Web3 is emerging as the new paradigm for the online space. It addresses critical issues of the present-day internet and the wider economy related to user identity and data ownership, as well as wealth creation and distribution.
Web3 is inherently connected to DLT technologies (mostly, though not solely, blockchain-based) and cryptocurrencies, with which it aims to provide netizens with native privacy, enable them to monetize their data, content, and activity, and empower them to collaborate outside big tech- and government-controlled environments.
Web3: a buzzword or the real deal?
Notwithstanding the above, web3 has largely become a buzzword evading clear definition. As a flashy catchphrase, it is overused in all sorts of crypto-related projects, even those unaligned with grassroots crypto ideas, such as being able to protect your identity, voice your opinion unaffected by censorship, and transact freely, avoiding bureaucracy and surveillance.
CBDCs, state-corporate blockchain joint ventures, and government-launched metaverses are prime examples of "web3" projects that, for the most part, run against the libertarian spirit of Nakamoto's acolytes and other crypto apostles.
Considering current dynamics, it's hard to predict how the decentralized online space will shape up. What's certain, though, is that we can impact its evolution by choosing community-driven projects over the centralized, data-greedy platforms that take advantage of users' limited awareness for the sake of profit and power.
Web3 provides a range of alternatives for essential as well as secondary online services. Some of them combine excellent efficiency with top-notch user experience. Others lag behind their web2 counterparts in terms of performance – more so due to infrastructure deficiencies than inadequate expertise of their creators. Nevertheless, all of them offer value unavailable in the web2 environment.
Web3 vs. web2 in 7 key categories
Below you can find seven key online categories where web3 is up and running. We've combined brief characteristics of particular services or industries with descriptions of selected leading web3 solutions coupled with other available options. Read on and go on to try web3 apps for yourself!
1. Web3 emails: E2EE protection vs web2 privacy risk
Email is a basic web service – and one of the oldest. We won't stop using it in the foreseeable future, even though we increasingly rely on messaging apps for instant, fast-track communication.
Unfortunately, web2 email services are notorious for spam and phishing content, security breaches, and privacy vulnerability. Obviously, the quality of user experience depends on the provider, but so does the privacy cost of legacy email accounts.
Take Gmail, for example. The most popular email provider globally delivers top-notch on usability. At the same time, it is an important part of the robust Google environment processing tons of sensitive data. The company assures its users it doesn't "scan or read your Gmail messages to show you ads," but there are some exceptions to that rule.
Besides, official statements rarely tell the whole story. The simplest way to avoid such doubts is to move to a web3 email service.
Dmail – a web3 collaboration platform with an E2EE-based email service
One of them is Dmail. It's a collaborative platform integrating a range of functions, including messaging, data storage, and workspace, with ambitions to become a fundamental infrastructure tool and a decentralized identifier (DID) for web3 users (not unlike Gmail, excluding the decentralized/web3 part).
Like other web3 email services, Dmail uses end-to-end encryption (E2EE), which makes it radically different from most web2 services. In the E2EE model, messages are kept private from the intermediary and can be decrypted only by the recipient.
On the other hand, in traditional email services, messages are sent encrypted, but when they reach a server, they are decrypted for a brief moment. Then they're encrypted again before being dispatched to the addressee.
In the short moment between decryption and re-encryption, an unauthorized yet curious party may take a sneak peek at your message without you ever finding out. It's as if your physical letter was opened by a post office employee before being passed on to the intended recipient. If you disapprove of such malpractice, you may find E2EE-based web3 email services worthy of your attention.
Dmail is by far not the only option. Other web3 mailbox providers include Tildamail, Ledgermail, Hashmail, Mailchain, Ethermail, Metamail, and more.
2. Web3 browsers: privacy-focused gateway to the world of dapps
It is puzzling to realize how many basic online services are dominated by Google. Web2 browsers are yet another example of that pattern. As per recent data, Chrome's market share has already exceeded 65.4% worldwide.
It is partially due to the Google-owned Android's dominance in the mobile OS market (ca. 72%), but Chrome reigns supreme also in the desktop segment with over 66% of the market share.
Obviously, there are alternatives, such as Edge, Firefox, Safari, or DuckDuckGo (yup, in addition to a search service, they offer a mobile app and a Chrome extension for desktops), some with privacy- or even web3-friendly features. Still, none of them fits into the "next web" model to the extent comparable with native web3 browsers.
The latter come with a range of features combining conventional browser functions and web3-dedicated tools. They allow you to engage with the world of a decentralized economy and interact with blockchain-based decentralized applications, keeping control of your data and even profiting from it.
Brave – a web3 browser with a built-in wallet and crypto rewards
A notable example of a web3 browser is Brave, a free, open-source, Chromium-based application first released in November 2019. Brave offers enhanced privacy, automatically blocking website trackers and online ads.
It comes with a Brave Wallet built directly into the browser, allowing you to buy, send, store, and swap thousands of assets, including NFTs, on over 100 blockchain networks, such as Ethereum, Solana, Filecoin, and more.
Brave enables users to easily access blockchain-based services without installing any extensions or having to connect to a crypto wallet every time you switch between dapps. It also offers a game-changing feature allowing users to earn money in the form of Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) cryptocurrency for turning on optional ads.
Other noteworthy web3 browsing services include Osiris, Puma, and Opera Crypto Browser, a web3 version of the classic web2 Opera browser.
3. Web3 search engines: get top results without compromising anonymity
Google's supremacy in the search engine business hasn't waned in the last decade. The giant maintains a solid advantage over the competition with a colossal 93% market share, while the runner-up, Microsoft's Bing, is still stuck in the low one-digits.
Throughout the years, Google Search has evolved into a complex ecosystem with a bunch of more or less interrelated online services. It also spawned a gigantic SEO market estimated at nearly $75 billion. Whatever your opinion of Google, the undeniable fact is that the company's business model is based on harvesting users' data for marketing and God-knows-what-other purposes.
Things might have just started to change with the sudden arrival of conversational artificial intelligence. Google is now facing ominous competition from the next-level technology, spearheaded by ChatGPT-enhanced Bing. However, the company will surely fight back, and it won't be soon – if ever – before it loses its dominance.
So, if you're looking for ways to get unhooked from your favorite search engine and ChatGPT seems like not enough, you might want to check out a few web3 search engine options.
Presearch – stay in control of your private data
Presearch is a decentralized search engine that upends Google's business model. It relies on its community members for providing computing resources as Presearch nodes in return for PRE tokens. Anyone can participate, provided that their computer or server supports Docker.
Unlike most search giants, Presearch is privacy-focused and allows you to control your personal information. The company makes it clear that it doesn't collect or track users' search terms, GPS location, third-party cookies, or activity across websites.
Some information may be collected for account customization (if you decide to set up one), including details provided through the user's profile, email address, IP address, and so forth. Still, with Presearch, you can decide to comb the web anonymously without an account.
The company also assures that it doesn't share or sell your data with other entities without your express consent, with some exceptions available on its privacy page.
Overall, the Presearch engine provides solid search results without spamming you with ads. It also allows you to conveniently switch through other search engines, including Google and DuckDuckGO.
Other web3 search engines worth checking out include HUMBL and nxyz.
4. Web3 domains: own your web location instead of just renting it
Web addresses are a critical component of the internet's infrastructure. Nearly every customer-facing activity online requires having a website connected to a domain name.
If you're a small-scale solopreneur or a local influencer, you may feel like a social media account is enough to target your audience. Ultimately, though, you'll find it hard to scale your business without an independent online presence based on a domain name, hosting, and website.
Getting a web address to start with is a good idea. However, you should know a few things before doing so.
Web2 domain services are provided by registrars – intermediaries connecting registries (managers of top-level domains or TLDs) to end customers. Registries sell names to registrars at a fixed wholesale price. Registrars then sell them with a markup to end customers. Typically, it's impossible to bypass a registrar unless a respective registry decides otherwise (it's more common with new top-level domains). The whole web2 domain name system is controlled by ICANN, a multistakeholder giant known for suffocating in bureaucracy.
The two practical things you need to know about the web2 domain name system are: 1) you can never own a domain name you register – you're just buying a subscription service subject to renewal on a periodic basis (typically once a year); 2) your domain can be taken away from you, based on a UDRP (an arbitrage procedure), a violation of registry's policy, or as a result of legal action.
With web3 domains, things are completely different.
Unstoppable domains – a simple way to disable censorship
When it comes to web3 domains, there are quite a few options to choose from. They vary based on underlying technology, domain name extension (analogous to .com, .net, etc.), service provider, pricing, and a few other factors.
In broad strokes, you can opt for ENS-based addresses with .eth as the native suffix or other integrated TLDs, HNS-based domains enabling you to own a TLD (domain ending), or Unstoppable Domains (UD) – one of the biggest and probably the most recognized web3 domain registry.
UD is a San Francisco-based company established in 2018. It quickly gained popularity, offering blockchain-based domains that cannot be censored or seized by a registry or authorities (hence "unstoppable").
Web3 domains are mnemonic, human-readable versions of crypto wallet addresses but can also serve as an online destination for publishing content or advertising your business. Unlike web2 names, they require only a one-time payment and can be owned.
Plus, they're extremely secure and censorship-resistant. Currently, UD offers nine domain endings: .crypto, .nft, .x, .wallet, .bitcoin, .dao, .888, .zil, .blockchain.
Other web3 domain providers to check out include ENS, Handshake, Bonfida, Freename.io, and PeerName.
5. Web3 video sharing: how to not get banned
Video sharing is yet another area of Google's dominion. YouTube, the platform Google bought in 2006 for $1.65 billion, has long been an industry leader, with a current market share of over 75%, according to Datanyze. Second-ranking Vimeo is far below with less than 20%. The remaining competition is practically negligible.
With over 2 billion users, YouTube exerts immense influence on the online ecosystem for good and bad. The platform has been accused of using censorship, imposing bans, taking down accounts on meager grounds, and pushing certain narratives. Consequences can be heavy for those basing their business model on distributing video content through YouTube.
Privacy concerns are also an issue. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General alleged that YouTube illegally collected personal information from children without their parents' consent. Google paid a record $170 million to settle the complaint.
If you feel like you could use more control over your content and keep your privacy safe, web3 video sharing platforms might be right for you.
Odysee – sell or share your content, and get tipped
There are at least several alternatives for YouTube in the web3 space, the most notable being Odysee, owned by LBRY, Inc. It's a video platform running on top of the LBRY protocol, a file-sharing and payment network based on blockchain and BitTorrent technologies.
The company behind the project describes Odysee and other LBRY-based apps as platforms for free speech. There is light moderation, though, to prevent the promotion of violence, pornography, and terrorism.
Odysee offers earning opportunities for users with its native LBRY Credits (LBC) cryptocurrency. You can make money on the platform by way of rewards, referring other users, helping the platform with various tasks, such as testing, and, most of all, publishing content – you can either set a price on it or get tipped by fans.
Other ways to acquire LBC tokens are buying them at selected exchanges or mining them. For details, check this website: https://lbry.com/faq/earn-credits . To drive more content to the platform, Odysee enables YouTube synchronization. Users can automatically mirror all past and future YouTube videos to their Odysee channel.
If you're hungry for more web3 video-sharing platforms, try BitChute, DTube, DLive, LensTube.xyz, Theta.tv.
6. Web3 messaging apps: legacy messengers won't drop eavesdropping, so why not drop them?
Messaging apps is another online industry dominated by the big guys, and it's only mildly satisfying Google has no say in this domain. In a large part of the world, the market is commanded by Meta, the owner of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
The former boasts a userbase of about 2 billion – over twice as many as the latter, according to Statista. Services like WeChat and QQ are essentially limited to China. The middle-weight players are Snapchat and Telegram, with the former focused on visual content and the latter popular mainly in Eastern Europe and India.
There's probably no need to discuss the downsides of Messenger. It's part of a social media behemoth devouring user data in exorbitant amounts. With WhatsApp it's a bit different story. The app uses end-to-end encryption and assures that user's privacy is its priority.
Indeed, once upon a time, the company set a benchmark of secure messaging, but things have changed. In 2021, WhatsApp updated its policy, causing backlash from privacy advocates. "It requires data sharing with Facebook, doesn't offer encryption for chat backups, and 'mines' the metadata of your messages," said Ashley Simmons, founder of avoidthehack! On top of this, due to its popularity, WhatsApp has become one of the main targets for scammers, phishers, and other sorts of cyber criminals.
If this feels like too much to handle, why not probe into web3 alternatives?
Status – 100% privacy in a peer-to-peer environment
One of them is Status, an app combining a secure messaging service, a crypto wallet, and a web3 browser. Launched in 2020 and officially based in Switzerland, Status was co-developed by an international team of engineers as an open-source project made available on GitHub for third-party verification.
The app is young, which may raise security concerns, but it has passed two independent audits ahead of its beta and production v1 releases. As a web3 tool, Status provides decentralized services routing messages via a peer-to-peer network for greater privacy and security.
The system uses a modified version of the double ratchet algorithm supporting Perfect Forward Secrecy – a type of encryption enabling frequent and automatic changes of cryptographic private keys to prevent unauthorized data decryption. In simple terms, your past and future messages are safe even if hackers steal your encryption keys.
Status enables 100% private accounts with no need to provide a name, email, phone number, or payment details, it is fully immune to censorship, and supports worldwide payments within the app.
The messenger's non-custodial crypto wallet allows you to store and send all ERC20 tokens, including SNT (Status Network Token) and ERC721 tokens (an NFT standard).
If you wish to explore more web3 messengers, look up the following: Secretum, Nansen Connect, 0XChat, BChat. All of them offer similar features in key areas, as illustrated in the graphics below.
7. Web3 social networks: decentralize your social environment
The world of social networks seems to be more diverse and balanced in terms of market share than that of search engines or messaging apps. The detailed picture depends on how you define social networks, but typically they include platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, Discord, or Reddit, each with unique features, advantages, and flaws.
Wherever your stand in the Facebook-is-for-boomers debate, the jewel in the Meta's crown keeps outdoing the competition by a long stretch – as shown in the illustration below. Plus, if you count Instagram in and add WhatsApp to the equation, you may get the impression that Meta has swallowed most of the social media market, leaving few tidbits for its big tech colleagues (excluding YouTube, which fits better in the video sharing category).
As you can see, the diversity in the web2 social space is, to a large degree, superficial. So is the transparency, with the networks harvesting, analyzing, and monetizing our private data to serve us personalized ads, manipulate our opinions, sway our emotions, and influence our political choices (remember Cambridge Analytica?).
If you don't approve of such a business model, how about considering web3 alternatives?
DiamondApp – own your data, mint your crypto
Web3 social networks differ from their web2 counterparts on several levels. The key contrast lies in the approach to data privacy and ownership. Most blockchain-based social media empower users to have control over their data and earn cryptocurrency. A notable example is DiamondApp, a decentralized platform modeled on Twitter, launched in the fall of 2022.
The service is built on the layer-1 DeSo (a short for "decentralized social") blockchain, developed by the DeSo Foundation to enable scaling storage-heavy apps to billions of users and advance the decentralization of social media. Diamond's ecosystem is designed around the microblogging service, similar to Twitter's, but with a higher word limit, set to around 580 words.
The platform ensures full ownership of users' personal data and content. It also has some neat crypto-related features, like one-click NFT minting, issuing your cryptocurrency, buying and selling tokens of your favorite Diamond influencers, or rewarding other writers on the platform.
Other noteworthy web3 social media include Minds, Steemit, Mastodon, Peepeth, DSCVR, Phaver, and JoinCircle.
Web3 vs. web2 – reclaim control over your assets
The examples described above are but a sample of solutions the web3 space has in stock. There are digital tools and platforms in all sorts of areas known to you from the web2 experience, such as music streaming, professional networks, remote work, file sharing, crowdfunding, insurance, gaming, no-code web development, dating, and many more. It's up to you to explore these niches and find which web paradigm and service suits you best.
When you do that, consider the value of your privacy, data, and activity online, as web3 providers allow you to control and monetize them, while web2 platforms readily help themselves to your identity and creativity for their exclusive gain.