Buzzwords in tech are quite a hit-and-miss thing, I think. At their worst, some are just jargon that reinforces cliquishness among a few geeks who are "in the know." But on a good day, the right buzzword can be useful in framing a necessary conversation so that better stuff gets built for everyone's benefit.

I believe "Web 3.0" belongs in the latter category. It's still very much an evolving term in the tech industry, but a good rough definition for it is "anything that helps to decentralize digital services and information."

In other words, Web 3.0 tech works 180 degrees the opposite of what most of us experience on the internet these days -- centralization run amok. I'm convinced that trend is now the defining problem anyone who cares about the internet should now be concerned about. That's precisely why we need a better term for discussing centralization -- and the possible antidotes to it -- for approximately the same reason Eskimos supposedly have dozens of words for snow.

Some examples of what I mean by centralization:

  • All your social data being stored on one company's servers, like Facebook. We've seen how disastrously this situation can be abused, ultimately for the social provider's profit alone and to the detriment of democracy itself.
  • Any situation in which a business is subject to the phenomenon of "vendor lock-in." This usually entails a tech company exercising control over mission-critical information or functionality for the business lest the tech company gets paid first.
  • Your personal financial information being controlled by large private institutions like Equifax, which was notoriously hacked last year.

So what are the solutions? What's the stuff that favors decentralization?

The hottest technology right now that fits that bill -- and the one whose community has most aggressively embraced the term Web 3.0 -- is the blockchain.

But I would say other things might still also plausibly be included under the Web 3.0 umbrella at this verrrrrry early stage. Stuff like semantic HTML, which has notably been promoted by worldwide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee via his open-source project Solid at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his new startup Inrupt. I'd say the open Linux operating system is also very Web 3.0 at its heart. And there's other stuff out there as well.

If you know other folks who might be interested in learning more about decentralization, please encourage them to check this site out, or drop me an email or tweet directly. This is a theme I'm going to be coming back to a lot around here, so stay tuned.