While most people in the world of blockchain are paying attention to the top 10 projects on CoinMarketCap, new decentralized projects are being built behind the scenes, companies tackling the main issues that are important problems that have yet to be solved like scalability, security, regulation, trust, and adoption. In 2017, I attended a Hackathon for Blockstack held in New York City focused on building applications. At the time it was hard to tell which companies would become recognized because Billions were being raised for Initial Coin Offerings and the market was extremely crowded with different ideas. Blockstack did not come across like the typical ICO, throwing special events to attract investors and elaborate parties. It appeared they were just focused on delivering applications to be deployed on its network. The founder, Muneeb Ali is said to have been a childhood computer prodigy who built his first computer at age 13. He later went on to graduate from Princeton with a PhD in distributed systems. This is a common pedigree of leaders within the Blockchain world and people like Vitalik Buterin of Ethereum and Changpeng Zhao of Binance share similar talents for their vast computer engineering and programming talents. The world is currently going through a transition and seeing some major changes because of the technological landscape. Centralized organizations have been outed for data collection, privacy issues, and hacking. Younger generations are resisting old traditions and more and more people are vying for individuality and self expression yet at the same time, artificial intelligence and surveillance is rapidly expanding.
Is Decentralization Rising?
It is not evident at this time that the masses are interested in Decentralization. Most everyday people do not even know what this means. If it were explained to them they would probably agree it can be a good thing and would avail them the individuality and self expression they are keen to. If they knew that their information could be compromised by hackers, they would also agree that owning your own data is valuable. Centralization has been challenged many times over the years with companies like Napster in the early 2000’s which allowed anyone to openly share music with each other for free. This caused a major disruption with the music industry for several years until new strategies were initiated. We also saw the same occurrences with software being pirated on P2P networks. This clearly indicates how influential technology has been on the behaviors of its users, and how fast it happens. In 2008 we saw the implementation of decentralized money. While it never became adopted, Bitcoin cultivated a following of “Anarcho-Capitalist” and speculative investors hoping to become rich on this new technology.
When people heard about Bitcoin rising in value, the masses jumped on the bandwagon but it was too late and the bubble had bursted. What these FOMO investors did not realize is that this is an incredible piece of technology and the reinvention of money. They have not been paying attention to the technologies being developed by these world class Cryptographers. I was recently asked by a hedge fund manager “What asset globally is this most correlated to?” and what its backed by is Code. It is intended to change the old ways of doing things online. Blockstack believes the internet is outdated. They believe that most peoples data is at risk, security is weak, hackers have gained a huge advantage, and centralized organizations have not secured its users sensitive information and that is was used ruthlessly for data monetization. To solve this, Blockstack began building an infrastructure with three components: a blockchain using what they refer to as “virtual chains” used to bind digital property like domain names, to public keys. It aims to solve the problem of bootstrapping trust in a decentralized way. A peer network called “Atlas” that gives a global index for discovery information, and lastly a decentralized storage system called Gaia which provides high performance storage backends without introducing central trusted parties.
Using Blockstack Applications
Blockstack has over 80 decentralized applications under its umbrella. I went ahead and experimented with some of them, to get a feel of the ease of use. It begins with a registration for a Blockstack user name, you enter a name and receive a Keypair (Public Key & Private Key) to log in and out of the Blockstack system. When you are logged with your Blockstack user ID you can then proceed to deploy the different apps. Many of these are similar to applications that people currently use on the centralized web such as 1password, DocuSign, Flikr, etc. I began with “Blockvault” and it was easy enough to figure out. You simply enter the name of the site along with your passwords. You can add as many as you want for free. The UX is very simple and as the founder stated during a recent Keynote in New York City, the emphasis of this entire project is on security. They haven’t taken a deep dive into design but with time I expect to see more development on the look and UX of the applications.
“Encrypt My Photos” is the next application I used, uploading a few pictures was easy, it allows a secure place to store your memories and the keys are owned by the user, not Blockstack. Muneeb stated during his Asia Society Keynote in April that they are concerned about decentralization, privacy and security. Some of the attendees did ask the question about legality of activity within this ecosystem, and Blockstack responded that it is up to Law Enforcement to prosecute those who use their platform in a nefarious way and not Blockstacks responsibility to police its user base. It is fair to say that centralized platforms like Facebook can also have bad actors on its network as well. Nothing is immune to the bad behavior of individuals using an organizations network. “Blockusign” is another interesting application which mimics DocuSign in a decentralized way. I did not actually create any sort of document with another party, I simply explored the interface.
Another application of note is “SpringRole” which refers to itself as a verified professional profile on the blockchain. In early 2018 I heard about this project within the Crypto community as having great potential. “Zinc” a workplace reputation and identity system, and “Graphite” a place to share data. I find all of these fascinating, however I do not think the greater masses are interested yet in this technology. It could take many more years before the masses become interested in using decentralized applications and moving away from the centralized platforms they are comfortable with.
Incentivizing Developers to Build
As we are still in very early stages of Blockchain development, platforms like Blockstack need to incentive the development of applications or (dApps – decentralized applications) to be built on the network. Funds have been setup for this purpose which will allow for an Open Source growth model and that is one of Blockstacks goals. It is hard to tell what the killer application will be for Blockstack, or any Blockchain project. Some think privacy and being your own bank will be the harbinger of mass adoption, others think gaming will drive new users. It is too early to tell. Blockstack recently filed with the SEC for a $50 Million Token offering. They have already received over $10 Million USD from the Harvard Endowment Fund, which is a big endorsement. The team is made up of world class Cryptographers holding PhDs and they are expanding and building. Blockstack may one day be a globally recognized platform.