The future of the internet has been the subject of much speculation and debate in the past few years.
From the rise of virtual worlds and immersive experiences to the explosive growth of social media, the internet has become a ubiquitous medium for communication and commerce. With the rise of blockchain, the internet is about to go through a major transformation.
This isn’t the first transformation of the internet. Since its public emergence nearly 30 years ago, the internet has gone through two major evolutions and is about to go through a third.
These transformations not only have changed how we use the internet and what we use it for, but they have impacted the world at large, changing how we live and work and interact with others.
Web 1.0: The static internet
The first iteration of the public internet was the age of the website. Every company needed a website, and that website primarily contained static data and information that the owner of the website thought was important. The corporate website had information about the company—mostly marketing collateral.
News and reference websites also had a stockpile of information. But all of these sites pushed information to the consumer—a one-way communications path. This was similar to how traditional media of the day (newspaper, magazines, radio, television) communicated information to the public.
Whether the company was an existing news agency such as NBC or CNN, or was a corporate brand such as McDonald’s, every company soon had a website that conveyed information to the public.
Figure 1 illustrates this internet. A website was an entity that a company created and owned. It had mostly static data, and the data was controlled and managed by the company. The information flowed in one direction, outward to the users of the website.
In this model, data personalisation was extremely limited, given the one-way nature of the information. Users could select and filter the information they wanted to consume, but they typically had very little ability to influence what the information communicated contained.
Users had virtually no ability to influence other users. Information-sharing among users was typically limited to your local friends or bulletin board groups. These represented very focused and limited audiences.
Web 2.0: The web application
The second iteration of the public internet, the internet you’re using right now, is the age of the web application. Here, companies focus on providing a forum for individual users to share information with one another. Web 2.0 ushered in the trend of creating personal blogs, and later expanded into today’s social media landscape.
Companies such as Twitter and Facebook led the way to the democratisation of data. They created applications that allow anyone to post virtually anything on any topic, and share it with a potentially huge audience.
In our current iteration of the internet, illustrated in Figure 2, web applications and social networks, owned by companies such as Facebook, provide a forum for users to enter data into the application and share it privately with “friends” or publicly with anyone who might be interested. Today’s web applications allow people to communicate across the world with people they never met.
When the smartphone became ubiquitous, the use of the internet grew substantially. Now everyone could stay connected to the internet all the time. They could talk to anyone they wanted, whenever they wanted, wherever they were. The internet exploded.
While users found they could communicate with people around the world, the companies who owned these applications found they could collect huge quantities of information about users and their likes and dislikes.
This data became a valuable source of information and a major source of revenue for the internet giants. Companies like Facebook grew to be multibillion-dollar mega corporations, and the founders of these companies became some of the wealthiest people in the world.
Then these companies discovered something else they could do — curation. Rather than randomly presenting information from one user to other users, they could use information they gathered about people’s likes and dislikes to cater information sharing to people’s interests. The “social algorithm” was born, and web application companies wielded huge power in influencing what information the people of the world received.
This control over information has made these companies enormously powerful—many believe too powerful.
Web 3.0: Authoritative data
Now we are on the precipice of the third iteration of the public internet.
In this third generation, data is no longer stored and maintained by the web applications. Instead, data and information is stored in the fabric of the internet itself. In Web 3.0, data becomes available for any application that needs access and is authorised to use it.
The data is no longer owned by an application, or controlled by a web platform company such as Facebook. In fact, web applications play a much less significant role in the management of the information. No single application can play the role of information curator, so there is no uber-powerful social media company to influence what information people are allowed to see.
Figure 3 shows this internet. End users directly manage and control their data and information, and that data is used and managed outside of the control of a single company. The web applications are consumers of the information, but none of them own or manage the information.
So the web applications are now of secondary importance to the data itself. Data and information instead is stored in a distributed blockchain that is not managed by any one single company. All of the information in the blockchain is distributed across all internet companies equally, unable to be controlled by any central organisation (company or government).
The goal is to enable shared, uncensored, uncurated, authoritative information that is independent of web applications and the undue influence they put on the information. The information is owned and managed by the real owner of the data — the user — rather than by the web applications and their creators.
The result will be a more authoritative and trusted internet, because data will be sourced, referenceable, and uncensored.
Web 3.0 should create a more distributed power structure on the internet than was ever possible with the web platform companies of Web 2.0.
The value of blockchain
This revolution leading to the third generation of the internet is enabled by a single piece of technology—blockchain. A blockchain is central to this distributed, data-first, authoritative internet. What is it about blockchain technology that makes it central to this revolution? Blockchain has several features that will enable this transformation:
- A blockchain is distributed ownership. There is no single source of ownership for the data in a blockchain. Anyone can contribute to a blockchain, and anyone can read from it. Anyone can participate in the distribution of a blockchain.
- Data stored in a blockchain is immutable, irrevocable, and cryptographically signed, so provably authentic and authoritative (or provably inauthentic and unauthoratative). Everyone knows who the owner and originator of all data is, and all data can be confirmed as to its source and authenticity. This increases trust in the reliability of the data.
- No single company can curate, moderate, prioritise, or filter the data in a blockchain. As there is no single owner of the data, no one can manipulate how the data is consumed by users. This means there are no data power brokers, such as social media companies, that control and manage the information that is shared.
In short, blockchain encourages trust in data and its source by making all transactions transparent and data verifiable.
Blockchain is similar to the IP transportation infrastructure of the internet—there is no single owner of the communications backbone of the internet. There are companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, and NTT Communications, that contribute to the backbone.
But there is no single owner that can isolate, filter, or block internet traffic completely. Even powerful countries that want to block parts of the internet from their citizens, such as China and Russia, find the job to be a constant struggle. All it takes is a new, unfiltered provider to create a new communications path and all the filtering is worthless.
Blockchain will accomplish for internet data what the internet backbone has accomplished for disseminating information. It will create a trusted, unfilterable, uncensorable repository of data and information that is accessible worldwide. It is this characteristic that will drive the creation of the third generation of the internet.
And this is why the blockchain is the future of the internet.
What blockchain means for enterprises
The most obvious piece of advice is to learn and understand as much as you can about blockchain. Please don’t confuse blockchain with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Bitcoin uses a blockchain, but blockchain is not Bitcoin. The value of blockchain goes far beyond the initial implementation used by cryptocurrencies.
Next, realise that blockchain is not just a technology, but a fundamentally new way to think about data that will create a new iteration of the internet. It is as fundamental to data as the internet backbone is to information transmission.
As you start thinking about your future application architectures, keep blockchain in mind. Blockchain will be as important to the next generation of internet applications as the public cloud, microservice architectures, and devops are to the current generation. Make sure you consider the influence of blockchain in all of your application architecture plans for current and future applications.