22 May 2022

Blockchain, Web 3.0 and The Future of Digital Social Freedom

By Jason Yong

Blockchain is synonymous with the underlying technology that drives cryptocurrency with the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum being promoted as a means for decentralizing both financial and monetary systems. However, the application of blockchain technology goes beyond just that of a mechanism for decentralized digital finance.

Fundamentally, blockchain can be described as a distributed system of ledgers by which transactional records (e.g. payment history, plain text information or communication logs) are designed to be immutable and capable of operating on a peer-to-peer network basis. Thus, it is believed that these characteristics can potentially revolutionize the world wide web with Web 3.0 and how we perceived our digital social freedom.

Since the advent of the internet in the late 1990s, the web has ingrained itself into our everyday lives. This phenomenon is further expedited by the pandemic of 2020 pandemic which brought the digitalization of our life to a new height with work-from-home flexibility, hybrid online-offline study allocation, the rapid expansion of e-commerce platforms, and the mass adoption of contactless/cashless payment systems. To better grasp the significance of Web 3.0 as well as the complex and indistinct amalgamation of technologies, and protocols that power the internet as it is today, let us have a brief history lesson on the internet’s evolutionary stages.

Web 1.0 was the initial stage in the development of the Internet. This period of the internet can be characterised as a content delivery network that allowed information to be displayed on websites. It offers a one-way communication from the content creator to the people, in which they can search for information and consume it, without any means of interaction with or between users. User-generated content was non-existent.

Subsequently, the progression from Web 1.0 to 2.0 took place as servers were upgraded, average consumer broadband speeds increased, and developers acquired better tools and techniques. Web 2.0 is also known as the participative social web and values ​​user-generated content, site usability, and interoperability. There is a multitude of categories for web 2.0 applications including wikis, blogs, social networking, podcasting, and content hosting services. Many of the most popular websites, as of this writing, are Web 2.0-enabled sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and MySpace. Although Web 2.0 enables users to interact and participate in the creation of web content, several contentious issues have surfaced in recent years with this current implementation model. With Web 2.0, the internet is dominated by a handful of tech conglomerates that serve as both the curators and moderators of information access.

These characteristics facilitate the constant harvesting of our personal information by these companies and other web applications, now a popular practice with the rise of algorithmic advertising. These pieces of information can be used by conglomerates for malicious purposes such as political advertising and subterfuge – Facebook-Cambridge Analytica shenanigans. In addition, Web 2.0 is heavily reliant on the centralization of data servers and protocols to function, which presents a single point of failure that can be targeted by malicious actors and more often results in massive data breaches or widespread economic destruction, in other words, the proverbial stuff hits the fan.

With concerns about internet privacy, data portability, right to the freedom of information and self-sovereign identity rapidly becoming mainstream issues, a concerted effort to accelerate the next paradigm shift in internet technologies is underway.

Welcome to Web 3.0 or Web3, potentially a blockchain-accelerated internet paradigm where people may produce content, the people may distribute it, and the people may choose to carry out smart contracts. For the uninitiated, smart contracts are a collection of immutable programs within a blockchain that executes predetermined logical operations. For Web3, smart contracts offer the ability to create a digital identity that can have privacy layers, authorization and identification features where desired. This feature allows for the disintermediation from identity providers such as Apple ID, Microsoft Identity, Google, or Facebook and prevents the monopolisation of data, a prominent issue for Web 2.0.

In the domain of information dissemination, Web 3.0 is envisioned to be a decentralized version of our current digital realm. The core architecture of Web 3.0 is proposed to consist of a multitude of decentralised applications (dApps) operating on a particular blockchain network. This is where users can work, communicate, and share information without being concerned with interference from any single authoritative platform, in other words, a creator-driven platform governed and developed by users. For example, a developer can create a News dApp and put it on Web3 where any journalist can publish articles and findings. Once disseminated, these articles cannot be suppressed or altered without consensus from the community.

Web 3.0 and the blockchain will be the next technological revolution that is engineered to empower individuals and local communities rather than despotic hierarchies.

Jason Yong is a lecturer at the School of Information in Communication Technologies. With research interests in cybersecurity and blockchain for decentralised social applications, he can be reached via email at jhyong@swinburne.edu.my