Web5: A Successor to Web3?
Web5 has recently gained some attention in the cryptocurrency space. Earlier this year, Jack Dorsey, ex-CEO of Twitter and newly turned Bitcoin enthusiast, criticized Web3 as being centralized as well as hostile to the overall goals the movement has set out to achieve. As a true entrepreneur though, Dorsey did not only extend criticism but offered an approach he deems a solution to Web3’s current problems.
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Who is behind Web5?
Jack Dorsey is surely the most prominent face behind Web5. With his fairly young company called Block, Dorsey has committed himself to making today’s internet a better place for users. To granularly pursue this goal, Block has been structured as a conglomerate of five different companies: Square, Cash App, Spiral, TIDAL, and TBD.
It is TBD that has been behind what is referred to as Web5. The company’s name, TBD, comes from the common acronym standing for “To Be Determined,” which was used in the beginning when the company did not have a proper name yet. Amusingly, this placeholder morphed into the company’s actual name over time.
In June, TBD announced its intentions of building Web5 as a decentralized web platform (DWP). As of August, the company has provided a slide deck on Web5 but no further information on what this new decentralized platform will look like in detail.
Why is it called Web5?
The extension of the world wide web as we know it has always been evolving. It started as Web 1.0 in the 1990s and then evolved into today’s dominant version called Web 2.0 in the mid-2000s. The term Web3 has been occupied by the overall blockchain movement that is poised to build a new iteration of the internet on decentralized public blockchain networks.
This is where the proponents of Web5 disagree. To them, building the web directly on blockchain technology seems like putting the cart before the horse. As decentralized networks, blockchains rely on redundancy to make their data sets costly to modify. This in turn makes them rather inefficient for the many different use cases envisioned by the Web3 crowd, so the argument goes.
Hence, Web5 is taking fundamentally different design choices. For the most part, Web5 will not be built on blockchain technology but only use a public blockchain network (which in its current concrete implementation is the Bitcoin blockchain) where it is absolutely necessary.
The reason why the developers and drivers behind this new endeavor jumped right to Web5, leaving out the term “Web4” is unclear. While there is no definite settlement on the different terms, some speculate that Web4 already exists and has been ushered in by the mobile era. It is the smartphones that are so prevalent to today’s internet users that define the fourth period of the web. Also, Web5 is not new as a term. Already in 2009, Tim Berners-Lee, the “inventor” of the web, referred to Web5 as the “emotional web” in one of his TED talks.
How does Web5 work?
There are four basic concepts that make up Web5. These are:
- Decentralized Web Nodes (DWNs)
- Decentralized Web Apps (DWAs)
- Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs)
- Verifiable Credentials (VCs)
Decentralized Web Nodes (DWNs) are a core component as they make up the distributed network of web nodes forming the peer-to-peer network of Web5. These DWNs are run by Web5 users themselves and serve as a data storage and message-relaying mechanism, making it possible that different Web5 participants can pass, share, and identify information among one another.
In other words, DWNs are user-controlled nodes that are distributed with every Web5 user, forming a mesh datastore network of nodes, which is why they are referred to as decentralized web nodes. They store data and facilitate communication between users.
Another important concept is so-called decentralized web apps (DWAs). They are similar to progressive web apps (PWAs), the typical applications used by web service providers like Twitter, Spotify, or Telegram. Like PWAs, the decentralized version named DWAs is like a website that contains all the features of a native app. As such, these DWAs can be considered a hybrid between a website and a mobile application.
Because DWAs are decentralized, unlike PWAs, they are able to function serverless as data is not stored with them. The data resides with the decentralized web nodes. DWAs solely query the data from DWNs. A decentralized web application can only request data from a DWN if it has the user’s DWN address. Being in control of their own DWN, a user can choose whether or not to make data available. If the data is private, the node owner must grant the application access to the data; if the data is public, the application can automatically call the data.
Another important puzzle piece is decentralized identifiers (DIDs). They are the only component that touches a public blockchain. A DID is a user-generated, self-controlled, and unique identifier that allows users to voluntarily identify themselves at any moment without needing to rely on any centralized party. Together with so-called verifiable claims, a DID essentially acts like a decentralized identity card, giving rise to a self-owned online identity.
A DID can obtain such verifiable credentials, which represent an attestation of qualification or capability, lending credibility to the DID and with it a user’s digital identity. Through DIDs and verifiable credentials, a true self-sovereign identity for the digital age can be established. A framework called self-sovereign identity SDK is a toolkit that enables developers to easily build applications that utilize these self-sovereign identity principles.
Comparing Web5 to Web3
The vision of Web5 is similar to that of Web3. However, there are a few key differences. With Web3 applications, logic in the form of smart contracts is deployed onto a public blockchain like Ethereum. This is why Web3’s applications are referred to as decentralized applications — short dApps — as their backend code resides on a decentralized network consisting of a public blockchain.
In Web5, there are decentralized web applications (DWAs) that are not built on the blockchain and they can interact with decentralized web nodes (DWNs) that form a peer-to-peer relaying network that exists independent of any public blockchain. This also means that DWAs can communicate with DWNs, whereas DWNs also communicate with each other. This communication is not reliant on any blockchain transactions.
This is different in Web3. Through dApps, users can communicate with the smart contracts on the blockchain, and every step is recorded as a transaction within the public blockchain. This also means that every action requires a transaction happening on the public blockchain or a public blockchain’s scalability solution like a Layer-2 protocol. Through fungible or non-fungible tokens, ownership of any unique asset is guaranteed. The situation is different with Web5, as no token concept exists here.
Another difference is the fact that with Web5, data is stored with the users themselves on decentralized web nodes. Web3 instead stores data with decentralized storage solutions or distributed file systems like IPFS that distribute and store the data in a peer-to-peer network.
Is Web5 Bitcoin-Centric?
The decentralized identifiers (DIDs) used in Web5 are connected to blockchain technology. As a matter of fact, the Bitcoin blockchain is being used to anchor these DIDs. However, the anchoring does not happen on Bitcoin directly. A second layer DID network called ION — originally developed by Microsoft — is used. ION runs on top of Bitcoin, storing DIDs that are anchored to Bitcoin’s blockchain. This makes ION a decentralized alternative to the internet’s DNS (domain name service) for identity identifiers.
While Web5 proponents are coalescing around Bitcoin, as its blockchain could emerge as the most secure and thus the most censorship-resistant blockchain in the long term, ION and Web5’s DID solution seems like modular components that could be anchored into another blockchain solution if deemed necessary at a later point in time.
How is Web5 evolving the web?
Currently, although Web2 allows for a great user experience, web users do not own their own data and do not control their own identity. So, the great user experience of Web2 only holds until it doesn’t. With Web5, the hope is that this is going to change. At its core, Web5 is about moving away from an internet where web users’ data is held in captivity by various application silos. By disrupting this web model, Web5 aims to make a user own their own data and control their own identity by default.
This will have concrete ramifications in the way users will experience the internet. Because data is never stored with any web application but with decentralized web nodes, a Web5 user can seamlessly switch from application to application, taking their social graph and thus their social persona with them. This type of portability is a core feature of Web5. A user should be able to identify himself on numerous applications without the need for multiple logins because the applications can query a user’s relevant data that is stored on a decentralized web node.
Following the vision of Web5 through, web applications like social media and others would be commoditized. Just as customers nowadays can switch from restaurant to restaurant in search of the best experience, users should have the straightforward option to switch between Twitter and TikTok with the same ease, thereby not losing any of their friends and followers.
Storing one’s personal data on a personal decentralized web node also has other benefits. Due to true ownership, a user does not only have more control over their data but the data is not stored with a centralized hub that presents a honey pot for attackers. Still, a user can store their preferences and settings on a decentralized web node and different apps can access the relevant data to provide the users with a customized experience according to one’s preferences and settings.