The evolution of the internet — web. From web 1.0 to web 3.0

Charles Freeborn
6 min readJan 28, 2023

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Over a year ago, I got fascinated with web 3.0 — the next generation of the internet. And in building the next generation of the internet, I take a quick look at the evolution of the internet and the web.

Introduction — The internet, society, and our lives

The internet has undoubtedly played a significant role in our lives and communities over the past three decades. We can even argue that the internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. For it has changed (and will continue to change) the course of humanity forever.

Wait!

Think about it for a moment. I wrote this article in a city in Nigeria and can be read from anywhere in the world. This is possible, thanks to the internet. The internet has empowered people from across villages, towns, cities, and countries, to share information in real-time. Carry out economic activities and render services to advance humanity.

We can’t even imagine what life will be like if we didn’t have access to the internet. Yet, with all the tremendous impact of the internet on our lives and society, its history is relatively young.

The early years of the web

Web 1.0 — The Read-Only Web (the 1990s to early 2000s)

At a fundamental level, we can say that the internet is a global network of connected computers. And there are applications that run on top of the internet. One of these applications is the web.

The early era of the web now code-named web 1.0 existed in the period between the 1990s and early 2000s. This era of the web was characterized by decentralization.

Web 1.0 was built on top of open protocols like HTTP, SMTP, FTP, IRC, and SMS, which anyone can then build on top of.

The vision for the internet — the cyberspace — was to allow anyone to build and contribute to the web. And thus, advancing the course of humanity.

See a declaration of the independence of the cyberspace by John Perry Barlow.

So at the core of web 1.0 was community governance, decentralized networks, contribute, and create content for the web.

Web 1.0 is the read-only web because few individuals (or corporations) created the content and the end-users only consumed the content. And here’s why — web 1.0 required a strong technical skillset.

Web 1.0 is also the static web because users can only consume content. And this is the premise on which the term “static web” is hinged.

But web 1.0 had some limitations. These limitations included:

  1. Stateless — Web 1.0 didn’t capture user data or state. This meant that if you a user visited a website, the website had no way of knowing that the user had before visited it.
  2. No standard protocols — Different protocols power the web. For example payment gateways, search, and social media. In Web 1.0, there were no standard protocols.
  3. Strong technical knowledge/expertise — The regular people were cut off to a large extent in web 1.0. Contributing to web 1.0 required strong technical knowledge.

In the quest to solve some of the limitations and challenges of web 1.0, web 2.0 was born.

Web 2.0 Centralization — The Read/Write Web (the early 2000s to present)

Web 2.0 was born or created to solve some of the challenges and limitations of web 1.0. One of these challenges was the capturing of “state” or user-data. In the Web 1.0 era, websites were unable to capture state or user data. You couldn’t tell as a web developer, if a user had previously visited the website.

So as a web developer, it was difficult to know the demographic of your end users. This meant that you couldn’t build products and services targeted at these end users.

The first attempt at solving this challenge of capturing state and user data was the HTTP cookie. Created by Lou Montulli at Nescape. With HTTP cookie, a web developer can tell if a user had visited a website previously.

And so with the user state being captured, we transitioned into Web 2.0.

The Web 2.0 era spans the early 2000s into the current period.

Web 2.0 is often referred to as the read/write web.

And here’s why. The technologies made it easy for users to create content and interact with the web in real-time.

In web 2.0, you don’t need to have a strong technical knowledge to create contents and share these contents.

Organizations already have the technologies setup for you to do the content creation. All you needed was to sign up as a user and use the platform. What’s more, you could also interact with the contents of other users — read/write.

At the fore-front of web 2.0 is? You guessed it right — social media.

Value was created in Web 2.0 and organizations made money from user data. And the building of products and services, and technologies that are currently powering the modern web.

Examples of these products built on top of Web 2.0 will include email (recall SMTP).

Others include include payment platforms and gateways like PayPal. Search like Google, social media like Twitter and Facebook, e-commerce like Amazon.

As products, services, and technologies were built on top of user data, some organizations became valuable and powerful.

In making our usage of the web easy and our lives better, there was a downside to this. Our usage of the web, the internet, data and how we now perceive the world is controlled by these powerful corporations.

Often referred to as state aggregators, these organizations became the dominant players of the web 2.0 era.

What’s more about web 2.0, is that the purpose for which the internet was created now seems defeated. For example, as web 2.0 became the dynamic web, everyone creating and interact with content, the monetary reward went to the corporations.

So think of Web 2.0 as a phase where users created content and corporations profited out of the users’ content. And even used the user’s data to build products (and sell ads) tailored to the users via their captured data.

But in spite of the major wins and advancement of web 2.0, there were major challenges. One of these is the movement away from the main reason why the web existed in the first place. An open cyberspace where everyone could contribute without control or gatekeeping from powerful individuals, organizations, and the government.

The Limitations and Challenges of Web 2.0

Centralization is at the core of Web 2.0.

And here’s why — most internet traffic (web and app usage) goes through the network of a few large corporations. This makes it possible for these companies to determine the course of our lives on the web. Like controlling speeches, the choices we make based on the contents fed to us. How we now see the world and even the shutting down entire services by the government.

Here are some of the challenges and limitations of web 2.0, listed in no particular order:

  1. Privacy
  2. Power and Control
  3. Monopolistic behavior
  4. Ownership
  5. Monetization of apps

Web 3.0 — Decentralization and Blockchain Technology. (Present to the Future)

The original vision of the internet was for everyone to build on the network without fear of being shut down. Or controlled across national borders. The internet was built originally to support a distributed system — a network without centralization.

Web 3.0 is the next phase of the internet, built on top of crypto-economic networks, like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

At the core of web 3 is the idea of consensus protocols and standards with money baked in.

No doubt one of the big wins and beauty of the decentralized web — D’Web is monetization by creators through the issuance of a social token.

Web 3.0 will fundamentally change the course of our lives on the internet.

Web3 is built for interoperability.

For example, DeFi — Decentralized Finance — is attempting to build a new financial system without central financial institutions. This is one of the most promising layers of the blockchain adoption.

Web 3.0 is hinged on decentralization — a shared ownership and isn’t placed on a single individual, and/or corporation. This eliminates a single point of failure. And at the core of decentralization is community participation like DAOs — Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.

From the lens of monetary value accrued, decentralization is moving money around to the people who create. And the people who consume.

There’s reward for the people maintaining, supporting, and improving the protocol — network. That’s tokenomics.

The benefits of Web 3.0 and decentralizing the web include but not limited to

  1. Verifiable
  2. Trustless
  3. Self-governing
  4. Permissionless
  5. Distributed and robust
  6. Stateful
  7. Native built-in payments

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Charles Freeborn

Founder web3 Warri and Charlies Codage | Technical Writer