Juha Saarinen: We don’t need a third Web

OPINION:

Here’s an easy prediction for 2022: you’ll be hearing a huge amount about Web3 and how it will fix the problems with Web 2.0 which in turn replaced Web 1.0.

Sounds amazing, but in reality, beyond separating gullible people from their money, Web3 looks like a set of hollow promises that didn’t work out in the past and which are unlikely to be fulfilled in the immediate future.

For starters, Web3 is a silly name. There was never a Web 1.0 or 2.0 before it. That’s because from a technical perspective a Web-whatever segmentation in dramatically different eras doesn’t make sense.

Technology evolves to adapt to what users like and happily pay for, like doing their accounts, banking and buying stuff in a web browser. Oh, and streaming video and music, and putting their social lives online. Generally, it’s a cheap, fast and easy way to do business whether it’s selling goods and services, or you as the product. Some of it worked, but the path to that field of success is strewn with dead unicorns.

Even the internet has changed to accommodate that user and business driven evolution. We now have superfast broadband connections that connect to content delivery networks and infinitely scalable cloud computing resources that are close to users for the best user experience.

That’s before we get into software applications for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Do we even have a web anymore, the way its inventor Tim Berners-Lee dub dub dub defined it?

You might wonder what Web3 will bring to today’s trillion-dollar, multi-faceted industry that continues to evolve to keep up with new ideas and uses.

Web3 is only vaguely defined, but it comes with a dollop of crypto-currency, blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and a promise to break up the power of the current tech titans and pass it back to users.

It’s decentralisation, baby. That is the station where libertarians with money to burn board the Web3 train.

Decentralised financial power is promised via cryptocurrencies, which I’ve struggled to see as anything but a highly impractical pyramid scheme in the past.

I have to take that back: cryptocurrencies have been instrumental in enabling the ransomware industry that brings in tens of billions of dollars to its operators each year.

Creating a new sector like that is real innovation, and it goes beyond shifting illicitly obtained funds around: some ransomware like Cerber and Glupteba have survived for years by using information stored in the public immutable blockchain database to keep their infrastructure alive.

Glupteba was first spotted in 2011, and several of its operators were arrested this year, but the malware isn’t going away because that’s what immutable means.

Similarly, imagine if you make a mistake or are defrauded on an immutable system like blockchain. Those transactions are forever, and the “funds” can’t be returned, unless of course you can roll back the blockchain to a stage before the bad stuff happens.

Which happened with the Ethereum currency in 2016, when a “decentralised autonomous organisation” (DAO) was hacked and tens of millions of dollars disappeared. The ETH developers undid that with a roll back or hard fork of the ETH blockchain which is pretty weak decentralisation really.

Meanwhile, the most popular blockchains use a shocking amount of electricity to provide slow and costly transactions because, in a decentralised system like that, everyone has a copy of the database and needs to agree on which version is the right one.

Web3 also promises to integrate NFTs which are bizarre digital artefacts that can be traded and said to prove ownership, but which in reality don’t do any such thing and are a giant scammer’s delight.

There’s nothing to suggest currently that Web3 will be of any use to other people than short-term speculators.

Undoubtedly, lots of money will be sunk into Web3 next year and the tech will be accessible via web browsers and apps.

Make sure it’s not your money though that goes into Web3. Leave the Web3 investments for those who can afford to lose their money, be it real or virtual. When the dust settles, you get to look up their fiscal fiascos on the blockchain anyway.

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