“Hello, World” – a simple start that signalling the birth of coding and the internet. From the static web pages of Web 1.0 to the dynamic landscapes of Web 2.0 and the promise of Web 3.0, this iconic phrase has started countless digital adventures. It all began with a simple welcome to a new world.
How they look like?
A turning point in computer history happened in 1965, when Lawrence Roberts connected two distant computers via a telephone connection, bringing to the era of the World Wide Web. (National Science and Media Museum, 2012) The internet’s progress became unstoppable from this point forth. According to the evolution of the Web, Web 1.0 was primarily about connecting and gathering information; Web 2.0 was all about user involvement and cooperation; Web 3.0, often known as the semantic web, intends to establish a knowledge web that systems can read and categorise. (Nath et al., 2014)
Web 1.0, which was dominant in the early 1990s, was distinguished by static web pages with limited interactivity, primarily operating as information stores. Websites, which were often designed by professionals, served as digital publications with read-only information. Users could navigate these websites by clicking hyperlinks, but their options for engaging with, contributing to, or editing information were limited. (Nath et al., 2014) For instance, Mosaic, the first commercial web browser, released in 1993, had a website that supplied text-based material and images but only permitted basic activities such as downloading the browser or viewing texts. (History Computer Staff, 2021)
In contrast, Web 2.0 changed internet usage and website design. It let users to produce, share, and interact with digital content by introducing user-generated content and interactivity. Popular social networking platforms, such as Facebook, have emphasised online relationships. Facebook users can establish profiles, connect with friends, exchange photographs and videos, and participate in conversations via comments and likes.
Furthermore, Web 2.0 supported open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) (Murugesan, 2007), such as Google Maps API, restaurants use it to display their location, and ride-sharing apps like Uber can employ it for real-time navigation, which streamlining access to mapping capabilities.
Web 3.0 and Web 2.0 have similarities, yet their differences are impacting the Web’s future.
Here is a Forbes Talks that briefly introduces Web 3.0. (Forbes, 2023)
Web 3.0 also known as The Semantic Web. It highlights machine understanding through semantic annotations and artificial intelligence (AI), enabling intelligent searches, customisation, and contextual comprehension. (Nath et al., 2014) ChatGPT is an example that can respond to user questions and engage in more meaningful and context-aware interactions. Also, one of the critical features of Web 3.0 is the idea of decentralisation. It promotes interoperability and moves interactions from user-centric to machine-centric. (Nath et al., 2014) The significant representation in Financial Industry is the decentralised finance (DeFi) platforms, which uses blockchain and smart contracts to decentralise financial services. This created a new financial industry model. (Sharma, 2021)
The Consumerism in the Digital Age
E-commerce becomes the trend, with user-generated content emerging as a new marketing tactic that moving consumers’ trust to peer-generated product reviews and suggestions. Social media and influencer marketing technology allows for more direct and customised engagements between brands and consumers, which changing marketing into a ritual discussion. At the same time, influencer marketing emerged as a potent method for promoting goods and services. Individual accounts with big social media followings and a distinct personal IP could effectively advocate products, increasing consumer interest.
Just like Kathleen Lights, a popular beauty video content maker on the YouTube streaming media platform. Her channel has a wide range of content, such as cosmetic tutorials which guide viewers through advanced beauty looks, honest and comprehensive product reviews that help consumers make informed decisions, and welcoming lifestyle video that gives viewers an insight into her real life. Kathleen interacts with her audience regularly through video comments and live chat sessions. She responds to questions and provides further product information, and even incorporates viewer comments into her material. This customised, real-time connection develops a sense of community and trust. Simultaneously, trust promotes a more intimate level between brands and consumers. (Sheikh, 2020)
Web 2.0, in its journey for convenience, has also presented potential challenges that must be addressed in the realm of consumerism: the right to be informed and the right to choose.
Right to Be Informed
Influential identities like Kathleen Lights sometimes blur the line between real advice and advertisement in the digital age. This lack of transparency risks consumers’ ability to obtain reliable information (Kucuk, 2016). One of the trending digital marketing strategies is Influencer Marketing. Celebrities with an active and engaged following partner with brands to promote items or services to their audience (Newberry, 2022), leveraging trust and personal relationships to drive consumer interest and sales. When commercial collaborations with influencer are not indicated, which challenge the audience’s right to obtain objective information, audiences will lose trust in digital marketing channels.
Right to Choose
The digital ecosystem provides a diverse range of purchasing options, but difficulties arise when monopolistic practises are employed. The dominant platforms or brands may engage in practises that restrict competition and diversity, limiting consumers’ freedom to choose and small business owners’ freedom to sale (Kucuk, 2016). For example, Amazon, as a major e-commerce platform, has come under criticism for purportedly favouring its own products or favouring select retailers, and potentially reducing the display of other products (Palmer, 2021). If dominant platforms favour certain products or sellers, it reduces the possibility of the exposures of others, which leading consumers to see repetitive options. This leads in an identical shopping experience, restricting product discovery, and affecting the accessibility to the goods.
Who’s in Charge of Regulation and Policy?
As we delve deeper into the digital era, questions arise: Who has the responsibility to the digital environment?
While the leading platforms have their own polices and operations, there is a clear need for external control. As demonstrated with Influencer Marketing, the blurred borders between authentic advice and marketing illustrate the need for clear standards that protect customers’ rights to accurate information.
Similarly, dominant platforms’ monopolistic practises can limit customer choice and discourage competition, emphasising the importance of antitrust rules. National governments and international organisations are increasingly intervening to address these issues. For example, the European Union has been at the forefront of data protection rules such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (2023).
However, corporations and governments are not the only players in this terrain. Individuals have a big stake in influencing the digital future as both consumers and netizens. Individuals can influence regulations, demand transparency, and advocate for ethical digital practises through collective actions, online petitions, and grassroots campaigns. For example, The Net Neutrality Movement in United States, is a grassroots campaign in which citizens joined together to advocate for equitable internet access, opposing proposed rules that threatened to prioritise certain online material over others (Obamawhitehouse, 2016). This highlights how knowledgeable and engaged netizens may influence legislative decisions and affect the internet’s future.
The transition from “Hello, World” to Web 3.0 was highlighted by rising complexity and user involvement, which highlighting a key theme: decentralisation. While Web 1.0 and 2.0 provided the groundwork for information transmission and user engagement, Web 3.0 truly reflects the democratisation of the digital environment with its decentralised concept. This decentralisation is a philosophical revolution, undermining conventional power structures and passing agency to the public. The responsibility of duty and regulation is no longer primarily on centralised bodies but is shared by the very people who inhabit the digital sphere. As we negotiate the difficulties of this new era, decentralised ideology could be a sign that pointing us in the direction of a more equal and democratic digital future.
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