With many practical applications for the technology already being implemented and explored, blockchain is finally making a name for itself at age twenty-seven, in no small part because of bitcoin and cryptocurrency. As a buzzword on the tongue of every investor in the nation, blockchain stands to make business and government operations more accurate, efficient, and secure.
One of the greatest aspects of blockchain technology is the ability for a developer or business to customize it. This means a blockchain can be completely open to the public and allow anyone to join, or it can be totally private, with only certain folks allowed access to the data, or allowed to send and receive payments. Bitcoin is an example of an open-source public blockchain that allows anyone to join, whereas a private blockchain would be perfect for a corporate customer.
Bitcoin has both advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include the ability to choose your own fees, easily accept payment from people who do not have credit cards, and send payment without tying your personal information to the transaction. Disadvantages include that it is a very new form of currency, acceptance of it is still limited, and the anonymity of transactions means you do not know with whom you're dealing.
For example, Ethereum (CCY: ETH-USD), which has a nearly $116 billion market cap and is the second-largest cryptocurrency behind bitcoin, currently has 200 organizations testing a version of its blockchain technology. Yes, traditional banks are testing out Ethereum's blockchain, but so are companies in the technology and energy industries. Integrated oil and gas giant BP (NYSE:BP) envisions using a version of Ethereum's blockchain to aid it with energy futures trading. If these transactions were to settle faster, BP could presumably improve its margin.
^ Jump up to: a b "Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are useless". The Economist. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018. Lack of adoption and loads of volatility mean that cryptocurrencies satisfy none of those criteria. That does not mean they are going to go away (though scrutiny from regulators concerned about the fraud and sharp practice that is rife in the industry may dampen excitement in future). But as things stand there is little reason to think that cryptocurrencies will remain more than an overcomplicated, untrustworthy casino.
Many blockchain primers and infographics dive into the cryptography, trying to explain to lay people how "consensus algorithms", "hash functions" and digital signatures all work. In their enthusiasm, they can speed past the fundamental question of what blockchain was really designed to do. I've long been worried about a lack of critical thinking around blockchain and the activity it's inspired. If you want to develop blockchain applications you only need to know what blockchain does, and not how it does it.
Blockchain may make selling recorded music profitable again for artists by cutting out music companies and distributors like Apple or Spotify. The music you buy could even be encoded in the blockchain itself, making it a cloud archive for any song purchased. Because the amounts charged can be so small, subscription and streaming services will become irrelevant.
The overwhelming majority of bitcoin transactions take place on a cryptocurrency exchange, rather than being used in transactions with merchants. Delays processing payments through the blockchain of about ten minutes make bitcoin use very difficult in a retail setting. Prices are not usually quoted in units of bitcoin and many trades involve one, or sometimes two, conversions into conventional currencies. Merchants that do accept bitcoin payments may use payment service providers to perform the conversions.
Readers may remember CCN’s coverage of PaidBooks.com, a site run by the friendly folks behind Bitcoin Aliens. It has the same functionality as a regular faucet, but instead pays users for reading classic books. It is one of the more interesting and engaging methods of giving away free money, as it gives the user the opportunity to engage in more ways than simply getting around a CAPTCHA and pressing a couple of buttons. Since we first wrote about PaidBooks, they seem to have converted to Bitcoin Cash via a service called AirDrips. BCH is easily converted to Bitcoin, if desired, via services like ShapeShift. You create an accout at AirDrips and then you are able to read books and get paid. They also offer other similar things such as watching videos for money.
Think of a railway company. We buy tickets on an app or the web. The credit card company takes a cut for processing the transaction. With blockchain, not only can the railway operator save on credit card processing fees, it can move the entire ticketing process to the blockchain. The two parties in the transaction are the railway company and the passenger. The ticket is a block, which will be added to a ticket blockchain. Just as a monetary transaction on blockchain is a unique, independently verifiable and unfalsifiable record (like Bitcoin), so can your ticket be. Incidentally, the final ticket blockchain is also a record of all transactions for, say, a certain train route, or even the entire train network, comprising every ticket ever sold, every journey ever taken.
It’s a combination of things. On the one hand, there’s a lot of money flowing into the sector, thanks to public and private initial coin offerings. (ICOs, as they’re called, are an unregulated way for companies to offer investors cryptocurrency rather than traditional shares of stock.) On the other hand, more companies are starting to experiment with how they might use blockchain for their business. In fact, 40 percent of respondents in a recent Deloitte survey were willing to invest at least $5 million on blockchain projects this year. Some companies are using them to experiment with shipping projects; others are using them for advertising networks. Then there’s the giant that’s about to step into the room. This spring, Facebook announced it’s setting up a blockchain team led by David Marcus, who previously ran Facebook Messenger, and Kevin Weil, who was previously Instagram’s product chief. Facebook also moved Evan Cheng from director of engineering at Facebook to director of engineering for the company’s burgeoning blockchain division.
Given the size of the sums involved, even the few days that the money is in transit can carry significant costs and risks for banks. Santander, a European bank, put the potential savings at $20 billion a year. Capgemini, a French consultancy, estimates that consumers could save up to $16 billion in banking and insurance fees each year through blockchain-based applications.
Located in Brooklyn, Consensys is one of the foremost companies globally that is developing a range of applications for Ethereum. One project they are partnering on is Transactive Grid, working with the distributed energy outfit, LO3. A prototype project currently up and running uses Ethereum smart contracts to automate the monitoring and redistribution of microgrid energy. This so-called “intelligent grid” is an early example of IoT functionality.
Regarding more practical concerns, hacking and scams are the norms. They happen at least once a week and are getting more sophisticated. Bitcoin’s software complexity and the volatility of its currency dissuade many people from using it, while its transactions are frustratingly slow. You’ll have to wait at least ten minutes for your network to approve the transaction. Recently, some Reddit users reported waiting more than one hour for their transactions to be confirmed.
Even recent entrants like Uber and AirBnB are threatened by blockchain technology. All you need to do is encode the transactional information for a car ride or an overnight stay, and again you have a perfectly safe way that disrupts the business model of the companies which have just begun to challenge the traditional economy. We are not just cutting out the fee-processing middle man, we are also eliminating the need for the match-making platform.
The blockchain sector is something regulators and lawmakers are beginning to look at more closely as well. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in uncharacteristically snarky fashion, even created its own cryptocurrency called HowieCoin to show how easily ICOs can hide as frauds. In June, the SEC appointed Valerie Szczepanik as its first “crypto czar,” while members of Congress in July held multiple committee hearings to learn more about how the blockchain can be used in industries such as agriculture.
On 24 August 2017 (at block 481,824), Segregated Witness (SegWit) went live. Transactions contain some data which is only used to verify the transaction, and does not otherwise effect the movement of coins. SegWit introduced a new transaction format that moved this data into a new field in a backwards-compatible way. The segregated data, the so-called witness, is not sent to non-SegWit nodes and therefore does not form part of the blockchain as seen by legacy nodes. This lowers the size of the average transaction in such nodes' view, thereby increasing the block size without incurring the hard fork implied by other proposals for block size increases. Thus, per computer scientist Jochen Hoenicke, the actual block capacity depends on the ratio of SegWit transactions in the block, and on the ratio of signature data. Based on his estimate, if the ratio of SegWit transactions is 50%, the block capacity may be 1.25 megabytes. According to Hoenicke, if native SegWit addresses from Bitcoin Core version 0.16.0 are used, and SegWit adoption reaches 90% to 95%, a block size of up to 1.8 megabytes is possible.
On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the first block of the chain, known as the genesis block. Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the following text: "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks." This note has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.:18