Audi Corniche host:
There is a growing movement among crypto enthusiasts who say that the internet will look a lot different in the future. People will not rely so much on the big players like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The movement is called Web3, short for Web 3.0. To help us understand this, NPR tech correspondent Bobby Allen joined us. And, Bobby, first, give us a better idea of how this all works.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yes. Well, to answer that, I think we have to go back a few steps. So the early days of the internet are known as Web 1.0 – right? – The era of dial-up, AOL, GeoCities, CompuServe, also known as the Stone Age, right? Then came Web 2.0 with social networks and search engines like Facebook and Google. Over time, as we all know, these companies have become enormous, and now it is difficult to use the Internet without them. That’s when this new traffic comes along, Web3, saying, let’s build a whole new internet that doesn’t need these tech giants where, you know, new social media sites and search engines are being built that don’t track our data.
I spoke to Matt Dreyhurst. He teaches on the New York University campus in Berlin, and says the Web3 movement is about having regular people like you and me, Audi, a piece of the internet along with Mark Zuckerberg in the world.
Matt Dreyhurst: There’s a small group of people who kind of own all of this stuff, and then there’s us who use it. And despite the fact that we clearly contribute to the success of these platforms, we have nothing to show for that.
ALLYN: Right. He says that Web3 is about having a stake in the sites we own — kind of like being a contributor — so, you know, we all have a say in how those platforms work.
Cornish: Are the big tech companies going to make their money in this environment? I mean how will it work?
ALLYN: Yeah, it gets a little wonky when you get into the details, so just try to bear with me, Odie. As you know, all of our favorite sites, according to this idea, will move to what is known as the blockchain. Do not adjust now. Blockchains support cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. It’s basically like a bunch of different computers around the world keeping track of our data. The idea is somewhat similar to how Wikipedia is maintained by not just one person but many people at once.
So imagine, instead of going to Google to try to find something online, you go to that other site. Rather than being powered by a set of servers owned by Google, this search will be on the blockchain. In plain English, it’s a bunch of different servers around the world – they create a record that can’t be changed. It is not owned by a single company. It is collectively owned by all. And these advocates say you’ll want to use these sites because we’ll all be part-owners of them. Every time you make a decision, you can vote on it. And every time this company makes money, you can earn some cash.
Cornish: What makes this concept so prevalent?
ALLYN: Right. So it’s hard to say now. There are many naysayers. And I think listeners might know why – because it might sound kind of like a bunch of tech-savvy people. Are you really going to take the offers? There’s just a bunch of bullshit, right? However, Audi, people take this very seriously. I was recently at a tech conference in Lisbon, and about half of the sessions were about Web3. The major social media companies have teams here in Silicon Valley dedicated to Web3. If you’re a really cool tech person, Audie, what you do to show it these days is put Web3 on your Twitter bio. Will that ever happen? We’ll just have to wait and see, but that’s the only thing people here in Silicon Valley are talking about.
CORNISH: This is NPR technical reporter Bobby Allen.
Thank you so much.
ALLYN: Thanks, Audi.
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