Web 3.0 & THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: Is Africa ready for the digital and physical worlds to merge into the metaverse?

Published 9 months ago
Silhouette of a man interacting with virtual computer graphics

By Tiana Cline

THE INTERNET MAY HAVE evolved from a niche pastime to an essential part of our day-to-day life but for many, it’s problematic.

The internet in its current form, Web 2.0, has become too centralized with only a handful of big technology companies – and governments – dominating the market. There’s even a collective name for these giants who have transformed the way we work, shop and socialize: FAANG – Facebook (now Meta), Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix and Google-owner Alphabet.

Web 3.0 is the third generation of the internet, a decentralized online ecosystem based on the blockchain. The term was coined by a computer scientist named Gavin Wood in 2014. Wood co-founded Ethereum, the decentralized blockchain platform behind the cryptocurrency ether (ETH).

In a podcast with CNBC, Wood explained that the biggest issue with Web 2.0 is trusting the people behind the services: “We’ve managed to architect ourselves into this somewhat dystopian version of what the world could be,” he said. This is why, for many, Web 3.0 is about looking at the internet in a more distributed and democratic way. It’s also a critical building block towards creating the metaverse, an immersive online world. Venture capitalists are investing billions of dollars into this future vision while others remain sceptical, calling Web 3.0 a marketing buzzword and a pyramid scheme. Both Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, are known to be ‘against’ the concept, Musk tweeting that “Web 3 isn’t real” and that he couldn’t see a compelling use-case for the VR-driven metaverse.

Brian Solis, a world-renowned digital anthropologist and futurist, explains to FORBES AFRICA that even though the promise of the internet that we’re using today was wonderful, it has negative impacts and consequences that we’re only just beginning to understand: “I was one of the biggest champions of social media and I still believe in its promise,” he says. “I don’t necessarily believe in the capitalism behind it and how it has evolved… but those same principles can apply and should apply to Web 3.0.”

Solis also differentiates between the aspirational sense of what Web 3.0 could be and where we are today. “There are many aspects of the hype cycle in Web 3.0 – the metaverse, blockchain, NFTs, crypto… they lay the foundation for what we can build in terms of utility and scale.”

While global research and consultancy agency Gartner says Web 3.0 won’t necessarily overtake Web 2.0 before the end of the decade, it will enable new business and social models where users own their own data, identity, content and algorithms. And that is what makes Web 3.0 so valuable – it shifts digital power back into the hands of the user, rather than to a secondary platform, integrating both the physical and digital world.

Will Africa enter the Metaverse?

For Africa, it’s a little different. While the concept of a digital currency may be confusing at first, Africa embraced mobile money in 2007 with M-Pesa. Africa’s willingness to adopt new technologies that benefit its growing population should not be taken for granted – what was once a basic SIM card-based money transfer application is now a fully-fledged financial service.

Liebe Jeannot, the founder and manager partner of Akazi Capital, a blockchain-based impact fund that invests in female entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa, is optimistic about Web 3.0. “We’re still in early days. This is only the beginning of the cycle so I’m excited to see how things will evolve based on what’s happened in the past but also in terms of new entrants coming into the space,” she says.

A study by Chainalysis, a blockchain data platform with an extensive global research hub, found that Africa not only had the third-fastest growing cryptocurrency economy globally in 2021, it led the world in the share of overall crypto transaction volume coming from peer-to-peer. Today, the second-largest bitcoin market can be found in Nigeria, which also happens to be only one of five nations with a government-introduced central bank digital currency.

“Even though there are countries in Africa with really high crypto-adoption rates, so much of the continent hasn’t jumped on board. It speaks to the fact that when we talk about Web 3.0, it’s a concept that’s quite removed from a lot of people in terms of their lives and what they think it can do,” adds Jeannot. “As soon as you can bring those concepts close to home and show them concepts that they can relate to, that’s when you’ll have more people entering the space with things becoming more user-friendly in terms of the way in which we interact with technology.”

Jeannot believes that Africa is ready to unlock Web 3.0. And that this new, future vision for the internet will become a reality in the same way that we use email.

“We don’t have to understand the technology behind it, what goes on behind the scenes in terms of code, but we understand the way we interact with it and how we

apply it to our daily life,” she says. “It’s going to be a similar thing with Web 3.0. NFTs, for example, play an interesting role because people relate to art – you collect it or you enjoy it but in order to buy NFTs, it doesn’t have to be complicated,” says Jeannot.

“The space is so diverse with many different projects that speak to different parts of who we are as people. There’s still a lot of room for African projects by Africans and as we start bringing more people from the continent into the space as investors, there’ll be more of an appetite from people wanting to consume and be a part of Web.3.0.”