Today, there’re many blockchains running, and it’s almost certain that most of them wouldn’t survive in the long run. But for those who do, their impact on our society is definitely going to be massive. Think about the implications of a unified infrastructure for everyone around the world, and the potentials this could unlock. Here are five blockchains that I think can help us get there faster.
Bitcoin: Chain of Digital Gold
Bitcoin made its first appearance back in 2008 with an email attaching a whitepaper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto, over the years Bitcoin has grown to become the most well-known cryptocurrency in the world, and is definitely a historic milestone in the revolution of technological decentralization. The Bitcoin Blockchain, compared to most of the other blockchains we have today, is rather simple and straightforward, the applications that you build on top of it would need to be done with Turing-incomplete scripts, which limits the possibilities. Nonetheless, the application that the blockchain was built for — the cryptocurrency itself — is enough to give Bitcoin a spot on the Blockchain Hall of Fame (assuming it’s a thing), not only because it’s the first decentralized cryptocurrency, but also because it showed us that perhaps a different future can exist to challenge the broken and corrupted financial system we have today — A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. I’d strongly recommend anyone who’s interested in the stories behind Bitcoin to read Digital Gold by New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper.
Ethereum: Chain of DApps
Ethereum is what some people (myself included) considered to be the starting point of Blockchain 2.0, where people can now build a variety of applications on top of a blockchain. Besides the native asset Ether, Ethereum allows developers to build smart contracts, a self-executing program, with Turing-complete code to control information stored on the chain, say account balance for instance. This is a huge enabler. It enables anyone to create their own cryptocurrency with only a few lines of code and without running their own chain. It enables what’s called dapps, short for decentralized applications, like Compound and Aave (decentralized borrowing and lending platforms), part of the DeFi (Decentralized Finance) boom. Initially described in a whitepaper by then 19-year-old Vitalik Buterin in 2013, Ethereum was soon joined by many talented researchers and developers like Joseph Lubin and Gavin Wood (who later founded ConsenSys and Parity, respectively), and was able to launch in 2015. Ethereum today has arguably the best developer ecosystem and is ambitiously aiming for mainstream adoption with the ongoing Ethereum 2.0 upgrade, which uses Proof of Stake (instead of Proof of Work like Bitcoin and Ethereum 1.0), it’s said to reduce at least 99.95% of energy.
Flow: Chain of Digital Assets
Flow was founded by Dapper Labs, the team that brought us CryptoKitties on Ethereum back in 2017 (one of the earliest NFT projects), which actually clogged Ethereum because of its extremely high demand. The team then set out to build a blockchain that scales better without using sharding (allowing some nodes to only store partial information of the chain). Aiming at the mass adoption of blockchain with a highly scalable blockchain featuring Proof of Stake and upgradable smart contracts, Flow is one of the fastest growing projects in the space with increasing support from developers (more on Flow see Decrypt’s post). Partnering with the NBA, Dapper’s new project NBA TopShot has been one of the brightest stars in the recent NFT boom despite still being in beta. As discussed in my other post, Dapper’s approach to bringing blockchain to the masses is by combining the benefits of centralization and decentralization, basically “anything of value to you is decentralized, everything else is fast and easy”.
Celo: Chain of Global Mobile Payments
Celo, a mobile-first blockchain, is on the mission of enabling prosperity for all by building an inclusive financial system. Founded by Rene Reinsberg, Sep Kamvar, and Marek Olszewski in 2018, what started as a fork of Ethereum has grown to become a promising project that’s having more and more impact in the financial world, especially for those in the developing country. For instance, GiveDirectly, a non-profit dedicated to delivering unconditional cash to the extreme poor, partnered with Celo in 2019 to use its platform in West Africa to help the local communities. Besides the native asset (CELO) and stablecoin (cUSD), Celo allows users to send and receive payments with their phone number (essentially by mapping the hash of the phone number to a wallet address, and store the mappings in a decentralized database). With the Celo Alliance for Prosperity, which has more than 100 organizations collaborating, and the recent launch of the Valora mobile wallet, Celo is growing fast and changing people’s lives with the power of blockchain.
Filecoin: Chain of Decentralized Storage
Filecoin is a decentralized storage network started by Protocol Labs. It’s the incentivization layer of IPFS, a peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data in a content-address way (finding a piece of data based on its content rather than its location, which is how HTTP works). With the use of its native cryptocurrency, Filecoin (FIL or ⨎), anyone can have access to (decentralized) cloud storage by selecting available “miners” that are willing and able to store their data. Filecoin achieves verifiable storage with Proof-of-Replication (proves a miner is storing a unique copy of a user’s original data) and Proof-of-Spacetime (proves that the user’s data is stored continuously over time), learn more here. One of the exciting projects in the ecosystem is Starling Lab, an initiative designed to capture, store, and verify human history. Filecoin is a bold alternative to the current landscape of concentrated data collection and is considered an important part of the web3 infrastructure that enables developers to do so much more.
Besides the ones above, there’re still many promising blockchains out there, such as Near, Algorand, Solana (maybe we’ll explore them in future posts). But the main point is for us to keep trying to build a decentralized future where information, financial services, or anything that allows one to thrive in the 21st century is accessible to all. A world where technology is not for the concentration of wealth or surveillance but rather a fundamental human right in order for us to live our lives to the fullest and experience the full spectrum of color in life. Cheers to a better future, hopefully a decentralized one!