We have become accustomed to a centralized party developing an idea until it reflects every sphere of our lives and we now take that for granted. In fact, centralization is so omnipresent that anything else seems alien. At least that was the case until blockchain knocked on our door (and I will be grateful to Satoshi for this all my life!).
Blockchain forces us to look at our lives differently and come out of this deeply rooted mindset of decentralization. This doesn’t come easy to our generation. It has always been my conviction that our generation will, at best, lay the foundations of the technology. But it will take at least one to two more generations to tap into the potential it offers (every generation is 10–20 years apart).
What we can do is think about how to develop blockchain technology to the stage where it can address tomorrow’s challenges. While I am quite excited by idea of blockchain and what it can deliver, I worry about how this technology is being developed in different corners. My concern stems from some of the following observations:
- There are many parallel efforts aimed at developing different characteristics of blockchain (all are necessary). These efforts are mostly being managed in a centralized model, with very limited participation by anyone outside the focus groups working on them.
- Blockchain implementation in business is largely monopolized by a few selected players building strong expertise and a broad experience base.
- Although consortia have been set up in many industries, it is the strong players in these industries that are driving all efforts and are thus poised to reap all the benefits, replicating challenges that exists in centralized models.
- While projects such as Hyperledger have been able to induce democratic ways around software development, have observed these to be smaller centralized pockets under broader democratic umbrella
- The overall approach to shaping up the decentralized technology remains overly centralized.
And this seems to be one of the major reasons why we are seeing more and more permissioned blockchain use cases being identified and implemented. The current process around grooming this technology is taking us in that direction.
So, is there a different way for us grow this decentralized technology in a decentralized model? Probably not. But, I can think of a few gaps that must be filled by all the organizations engaged in developing this technology. If implemented correctly, some of the following ideas can help us address the major challenges:
- Engage – Decentralization requires the distribution of decisioning power. This is the most difficult part for us, given our inherent need for control. Blockchain projects must engage a broader group of players, primarily users. This must be part of the approach rather than an afterthought. Additionally, it must be a sincere effort and not just a PR exercise – which, sadly, is the case for many projects in this space.
- Educate – Blockchain is not proving to be an easy technology when it comes to the finer details. Reluctance to participate and contribute is also coming from a lack of understanding among users or potential users. Projects cannot engage the broader community until that community is educated – and we are talking about mostly non-technical members who require a very simplified approach. I have yet to see this being done effectively anywhere.
- Enable – The current technology development tools, methods, etc. are not designed to promote decentralization beyond a certain extent. While initiatives such as Hyperledger have promoted democratic design and development for technology-based projects, such efforts are still isolated and effective only in pockets. We do need to adopt extensive open source philosophy against limited attempts. This would require better investments and innovations from the software tools industry.
- Establish – One of the key risks with disruptive technology is that everyone gets excited and look at reasons to implement it instead of the other way around. There is a bigger need to establish a strong framework to qualify any use case for blockchain implementation and make it decentralized as much as possible.
At the time being, such assessments are too transactional and only take into account current or immediate dimensions while ignoring the future potential of the business. They provide little guidance on how to decentralized a business model without jeopardizing revenue streams. I don’t think that a scientific model would work here, but a little math, a little science, and lot of experience is not a bad combination to try.
These are just few ideas of many. There is a definite need to democratize blockchain technology and the design/development happening around it so that it can provide us with better decentralization benefits. We do run the risk of changing it to a tool for better efficiency within centralized systems and that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, as we will probably not see such disrupting technology coming our way any time soon. As a technology community, we do need to take up this additional responsibility and groom the blockchain technology to serve the purpose of its existence effectively!