Five big blockchain applications to come

Thursday 28 January 2016

We know that blockchain tech works, but it hasn’t been used for much more than money transfer - yet.

Bitcoin works beautifully. Fast, secure, borderless: it’s ideal as a medium of exchange, if not as a store of value. But blockchain technology offers so much more than internet cash. There are almost limitless applications, and in the course of the next couple of decades we’re likely to see dozens of these come to fruition. In the immediate future, though, what sorts of things are we likely to see built on bitcoin-like protocols? Here are five I think will be up-and-coming over the next couple of years.

1. Decentralised securities. This one is a no-brainer. Lots of little companies have already issued unofficial assets on the blockchain, representing a share of ownership or profits. Big banks have started talking about the advantages. And the SEC has recently approved Overstock’s plan to issue stock on the bitcoin blockchain. This is one we’ll see plenty more of in the future.

2. Reward tokens. There are a raft of reward schemes that would benefit hugely from blockchain implementation. Think of Starbucks points, Frequent Flyer Miles, Sainsbury’s reward points - hundreds and hundreds of companies issue these on cards and using smartphone apps. The limitation? Almost none are transferrable. Crypto technology enables just about any small business to create their own reward tokens, which can be directly traded peer-to-peer via a smartphone app. As well as being redeemable for goods and services within their company’s network, they could be sold on exchanges, allowing the market to set their financial value. This essentially makes them a form of private money.


Frequent flyer? Reward points of all kinds could become forms of private money

3. Proof of existence. It’s a simple concept. You want to prove that a file - a business document, an unpublished novel, a contract, a photo of damage to a car, or just about anything else - exists at a certain time. You take a hash of it and upload it to the blockchain, thereby creating immutable proof of its existence at that point. No one can argue that it could have been forged.

4. Secure public messaging. Public key cryptography already allows for secure messaging, but the blockchain may be a good way to store a record of conversations you want to be and remain public - perhaps where transparency is critical, such as with certain public bodies. Just as bitcoin’s blockchain can be used to track financial transactions, another blockchain could be used to ensure that a written exchange is available forever and can never be altered.

5. Decentralised internet. Decentralised file storage is already becoming a reality, albeit with a few teething troubles. Combined with a solution for DNS storage and routing, again stored on a blockchain for security and availability, this would circumvent issues of internet censorship. Sites and details about how to find them could never be taken down, with dramatic consequences for freedom of speech and information.

What blockchain applications do you hope to see in the near future?

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