What is Web5, where is Web4 and what would be the recently announced initiative by Block subsidiary TBD to create a new layer of decentralization on top of the Web.
On June 10, many were surprised by the news that TBD, a subsidiary of Block, Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey, announced the launch of the Web5 platform. Web 1, 2, 3 and now Web 5? But where is Web 4? Those who don’t care about number sequences can just downloaded Web 7.
But first, so that no one gets behind in understanding this article, let’s quickly talk about the stages of Web evolution. If you already know the subject, you can skip to the next topic.
From the static web to the collaborative web
In the beginning, there was what we now call Web1, at that time simply known as the web. At this stage, the first websites, portals and online services were developed, and users could only read the information, without the chance of direct interaction. As no interaction was possible between users. Those who accessed the web just consumed the content made available in a web of one-way communication and, for this reason, Web1 was also called “Static Web.”
With the evolution of Web support technologies, Web2 gradually arrived with the emergence and proliferation of social networks and all the applications such as blogs, forums and podcasts that made new forms of participative communication possible.
In fact, due to the development of these new tools, users began to communicate with each other and share their own content. In this step, the user who was once just a passive actor, became the holder of the creation and management of online content, building new processes and interactions, which is why Web 2 has been dubbed the “Collaborative Web.”
When did Web3 emerge?
Just like the other stages of the web, it is difficult to pinpoint when Web3 was born. This is because Web development is a process and, as such, has no set start date. But, many argue that the idea of Web3 emerged around 2006, although the term Web3 was only coined in 2014 by Gavin Wood. It is supposed to be the next step of the internet. And, I say supposedly, because it is still in its infancy and therefore there is still no certainty of what the next stage of the Web will really be.
Note that there is no single creator of Web3. It is being developed as a collaboration of different individuals and organizations building upon each other. But, overall, those involved in smart contract platforms on blockchains such as Ethereum, EOS and TRON are the ones who are admittedly leading the way in building Web3.
It’s important to note here is that one of the most popular programming libraries used to write Ethereum code is called web3.js. And there is also a foundation, the Web3 Foundation, which is run by the founders of the Polkadot network.
Broadly speaking, the main goal of Web3 is to try to solve the biggest problem of Web2: the collection of personal data by private networks that enable surveillance capitalism, a true marketplace of future behavior.
And for this, Web3 has as its main focus of innovation to be a web of decentralized networks, not controlled by any one entity, formed by platforms that use consensus mechanisms that everyone can trust. In it, decentralized applications (DApps) would be built on top of open networks, and no entity would be able to collect data without the user’s consent, nor limit or censor anyone’s access. That is, as extracted from the Web3 Foundation’s own website, Web3 has a mission to create “a decentralized and fair internet where users control their own data, identity and destiny.”
The second focus of innovation promised by the Web3 developers is that these decentralized networks would enable the value or “money” of the internet to be transferred directly between users’ accounts, without intermediaries. And, these two features — decentralization and internet money — are still in their early stages, are the keys to understanding Web3.
However, many critics have expressed concerns about the current Web3 such as its dependence on funding from Venture Capitalists like Andreessen Horowitz, which would compromise its main focus of innovation — providing the user with a truly decentralized web.
Well, now that everyone is on the same page, let’s clarify what has certainly become the question of many after Jack Dorsey said that “Web 5” powered by Bitcoin will replace Web3.
Web4 is gone?
After Web3 — the term encompasses all the blockchain and decentralized technologies being built around the world — the next stage of the Web is not really a new version but is an alternative version of what we already have (Web2) or are already building (Web3).
Web4, also known as “Mobile Web,” is one that has the necessary infrastructure to adapt to the mobile environment. Imagine a web that connects all mobile devices in the real and virtual world in real-time.
Well, Web4 enables mobility and voice interaction between the user and the robots. If the focus in previous websites was on the user interacting with the internet by being in front of the desktop and in front of the computer, the focus of Web4 is on enabling the user to use and distribute information regardless of location via mobile devices.
Therefore, Web4 changes the relationship between humans and robots, which will have a symbiotic interaction. In this fourth stage of the Web, humans will have constant access to robots, and everyday life will become increasingly dependent on machines.
“Web5,” or the “Emotional Web”
Although many only heard of Web5 for the first time when headlines reported Jack Dorsey’s statement, the fact is that the term is not new.
To get an idea, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, gave a lecture at TED Talks in 2009 in which he already talked about Web5: “Open, connected, intelligent Web,” which he called the Emotional Web.
According to the creator of the web himself, the Web5 would be the Emotional Web. Actually, the true form of Web5 is still forming, and according to the signs we have so far, this web also known as the Symbiotic Web will be an interconnected network that communicates with us as we communicate with each other (like a personal assistant).
This Web will be very powerful and totally run on (emotional) interaction between humans and computers. Interaction will become a daily habit for many people based on neurotechnology. Here it is worth mentioning that despite surveillance capitalism, currently Web2 “itself” is “emotionally” neutral, meaning that it does not perceive users’ feelings and emotions. Now, with Web5 proposing to be an emotional web, this may change in the future. An example of this is WeFeelFine, an organization that maps people’s emotions through headphones.
Along these lines, in Tim Berners-Lee’s Web5, users will interact with content that interacts with their emotions or facial recognition changes. In this context, it seems that the “Web5,” announced by Jack Dorsey, has nothing to do with the Emotional or Symbiotic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee in 2009.
What Jack Dorsey’s Web5 is all about
TBD, a subsidiary within Block (formerly known as Square), was founded in July 2021 with the goal of creating “an open platform for developers” focused on decentralized finance (DeFi) and Bitcoin (BTC). Now TBD has its first goal to build “Web 5: an Extra Decentralized Web platform,” where users will have full control of their own data.
“This will probably be our most important contribution to the Internet. Proud of the team. (“Rest in Peace, Web3 Investors),” Dorsey said in a tweet on the morning of June 10. According to TBD’s presentation on Web5, the internet’s main problem is the lack of an “identity” layer: “In the current Web, identity and personal data are turned into the property of third parties,” and this is why Web5 will focus on decentralizing identity, data storage, as well as its applications.
TDB also claims that it will create an extra decentralized Web platform to solve this problem.
Much of what is dismissively referred to as “false promis” by critics of Web3 seems much more challenging to achieve with Bitcoin alone — at least for now. Bitcoin’s decentralization and priority to cybersecurity come at the expense of storage space, and, above all, transaction speed — although the advances brought by the Lightning Network are promising.
In addition, some Web3 features already seem possible through layers built on top of Bitcoin. Hiro is building smart contracts using Bitcoin. Stacks was created to enable DeFi, nonfungible tokens (NFTs), apps and smart contracts in Bitcoin. Not to mention that since 2012, the equivalent of NFTs and ERC-20 tokens already exist on the Bitcoin blockchain in the form of colored coins.
Also, there are already decentralized identity solutions based on decentralized identifiers (DIDs) on Web3, such as the one developed in the Identity Overlay Network (ION) that is built using the Sidetree Protocol on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. Add to this the fact that it is unclear what alternative routes will be used for funding and building Dorsey’s new version of Web3.
Will this new attempt by TBD to create a decentralized layer on top of the Web via the Bitcoin blockchain solve current concerns about Web3?
Of course, the more initiatives focused on achieving a decentralized web, the better for users. But, what is essential here is that such initiatives can bring together all the technical and financial resources and bright people who are committed to the hard work and effort needed to make the decentralized web happen.
The future is a process, not a destination.