The internet is fascinating.
I mean, thanks to this invention, I can chat with you right now.
But it hasn't always been this way, how we’ve come to know it today. It’s been through several iterations which are still ongoing. The latest is Web3.
A term that has gone mainstream, tech enthusiasts are sorta kinda freaking out about it.
But what does it really mean? And why should we care? Isn’t this reserved for technical computer bros anyway?
To understand this, we need to take a quick step back into the time machine. At a time when we could only access the internet through neighbourhood cyber cafes and watching a 5-minute video took almost 2 hours due to buffering. Or perhaps even farther than that.
Let’s go back to when the internet first began:
Let’s establish this foundation first:
The internet is simply the connection of computer networks to one another, around the world.
It’s why I can talk to Seun from her mobile computer (aka phone) in Germany or see what Laolu posted from his computer in London.
Although the internet was originally in the works since the 1960s, it wasn't until 30 years later that it became available to the public. Prior to this, it was just used for research purposes by the government.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the government’s preferred computer network. These early computers were huge, immobile and the connection wasn't optimal.
For example, the first piece of information sent from one computer to the other was between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Stanford University. Although the word “LOGIN” was sent, only “LO” was received.
But that was more than enough to show that we had stumbled on something as monumental as the moon landing that same year.
However, the internet didn't come into Africa as a whole till 1995, and Nigeria till 1996. Nil Quaynor, a Ghanaian professor known as the African Father of the Internet, helped to establish some of the initial online connections on the continent.
This phase was eventually dubbed Web 1.
But perhaps we could do better.
Web 2, also known as the participative social web, is what we currently use.
The difference is that while Web 1 was company-based, Web 2 was community-based and emphasised user-generated content.
And with the introduction of smartphones, it was a match made in content heaven.
For the first time, users could actively participate in what appeared on their screens — either by engaging through interacting or by making TikToks, for example. The centralised companies no longer had a monopoly over content, in fact, they welcomed it. Twitter, for instance, would be very bland if not for the people that actively tweet and retweet.
But there was still a loophole being exploited by the companies hosting these sites. It appeared they had only outsourced the creation part without giving up the profits and ownership. Users didn’t have full control over their data. In fact, if they could be chucked out at any moment based on ever-changing Terms and Conditions.
And so, another idea was posited.
What if users could also own their data?
With Web 3, your data lives on the blockchain.
The arrival of blockchain technology has brought about a lot of possibilities. One of which is how it provides ownership in a unique way.
In current internet practices, you can fume and grumble about a social media site, for example, but that’s really the most you can do. The alternative is to delete your account and carry your business elsewhere. But if you’re a seasoned YouTuber with thousands of subscribers, who are disgruntled with whatever Terms and Conditions flavour-of-the-week the platform has come up with, that’s not really an easy decision to make.
Web3 solves this by making data “portable”.
This is huge.
It also might be a bit hard to imagine but in a more practical sense, this means that you could carry and transfer data, even across enabled platforms. The blockchain could enable this via digital tokens owned.
When we spoke earlier about NFTs, I mentioned their use case in gaming. In this scenario, it means an item purchased as an NFT within the blockchain for one game can be used in another.
As I’ve alluded to, this could also translate to social media accounts. Whereas data such as username, content shared so far and follower count has to be manually transferred one by one, this no longer will be the case.
But beyond this, information will also be processed in a more human-like intuitive manner, enhancing the overall user experience.
Great as this might all sound, it’s not all roses though.
Apart from a difficulty to scale and a current lack of widespread accessibility, Web3 has a technical barrier when it comes to mainstream use. It’s not necessarily difficult, just different. And it will take a while to catch on.
But this shouldn't deter us from this opportunity.
An opportunity that blockchain enthusiast Keith Mali Chung believes Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, shouldn't miss out on.
“Nigeria/Africa missed out on the Internet/Web2 Revolution which is why there are no social media or African Tech Powerhouses like Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Meta as it’s been rebranded,” — Keith Chung
Perhaps only time will tell.
If you were to ask — who invented the internet — the answer would be complicated. The evolution of the internet has been a network of efforts (pun absolutely intended).
Web3 will not solve all of the internet’s current problems but what a difference it would make. It’s wild to realise that we haven't even scratched the surface of what the internet can be.
I’m looking forward to what’s to come.
Luckily for us, the revolution will be televised.