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If I asked you the following question, what do you think you would answer: “ What do you own online?”
In real life, you own your home, you drive your car, the watch you wear, and anything else you buy. But do you own your email address or your business website? How about pictures that populate your Instagram account? Or buy a game in Fortnite or a FIFA video game or whatever else you’re playing?
My best guess is that after thinking through the things you use the internet for (almost everything for everyone, social and professional), you’re going to have a hard time finding A solid answer.
Maybe you will ask me to explain what I mean by “ownership”. But it doesn’t matter. While I’m not saying it’s a trick question, it is. Because in the current version of the internet, we don’t have online ownership.
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To understand why we don’t own anything online, we must first understand the evolution of the internet and how it has given rise to the business models that dominate its current iteration.
In the 1990s—the decade of desktop computers and dial-up connections—the Internet was primarily a content delivery network consisting of simple static websites that displayed information. What we call Web1 today is slow, siloed, and disorganized.
Next came platforms like Facebook (now Meta) and Google, driven by wireless connectivity and the development of handheld devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets , which gives us free-to-use services that allow us to edit, interact and generate content. These platforms centralize the network, creating a top-down structure that allows users to rely on their systems and services.
This evolution of the Internet occurred in the mid-2000s and is the version we know today. We call it Web2. It is a model based on connectivity and user-generated content, based on the profile and interests of companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
In this environment, netizens are both participants and products. We sign up for services in exchange for our data, which is sold to advertisers, and the content we create that creates value and drives engagement on those platforms. We do all this but have no rights to any online content.
Our social media profiles may be deleted and our access to email accounts or messenger applications may be suspended. We do not own any digital assets we purchase and have no autonomy over our data. The businesses we build online are often platform-dependent and therefore vulnerable to algorithms, data breaches and shadow bans.
The deck faces us. Because choosing not to participate is simply not a real option when so much of the world’s commerce and communication happens online. However, nothing can point to and call our stuff. We have no real power.
And, it is this dynamic that Web3 is determined to change.
Web3 and the Internet of Value
Now, when most people hear the word “Web3”, they probably think of “Metaverse”. But think of Web3 as a better way to evolve the Internet.
Today, the digital experience is very enterprise and very focused. Web3 will provide the dynamic, application-driven user experience of the current mobile web in a decentralized model, shifting power from big tech back to the user. It will do this by propagating data outward—handling it back to netizens who can then freely use, share, and monetize it—and expand the scale and scope of user interactions with the Internet.
The basis of the extension is guaranteed access, which means that anyone can use any service without permission, and no one can block, restrict or remove any user’s access.
Then the idea is that Web3 will not only be more egalitarian, but will create an “Internet of Value” as the value generated by the web will be more equitably shared among users, companies and services, with better interoperability. Users will have full ownership, authority and control over the content and data they create. But how will this help us transition to true digital ownership?
NFT holds the key to digital ownership
The truth is that digital ownership is not either difficult problem to solve. We already have a solution: NFTs.
In the public consciousness, NFTs are known for projects that get the most media attention, such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club. While projects such as these have pushed the term into the zeitgeist, there has been far less discussion of the usefulness of the underlying technology.
Simply put, NFTs act as proof of ownership. Details of NFT holders are recorded on the blockchain, all transactions and transfers are traceable, transparent and available to the public, everything is governed by the token’s unique ID and metadata.
So how does this work in practice? Suppose I create an NFT. Once I upload it, a “smart contract” is created to keep track of its creation, current owner, and the royalties I will receive. If someone decides to buy it, they own that NFT along with any additional benefits of ownership. Their details are registered on the blockchain and no one can edit or delete them.
Now, let’s say my NFT market starts to heat up, demand grows, and my collection value starts to rise. If the owner decides to sell, they make a profit, and I earn a small royalty from the resale. Changes in ownership are tracked in real-time on-chain, and smart contracts ensure that my royalties are deposited directly into my wallet. This is the key value proposition of NFTs: verifiable ownership and the option to liquidate digital assets.
What’s next for Web3?
This is what ownership looks like in Web3. It promises that netizens will be able to own their own digital assets like their own homes, cars and watches. NFTs will usher in a fairer digital economy and will play a central role in future digital commerce.
In fact, as of now, we’re still writing the Web3 rulebook. This is still a very new, very young space. While few things are certain, we can be sure that the Internet is only moving in one direction: ownership.
Web3’s guiding principle is to accelerate the transition to a more equitable digital environment. It’s largely opt-in, an internet built by the people for the people. In this case, ownership is the foundation upon which new products, networks and experiences are built. It is the foundation on which the Internet of Value is built.
Over the next few years, as Web3 evolves, it will run alongside Web2. The infrastructure to support Web2 is very strong, and I don’t think we’re going to get rid of it completely anytime soon. However, in the medium to long term, Web3 will completely reshape our relationship with the Internet.
Filip Martinsson is the co-founder and COO of Moralis.
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