What are the key differences, and how will the web evolve in the future?

History – a whole series of past events connected to a particular person or thing.

When it comes to the web and its history, it’s been a relatively short journey so far, yet we’ve come such a long way. However, and without a doubt, there’s still so much more to come.

Today, we’re looking at the differences between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 and what’s in store for the future. But before we get to the main event, let’s take a quick recap of Internet history as we know it.

An Internet timeline – from Web 0.0 to the present and beyond

Web 0.0 – It’s 1989: The beginning

The World Wide Web began as a project at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire or the European Council for Nuclear Research), headed by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau. Using the concept of hypertext, the project was intended to facilitate the sharing of information between researchers.

Web 1.0 – From 1990: The read-only web

Web 1.0, aka the read-only web, was launched in the early 90s, but by 1999 it had grown into a vast library of 3 million (generally) static content websites. With so much information up for grabs, a host of alternative web browsers materialized to help share the knowledge (and masses of advertising revenue). Google was founded in 1998, adding to the competition and soon rising to the top of the pile.

Web 2.0 – From 1999: The social web

In 1999 blogging platforms made an appearance; in 2001, we had Wikipedia; by 2003, we were introduced to MySpace, and in 2004, the mighty Facebook arrived.

A website was no longer just a place to research and read information; with new dynamic content, it was somewhere to share ideas, communicate, interact, and connect.

Web 3.0: The semantic web

The lines where one generation stops and the other starts are becoming somewhat blurred, as technology develops and evolves daily. The concept of Web 3.0 is a more intelligent, autonomous, and open web.

We have more access to data than ever through ‘big data’ and the Internet of Things. We have the added security of blockchain technologies, providing next-level, open security.

Finally, the advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning is set to process requests through better, more human understanding, delivering the most appropriate and natural choices. It’s not just more interactive—it’s more understanding—making complex decisions with very little human input.

Web 4.0, 5.0, and beyond

The next step is context. With its artificial intelligence and machine learning decision-making systems, the Internet is only starting to impact our digital worlds, but without context, it doesn’t know why. The suggestion so far is that the next step in web technology will be delivering systems that have the provision to read and predict behaviors and act on them.

Information will be interpreted both emotionally and logically by digital assistants, each delivering unique experiences for individual users, intertwining with their daily lives.

Web 2.0 vs Web 3.0 – the gloves are off

Despite the blurred lines we mentioned previously, we’re still considered to be in the Web 2.0 era. Yes, things are moving forward, and AI and ML are bringing more to how we interact with the web each day, but we’re still a hop, skip, and jump from what Web 3.0 has lined up for us.

The key difference between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 is that 2.0 is considered the ‘writeable’ era, where 3.0 will be ‘executable’. How that will manifest should deliver a new type of connectivity, delivered through the number-crunching backends instead of the mainly frontend growth and delivery differences brought about from 1.0 to 2.0.

Why we need to leave Web 2.0 behind

Web 2.0 operates on mobile, social, and cloud computing.

Web 3.0 will work on edge computing, decentralized data networks, and artificial intelligence.

Where Web 2.0 brought us more effortless ways to live and made the world a much smaller place, Web 3.0 will empower the individual.

2.0 gave us new ways to connect and buy; it’s considered a centralized system, feeding communities of users.

3.0 plans to connect individuals directly through safer, decentralized systems and connect us with smarter, more understanding systems.

Our digital lives are full of platforms that simplify and share commercial and social activities. For example, we utilize every type of online shopping; we have instant transport always available (Uber) and broader, easier to purchase holiday options (Airbnb). Web 2.0 sounds pretty good, right? So why do we need 3.0?

Progression is about problem-solving, taking what we learned was wrong with something, and building a new version that resolves those issues. So, that being the case, what is so wrong with Web 2.0?

Data and control

No surprise there. We’re all more than aware of our rights regarding personal data, and rightly so—what’s ours should stay ours, and we should have a right to decide how it’s used.

When it comes to control, it became apparent—through all kinds of data juggling, acquiring, buying, and selling issues—that a handful of commercial giants were controlling how our data was being handled, especially in marketing and commercial fields, and we didn’t like it.

Why not? Aren’t we getting more relevant products in our social streams? Don’t we see more links to content we’re interested in instead of those we’re not? Well, they aren’t as accurate as we hope, as I’m sure many of you will agree. We’ve also seen far too much illegal activity, with millions of people’s private data going missing, making us feel like our lives, secrets, and sensitive information aren’t in the safe hands we need it to be.

When it comes to our private interactions, financial resources, and personal details, such a lack of confidence demands a better system—and that’s where Web 3.0 is taking us.

A decentralized Internet

Instead of trusting our data to supposedly secure servers controlled by agencies, Web 3.0 suggests we share it openly, under our own control, deciding what stays private and what gets shared ourselves. Each user becomes their data bank and manager, and why not? The technology is already here to handle it.

Decentralization will be powered by distributed ledger technologies (DLT). It’s a popular construct, already proving its worth in financial transactions through blockchain and cryptocurrency.

DLT technology allows us to carry out machine-to-machine secure transactions, whether financial or via any other data or product. 

Secure, open, trusted, and permission-free

DLT provides exceptional encryption and security, but more than that, it gives control to the individual. It’s not just about moving money around but also media content, information, ideas, and rights. Direct peer-to-peer transactions through automated smart contracts mean a more secure and safer digital world for everyone.

Wouldn’t we all feel safer if we controlled our own information instead of putting it in the hands of the corporate giants and the governments we’ve slowly learned to distrust at every juncture? Web 3.0 could well be heading into an age of the people’s Internet.

A smarter, more human, ‘semantic’ Internet

Not only should the Internet become safer, but it stands to become a lot smarter, too.

Web 3.0 is labeled the semantic web. Semantic translates to ‘the meaning in language’. What this means to you and me is that the way our computers and devices will understand us will change.

Let’s get back to context. When we search for information (or a new car, a holiday, how to fix a leaky tap, or anything else), Google, or our preferred search engine, is merely looking for the words you type into the search field or ask it, Siri or Alexa.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are something to get excited about, not to fear

The new technologies are adding ways of providing information and content. Our searches won’t be based on specific words or sentences but on what they mean. Your computer, phone, TV, or watch will interpret the meaning of what you ask instead of blindly chasing after a sequence of words.

With systems becoming smarter, understanding what we want and delivering it automatically is just around the corner. Just how smart is that? Content suggestions and marketing will be based on real-life, real-time behaviors and feelings, not on misguided online observations, all controlled by each of us, through a sensitive and human-like digital assistant.

An Internet designed for every single user, and the sharing of knowledge

Web 3.0 delivers a new Internet that is truly portable and personal, focusing on individuals, not communities, managed by us and not the corporate giants and governments. Or that’s the hope, at least.

It’s designed to run on smart applications instead of web-based options, controlled and personal to you through the Internet of Things, measuring your behaviors, not simply a selection of tags and previous purchases.

Experiences will be more inclusive with data environments existing in real-world spaces, delivering 3D interactions through virtual and augmented reality, blending and blurring the lines between our digital worlds and real life.

And beyond… Web 4.0? Web 5.0? Just how far can we push?

Perhaps you never considered that one day you’d be able to bum around the world on other peoples’ couches or hail and pay for a taxi from your phone, following its journey before it arrives. Did you think your watch could tell you when you need to calm down or go for a run? Or that your blood pressure’s up and your sugar levels are down? Did you ever consider that you could do your weekly shop sat on the bus, or book your next holiday from the pub?

It’s all part of our current reality, and the next set of digital services is just around the corner. Where they’ll go, nobody knows—but we can all hazard a good guess.

Virtual reality, digital assistants, and the latest medical advances point the way for not just wearable tech but biomedical implants, blurring the lines between man and machine. Big data and intensified control could put the power back into the hands of the people, taking it away from the power-hungry.

Could we be heading for a healthier, happier, more in control world, with a fairer balance of resources, decisions, and democracy?

Only time—and technology—will tell.