AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There’s a growing movement among cryptocurrency fans who say the internet will look a lot different in the future. People won’t be relying as much on big players like Facebook, Google and Amazon. And the movement is called Web3, short for Web 3.0. To help us understand this, we’re joined by NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. And, Bobby, first, give us a better sense of how this all will work.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, to answer that, I think we should take a few steps back. So the very early days of the internet are known as Web 1.0 – right? – the era of dial-up, AOL, GeoCities, CompuServe, aka 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 became enormous, and it’s now hard to use the internet without them. That’s when this new movement, Web3, comes in. It says, let’s build a brand-new internet that doesn’t need these tech giants where, you know, new social media sites and search engines are created that are not tracking our data.
I talked to Mat Dryhurst. He teaches at NYU’s campus in Berlin, and he says the Web3 movement is about having regular people like you and me, Audie, own a piece of the internet along with the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
MAT DRYHURST: There’s a small group of people who kind of own all this stuff, and then there’s us who use it. And despite the fact that we contribute, quite obviously, to the success of these platforms, we don’t really have anything to show for it.
ALLYN: Right. He’s saying that Web3 is about owning a stake in the sites that we own – kind of like being a shareholder – so that, you know, we all have a say in how these platforms operate.
CORNISH: Are big tech companies going to get a run for their money in this environment? I mean, how would it work?
ALLYN: Yeah, so it gets a little wonky when you get into the details, so just try to bear with me, Audie. You know, all of our favorite sites, according to this idea, would move to what’s known as the blockchain. And don’t tune out just yet. Blockchains support cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It’s basically like a bunch of different computers all over the world keeping track of our data. The idea is kind of like how Wikipedia is maintained by not just one person but lots of people at once.
So imagine, instead of going to Google to try to find something online, you might go to this other site. And instead of being powered by a bunch of servers owned by Google, this search would be on the blockchain. In plain English, it’s that a bunch of different servers around the world – it creates a record that cannot be changed. And it’s not owned by one company. It’s owned collectively by everyone. And these advocates say you’ll want to use these sites because we’ll all be partial owners of them. Every time it makes a decision, you can vote on it. And every time this company makes money, you can earn some cash.
CORNISH: What would take the concept mainstream?
ALLYN: Right. So it’s hard to say right now. There’s plenty of naysayers. And I think listeners might know why – because it might just kind of sound like a bunch of technobabble. Is it really going to take offers? There’s just a bunch of nonsense, right? And yet, Audie, people are really taking this seriously. I was recently at a tech conference in Lisbon, and about half the sessions were about Web3. Major social media companies have teams out 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 to put Web3 in your Twitter bio. Is it ever going to come to pass? We’ll just have to wait and see, but it’s the only thing that people out here in Silicon Valley are buzzing about.
CORNISH: That’s NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn.
ALLYN: Thanks Audie.
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