Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain, by Kai Stinchcombe

Here’s a hearty Bah! Humbug! for blockchain technology from someone who may know what he’s talking about. From Kai Stinchcombe at hackernoon.com:

Everyone says the blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is going to change EVERYTHING. And yet, after years of tireless effort and billions of dollars invested, nobody has actually come up with a use for the blockchain—besides currency speculation and illegal transactions.

Each purported use case — from payments to legal documents, from escrow to voting systems—amounts to a set of contortions to add a distributed, encrypted, anonymous ledger where none was needed. What if there isn’t actually any use for a distributed ledger at all? What if, ten years after it was invented, the reason nobody has adopted a distributed ledger at scale is because nobody wants it?

Payments and banking

The original intended use of the blockchain was to power currencies like bitcoin — a way to store and exchange value much like any other currency. Visa and MasterCard were dinosaurs, everyone proclaimed, because there was now a costless, instant way to exchange value without the middleman taking a cut. A revolution in banking was just the start… governments, unable to issue currency by fiat anymore, would take a back seat as individual citizens transacted freely outside any national system.

It didn’t take long for that dream to fall apart. For one thing, there’s already a costless, instant way to exchange value without a middleman: cash. Bitcoins substitute for dollars, but Visa and MasterCard actually sit on top of dollar-based banking transactions, providing a set of value-added services like enabling banks to track fraud disputes, and verifying the identity of the buyer and seller. It turns out that for the person paying for a product, the key feature of a new payment system — think of PayPal in its early days — is the confidence that if the goods aren’t as described you’ll get your money back. And for the person accepting payment, basically the key feature is that their customer has it, and is willing to use it. Add in points, credit lines, and a free checked bag on any United flight and you have something that consumers choose and merchants accept. Nobody actually wants to pay with bitcoin, which is why it hasn’t taken off.

To continue reading: Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain

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