The blockchain will be very useful for registering large corporate capital markets and making cross-border banking transactions, but as a system for the development of everyday applications on the Internet, it’s a danger to the distributed structure of the network.
The concrete use of the blockchain to register all the movements of a market—rather than each company doing their own, independently—and having a sort of autonomous notary is a easy game for big banks and centralizers.
An easy game because the viability of the system depends on “mining,” an industrial activity based on infrastructure. This is easy to verify when you look at the way that two Chinese “mines,” Antpool and DiscusFish/F2Pool, hoard more than half of the blocks created by the bitcoin blockchain. This basic design reveals the big lie of Bitcoin. But it also puts any blockchain product in the custody of whoever has big infrastructure and manages to attract large-scale capital. A concrete case is the Ethereum project.
The Etherum project
The Etherum project seeks to build an ecosystem on blockchain technology to develop “smart contracts” and all kinds of applications. Let’s say you wanted to expand the registry book as it’s defined in bitcoin, to be able embed applications in a new blockchain.
Leaving aside corporate developments, this kind of application of blockchain technology has already been put into practice with projects like Twister. Twister is microblogging software developed on its own blockchain. The problem with this kind of application is its dependence on infrastructure. This might still be a little fuzzy, but we can see it more clearly if we pay attention to the installation or entry process off any system developed on the blockchain.
To install Twister, you have to install the software on the computer, start the service, and go to the browser to begin to use it. But hold on, if it’s the first time you’re using it, you have to wait for for Twister to replicate the whole chain of blocks the service works on, on your computer. For the moment—Twister has very few users and extremely few interactions—the chain of blocks is not very big, but even so, I had to wait more than half an hour, on a good connection, for the chain to finish replicating and to be able to register.
The need to replicate the whole chain of blocks on our computer is an insurmountable barrier to entry if you’re searching for an alternative to IBM, Amazon or Google. The Twister chain is still small, but think about how, to date, the initial synchronization for Bitcoin requires storage space of more than 65GB for the complete download of the blockchain.
For any of us, having to reserve 65GB on our personal computers has a large cost. But for IBM, or Google, or any of the Chinese Bitcoin miners, it’s nothing. And let’s not even talk about the astronomical differences between the processing capabilities of the great monsters of scale compared to ours. Because blockchain is consensual, after a certain point of centralization, the rules of the system depend on very few users. For example, the bitcoin “update” would be unviable if the two more Chinese mining organizations had refused to implement it. A network of nodes designed this way has a power structure with clear centralizers—the owners of infrastructure—that in the end presents a threat to the distributed future of the Internet.
In summary, when we use Blockchain technologies, the barrier to entry has a relatively small knowledge component—compiling and installing software—but an insurmountable infrastructure barrier beyond certain scales. If Twister had the level of interaction of GNU social, we wouldn’t be able to maintain our own node on our computers.
The alternative is the very basis of the distributed nature of the Internet: the distributed structure of servers. In this design, barriers to entry are associated only with knowledge, and the costs of infrastructure are very low.
In practice, my website or GNU social installation are at the same level as the website or GNU social installation of any big business. And what’s as important or more, the possibility of having more or better infrastructure has zero impact on the functioning of the network and its rules. Additionally, it allows the infrastructure map to “track” the map of affinities, topics, and conversations. A distributed structure of servers helps distributed, autonomous, and sustainable networks of communities emerge and develop.
The alternative on which we can build a great new Internet era is projects like GNU social, Friendica, Hubzilla, Diaspora, and efforts to design common protocols like ActivityPub, not on the blockchain. Without a doubt, the blockchain will be very useful for registering large corporate capital markets and making cross-border banking transactions, but as system for the development of everyday applications on the Internet, it’s a danger to the distributed structure of the network.