Web 4: The Emergence of Collective Computing
“The key thing about all the world’s big problems is that they have to be dealt with collectively. If we don’t get collectively smarter, we’re doomed”—Douglas Engelbart.
This article was published on Medium on Sept 16, 2022.
If humanity is an adolescent, the Web is a toddler. The existing iterations of the Web - including Web 3 - do not decentralize the web experience which arguably is the most important aspect of being on the Web. While Web 1 decentralizes information, Web 2 decentralizes publishing, and Web 3 decentralizes ownership and transactions, even in their most idealistic and elusive incarnations, the web page remains under the control of the page author. If the page author enables comments, you can comment at the bottom of the page; if not, you can’t.
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Web 1, Web 2, and Web 3 all consider the content on a page to be sacrosanct. They do not support the contemplation, questioning, or discussion of information on the page because they allow whatever is on the page to stand alone without context, making it easy to consume, digest, and share, regardless of its value, accuracy, or relevance. While anyone can publish on the web and social media, it's difficult to get anything taken down.
Given that the current web paradigm is endemic with false news, abusers, and scams - all of which prevent us from trusting what we see on the Web, the future urgently calls for another approach.
Leaping from Web 3 to Web 5
On June 10th, 2022, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and currently CEO of Block, said his team’s most important contribution to the Internet will probably be Web 5. Web 5 brings decentralized identity and data storage to applications, enabling developers to focus on creating delightful user experiences while returning ownership of data and identity to individuals.
The logic is that Web 5 = Web 2 + Web 3, combining the captivating experiences of social media with decentralized ownership of data and identity, built on the Bitcoin network. While Web 2 and Web 3 operate in their own silos, and a marriage of the approaches could certainly be a giant step forward, it still leaves much of Web 1 out of the picture.
Thus, Jack’s Web5 (which is different than the Web5 proclaimed by the Web’s founder Tim Berners-Lee
This begs the question, does yet another web technology silo merit having its own web generational number? Web 2 and Web 3 are silos. Should Web 5 be another silo that combines two silos? Time will tell.
Jack’s proclamation created a void that the Internet noticed instantaneously: what happened to Web 4?
Even before Jack’s Web5—and more since—claims to the Web 4 mantle emerged from startups and pundits defining it variously as a truly decentralized organization (by webfour.io), semantic web driven by AI and machine learning; an invisible yet active web with virtual assistants that know your habits and tastes; a seamless and “frictionless” combination of blockchain, machine learning, AI, VR, AR, robotics, 5G and IoT; mobility and voice interaction between the user and robots; and a web that connects all mobile devices in the real and virtual world in real-time. While these are likely on the way (if not already part of Web 3), none seem worthy of the Web 4 distinction, given the current timeline on which we are operating.
Enter the Metaweb
If the Web is a toddler, the Metaweb is in the birth canal.
While the Metaweb incorporates elements of Web 2 and Web 3 and builds upon - and literally over - Web 1, it is clearly different from all of those.
The Metaweb takes a novel approach to the web experience. While it does not alter the content of any web page, it creates decentralized public space above every web page such that communities can create worlds of information, interactions, transactions, and experiences above any web page.
Unbeknownst to most people, the Web has a BIG missing feature. The famous web browser builder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen spoke about this in 2012 but very few paid attention. The Metaweb is an unused space for computation and presence above the webpage. We will explore the possibilities of the Metaweb and how we can leverage it to mitigate if not solve the seemingly intractable problems that humanity is facing. We will also explore an emerging Web3 zone in the Metaweb designed to provide a level of safety from bad actors, data security and sovereignty, contextual information for online information, and fair value exchange for participants that is impossible in today’s web.
The problem is that we see the web as flat and static. Because of happenstance and limited thinking, we have not taken full advantage of our existing technological capabilities regarding safe decentralized public spaces for people to connect, meet, and collaborate. A select group of people only considered building above the webpage in limited terms so it is difficult for most people to imagine what is possible with a hyper-dimensional web. But we assure you, by the time this book drops or soon thereafter, more people may well be active on the Metaweb than on Metaverse.
Today’s flat and static web is like being in the early 1800s in the world of cake. For all time, until then, all cakes had been just a single layer. In fact, you wouldn’t even think of it as a layer; the cake was a monolith, uniform and indivisible… except with a knife. But in the 1950s, someone came along and made a cake with multiple layers, changing the entire paradigm around what a cake was. It was now possible to have many layers on a cake, inspiring a whole new category of cakes called layer cakes and later wedding cakes. Bakers could then imagine a world of possibilities for layers to enhance taste, texture, and display.
In this metaphor, today’s Web is the first layer of a cake.
The Four-Layer Web Cake
Please visualize with me the cross-section of a four-layer cake. From the top, you can see that the cake’s aspect ratio and orientation are the same as if you are looking at a laptop screen. In fact, imagine grabbing it by its sides and propping it up at an angle so that it is at the same angle as your laptop screen.
We see the first layer is simply what you think of as the Web of today—the page content and any embedded ads or pop-ups.
Now imagine a mostly transparent second layer of annotations—in its most simplistic and common form, notes attached to pieces of text that are dynamically displayed as an overlay to the first layer that is triggered by the viewer's attention.
If your cursor comes near a piece of text with annotations attached, the text snippet will highlight it, and clicking it displays an overview of every piece of information that is attached to the snippet.
In his seminal 1945 article “As We May Think”, Vannevar Bush envisioned the first and second layers as foundational in the modern computer. Later, in the early 1990s, the first widely distributed web browsers—Mosaic and its successor Netscape—supported both layers. But in 1995, because of competitive and technological challenges, the Netscape browser removed the annotation layer. Since then, a series of now mostly defunct browser extensions have bolted simplistic annotation capabilities onto the browser. Only a handful remain with Hypothesis being the leader in the space and about to reach its 40 millionth annotation.
The third layer of the cake is Web3. Web3 overlays a digital wallet protected by cryptography on a web page so that you can allow smart contracts to access your wallet and make purchases. Essentially, you become your own bank, transacting without a middleman.
You're one of the first to know about the top layer of the cake—the fourth layer, a transparent layer called the Metaweb that places code above related content on webpages. The code enables computations above the content on a webpage that presents information and options to participants, handles their interactions, and presents the results. As shown in the figure below, this fourth layer allows real people, information, interactions, and even digital nations to have a presence above the web page.
The Metaweb is arriving now, and it brings together Web 1 and Web 3, providing a wallet, annotations, and interactions over billions of web pages. While it will ultimately work with the social media sites and traditional DApps, the Metaweb will itself serve as a safe, social layer with ownership and accountability above the entire web. The Metaweb is a Web above the Web, or more precisely, a hyper-dimensional Web over the Web, an Internet over the Internet.
Thus, the Metaweb is Web 4. Web 4 decentralizes the web page and therefore the web experience by enabling anyone to have a presence on web pages and to provide contextual information and interactions for pieces of content on the page, creating a decentralized hyper-dimensional web.
As shown in the figure below, the number of sites addressed by the Metaweb dwarfs the number of sites involved in both Web 2 and Web 3.
Whereas the other Web 4 claimants are neutral regarding democracy, the Metaweb highly aligns with a democratic future. It is inconceivable that extrapolating today’s web into the Metaverse or any AI, virtual assistant, 5G mobile-first world without unprecedented safeguards will portend the fair and just democratic future that is our birthright.
The Web is our most important communication and collaboration tool and the center of modern life. Addressing our global challenges will require unprecedented levels of connection, communication, and collaboration. Given the extent of our global challenges, we must leverage our tools—and especially the Web—to their fullest collaborative expressions. We are already deep in the exploration of the Web’s most negative and harmful expressions. If we continue to rely on a web that is rife with scams, abusers, and false information, I can't imagine humanity being able to transcend its existential threats.
The Metaweb unlocks this possibility.
Towards Collective Intelligence
From the 1960s to the 1980s, a shy engineer named Douglas Engelbart tirelessly sought to bring collective computing to the web. He wanted to equip the people who are working on global challenges with much better tools. Although he is best known for inventing the computer mouse and the Mother of All Demos in 1968, his most significant contributions were envisioning tools that would increase humanity’s collective intelligence.
As the rate and scale of change continued to increase worldwide, Engelbart foresaw that the complexity and urgency of problems and opportunities would increase exponentially, and our collective capability for pursuing these challenges would need to increase if not surpass this rate of change, for humanity to thrive on Earth. Doug’s passion was human intellect, which he later called Collective IQ, a measure of how quickly and effectively a team or organization could collectively address a complex, urgent problem or opportunity. He dedicated himself to boost both Collective IQ and humanity’s ability to apply Collective IQ to improving its Collective IQ, getting smarter at getting smarter.
Doug designed systems to enable people to work together on important challenges by drawing people in, making connections between them, and advancing their ideas towards solutions. He designed tools, processes, and organizational structures that supported the evolution of solutions to important problems by leveraging collective cognitive capacities—including perception, memory, insight, vision, planning, reasoning, foresight, and experience—into applicable knowledge. The systems would grow; both the people and information could change the process, enabling the system and its various elements to become more effective.
Doug wanted hue able to think, learn, and build knowledge so that we could collectively address our then-forthcoming but now pressing global challenges.
But as the computer revolution took hold around him, opposing paradigms such as office automation, artificial intelligence, WYSIWYG, and personal computers gained popularity, closing off funding sources and organizational support for his work. Thus, the world veered away from Doug’s vision of collective computing to boost human intellect towards the personal computing-based hot mess that we have today.
Bridgit DAO proudly follows in the footsteps of Doug Engelbart, exploring the new capabilities needed to boost collective intelligence, including new tools and new ways of interacting with knowledge and with each other—new methodologies, symbols, organizational roles, and structures, as well as new ways of speaking about it all. We are confident that the co-evolution of the Web, the Metaverse, the Spatial Web, and the Metaweb along with knowledge-building processes and decentralizing organizational structures can enable the continuous building and application of knowledge, supporting a growing collective intelligence that will enable humanity to face its current and future challenges.
Bridgit DAO has two initiatives that are helping bring about the Metaweb: the Presence Browser and the Metaweb book.
The Presence Browser
Bridgit DAO joined with two firms to build the Presence Browser overlay, which we consider to be essential infrastructure for a hyper-dimensional web.
Our Presence Browser overlay provides access to the Overweb — the first full instantiation of the Metaweb. The Overweb is a safe digital space in which real people, information, and interactions have a presence over the webpage. The overlay is accessible through browser extensions, an SDK, and a forthcoming mobile app. Overlay applications and ultimately browsers will adopt the protocol. Thus, entire communities connect across devices and applications. The benefit to society is ultimately a more connected citizenry that is equipped to take part in all levels of democracy.
The intention is to develop an ecosystem that motivates individuals, teams, and communities to connect and interact around their shared areas of interest. We do this with community incentives that reward activities that build the ecosystem.
The Presence overlay technology won the award for “Disruptive Technology Culture Drivers” from the EU’s flagship NGI program. This award is for actively building a new culture around technology that breaks up knowledge silos, creates contextual intelligence, connects disciplines, and targets a diverse audience. The initiator of the Overweb, Bridgit DAO, was the only non-European company to win a Next Generation Internet award from the EU’s flagship program.
Access to the Overweb through the Presence Browser overlay enables people who want a richer web experience to interact, collaborate, and learn together on the same web page with no coordination — even if they don’t know each other or speak the same language — via a browser overlay tool that navigates an interactive self-generating, collective learning map referred to as the Universal Content Graph.
For more information, visit the Presence Browser website.
The Metaweb Book
Bridgit DAO is authoring a book called “The Metaweb: The Next Level of the Internet”. The book is about a new layer on top of the web that creates decentralized public space above the web page, which will drastically reduce the problems with false information, abusers, and scammers, as well as enable an unprecedented level of connection and coordination that is necessary to deal with our existential threats. Our publisher is the renowned Taylor & Francis. This will be both a physical book and an NFT book (Taylor & Francis’ first NFT book).
We are planning a generative Pre-sale NFT series for the book. Purchasers of the Pre-sale NFTs will be airdropped an NFT book upon the release of the IRL book (slated for early 2023). Holders of the Pre-sale NFTs and the NFTbook can stake the NFTs to earn a royalty allocation based on the relative time staked and the staking power of the staked NFTs.
To learn more about the book and NFTs, please visit https://bridgit.io/metaweb-book and sign up for our list to be notified of NFT and book drops.
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