Authored by Colin Schwarz
What is Web3? Why do We Need it?
The internet has seen a lot of change since it became publicly available in 1991. The early internet lasted from the early 90s until the early 2000s and is sometimes referred to as Web 1.0. As many of us remember, this version of the internet could only be accessed through slow dial-up connections. Although a revolutionary technology at the time, Web 1.0 did not support much complex data, and featured hardly any interactive content. Nevertheless, many hoped that this early internet would help to disseminate valuable information to those who had not previously enjoyed access to it. People dreamed that the Web would help to further democratize society and reduce inequality, both in terms of material and intellectual goods. Although the internet has certainly been used to spread information and facilitate education, much of what the web has become in recent years is far from the idealistic vision to which people aspired in its early days.
The internet we know today is referred to as Web 2.0. Web 2.0 supports an astronomical amount of data and features, and provides functionality that many of us could not dream of living without. These capabilities issued in the era of "read, write, publish" and of social media. Although Web 2.0 has made life more convenient for billions of users, many of the ideals people had hope would be supported by the internet have been heavily compromised. The monopolization of Web 2.0 by big tech has prevented the increase in democratization and equality that the internet was supposed to deliver. Recent scandals have made clear that large companies are exploiting internet users by harvesting their data and selling it to the highest bidder. At their worst, Web 2.0 applications enable widespread censorship. Many governments have become highly adept at censoring today's internet both in terms of content and users. When companies have been called on to prevent their platforms from being used negatively, we have seen a lot of talk and little action to curb the trend. As a result of these factors, it has become clear that we need to find a better way to make the internet safe and fair for everyone, if it is to fully realize the massive potential for positive change that it represents. Enter Web 3.0.
Web 3.0 is the new and improved internet. It will be at least as fast, convenient and easy to use as Web 2.0, but is being built in such a way as to empower users rather than to exploit them. In the words of Gavin Wood, co-founder of the Web3 Foundation, Web 3 "...is a reimagination of the sorts of things that we already use the Web for, but with a fundamentally different model for the interactions between parties." Rather than entrusting our data and identities to central authorities such as large corporations and governments, Web 3 will allow users to own and protect their own data and identity by enabling trustless sharing of value and information. The means by which this can now be achieved is blockchain and other decentralized technologies. These powerful technologies are still emerging and are developing at a rapid rate and their potential to enable a freer, fairer and more secure internet is massive. Check out this article by Gavin for a more technically detailed description of Web3 and its potential.
What is Polkadot?
The Web3 Foundation fosters cryptographically-enabled protocols that safeguard decentralization and enable the vision of Web 3.0. The Foundation's primary project is the Polkadot project. Polkadot is currently under construction to enable the vision of Web3 using revolutionary blockchain technology. In order to deliver the demanding promises of Web3, Polkadot has been designed to solve the most important outstanding issues with current blockchain technology. Primary among these is scalability, interoperability and governance. Polkadot features a hub and spoke design in which many parachains are connected by and interoperable through a central "relay chain" that provides shared security and facilitates interactions between parachains. The parachains all enjoy collective security and finality which is provided by the Polkadot network via the relay chain in exchange for a fee. However, aside from this shared security and finality, relay chains can choose how to customize all of the other features of their blockchain. This confers massive scalability potential and ensures that each parachain can be best suited to its intended use case. It may even be possible to create a parachain that is itself a relay chain with its own constituent parachains. This would make the Polkadot network exponentially scalable, a feet which has yet to be achieved in the blockchain space. Interoperability between parachains can be easily achieved using DOT tokens which will be accepted by and transferable between all chains on the network. The network enables the exchange of any type of data or asset, and is not limited to tokens. Finally, the Polkadot network features a dynamic governance mechanism that will allow the network to evolve and improve along with the needs and wishes of its users. These improvements can all be achieved without having to fork the protocol. A more detailed description of the Polkadot network and its governance structure is outside the scope of this article, but I will be touching on these topics in the future. Check out this article to learn more about Polkadot governance.
What is Gossamer?
One of the key aspects of the Polkadot project is something called the Polkadot Runtime Environment (PRE). The PRE is not the same as a more traditional runtime environment that you would find outside the blockchain space, and it has a special role within the Polkadot network. You can think of the PRE as the lower layers of Polkadot's software stack. It underlies the Polkadot runtime as well as the runtimes of all parachains.¹ The PRE consists of four main components:
State storage and the Storage Trie
WASM Virtual Machine¹
The first implementation of the PRE was built by Parity and is called Substrate. The second implementation is being built by ChainSafe and is called Gossamer. The team is already deep into constructing Gossamer, which will be a powerful tool that will enable developers to build implementations of the PRE, as well as custom parachains that will become part of the network after the mainnet launches.
I recently had the privilege to interview members of the ChainSafe team that is building Gossamer. I will be publishing a series of articles that dive into these interviews to give the reader an inside look at the process behind building the world's second ever Polkadot Runtime Environment. Stay tuned!
Thanks to Aidan Hyman for many valuable edits and suggestions!
- Polkadot Runtime Environment. Polkadot Wiki. https://wiki.polkadot.network/en/latest/polkadot/learn/PRE/