learning curve, the vast majority of users will.
If the web is to keep being usable, useful and convenient, digital products will need to be gentle and supportive in how they ease users into this new version of the web.
There’s no reason to wait until Web 3.0 is here to do this. You can start building certain features into your products that will ease their transition. For instance:
The trick here is to make your digital product feel like it’s supporting the user without condescending to them.
What Tim Berners-Lee and his collaborators are working on is admirable. The internet can be an amazing place for so many reasons. However, somewhere along the line, it became corrupted and it’s in serious need of a course correction.
Thankfully, Web 3.0 is headed our way. While it might not be here today or tomorrow or even this year, tech companies and innovators are starting to move the pieces into place that will take us into this next age of the World Wide Web. If you’re designing products and experiences for it, it’s time to step up and get involved, too.
A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.
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