Maybe we’re not sure yet.
Reading the tweet from Jack Dorsey and the presentation package from TBD, a business unit within the Block (formerly known as Square), it was very similar to the approach that the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has been working on for a while, and similar to explain the philosophy of the team at Avast (formerly Evernym): the twin pillars of verifiable credentials and DIDs (decentralized identifiers) are a requirement for a user-controlled, largely privacy-protecting, self-sovereign digital identity solution.
The actual definition given in the TBD presentation package is as follows: “Web5 is a decentralized web platform that allows developers to use decentralized identifiers, verifiable credentials, and decentralized web nodes to write decentralized web apps, taking ownership and control of identity and data be returned to individuals”. TBD also likes to emphasize the importance of being open source. The site states, “We believe an open source model will win in a decentralized, permissionless world.”
Just a few weeks ago, I had Kaliya Young, co-founder of the Internet Identity Workshop and a pioneer in decentralized digital identity, on my podcast to talk about self-sovereign identity. There, she went out of her way to explain the importance of the open source approach, saying, “There are projects that are doing crazy things on blockchains. What we’re talking about with self-sovereign decentralized identities and the communities we work with, is to focus on developing open standards, which is basically a recipe book that anyone around the world can follow.” Kaliya says the recipe for verifiable credentials, which is a set of identity information from a trusted source, is in its best form an issued credential that sits in a person’s wallet, allowing the individual to decide where and when they share that information. this reference is presented in a verifiable presentation form, any verifier can come to find the cryptographic key material hosted at the DID.
What is different about Web5 if we take the two pillars of verifiable credentials and DIDs, and an open source approach?
One possibility is that Web5 offers guaranteed portability for personal identity. One of the biggest concerns about digital identity is that a recentralization of identity ownership would happen in the name of ease of use, with the platform players we commonly use for so many of life’s digital tools becoming the default wallets that hold our digital identities, shielded from others. platforms, other providers or our personal access to be deployed elsewhere. In Arizona, for example, Apple has already launched digital identity through mobile driver licenses (mDLs). It means that Arizona residents can now keep their driver’s license in their Apple Wallet, ready for presentation wherever they need to self-authorize. Apple is the ultimate walled garden.
But it is a big problem not to lock your data with a single supplier. As Kaliya had mentioned, there is concern about the potential for platforms to pursue their own wallets within their own walled gardens, creating a form of “lock-in” for users. And she’s adamant that in the digital world we should see this as: U.S wallet, where we should manage it (or these), regardless of which platforms we use. Monopolistic players shouldn’t be able to retain users and control the ecosystem where “you could end up with a system where verifiers have to pay every time.”
TBD seems to agree. Using the example of a persona named Bob, who is a music lover, they explain that “…there is a way out of seller-locked silos. Bob can keep this data in his decentralized web node. In this way, Bob can give any music app access to its settings and preferences, so that he can take his personal music experience with him wherever he goes. That’s why Web5 gives users ownership of their data.” Something that TBD seems to think will not be provided by a VC supported Web3 model, as they see it.
But the biggest differentiator seems to be that Web5 will be built on Bitcoin, which Dorsey and many others consider to be the preeminent decentralized network, and the only real option as the foundation for a truly decentralized web. In my book, The Future of You, which looks at the different ways the self becomes a digital self, I wrote that your Bitcoin address could very well replace your name as the most reliable representation of your identity, and that this eventually it would change the relationship we have with the state.
And for that reason, no matter what Web5 is revealed in full, or Web6 or Web7 for that matter, we’re moving towards a new identity system like we’ve never seen before.