Today’s internet is predicated upon the rise of user-generated content and applications. The advent of social media, online publishing platforms and other tools — collectively referred to as Web2 — makes it easy for individuals and organizations to share content and web experiences with their audience.
However, this accessible, democratic approach is not all encompassing. When it comes to hosting web applications, a person or organization who wants to launch one is limited when it comes to storage and rollout.
New technologies like the blockchain are removing those limitations and catalysing a shift to a more decentralized Internet, which holds intriguing implications for security, privacy, and reliability.
What is Web3 and how does it work?
Web3 is a distributed network with no central authorities or single point of failure. It will be an intelligent internet that understands everything a user conveys in both content and context. It will be able to process information intelligently through the interconnection and decentralisation of data across networks that operate through decentralised protocols.
Blockchain will be key to helping decentralize the internet’s infrastructure and applications, altering data flows and centralising information.
While cryptocurrency is the most popular use for blockchain currently, the technology offers the potential to serve a host of other applications and disrupt nearly every vertical and industry. Apart from Bitcoin, purportedly the originator of the blockchain, the other blockchain that is more attuned to advancing Web3 is Ethereum.
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According to Consensys, “Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source, and distributed computing platform that enables the creation of smart contracts and decentralized applications.” There are differences between both the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and store of value solely intended for transactional purposes. Ethereum, can also be used for transactions, but is able to enable decentralised apps, or dApps – computer applications that run on a decentralised computing system.
The Ethereum blockchain is thought to be the ideal open and trustless platform to serve as the infrastructure of a decentralized Internet. With the likes of Ethereum driving the onset of Web3, the world could see a new, intelligent Internet powered by blockchain. This will result in an online experience that is more powerful, tailored to user needs and will revolutionise the confluence of the Internet, applications, and the physical world. This will bring about huge improvements in terms of privacy and security thanks to the decentralisation of data and privacy-preserving cryptographic and computational techniques.
The current predicament
When an individual or organization wishes to launch a web application, they have limited options as to where it can be hosted.
The application could reside in a private, on-premise server or data center if it has few users and takes up limited bandwidth. When bandwidth requirements increase — or if organisations want to provide the fast, secure experience today’s discerning consumers demand, cloud hosting is usually the most economical choice.
Cloud hosting offers performance, security, and flexibility benefits over hosting on-premise. However, the centralisation of data in a select few cloud providers also creates challenges. These include:
- Loss of control over data: Hosting web application data on third-party servers technically gives an organization less control over that data. This can become a problem when cloud providers are legally compelled to provide governments and law enforcement agencies with access to private data, or if a provider suffers a data breach.
- Performance risks for global audiences: Cloud providers operate a relatively limited number of massive data centers, and cloud users often must choose which geographic region their application will live in. If an application’s users are far from its servers, they may experience latency due to the traffic’s long journey.
- Vendor lock-in: Migrating from one cloud service to another can be extremely challenging. Should the cloud vendor’s service quality decline — or should it institute unfair pricing policies — organizations may struggle to find a better alternative.
While these challenges may deter would be cloud users, they also warrant the consideration of a new model of internet – a decentralised one that is powered by technologies like the blockchain, also known as Web3.
Challenges to Web3
There will be key hurdles to overcome before Web3 can reach critical mass and provide value to users. Issues remain with decentralised networks that are impeding the rise of Web3, including speed and scale.
Despite providing better security, the decentralised web is currently much slower than the centralized web due to the need for authentication nodes. While a centralised app can process an incredible amount of requests at one time, a decentralized app lacks that same capacity to do so.
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Scalability is also an ongoing issue. Because the Ethereum Network is made up and secured by over 8,000 nodes, every transaction must be processed by all nodes. This can lead to network congestion and is a significant limiting factor in Ethereum’s ability to handle enterprise-grade applications. There are efforts afoot to help scale Ethereum, but if it is to become the backbone of the decentralized web, solutions for scaling, speed and privacy must be developed.
Benefits of Web3
Once we’ve solved the challenges impeding Web3 adoption, we will have viable and impactful solutions to some of the Internet’s most persistent problems. For example, while the centralised apps of today can experience downtime for any number of reasons, dApps and Web3 servers promise to be more resilient with a much-reduced risk of downtime as they will be run on Ethereum’s decentralised network of tens of thousands of computers. With greater adoption and increasing network effects, the reliability of the Web3 internet will continually improve.
On the security front, Web3 will eradicate the volume and efficacy of DDoS attacks experienced today. With the peer-to-peer networks that secure the Ethereum blockchain rather than centralised servers, bad actors will not have the same ability to disrupt Internet services as easily as they can now. There will no longer be single points of failure, allowing the network to function as normal regardless of participants being attacked or eliminated.
Latency, scale, and reliability still impede the transition to Web3. Organizations focused on improving the Internet will help address these problems and spark greater adoption of dApps and the decentralised web. As adoption rises, the network effect will continue to amplify the benefits of Web 3 and drive even further adoption.
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Currently, interacting with the Ethereum network is difficult and requires running complex software, including downloading and cryptographically verifying massive amounts of data, which creates technical barriers and can preclude those with low-power devices. As Web3 gains further adoption, companies and innovators must continue to help lower the accessibility barriers of users who want to participate.
Fernando Serto is the chief technologist and evangelist for Asia Pacific, Japan, and China at Cloudflare, and has been in the IT industry for almost two decades, starting his early career as a developer, transitioning to Infrastructure roles in the server, application and networking space in both operations and professional services, with a focus on security. For the last decade, Fernando has been focused on resolving customer challenges and evangelising new technologies in the application performance and security areas. Fernando has also spent a number of years working for a major telco in Asia Pacific, specializing in WAN, cloud, security and media solutions.