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The subject of ownership has often been complicated and convoluted during the current phase of the internet. At times, this has been a downright difficult conversation to have, with much of the confusion resulting from complex end-user license agreements, proprietary rights distribution and terms and conditions agreements that are rarely read much less well understood.
But it’s not too difficult to understand. Although people spend a lot of money today on all forms of digital content, from streaming service subscriptions to in-game purchases, we don’t own any digital content that we “buy” online.
In Web2, which is what we call the modern version of the Internet, everything is leased to us by the company that owns the license. When you buy music from iTunes or an e-book from Amazon, you simply get the license to access the content. Nothing more.
The current era is one of digital rental. And it’s an era that Web3 promises to end. To help you understand how this change will happen, I’ve highlighted three things about Web3 that I think could completely change digital ownership.
Related: How Web 3.0 is changing social media and the online world as we know it
1. Wallets will replace profiles and provide a single identifier (entity)
Today, our digital identities are multiple, covering different accounts on different platforms. Your Facebook profile, your Instagram account, your Gmail address – together these are the elements that make up our digital identities.
However, like the digital content we purchase, we do not own these accounts and have no rights to them. Instead, we make an exchange. In exchange for our data, the platforms lend us the use of an account. And that makes us vulnerable, because our accounts can be disabled and we can be logged out.
In Web3 we will connect to everything through wallets. Our wallets will function as the key to all our digital, professional and social domains. We will use our wallets to establish our online presence, enter the online economy, access our workspace, communicate with friends and colleagues, distribute content, and sell, trade, and store our digital assets. The goal is to provide each user with a self-sovereign identity (SSI) and guaranteed use of any service, so that no individual or company can restrict or remove a user’s access.
Related: Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Web 3.0
2. NFTs will give us true ownership of online digital assets
Last year was the year of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Projects such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club captured the public imagination, and it seemed like everyone everywhere was writing about them or trying to predict and invest in “the next big thing”. While these projects have done a lot to raise awareness of NFTs among the general public, the use cases for the technology are potentially endless and they will play a big role in driving adoption.
An NFT is a unique, verifiable and irreplaceable digital asset. When a person acquires an NFT, their details are recorded on the blockchain. The owner of the NFT can freely sell, trade, or trade it, whether it’s a digital work of art, an in-game item, or digital real estate in the metaverse. All transactions and transfers are tracked and transparent, with everything managed by the unique ID and token metadata.
If true ownership is defined by proof and the right of transferability, then NFTs hold the key to enabling internet users to truly own digital assets online.
Related: The Creation of Digital Assets and the Growth of NFTs
3. A shift in power in the sharing of personal data
One of the main differences between Web2 and Web3 is that Web3 is completely decentralized. As data is stored on the blockchain, rather than on large data servers owned by companies such as Facebook and Google, individuals will finally have control over their own data.
In the early days of Web2, no one cared too much about giving up their data in exchange for using platforms like Facebook, Google or Instagram. But as people started to become more web savvy, better understood how their information was monetized, and big data scandals started piling up, control of our personal data went from being something we hadn’t thought of a real cause for concern.
One of the central principles of Web3 is to put the power over personal data back in the hands of users. The idea is that it should be the users who decide if they want to share their data, that they should choose which entities it can and cannot be shared with and the conditions under which it can be shared. And if they change their mind and decide they no longer want to share their data, they have the option to prevent it from being shared.
We are currently living in a really interesting time in the evolution of the Internet. I think over the next few years, as Web3 grows and matures, we’ll see many more creative examples of digital property. Expect to see many new projects, experiments, collaborations and convergences between technologies. All will not succeed. Not all ideas will work, and some ideas and projects will fall through. But it will be exciting.
In the short to medium term, I don’t see us moving away from Web2 anytime soon. The infrastructure supporting it is solid and, being the first true mobile internet, it is very much integrated into our lives. What I expect to see as Web3 grows is that it slowly absorbs and integrates Web2 to the point that it almost becomes a portal for Web3.