The web as we know it today is largely centralized, with a handful of big tech companies dominating the space. But this wasn’t always the case. The internet and the world wide web were initially built on a number of open application protocols that were decentralized, enabling collaboration and innovation. These protocols included HTTP for transmitting documents, FTP for file transfer, SMTP, IMAP and POP3 for email, IRC and XMPP for chat, and DNS for mapping computer names to IP addresses, among others.
However, with the emergence of Web2, cloud and smartphone technologies, many of these protocols were abstracted away, and instead, we have HTTP and DNS still widely used, with other protocols becoming less and less relevant. This shift towards centralized web-based equivalence services was accelerated in Web2, with big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Slack dominating the space.
The shift away from the core application protocols of the web was driven by a number of factors, including the emergence of smartphones, which changed what it meant to be a client on the web. Unlike desktops, smartphones approached the online experience from an app-first perspective, with apps created for specific platforms like Android or iOS. This shift in focus was bad for the open standards of the web, with HTML5, the dominant markup language of the web, challenged by native smartphone app development frameworks.
The same playbook could well play out with Web3 if we’re not careful. Web3 has its own decentralized structures and protocols, like standards such as ERC-20 for tokens, ERC-721 for non-fungible tokens, and the Interplanetary File System decentralized storage network. But the bigger question is if down the line we’ll see a similar disregard for the core protocols of Web3.
To ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, it pays to take heed from the lessons of the past. One hopes that the open protocols and applications of Web3 thrive, as if they remain the dominant platforms in this new era, Web3 will have managed to live up to its expectations. Perhaps we will see something in the wearables or AR/VR segments that disrupts the space in a positive way, or maybe Web3 will continue to innovate and avoid the pitfalls of centralization. Only time will tell.