WAC Resources

What Is Web3 And Why Is It Different From The Web We Know?

Primer on Blockchain Culture & Technology
Writers divide the history of the World Wide Web into three periods: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, with the crypto community staking their claim to "Web3".

In the '90s the power of Web 1.0 was the newfound ability for anyone to connect with anyone else on a decentralized protocol. While the technology was rudimentary, anyone with a server and the knowledge to run one could run their own community as they saw fit. (This was often a university intranet managed by the IT team, connected to other universities.)

In the early '00s demand for web services increased alongside its capabilities, which gave us the media-rich Web 2.0. The rise in hosting costs, network effects, and economies of scale all contributed to the rise of centralized, "industrialized" Big Tech platforms.

This led to increasing corporate control and homogenization of the internet. Organizations can't differentiate themselves on social media as much as they can in their own online spaces. The audience an institution builds somewhere like Instagram is a valuable asset, but it's owned by the platform, which can change or limit access to your audience as they see fit. (Think of Facebook asking businesses to pay to "boost" posts to their own followers, or Instagram changing their algorithm to privilege video content.) As the saying goes, the internet feels like "five websites filled with screenshots of the other four".

In some ways, Web3 is a return to the smaller, more community-oriented, more decentralized internet of Web 1.0, but with all the rich media capabilities provided by Web 2.0. It does this by handing more ownership and control back to users, in the form of crypto wallets and tokens that can act as a data layer in anything from art marketplaces, to gaming, to shared governance. When it makes sense to use more centralized services, those services have "permissionless" access to the open, decentralized ledger that records which users own what.

Web3 is still in its very early stages of development, and it's not clear what efforts will be successful and what won't. Amidst this uncertainty, institutions would do well to critically assess initiatives and experiment with these tools in their own time, on their own terms. The artists involved in Web3 have been some of its strongest critics, leading the conversation around its environmental impact.

WAC Lab offers an open forum for artists, technologists, gallerists, and museum professionals to talk about the successes they have in this space as well as the challenges and reservations. Rather than a brief workshop with little room for exploration or nuance, we’ve bet on a months-long program that’s still a manageable commitment for our fellows. By giving these topics the time they’re due, we have much more space for in-depth discussions, which gives our fellows a better understanding of what’s possible, as well as what challenges there are to overcome.

Illustration: Unsplash (source)