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Ifrah Law on Web3: Origins of the Web

Ifrah Law on Web3: Origins of the Web

April 17, 2023

Ifrah Law on Web3: Origins of the Web

By: Jake Gray

In parts (1) and (2) of this series, we’ll cover the basics of the Web and aspects of its technical history up to the present, and then discuss how Web3 technologists are trying to revolutionize the Web in its current iteration by solving its characteristic problems, respectively.

In the following parts, (3) and (4), we’ll survey a popular Web3 sub-industry—gaming—and learn more about an entity specific to Web3, the decentralized autonomous organization (“DAO”). Specifically, in (3), we’ll discuss how and the extent to which the Web3 gaming industry diverges from its current non-Web3 counterpart. And in (4), we’ll examine DAOs, their role in Web3, and their relationship with relevant statutes and regulations.

Web3 Confusion

Much buzz has surrounded the idea of a “Web3 Internet” since the colossal rise of the cryptocurrency and broader blockchain industry in 2020 and 2021. While those same industries today are facing a “crypto winter,” the crypto-equivalent to a bear market in which assets face a significant price downturn, the Web3 hype has waned little within the space. Enthusiasm may persist, but some criticize the movement as too amorphous to amount to more than a mere marketing tactic to bolster the cryptocurrency industry.

For instance, Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, and Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla (as well as current CEO of Twitter), have expressed such concerns even as crypto-enthusiasts themselves. Two days after the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Jack Dorsey and the Unlikely Revolutionaries Who Want to Reboot the Internet”—which cited a tech elite who want to “bring the Web back to its idealist origins” with a vision called “Web3”—Dorsey clarified that he has “nothing to do with Web3.” He insisted that, “You don’t own “web3…The [Venture Capitalists] and their [Limited Partners] do. It will never escape their incentives. It’s ultimately a centralized entity with a different label.” [1] [2] [3] Dorsey’s tweets come around a day after Elon Musk tweeted that the term “seems more marketing buzzword than reality right now,” although he clarified he wasn’t sure what the future held. [4]

The underlying problem behind such criticisms is the obscurity in discussions of Web3—a lack of clarity regarding its definition, its characteristic features, the problems it solves, and so on. Indeed, discussions of Web3 typically revolve around exemplary new technologies and their “potential to disrupt” their respective industries rather than the idea of Web3 itself. In effect, Web3 is rendered cryptic to those not affiliated with the space and it struggles to get off the ground. So, let’s get clear: what is Web3, actually?

The Internet and the World Wide Web

To begin with, let’s differentiate between the Internet and the Web, since they describe two different yet practically intertwined things, which are often colloquially equated to one another. It’s important to understand their difference on a rudimentary level if only to better understand Web3 in so doing.

The “Web” shorthand, or “world wide web” longhand, refers to an application layer protocol for the collection, storage, and sharing of information—comprised of documents and other web resources—to be executed or transmitted through and by the Internet.[5] Simply put, the Web is a medium or method for storing and sharing information across an interconnected network of computers, this network which we call the Inter(-)net. So, the Web is a standardized platform for creating and accessing web resources, and the Internet is the network on which it’s built and through which the information is communicated.

To visit a resource housed on the Web, you visit its web address, otherwise known as its URL (short for uniform resource locator). The “www.” in a URL lets the Internet know that what you’re trying to access is on the world wide web and everything after specifies where it is therein. “www.” is like a ZIP code.

It’s important to note, however, that the Internet does more than house the Web—not every Internet-accessible resource is housed on the world wide web (although they may rely on web resources). In any case, if you don’t need the Internet to access it, then it’s not on the web; if you do need Internet access, then it may be on the web, depending on whether it has a web address.

So, the Web is a standardized medium for the dissemination of information through the Internet. And when people refer to the Web, they’re typically discussing the resources on it. Then, what are the versions of the Web—Web1.0, Web2.0, and Web3.0—to which people now constantly refer?

The Introduction of Web2.0

The term “Web2.0” was first introduced by Darcy DiNucci in in her January 1999 article “Fragmented Future” in Print Magazine:

Even your grandmother can recognize a Web page by its typical brochure-like displays of Times or Arial text, eye-grabbing graphics, and highlighted hyper-links….Today’s Web [Web 1.0] is essentially a prototype—a proof of concept. This concept of interactive content universally accessible through a standard interface has proved so successful that a new industry is set on transforming it, capitalizing on all its powerful possibilities. The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens.

Indeed, Web 1.0 is (or was) characterized by essentially static, relatively non-interactable web pages of pre-written information—little user-input, little user-generated content, mostly read-only text documents. Think of Word documents with better style customizations.

Prior to “Web 2.0,” users could interact with websites, for instance, by providing feedback via a “guestbook,” a sub-page hosted specifically for users to write comments, or via a form that would open an email client (mailto: forms). But the process was slow, and thus, quite tedious to implement and use, and so, not very common.

DiNucci was right—the Web did eventually transform into the prophesied Web 2.0 as the “ether through which interactivity happens.” Though, the Web’s method and the medium itself didn’t change much at all—technology improved and allowed for more sophistication. Several innovations such as AJAX and JavaScript web-development frameworks, among others, allowed users to interact with web pages in meaningful ways without slow data-requests or the need to refresh, both of which were characteristic of “Web1.0” sites.

As a result, web pages could be developed in a such a way that users could easily and maintainably interact with the content or create the content themselves. There are a few paradigmatic Web2.0 websites: Wikipedia, YouTube, and eBay. All three websites thrived because they privileged user’s capacities to contribute to the site’s content and ensured that doing so was easy and intuitive. Wikipedia is, for instance, well-known for being an entirely user-generated and user-edited encyclopedia. YouTube relies on user-generated content for its public video-hosting platform as well as user-feedback like comments, likes, and dislikes to keep users engaged beyond merely watching videos. eBay is a virtual auction house where its users can buy and sell physical items among each other.

The problem solved by “Web2.0” innovations was the uni-directional nature of Web1.0 sites, in which information was transmitted from a platform to its readers and rarely ever in the other direction. In effect, Web2.0 innovations effected the proliferation of the Web ecosystem itself because now anyone could directly participate on a platform by merely having Internet access. Instead of relatively dispersed, faintly connected websites, the web transformed into vastly interconnected, interdependent, and centralized hubs of social interaction.

Web2.0’s Issues Briefly

Web2.0 obviated the need for a personal website to participate on the Web. For instance, although creating a personal website has never been easier, as it requires little technical expertise, most websites today, at least on the basis of visits, consist of larger businesses or projects. Web surfers generally stick to more central platforms on the web, like social media, and have no overriding need for their own site that would outweigh the ease of using other platforms to create their own content or platform.

While transition from Web1.0 to Web 2.0 effectively expanded the reach of the Web, new issues emerged as older ones resolved.

In order to allow users to develop content on their platform, technology companies developed internal protocols to facilitate that process. Broadly speaking, such protocols require the development of standards for user account creation and deletion, content moderation, data management, and privacy settings alongside general product management. A critical aspect of this dynamic is that users have no say in the production of those protocols, nor are they (completely) open to the public for either use or inspection, because they are owned and controlled by the company whose platform it is—users can only choose whether to consent to them in the terms and conditions.

Another way to describe this picture is that because Web2.0 platforms are centralized, as they are owned by companies who act as the (sole) decision-making entity, they are not categorically bound by any transparency or direct accountability to their users. This has led to an array of issues in the realms of data privacy and security, content moderation, and alleged anti-competitive practices by technology companies.

For instance, Web2.0 is often criticized for the widespread practice of enabling companies to package and sell their users’ data to the highest bidder. In 2011, Robert Gehl of the University of Utah described this practice well, in his paper titled “The archive and the processor: The internal logic of Web 2.0.” Therein he wrote:

…the archival possibilities of computers are typically commanded by Web 2.0 site owners. They surveil every action of users, store the resulting data, protect it via artificial barriers such as intellectual property, and mine it for profit…Due to many sites’ Terms of Service agreements, users cannot control these archives…[6]

Because Web2.0 site owners dictate their own protocols and terms of service, they retain unilateral control over user-produced content via intellectual property rights, which thereby impels companies to increase surveillance over their users to collect and sell more data. The issue has become a staple in discussions surrounding “Big Tech” companies like Alphabet (formerly Google), Meta (formerly Facebook), and, more recently, ByteDance (owner of TikTok).

Web2.0 Issues Front and Center

Many US politicians—left and right alike—have homed in on Big Tech companies. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, for instance, ran her 2020 presidential campaign, in part, on a promise to “break up” the largest technology companies for their alleged anticompetitive and predatory data practices. [7] More recently, in mid-January, President Joe Biden published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Republicans and Democrats, Unite Against Big Tech Abuses,” in which he called for federal legislation to bolster statutory protection of privacy, competition, and children in the context of the technology. As indicated by President Biden’s op-ed, there have been growing concerns over the design of web resources and their effects on the development of children likely to access those resources. As we’ve written recently, last year California made history as the first state to enact legislation that punishes technology companies for violations of minors’ privacy and for practices that jeopardize minors’ safety in an effort to prioritize “the privacy, safety, and well-being of children over commercial interests.”

Also in January 2023, Republicans narrowed in on alleged censorship, introducing a bill that would stop federal officials from using “their authority or influence to promote censorship of speech or pressure social media companies to censor speech.” [8]

Government agencies are in on it, too. This January, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) sued Google for allegedly monopolizing digital advertising technologies. The DOJ said in its complaint that “over the past 15 years, Google has engaged in a course of anticompetitive and exclusionary conduct that consisted of neutralizing or eliminating ad tech competitors through acquisitions; wielding its dominance across digital advertising markets to force more publishers and advertisers to use its products; and thwarting the ability to use competing products.” [9] The lawsuit follows a similar suit by the DOJ filed in 2020 wherein the Department filed a civil antitrust suit against Google for monopolizing search and search advertising, which are different markets from the digital advertising technology markets at issue in the 2023 lawsuit.

Issues like these are the sort of which Web3.0 enthusiasts purport Web3.0 will solve, namely, by restoring the Web to its decentralized origins. In the next part of this series, we’ll explore how Web3.0 attempts to substantiate such claims.






[5] This word, “protocol,” is an important one that will come up later in the series, so keep it in mind; in broad computer science terms, protocol is defined to mean a set of rules or an agreement about the handling of data or information.





Jake Gray

Jake Gray

Jake Gray is a graduate of Columbia University and an established technology researcher, currently working in the betting and futures space as a consultant to a variety of operators. He frequently writes about online gaming and sports betting laws.

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