Despite being, perhaps, the biggest tech buzzword of the last decade, blockchain technology has largely remained just that: a buzzword. While its best-known implementation, Bitcoin (BTC), has become a household name, the technology that underpins it remains little more than a mystery for most.
By and large, this can be attributed to slow progress in the adoption of the technology for consumers and businesses, caused by divided attention. Rather than a collective push to build advancements only on the Bitcoin blockchain, we’ve instead seen a clamor to build too many alternate blockchain platforms.
Resources that could have been used to scale the Bitcoin blockchain and develop new applications of its underlying technology have instead been applied to proliferating thousands of competing digital currencies and hundreds of alternate blockchain or distributed ledger technologies, driven by the pursuit of quick riches from launching a new venture’s own coin yet diversified by little more than three-letter ticker symbols.
And so, our understanding of blockchain technology and its immense potential has largely failed to progress beyond its original use case for peer-to-peer electronic cash. Despite promises of a future in which smart contracts, identity management systems and data are all powered by the Bitcoin blockchain as part of everyday life, progress remains quantified solely by lines on trading charts.
Transactions in a broader sense
In large part, this is because people embraced too narrow a view of Bitcoin, thinking its blockchain was only intended for transferring monetary value. At its base level, a blockchain is simply a distributed data ledger used to permanently record transactions in an open, chronological, verifiable manner.
When thinking about transactions, particularly as they pertain to blockchain technology, it’s easy to focus solely on payment transactions. But data transactions are a foundational aspect of modern life — in business, economics, law, politics, etc. Transactions that exchange information are everywhere around us. Yet how we deal with information transactions and the tools we use to manage them have failed to keep pace with the digitization of the rest of our lives.
And with blockchain, our understanding of transactions must broaden further.
Every communication, every contract, every task, every process and every payment can ultimately be distilled to a data transaction, similar to how every activity on the internet is ultimately broken down into data packets to be transmitted across the World Wide Web.
As with blockchain, the internet initially developed from a first use case of the underlying data network: email for researchers over the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET. Building upon the TCP/IP communications protocol implemented over ARPANET, internet pioneers developed and scaled the internet to become the critical infrastructure it is today. Essential to realizing that vision was a commitment to a foundational common protocol, without which the openness and interconnectedness of the internet that transformed the world as we know it would not have been possible.
And therein lies the issue with the development, so far, of blockchain technology. In a rush to capitalize on a growing wave of speculative investment, the numerous new attempted blockchains and distributed ledgers to emerge after Bitcoin have brought with them different variations of blockchain protocols, forcing competition not just on the price of their competing digital currencies but on entire network rulesets and ecosystems.
Hundreds of different competing systems aren’t just inefficient — they undermine much of the transformative advantage of blockchain, which is to eliminate data silos, enable easy transacting with anyone and create a single source of information truth. Had hundreds of competing digital communications networks proliferated in the 1990s rather than consolidated around a single, ubiquitous internet with one World Wide Web, the immense value creation and information awakening that resulted would likely look very different today.
We didn’t let that happen with the internet, so why should blockchain be any different?
It’s time to get serious about the future of blockchain technology. It’s time for one world, one chain.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Jimmy Nguyen is the founding president of the Bitcoin Association, the global industry organization that advances the Bitcoin SV digital currency and blockchain. A well-known advocate for Bitcoin, he was most previously the CEO of nChain — a leader in the research and development of enterprise-grade blockchain solutions. Jimmy also had a 21-year career as an intellectual property and digital technology lawyer, and was a partner at three major U.S. law firms.