Marieke Flament, CEO, NEAR Foundation
In 1994 there were only around 12 million internet users in the entire world. Today there are nearly 5.5 billion. That is an increase of 36,000%. If you had asked most people in 1994 if they believed that was possible, they would have almost certainly said no. In the course of 30 years, what was once a niche technology used by only one-half of one percent of the global population has become the backbone of our everyday lives, and so prevalent and integrated into everything we do that we barely even notice that we are using it.
Back in the early 90’s many people didn’t understand the need for the internet. There was regular mail, wired phones, the yellow pages, physical maps, newspapers, encyclopedias, and libraries. For many at the time the internet was an interesting enough new technology, something they had heard about, but didn’t necessarily understand, and certainly not something they felt they needed or would come to deeply impact their lives. From where we stand today, this seems hard to believe. And now, we are seeing the exact same thing happen again with Web3.
Moving towards a better digital world
Blockchain, the technology behind Web3, has existed in some form since the creation of Bitcoin in 2008. Built originally to be a secure and transparent way to exchange value, it has since evolved into a powerful technology that itself can be the basis for a more free, fair, and open internet. Right now, a handful of companies are the gatekeepers of the internet, and make us trade our time and attention for what they claim to be free platforms, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The current model of the internet, often referred to as Web2, has us surrender our data and privacy, has platforms that lack transparency or accountability, limits diverse ways of thinking, slows innovation, and makes it difficult for developers, artists, writers, musicians, and content creators of all types to get fairly compensated for their work. The new model of the internet built using blockchain technology, Web3, changes all of this.
With Web3, rather than having your data taken from you, you decide what you want to share. Rather than communicating through often unsecure centralized platforms, you can connect directly with other people, communities, and developers. And rather than having corporations make money off of your creative work, you can instead be fairly and directly compensated.
Finding a new way of understanding crypto
The power and potential of Web3 is real and is already being used by nearly 400 million people around the world, but much like in the early days of the internet it is often misunderstood. Along with this, many people also don’t understand its importance or necessity because the internet in its current form seems to work well enough.
Much of the misunderstanding of Web3 comes from confusion around cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies are not the same as blockchain technology, they are part of how the technology works. Crypto tokens are necessary for the blockchain to operate much like gas is necessary for an engine to run. People speculate on gas prices, but ultimately it is the usage of gas that drives the price, and if it was no longer useful, it would no longer hold any value. This is the same for cryptocurrencies.
While we may hear much about speculation, prices, and the crypto winter, it is ultimately real usage that will drive value. And that’s exactly what we have been seeing increase over the past couple of years with the rapid growth of exciting projects that are finding creative ways to use blockchain for everything from new music apps and social platforms, to banking and finance, to creating social good through carbon credits and reforestation programs.
Realizing the full potential of Web3
Much like in the early days of the internet it can be hard to see exactly how important Web3 is, or the massive impact it will come to have on our lives. We couldn’t have imagined in 1994 that work, education, banking, travel, transportation, and basically every other part of our day-to-day lives would be transformed forever.
The internet has changed how we live, but it has also come at the cost of some of the very things that it claimed it could improve, equality, freedom, economic participation, and access to information. This is where the necessity of Web3 comes in. To secure our privacy and data, to ensure the information we see online is verifiable, to create better, more direct connections with people and communities, to increase economic participation, and ultimately to make the digital world more fair and open for everyone we need Web3.
The need for the current Web2 world to evolve to one that is more open and fair may not yet be felt by everyone, and there may still be misunderstanding around blockchain technology, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not on a path to becoming a technology so important, and so embedded in our lives that much like the internet, we barely even notice we are using it and forget what the time before we we did even looked like.
Broad adoption of Web3 platforms has already started, and with new innovations around making it easier for developers to create experiences users love, and for users to onboard to these experiences quickly and easily, we will see this rapidly pick up pace. Web3 has moved from being like the internet in the mid-90’s to the internet of the early 2000’s, and is set to become the technology that will define the next generation.