One of the most distinguishing features of "web3" is the sheer level of handwaviness surrounding it. While you can find no end of press releases, crypto evangelists on Twitter, and venture capitalists extolling the virtues of web3, you will have a much harder time finding any definition that's not so full of buzzwords that it becomes meaningless. That's because "web3" is first and foremost a marketing term.
Generally speaking, "web3" is an umbrella term to refer to the "future of the Internet", which believers say will be decentralized and based on the blockchain. Proponents tend to tout how data won't be controlled by "Big Tech", and how it will be uncensorable and egalitarian. There is, however, no shortage of examples in this timeline of how many "web3" projects are indeed centralized in similar ways to Big Tech, as well as instances where "uncensorable" or "unmodifiable" platforms have removed or modified data.
Skeptics of web3 tend to point out that decentralization was a founding tenet of the Internet and is not something that is only (or best) achieved with a blockchain. They also tend to point out the enormous environmental impacts of blockchain technology (particularly proof-of-work blockchains, including Bitcoin and until recently Ethereum). They also often mention that an awful lot of web3 projects sound quite a bit like Ponzi or pyramid schemes, and question the lack of regulation, oversight, and taxation that makes fraud, tax evasion, and other criminal behavior particularly rampant in the space.
Ideas described as web3 tend to incorporate some of the following:
- various cryptocurrencies
- decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs)
- decentralized finance (DeFi)
- non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
- smart contracts
This is intended to be a brief overview of the concept rather than a long explainer or opinion piece, so here are some resources where you can learn more if you are looking for those kinds of things:
- Web3 on Wikipedia
- "Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs" by Dan Olson (video)
- "Web3.0: A Libertarian Dystopia" by münecat (video).
- "Why it's too early to get excited about Web3" by Tim O'Reilly
- "Notes on Web3" by Robin Sloan
- "The Third Web" by tante
- "The Web3 Fraud" by Nicholas Weaver
- "Web3: A Map in Search of Territory" by Evgeny Morozov
- "My first impressions of web3" by Moxie Marlinspike
Cryptocurrencies and blockchains more broadly
- Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain by David Gerard (book)
- Slides and transcript or video of David S. H. Rosenthal's talk to Stanford EE Computer Systems students
- Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies: Burn It With Fire lecture by Nicholas Weaver (video)
- "The Inevitability of Trusted Third Parties" by Cory Doctorow