On the Verge of Web 3.0: Next Generation Blockchain-Browsers
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Blockchain’s rise to celebrity status is often compared to the dawn of commercial development of the Internet. In the early 90s new technologies were treated with caution by many and few people truly understood the scope of innovation which humanity will accumulate in the upcoming 20 years. Today almost every company has its own website and technologies are developing by leaps and bounds. But has the World Wide Web reached the pinnacle of its evolution?
Quicker data transfer and globalization have led to new challenges. The network stagnates from the abundance of all kinds of advertising plunging deeper into chaotic ocean of information. The Internet is ruled by online stores, social media and search engines. Experts see the concept of Web 3.0 as the next evolutionary round, a new way to manage information that heralds the era of anthropocentric Internet. The era of digital Renaissance.
Traditionally Internet browsers remain the user’s main gateway to the Web but will they retain their place in the future? And what role will blockchain technology play in this process?
In this article ForkLog examined how browsers have changed with the development of the Internet, how experts see the approaching era of Web 3.0 and which blockchain and cryptocurrency tools will appear in the arsenal of ordinary future Internet users.
The Dashing 90s: Dial-Up Era of Web 1.0
When the World Wide Web began to gradually captivate users connecting to the Internet was akin to going to the library. The network was a set of static sites with textual and visual (if you were lucky) content but without a single hint of interactivity. To establish the connection users had to literally make calls using modems. Thus a budding Web surfer in a household was a major nuisance because all other residents could not use the phone.
It was the time of AOL chat rooms, MSN instant messengers, AltaVista and Ask Jeeves. It was unbearably slow. Many will remember the coveted FTP servers and the wails of DNS signals. Streaming video or music? Forget it. It could take more than a day to download one song.
The first Internet browsers were few and far between. Although they were bulky and clumsy, they were sufficiently optimized for page viewing.
A digression into history: WorldWideWeb (later Nexus), registered by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, became the first popular browser. It was released in 1990 and five years later the enterprising Microsoft used it as an “inspiration” when creating its famous Internet Explorer for the brand new Windows 95, which brought so much pain and happiness to the masses.
The main competitor of the IE browser and the first successful commercial project in this area was Netscape Navigator which has been on the market since 1994. Only in 2008 AOL decided to stop its development.
Data Overload and the Era of Content Demiurges of Web 2.0
Undoubtedly Web 2.0 has completely changed the Internet landscape. Increased connection speed has introduced the benefits of streaming and interactive content. Users have evolved from just content consumers to content producers. The ability to share information globally has spawned an era of social media.
Today the market of social media has been divided between such giants as Facebook (global), Vkontakte (Russia), WeChat (China) and Telegram (global). Publications in social media have become commonplace taking only a split second. Smartphones, tablets, smart watches and other gadgets shattered our shackles which chained us to stationary PCs. Yet if Web 2.0 was so wonderful then what went wrong?
Paradoxical as it may sound Web 2.0 in essence was almost no different from Web 1.0. One of the biggest drawbacks in network design was the architecture based on a client-server structure.
According to the UN from 2005 to 2018, the number of Internet users has increased from 738 million to 3.9 billion. Sites are interactive and attract users but they are monotonous and require constant bug fixing, maintenance of massive servers and various cosmetic repairs. Texts are peculiarly shaped by SEO gurus for the sake of search algorithms and robots. In addition governments can shield residents from the global network by creating separate segments.
Although Web 2.0 has democratized many institutions the Internet economy is largely monopolized. This is not only true for social media but also for online retail (Amazon, Alibaba), search engines (Google, Baidu, Yandex), browsers (Google Chrome), operating systems (Windows, Android, iOS) and gadgets (Apple, Google, Samsung). Users are forced to allow a few corporations take their personal information hostage in exchange for services and the illusion of protection.
Sergey Sadov, product manager of the Web 3.0 Cyb browser, notes that even with the advent of the blockchain this problem will not be fully solved. But due to decentralization and a large number of nodes user access to at least part of the data will always be preserved.
Browsers evolved to multipurpose programs with a vast arsenal of tools thanks to the arms race between leading developers. Different browsers develop compatible software thanks to international standardization of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium – an organization that develops standards for the World Wide Web). This allows one to achieve the same content consumption experience regardless of the type of technology used in browsers. But the developers no longer seek innovation, only exploit the commercial side of user experience.
Thus the main disadvantages of the existing network emerge:
- network’s comparatively slow speed and asymmetry in network coverage (Internet accessibility level, for example, in Canada differs from Bangladesh);
- monopolization, censorship and security issues;
- privacy issues and collection of personal data without the users’ consent;
- centralization and a small number of points of failure;
- the ability to change the content of pages without changing links – there is no certainty that links lead to where they led before;
- the issue of copy-pasting and non-unique content.
The New Order: P2P Networks and Fight for Privacy
User data has become one of the most valuable assets of our time. Every now and then there are breaking news of personal data leaks and exploitation. A score of high-profile scandals at Facebook come to mind, where the data of millions of users was leaked. Hence the idea behind the new Internet is to provide people with full control over their content and digital identity.
It all started with cypherpunk newsletters. The idea of decentralization appeared and Bitcoin became a means of its implementation. Cryptocurrencies are designed to preserve the anonymity and financial independence of users as well as create a semblance of digital democracy in action. All this was to form the basis of Web 3.0 which was designed to solve the problems of the existing network.
At the same time there is still no concerted view on how this Internet of the future will be realized. Web 3.0 is a pretty controversial term. Often it is defined as a semantic network which will supposedly replace social media. These concepts were introduced by the inventor of the worldwide network, the aforementioned Sir Tim Berners-Lee, as early as the 80s.
Such a network is expected to be more transparent and fair, allowing everyone to participate without worrying about privacy and security of their data. Experts hope to see a system that is able to better understand people’s needs and perform daily tasks with a set of flexible tools and semantic data processing and intelligent search engine.
Semantic analysis allows machines to determine the meaning of concepts and the relationship between them which makes understanding queries more flexible than with contextual processing. To achieve this it is necessary to combine several technologies: blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and mesh networks. Web 3.0 era will be based on a variety of related decentralized applications (dApps) and not on a network of sites.
According to Sergei Sadov, Web 3.0 is unlikely to save people from ads and corporation collecting personal data. But at least it will allow users to be sure of the privacy of personal analytics and help them earn money from their data through its tokenization.
Thus the principal features of the next gen Internet may be as follows:
- use of distributed networks and registers: blockchain, DAG;
- support for dApps and decentralized organizations;
- consensus computing and validator system;
- support for mesh networks;
- content cohesion;
- data tokenization and cryptoeconomics, unique digital products;
- increased privacy, anonymity and security;
- high speed and purity of data streams.
The expert also noted that to interact with Web 3.0 we will need a browser that matches the philosophical aspect of a decentralized network. A new question hereby arises: does the Internet of the future need browsers in the usual sense of the term if separate decentralized applications replace the search engine and website network?
According to Sergei Sadov, it would be more logical to view Web 3.0 browsers as a kind of new software. For example a robot assistant – a guide to the new Internet.
“If we imagine Web 3.0 as three main elements of the network: agents, providers and applications, then a browser here acts as a connecting link and a way of interaction between these elements. Browser should help the system perform its functions: agents who have the keys must be able to sign transactions as well as receive the current state of the network from Web 3.0 providers,” said Sergei Sadov.
Whence art thou Web 3.0?
While everything seems to be clear with the vision and philosophy of the new network, there are some problems with the implementation. The main catch is that Web 3.0 as such still only exists in the form of vague theories which is why all the well-known projects dedicated to its creation somehow operate in the Web 2.0 environment. They are partially implemented and roughly speaking are based on promises of a bright future. The ship of innovative Internet without borders is being wrecked on the rocks of the issues already familiar to blockchain community.
While the issue of scaling decentralized systems persists it is difficult to imagine a network without borders. One can recall the many ambitious blockchain startups that promised a throughput of millions of transactions per second. Unfortunately not one of them has yet confirmed such statements in practice. Additionally there’s always the fact that the anonymity and privacy of existing blockchains is still not bulletproof.
Even the holy grail – the very idea of decentralization is not beyond criticism. The largest blockchains are not as decentralized as we would like them to be. While combining several blockchains is now extremely problematic since interoperability is not among the strongest sides of decentralization. This makes the system cumbersome and deprives users of choice.
Sergei Sadov notes that the idea of a new Internet is so fundamental and global that it is difficult to imagine an early abandonment of existing systems. It is unlikely that domain system, URL, http, HTML and the WWW in general will soon fade into oblivion.
Yet there is good news. Cryptographic developments in this area are already underway. For example the IPFS project which literally means the Interplanetary File System. This is a new open source decentralized file sharing network originally introduced by Juan Benet. The network is a content-addressable, peer-to-peer hypermedia communication protocol. IPFS network nodes form a distributed file system. Such a system allows a more flexible approach to the storage and transmission of data on the network. There is also another project, the DAT peer-to-peer protocol (dat: //), which allows running decentralized applications, connect nodes and generally helps distributed data synchronization. This protocol is used, for example, in the Beaker blockchain browser.
Another issue is mass adoption of new technologies. According to the Sadov many people prefer not to burden themselves with data hygiene issues and are not worried about personal space on the network. Practice shows that ordinary users do not want to bother with cryptographic keys and decentralized applications because intuitive interface comes first.
Sergei Sadov noted another important point. One of the pillars of decentralized internet is the Metamask project. According to him, if you delve into the well-known blockchain browsers today you can find this solution incorporated in them.
Metamask is a plug-in extension for browsers that allows to use decentralized Ethereum-based applications, tokens and ETH-nodes. This technology is the basis of the Brave blockchain browser and can also be installed as an extension to the Chrome and Opera browsers. That being said, Metamask Web3 provider is Infura, a centralized corporation.
Blockchain browser overview: Opera, Brave, Beaker
Now that we have sufficient understanding of the upcoming changes with the advent of the prophesized Web 3.0 we can finally appraise browsers that are already available for download to users.
Opera: Riding on the Crypto Hype
Surprisingly the first browser in the world with a built-in cryptocurrency wallet turned out to be Opera, the 1994 brainchild of a group of Norwegian researchers. Opera Reborn 3 update was released in early April 2019 and it boasts several tools in its arsenal that are in line with the spirit of the Internet Web 3.0.
A crypto wallet that supports storage and transfer of ERC-20 tokens is available in the mobile version of the application. In addition, users can access the dApps store on the Ethereum network. As was already mentioned, the blockchain component of the browser is based on a solution similar to Metamask. It can also be installed in Google Chrome which will make both browsers equally blockchainized. It is good to have a choice but it does not justify all the hype that accompanied the release of this update.
Developers also introduced other features that help improve user experience: turbo mode (optimizing processes by compressing traffic and proximisation), ad blocker, double authentication and transaction confirmation using a fingerprint.
Users can also view blockchain applications by entering their addresses directly into the address bar. Crypto wallet is available as an extension but it needs to be downloaded separately for the desktop version. It only works if an Android version of the application is installed on users’ another device with a crypto wallet account linked to it.
In general Opera Reborn 3 is good user experience wise. The update received a minimalistic frameless design which makes it intuitive. It can help to popularize the idea of cryptocurrencies and blockchain among the mass audience that Opera has attracted over a quarter of a century (182 million users according to data as of 2018).
Brave: It Pays You to View Ads
Brave is a godsend for anyone who hates online ads. The browser is able to not only cut annoying banners and block pop-ups (which it deals fairly well with) but also offers more options. It integrates a system of rewarding users with native “tokens of basic attention” BAT for viewing the “approved” ads that have passed browser testing. For these purposes Brave integrates a crypto wallet that supports BAT. And if users ever want to free themselves from ads altogether they are required to pay developers every month for this feature.
This approach as one would expect brought a flurry of criticism to the creators. Opponents suggested that under the guise of good intentions the browser is developing an advertising business, capitalizing on naive users. 17 of the most influential publications in the United States wrote an angry letter to the browser where they called its policy ”egregiously illegal.” It is worth mentioning that this discussion has not yet subsided. Meanwhile Brave is gaining more and more popularity worldwide.
According to its developers back in January 2019 the number of users exceeded 5.5 million people. Creators skillfully use social engineering. For example, browser users can directly reward their favorite YouTubers. There is also a micropayment tip system for Twitter. And HTC has implemented the default Brave browser in its Exodus 1 blockchain smartphone.
The stable release of the program is available as a mobile application for iOS and Android and there are also versions for Windows, MacOS and Linux. In addition to the crypto wallet, the browser has a built-in VPN service, an integrated Tor browser, a bitcoin micropayment system, end-to-end data encryption, advanced analytics on the main page and a reward system.
Among the drawbacks issues with synchronizing bookmarks and other data can be mentioned. As well as the fact that the browser continues to gain weight – after a month of use the program has grown to three gigabytes. Also codecs for playing flash and the mobile version for iOS often gives errors.
Additionally user rewards in BAT tokens are not available in some regions and it is not clear where these coins can be used.
Andrei Asmakov, one of the ForkLog editorial staffers, is an early Brave adopter. Here’s how he described his user experience:
“I started testing Brave almost immediately after the initial release. At first the product seemed rather crude and weak. Nevertheless the problem of choosing a browser remained: the most popular ones either consumed too much RAM, slowing down the overall operation of the computer (for example, Google Chrome), or were too unhandy.”
Only a few months ago Andrei revisited Brave deciding to give it another chance and was pleasantly surprised. He noted that developers did a great job significantly improving the product.
“What I liked first and foremost was the ability to quickly import data from other browsers, the ease and speed of work, as well as the significantly revamped design which is now largely similar to Chrome. This saved a lot of time because I didn’t have to adjust and frantically search where the buttons I needed were located.
There is no definite verdict on the monetization model proposed by Brave using BAT tokens yet. But developers note that we can count on a purely symbolic reward. Therefore the main reason why I now prefer this browser is its arsenal of features. ”
Beaker: the American dream browser
In 2018 a team of three blockchain enthusiasts from the New York based project Blue Link Labs, the creators of the aforementioned DAT protocol, also decided to release their blockchain browser. The prototype of the project, code-named Beaker, was launched back in 2016. Creators call their brainchild an experimental peer-to-peer browser that turns surfing the Internet into a simple and fun activity. The main feature of the browser is the use of the dat:// system. It is a peer-to-peer protocol that allows site visitors to connect directly to each other, upload files and share them.
One of the most compelling reasons to use dat:// in Beaker is that this feature allows to create a website with just one mouse click. You can use blank templates or download a custom layout. Anyone with a URL link can view the site. The project’s home page hosts a selection of links to such user sites.
In addition users can edit files directly in the browser. When you click the edit button you can immediately update the page’s HTML code. You can also fork created sites and duplicate them similarly to GitHub. The browser also allows you to use the Hashbase cloud service which supports constant access to DAT sites whose local copies are not available.
It is worth noting that the Beaker is built on Electron system and, like Brave, uses Chromium engine. This allows browser to supports most Chrome extensions. Unique modules designed specifically for the browser are also available. They help launch nodes and work with decentralized applications. Developers also promised not to collect personal user data.
To name a few drawbacks, Beaker does come off as somewhat crude and immature: sometimes it gives an error or freezes, often it takes a long time to process before opening sites with many elements. Neither does Beaker have a built-in VPN. Buttons for adding bookmarks do not always work.
That being said using the browser was overall a solid experience. It looks minimalistic and has almost all the basic features of top mainstream browsers.
Beaker is available for macOS, Windows, and Linux but does not support mobile operating systems. In general the project can really be called experimental because developers are constantly adding new modules and features.
The bright future of Web 3.0 browsers
The new Internet era promises significant changes to user experience. Yet there are many unknown variables left:
- how technologies like Big Data and AI will affect Internet;
- exactly how the transition to decentralized data storage and processing will occur;
- whether the nodes can adequately support the network with massive traffic;
- how the dApps structure will look and what role browsers will play in all this.
Today the so-called Web 3.0 browsers are hybrid built on familiar software but with the addition of extensions that support decentralized applications and crypto wallets.
The issues of blockchain scalability and interoperability are still unresolved which yet delays the “third coming” of the Internet.
Written by Nadia Osmokesku
Translated and edited by Jenny Aysgarth
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