The current comparison between blockchain and the internet is clear. The internet was the first native platform for information, blockchain is the first native platform for transactions. It enables us to make something digital unique and safely exchange it with someone else we don’t necessarily trust.
Current state of blockchain
We are still in the early stages. There are about 70 blockchain platforms at the moment. Gartner predicts the market leader will be known in 2019 and probably doesn’t exist yet. Startups and big consultancy firms alike are building their blockchain capabilities. Every self-respecting corporate is experimenting with the technology. And so are governments, headed by the United Kingdom, Estonia and Dubai. Use cases vary from fraud prevention in the diamond business, to currency, land registration, and identity (for more on this, read my previous post). Where will this lead to?
Development of the internet
In the early days of the internet, you would scan a paper form, send it by e-mail, download it, print it, fill it out with ballpoint, scan it, and return it by e-mail. This resembles taking it to the post office, just saves the ride. You would use the internet as if it was the physical world. Companies would build their own “internet”, walled gardens within their companies. Looking back we think “what fools, the great advantage of the internet is being able to exchange information with the entire world, not just your company”. Only later we came to understand the ways in which we could use it for its own merits, like search engines, social media, and completely new business models. Only to get there, we needed to use it, experiment, build and make mistakes. There is no way we could have jumped to the right conclusions without these intermediary steps.
Direction of blockchain
To me, the most interesting thought in the direction of blockchain was expressed by Don & Alex Tapscott. They take the analogy of the internet and blockchain one step further: why would we want to limit the participants we can exchange value with or the asset we exchange? Why not end up with the World Wide Ledger? To me, this sounds very logical – just one ledger where you can exchange any value – money, land, diamonds. With anyone, anywhere. Of course, there are many obstacles to overcome. How can we scale to accommodate this? Will this be one ledger or multiple ledgers interoperating? If one ledger, does it already exist and are all others just experiments to strengthen the one? Who will look after safety and integrity, especially since we are always dealing with value?
Where are we heading?
I think challenges like these are there to be solved, the Tapscotts make a great first step toward this discussion in their recent white paper. They discuss the current challenges and the possibility to use the internet model for blockchain stewardship, however, to avoid its pitfalls from the beginning. Like in the early days of the internet, a lot of what we are working on now is just practice to work toward a future we cannot quite imagine yet. Makes me think of this beautiful quote by one of my favorite authors, E.L. Doctorow, describing his own journey when writing a book: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
 The Blockchain Revolution, Don & Alex Tapscott, Portfolio 2016
About Joleen van der Zwan
Joleen van der Zwan is Innovation Lead for Sogeti Netherlands and responsible for blockchain with the company. She has a diverse background in media, retail, health care, aviation and banking industries. She provides customers with insights and advice on new technologies related to their strategy. Joleen is experienced in project management, business analysis, information architecture, account management and business intelligence. She is always up to date with the latest developments in technology. And she knows how to apply this due to her training in strategy and design thinking for innovation.
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