We fully understand what the Web can or can’t do, and although we take this understanding for granted, we can’t say the same about the blockchain.
In its early years, the Web wasn’t that well understood, despite the clear visions of its founders.
The best Web use cases (of today) had to go through iterations, and trials/errors in order to finally get to the right path. Initially, many projects and companies took the wrong approach, brought the wrong products, had the wrong teams, or simply were ahead of market readiness. Eventually, we wandered into the eventual big themes that the Web has given us today. As we looked back at the Web’s evolution, we saw the strategic use cases: personal communications, e-commerce, e-business, publishing, and social networking/web were the winning big themes.
A worthy footnote is that social networks and the social web arrived only later than the other use cases, as part of what was wildly referred to as Web 2.0 in the aftermath of the dot-com crash. Ironically, the first large online communities on the Web (circa 1998-2000, e.g Yahoo! and Geocities) were so close to social networking but never really figured it out, despite the millions of users they garnered.
As we look look forward with the blockchain, the large patterns aren’t so easily discernible, which is why the blockchain’s clear areas of usage demarcation are not so well defined today.
Just like the Web’s own trajectory, the blockchain’s path will include replacing existing businesses, or modifying them, while ultimately creating new businesses that didn’t exist before.
But what is the blockchain’s strategic calling? What will it be remember for, 10 years from now?
The Web replaced some bricks and mortar businesses, but only with strong value propositions that yielded alternate ways of doing something.
The blockchain is not just a feature, as some companies see it. The blockchain pits us against the old beliefs about trust: how it is earned, and what it enables.
We need to be careful in understanding the business models that the blockchain wants to disrupt. We need the blockchain to hit at the weaknesses that already exist, and turn them into something new that wasn’t possible before.
Although the patterns are still at the gross level, here are some directions about what we can do with the blockchain today, which we can’t do on the web:
- Send money from one person to another without traditional intermediaries.
- Be the sole owner of a digital good, digital collectible or a real asset’s crypto proxy.
- Earn money as a reward for work done (by a computer or human).
- Be your own bank, and hold your own cryptocurrency.
- Sell or buy something without any central co-ordinating authority.
- Share unused computing or storage capacity and get paid for it.
- Store content on a decentralized network that would never go down or get censored.
- Contribute to recording something on the blockchain.
- Pay for a service or good using a cryptocurrency you earned.
- Earn cryptocurrency for data you shared.
From a consumer perspective, the above 10 bullets represent some of the key themes that are emerging today, for the blockchain, but 10 is too many. The Web had 5 key themes, as noted earlier. It is possible some aggregate themes will emerge that group or aggregate some of the ones listed above.
That said, the two dominant themes from the above list are: 1) exchanging money (or value), 2) getting rewarded for work done.
What will be the other 3 or 4 additional strategic calling themes for the blockchain remains to be seen.
You can’t make the perfect salad when most of your vegetables are still growing in the garden.