Blockchain Is Not A Revolution, But An Evolution of the World Wide Web
By Wei Shi Khai, Chief Operating Officer at LongHash Ventures
The World Wide Web was born in 1989 — as a formless, borderless entity for information sharing. A digital commons for all, the Web has since nurtured the world’s most valuable companies: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon have all hit the trillion-dollar mark. But the digital awakening of the Web has also roused unintended effects: cyberattacks are now the norm, while privacy is not. Inequality and disaffection are at all-time-highs. How did the Web contribute to these phenomena? And how should we reshape the Web into a more positive force? The key answer surfaces as we view the Web as a sentient digital being.
In its infancy in the 1990s, the Web was all about absorbing and exchanging information, like a newborn learning to speak. Facilitated by platforms like Yahoo and Hotmail, information flowed freely, and became even more accessible with the entry of Google in 1998. These simpler times marked Web 1.0.
In its teenage years, the zeitgeist of the Web shifted towards self-expression and identity. Facebook came along in 2004, quickly followed by Youtube, then Twitter. These interactive networks grew along with mobile and internet adoption, bringing almost 2 billion users by 2010. This collective creation marked the generation of Web 2.0.
In its twenties, the maturing Web started taking on more tangible transactions of value. Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb all took off in the 2010’s. Payments players like Stripe and Square flourished, and PayPal’s revenue even exceeded eBay in 2015 right before its spin-off.
In 2020, the Web is 31 years old, ~4.5 billion strong in users, and sees more than $4 trillion in payments. And yet, like a coddled young adult, the Web still has no personal or financial freedom. Big Tech monitors, dictates, and influences our media and behavior through personalized recommendations. Any form of financial interaction is ultimately governed and facilitated by banks and fintech providers. It is against this backdrop that Web 3.0 started to emerge.
Blockchain is the cornerstone for Web 3.0
Until the invention of blockchain, there was no real way for users to own and exchange digital assets without relying on 3rd parties. By filling that void, platform companies reap outsized profits and build massive moats of networks and data, becoming the ultimate middlemen. While regulations like GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act strive to protect users, control ultimately still lies with the platforms.
Because of blockchain immutability, Web 3.0 can also securely generate internet-native assets. The textbook case example is Bitcoin, which facilitates billions worth of asset transfers every day, without a company or even a founder to run it. On the Ethereum blockchain, an open-finance or “DeFi” (decentralized finance) ecosystem has started to bloom, offering automated lending, money markets, synthetic assets, and more — with no banks involved, and no custody needed. Developers publish open-source protocols onto the blockchain, to be used freely by anyone, or even another protocol. Strange as it may sound, the DeFi ecosystem just reached $1 billion in assets in February.
Beyond users, Web 3.0 can also make machines come alive as autonomous agents — imagine self-driving cars managing their own battery recharging, while earning income through e-hailing. Scaled up, imagine an entire smart city where each building’s electrical microgrid, each district’s Wi-Fi mesh network, and each household’s appliances all interact autonomously, securely and privately. Wanxiang, the biggest automotive component manufacturer in China, has pledged $29 billion to create precisely such a smart city in China.
Collectively, we are the Web
The Web today embodies our deep yearning to restore freedom, to be appreciated and rewarded, and give life to creations.
30 years ago, if anyone predicted that billions of people will be on hand-held supercomputers accessing an invisible Web all day long, they would be deemed mad. But those who dared to dream, made it happen.
Today, Web 3.0 is at the same cusp of exponential growth, and it is up to us to shape it. It is time for us to claim independence of our identity and assets. It is time for the Web to grow up, and take on some real responsibility.
Wei Shi Khai is Chief Operating Officer at LongHash Ventures, where he is responsible for the operational excellence and management of the company’s blockchain incubation and investment outreach. Shi Khai spearheads the development and rollout of LongHash Hatch Program, having raised over $11 million in funding to date. Shi Khai was previously a management consultant at McKinsey, with a focus on digital transformation and analytics across the financial and telecommunications sector across Southeast Asia. Shi Khai holds a Bachelor of Science from Imperial College London.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.