The Browser Monopoly Threatening Web3
How wide usage of browsers impacts Web3 and threatens its development.
Web3 promises a better internet. Decentralization of power, airtight privacy, web-wide transparency, fewer ads, and a more empowered community of users are just a few of the possibilities of Web3. Who wouldn’t want all these changes?
While Web3 looks brilliant on paper, it is far from an ideal situation for many of the major tech companies currently dominating the internet. Big Tech has entrenched itself in the present version of the web (Web2) and set very deep roots. At this moment, Web3 is far from a guaranteed reality. Change is not just a matter of time.
Is all hope lost for Web3? No, of course not, but there are some massive hurdles that need to be overcome in order to bring about sweeping positive changes to the World Wide Web. One of the biggest challenges Web3 applications and advocates must face is the lack of independent browsers.
How We Access the Internet
How do you access the internet? It may seem like a silly question, but currently there are really only a few options to getting online. Once you're online, the number of sites, services, and platforms seems endless. But in order to get there you must rely on a web browser. Basically, a browser is the road or path into the internet, you can access any information without one and at the moment there are only a few options to choose from.
Browser Popularity and Feedback Loops
According to StatCounter, as of April, 2022 Google Chrome holds about 64% of all global internet browser market share. Coming in deep second is Apple’s Safari with a modest 19%. After that, you have Microsoft Edge at 4%, Mozilla Firefox at 3.4%, Samsung Internet at 2.9%, and Opera at just 2%. Can you see the problem?
Google holds roughly ⅔ of the market. Apple takes up most of the remaining shares, where all the rest barely combine to make up 10% of all traffic. This disparity of size between browser providers creates issues, not just because of antitrust laws, but because web developers build applications for browsers. If a web application isn’t ported or optimized for a specific browser it likely will not run properly.
Now, if you want to get the most out of the internet and you want to be sure your browser can handle everything that you throw at it, it only makes sense to use the most popular browser with the largest market share. Why? Because developing for the web takes time and teams working on various projects won’t see much value in building programs to run well on a browser that only reaches 5% of users.
If we expand this trend over long periods of time, this exchange leads to a feedback loop where the bigger browsers gain more users and the smaller providers fade into nonexistence.
The Problem With Browser Monopolies
Ok, so sure Google, and maybe Apple, will eventually gain full control over access to the internet, what's the big deal? Chrome and Safari are fantastic services with more features than their competitors, they deserve to be more successful, survival of the fittest and all that, right?
While competition does breed innovation and the cream certainly does rise to the top. At a certain point, after the other internet browsers are stomped out of the industry for good, the lack of competition will allow the remaining players to do whatever they want without any pushback. Simply put, they will have complete and absolute control over how a browser should operate.
This is a massive existential threat to Web3. If an ad company controls all traffic (or even most) on the internet, it's safe to say users will be tracked and data profiles will continue to be created on users.
Also, the remaining browsers will have an extreme amount of say over what gets developed for the web. If the browser provider doesn’t like something, and let’s say, cuts access to the project, program, or service that’s it. Finito.
Web3 vs Big Tech
Web3 is a very real threat to Big Tech. Obviously, they don’t want to lose their user bases to thousands of decentralized applications. The large server providers, like AWS, don’t want to become irrelevant. These companies love the status quo and will do whatever it takes to continue things as usual posting increasing (or even record-breaking) profits year after year.
Developing a New Internet: The Future of Web3
What can Web3 do to fight back and carve out its place on the internet? Well open-source browsers are a great place to start, services like Opera and Brave among others, need more users and need to gain roughly 33% of market share before they can make a meaningful impact.
A massive open-source public initiative, likely with the help of government regulation, could do wonders for actualizing the dream of Web3. Essentially, a public open-source browser that gained wide adoption could become a serious check to Big Tech and balance the browser market.
Something along the lines of what GNU/Linux is doing to the operating systems sector could work but like many problems facing the world these days, there are no easy, simple, apparent solutions.
But there is something you can do now: start switching off services run by giant tech corporations in favor of open-source alternatives. Ditch Microsoft Word for Libre, toss Safari for Brave, say goodbye to Google Drive and head over to Internxt.
It’s not much but it’s honest, and with enough of a shift of opinion, we can make Web3 a reality—one user at a time!