Illustration created by Midjourney with the prompt “An impressionist photo of ballerina leaping over the pacific ocean at sunset –ar 16:9 –v 5”
The next generation of the World Wide Web (web3) is being built on blockchains using tools and technologies similar to the ones that empower cryptocurrency, NFTs, smart contracts, and the world of DeFi. While there is no agreed-upon technical definition for web3, my favorite philosophical definition is: “A decentralized platform that empowers both users and creators to share in the value they create.” It’s a nice idea, but how would it actually work?
One way is to create decentralized websites with centralized services to help people figure out where their content is. I described how to do this a couple of years ago in a blog post titled, “What is a Web3 website?” But now, there’s a better way.
This past week, more than a year after it was proposed, ERC-4804 was finalized. It is a set of standards and guidelines that describes how users could directly access web3 content on Ethereum-compatible blockchains, including decentralized apps (dApps), smart contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), using the prefix “web3://” in their browsers.
Though, in many cases, the Ethereum ecosystem still relies on centralized web servers to provide access to dApps, ERC-4804 is going to pave the way for additional decentralization. In theory, it could help bypass censorship, and open up new possibilities for dynamic NFTs, on-chain music, personal websites, hostless wallets, and decentralized alternatives to services such as Dropbox and GitHub.
How Does ERC-4804 Work?
Under ERC-4804, internet users have the option to type “web3://” (as opposed to “http://” or “https://”) in their browsers to bring up dApps (such as Uniswap, PancakeSwap, OpenSea, etc.) or on-chain NFTs directly. This is because the standard allows users to directly run a query to the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM).
ERC-4804 was designed to be compatible with the HTTP-URL standard (including rules regarding relative pathing, query, fragment, etc.). This means that the support of existing (web2) URLs can extend to web3 URLs with minimal modification. More importantly, web2 users can easily access web3 sites with little prerequisite knowledge.
This Isn’t Close To Real Yet
There are very, very few things you can do with web3 technology that you cannot do faster, cheaper, and more securely using existing web2 tools. So, you have to ask yourself: Why is blockchain a better solution for your project than a well-structured database with a secure password?
If you do have a business model or a process or workflow that would benefit from decentralization, ERC-4804 holds great promise. There are, however, some very practical limitations. For example: storing large amounts of data on Ethereum or EVM-compatible blockchains is prohibitively expensive. At the time of this writing (March 2023), 1 GB of on-chain data costs roughly $10 million. For reference, that’s about 200 to 300 good quality images from an iPhone or a few hundred songs. An average 90-minute HD movie (2GB to 4GB) might cost you up to $40 million to store. There are some 90-minute HD movies that didn’t cost that much to produce.
Will ERC-4804 Lead to More Criminal Activity?
Sites and services that have previously faced censorship or sanctions may see web3 as an opportunity to do business or express themselves without the fear of being shut down. This is because, unlike web2 websites which have unique physical addresses at centralized authorities, web3 websites and other digital assets that adhere to ERC-4804 will be stored on EVM-compatible blockchains which are fully decentralized. In theory, the content will be immutable and uncensorable. See “What is a Web3 website?” for reference.
When Will All This Happen?
Qi Zhou, one of the developers of ERC-4804, introduced the finalized standard at ETHDenver last week. You can watch the video here. It’s not the most inspiring performance I’ve ever seen. That said, if developers like the new standard, they’ll start developing now. I’m not sure if ERC-4804 is the future of web3, but it does look like a well-thought-out next step.
The authors of ERC-4804 have asked that their work be cited as follows: Qi Zhou (@qizhou), Chao Pi (@pichaoqkc), Sam Wilson (@SamWilsn), “ERC-4804: Web3 URL to EVM Call Message Translation,” Ethereum Improvement Proposals, no. 4804, February 2022. [Online serial]. Available: https://eips.ethereum.org/EIPS/eip-4804.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.