Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 refer to successive iterations of the web, compared with the original Web 1.0 of the 1990s and early 2000s. Web 2.0 is the current version of the internet (a term often used interchangeably with the web) with which we are all familiar, while Web 3.0 represents its next phase.
Web refers to the World Wide Web (WWW), the internet’s core information retrieval system. The WWW initialism used to (and often still does) preface a web address and was one of the first characters typed into a web browser when searching for a specific resource online. Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee is credited with coining the term World Wide Web to refer to the global web of information and resources interconnected through hypertext links.1
Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 represent successive, advanced iterations of the original Web 1.0 of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Web 2.0 is the current version of the web with which we are all familiar, while Web 3.0 represents its next phase, which will be decentralized, open, and of greater utility.
Innovations such as smartphones, mobile internet access, and social networks have driven the exponential growth of Web 2.0.
Web 2.0 has disrupted sectors that fail to integrate the new web-based business model.
Defining features of Web 3.0 include decentralization; trustlessness and permissionlessness; artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; and connectivity and ubiquity.
Web 2.0 refers to a paradigm shift in how the internet is used. Over the past 15 to 20 years, the bland webpages of Web 1.0 have been completely replaced by Web 2.0’s interactivity, social connectivity, and user-generated content. Web 2.0 makes it possible for user-generated content to be viewed by millions of people around the world virtually in an instant; this unparalleled reach has led to an explosion of this type of content in recent years.
The exponential growth of Web 2.0 has been driven by key innovations such as mobile internet access and social networks, as well as the near-ubiquity of powerful mobile devices like iPhones and Android-powered devices. In the second decade of this millennium, these developments enabled the dominance of apps that greatly expanded online interactivity and utility—for example, Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Uber, WhatsApp, and YouTube, to name a few.
The phenomenal revenue growth of these dominant platforms has made many of the Web 2.0-centric companies—such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Netflix—among the world’s biggest companies by market capitalization (there is even an acronym for them: FAANG).
These applications have also spurred the growth of the gig economy, by enabling millions of people to earn income on a part-time or full-time basis by driving, renting their homes, delivering food and groceries, or selling goods and services online. Web 2.0 has also been tremendously disruptive to certain industries to the point of being an existential threat to some of them. These are sectors that have either failed to adapt to the new web-centric business model or been slow to do so, with retail, entertainment, media, and advertising among the hardest hit.
Web 3.0 represents the next iteration or phase of the evolution of the web/internet and potentially could be as disruptive and represent as big a paradigm shift as Web 2.0 did. Web 3.0 is built upon the core concepts of decentralization, openness, and greater user utility.
Web 3.0 has moved well beyond the original concept of the Semantic Web as conceptualized by Berners-Lee in 2001. This is partly because it is very expensive and monumentally difficult to convert human language—with all its subtle nuances and variations—into a format that can be readily understood by computers, and because Web 2.0 has already evolved substantially over the past two decades.
Defining Features of Web 3.0
Though there is as yet no standardized definition of Web 3.0, it does have a few defining features: