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Ankr's Kev Silk Discusses Navigating the Challenges and Opportunities of Decentralizationby@bensoncrypto
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Ankr's Kev Silk Discusses Navigating the Challenges and Opportunities of Decentralization

by Isaac BensonJanuary 18th, 2023
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Kev Silk is the Product Manager of Ankr, a company focused on ANKR token staking and app-specific blockchain (AppChain) infrastructure. Silk says the decentralization of the internet and the adoption of web3 technologies have the potential to transform the way we interact fundamentally and do business online.
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The decentralization of the internet and the adoption of web3 technologies have the potential to transform the way we interact fundamentally and do business online. 

In this interview, we'll be speaking with Kev Silk, Product Manager of Ankr, to gain insights on the current state of decentralization, the challenges and opportunities it presents, and how developers can help drive its adoption. This interview will provide valuable perspectives and information for anyone interested in this exciting and rapidly evolving area.

Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do.

My name is Kev Silk, and I'm a product manager at Ankr focused on ANKR token staking and app-specific blockchain (AppChain) infrastructure. 

What brought you to the blockchain industry?

My blockchain journey started when I began understanding the issues of the current centralized internet and the lack of control over our online data. I've always been curious about how the applications I was using every day, primarily financial and social media apps, were able to profit from offering a free service. 

But there is not one thing in the world that is actually free; someone somewhere pays for it, and I wanted to know who was sacrificing something to utilize free applications on the web. 

That someone I soon found out was every single consumer of the internet, including myself. By going down the rabbit hole of the internet's history, I realized all of my personal information, like medical records, social security information, messages, pictures, and financial transactions, was being stored somewhere. Wherever that was, it was now effectively owned by someone other than myself, which bothered me. 

Eventually, I had a click moment about what all of this meant, and it was one of those moments of clarity. It hit me that when you put all of these personal data points together, it turns into your online identity. Every single internet consumer has one of these identities, which is being stored and controlled by a handful of organizations. 

That troubled me because the world is becoming more digital by the day, and I wanted complete control over my identity in the digital world. 

In my research to find out what could solve these significant issues, I stumbled upon blockchain and cryptocurrencies. 

Initially, Ethereum and Polkadot stood out to me the most because although the tech was challenging to wrap my head around, their mission to bring a decentralized, monetizable, and distributed internet to the world made perfect sense. 

My curiosity peaked, and I found myself reading everything I could on blockchain technology and how it was the backbone of crypto assets. I couldn't stop thinking about the life-altering value blockchains and their ecosystems could provide to the world. 

Can you explain why you believe it's crucial for the internet to be decentralized?

A decentralized internet is imperative because we are getting to the point now where we spend more time online than we do in the physical world. If you think that sounds crazy, look at how many people spend their time behind a desk, in front of a computer, playing video games online, and looking at their phone, everyone is scrolling endlessly. 

My generation and those that follow are growing up online. Whether you think that's good or bad, we must gain ownership over our online data. 

Look at social media, for example. In the beginning, posts were displayed in reverse chronological order. I would finish all new posts in my social feed and then wait 10-15 minutes to see if someone I followed posted something new, a relatively laid-back experience. 

Now there are zero gaps in the social content experience – an advertisement by an influencer or company instantly replaces all available screen real estate. A centralized internet and social media are dangerously addictive, but even more, it reveals a disturbing truth: if the app is free, you are the product sold. 

Algorithms that use machine learning conduct a psychological analysis of our online identities. As the internet evolves, each generation uses it more frequently, and the control of our digital identities goes far deeper than people we follow, photos we post or like, online shopping, or searching a topic on google. 

The algorithms go as deep as how long you look at a specific post. Through this, the large centralized organizations we know so well today determine how much the image, video, description, comment, or user who posted it means to us personally. With this control, they choose which picture, tweet, video, or post we see next to keep us on the platform longer and influence our decisions. 

Censorship leads to a never-ending and addicting cycle of our past choices on the web, affecting what we see in the present. What we see in the present is directly influencing the choices we make in the future. 

This cycle of content that we consume through the control of sizable centralized tech organizations has massive impacts on our beliefs, political views, mental health, and personal relationships. The internet has become an unbalanced power mechanism in favor of centralized powers rather than the consumer. 

Through the power of blockchain, we are decentralizing the internet. As a result, we can balance the scale of power back in the turn of everyday users so they can regain ownership of their online identities and the monetary value rightfully earned from their content and interactions.

How do you envision decentralization improving the internet?

Decentralization gives power back to the consumer. Would you prefer paying to play a game or getting paid to play a game? Would you rather be the product of a social media app or be a key stakeholder and benefactor? 

We are applying that principle to all aspects of our digital lives by decentralizing the internet. As a result, we gain absolute control over our digital identities with incentive structures that reward us for the content and value we produce. 

Instead of handing over our data, content, time, and attention for free to companies, we want to begin replacing a small amount of company-owned platforms with a large amount of everyone-owned protocols. Protocols share value with web consumers instead of among a concentrated online oligarchy. 

The bottom line is that decentralization improves the internet by spreading computing power and, more importantly, monetary value across all parties. 

In your opinion, what is the biggest hurdle to increasing the adoption of web3 technologies?

I'll preface this answer by saying that the decentralized new sector of the internet, or web3, will inevitably scale to global adoption. Moreover, the benefits it offers far outweigh what we've gotten from the internet thus far in terms of shared rewards.

Nevertheless, it is an excellent question because just as the early days of the internet had roadblocks to mass adoption, blockchain technology does as well. We must remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of allowing everyone to receive those benefits easily. I believe the two main challenges we will solve to ensure the mass adoption of web3 are the following: 

1. Decentralized Applications with the same (or better) quality user experiences as current centralized applications. 

For most people, it doesn't matter how the internet functions when using their phone or computer; it just needs to function. It is optional to know how the implementation layer of the internet works; all you need to know is how to use the applications built on top of it. 

For instance, my 92-year-old grandfather sends me screenshot messages with basketball scores from an application. He knows how to use the application and send messages - easy UX. Now imagine my grandfather learning what a smart contract is, how to download Metamask, know what Metamask is and how to use it, or the difference between his public or private key - not an optimal experience. 

However, sending messages and using applications was at one time quite challenging. We need to remember that websites and applications have had over 30 years to refine the user experiences and make it easy and seamless for consumers to operate things like email, websites, and mobile apps. 

Decentralized applications, on the other hand, require an entirely new layer of technology - blockchains that come with both added challenges and benefits. In exchange for decentralization, there is a price we pay that price is slow speeds, "gas fees" for computing power, and more complicated interfaces. 

Developers are working hard to build dApps with quality UX, which is why I'm confident we will eliminate these headaches (while eliminating overcomplicated blockchain terminology). 

When that time comes, we will begin to see web3 adoption on a massive scale, and people will use blockchain technology without knowing or even caring what is happening in the background. 

2. Providing blockchain developers with the tools, infrastructure, and building experience they need to build those high-quality dApps 

If you're building a standard centralized application, competing for computing power with other developers building their projects is unnecessary. The infrastructure is there for them to develop beautiful, fast, free, and easy applications. 

In the past, that same building experience was only sometimes a reality for developers building decentralized applications on public Layer 1 networks. When building on public layer 1 or 2 chains, developers risk becoming bogged down with many other apps and transactions soaking up bandwidth in the mempool. 

Developers can only reach their full potential if their infrastructure allows them. With this in mind, we need to arm blockchain engineers and developers with the highest-performance infrastructure possible, like application-specific blockchains (AppChains). These types of blockchains can make scalability issues a thought of the past. 

With individual mempools and dedicated blockchain infrastructure serving only themselves, developers can create applications that operate just like web2 apps while providing digital asset reward structures, decentralized data storage, and democratized decision-making benefits unique to web3. AppChains offer more customization at every level to improve efforts in areas like security mechanisms that make the experience safer for consumers. 

How do you see the balance between centralization and decentralization evolving in the coming years?

I don't see a world where the massive centralized organizations we know today disappear. Instead, it is an adapt-or-die situation, and most of the organizations I am referencing will adapt to and incorporate blockchain technology into their business plans. As seen over the last year, popular companies such as Nike, Meta, Starbucks, Reddit, and others have led the charge by integrating some of their services into blockchain ecosystems like Polygon.

The big tech organizations that control the internet will inevitably have to compete with the benefits of blockchains like Ethereum, Avalanche, and Solana, along with the applications built on top of them. The choice is to integrate and collaborate or get replaced. 

It's a win-win situation, where the older centralized tech conglomerates and the new revolutionary decentralized networks can take the best of one another and learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses. The older will provide valuable resources and experience refining new technologies like blockchain. In addition, blockchain networks can provide insight into how to incentivize users with digital assets to drive growth.

What role do you believe developers have in driving the adoption of decentralization technologies?

It all comes down to the UX of the applications they build, and developers know that for their dApps to reach a large audience, they must provide high-quality UX that leaves consumers no choice but to use them. Let's compare this to the early days of the internet. 

In 2000, Microsoft's CEO was Steve Ballmer, who famously began the "Developers, developers, developers, developers" chant. It highlighted the importance of third-party developers and how they were just as crucial to the success of Microsoft as Windows itself. The applications they built on top of it would be the actual value driver. 

Focusing on UX is even more critical in Web3 because a blockchain is only as powerful as the ecosystem built on top of it. Most of the value comes from the decentralized applications built on top of the blockchain, not the blockchain or the digital currency itself. 

Therefore, developers have the unique and significant responsibility of creating applications that attract new users and show them the benefits of web3. High-quality UX is the only way we can win global adoption, and that is why it is so vital we arm developers with every tool we can to build those dApps. 

What needs to change for people to leave centralization applications and move to decentralized platforms?

People will only leave centralized applications if they are attracted by engaging web3 user experiences and interfaces that are indistinguishable from those of traditional apps (besides the added incentives). Therefore, we need to provide attractive dApps that make people want to learn to use them with minimal effort, so they start catching on to all the available benefits. 

In this way, people will see a clear choice – use a centralized social media app or a dApp with an identical user experience that provides a share in revenue with incentive mechanisms. At this point, the value proposition will become impossible to ignore.

We will eventually get there, and we'll do it by empowering developers with the building experience that will allow them to improve the speed, cost, and ease of use of their dApps. 

It's a domino effect because infrastructure solutions like AppChains will empower developers to reach their full potential. Once that full potential is reached, developers will build applications that provide a web3 experience that is many times faster, more affordable (in gas fees), and more enticing to make the switch from web2 equivalents. 

What are some ways that the developer building experience can be streamlined on decentralized platforms?

Many solutions are working to improve blockchain scalability and the building experience. Some include state channels, Layer 2 solutions, ZK-roll-ups, and sharding. Along with these solutions, AppChains will have a significant impact. 

AppChains removes barriers to creating positive user experiences (speed, cost, ease of use) by providing dedicated blockchain infrastructure for decentralized applications. They also remove the barrier of entry for startup web3 developers, as they no longer have to compete for traffic against more prominent dApps. 

As launching dedicated blockchain infrastructure becomes cheaper and easier, AppChains will provide the best way to scale web3 applications and allow developers to focus on creating the next generation of dApps that have a revamped user experience unlike anything we've seen before.

How can decentralization help address censorship and data privacy issues on the internet?

Decentralization versus censorship is something I care deeply about, and controlling your online identity is key to removing censorship from the internet. Think about it like this, the most valuable asset in the world (outside of time) is online data; it's not precious metals, oil, or Bitcoin; it's the data points that add up to your online identity. 

Unfortunately, large centralized organizations currently control these digital identities; they store them within their data centers - a single source of failure that is at risk of exploitation at any moment. 

Storing data on the web should be done so in a decentralized manner. The control over this information should not only be decentralized but significantly distributed. It's easy for a large organization to have many data centers worldwide. 

They can have nodes in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. However, this is still centralized as they control the data centers within those continents. Therefore, the data centers need to have more than one centralized point of failure to be genuinely decentralized. 

Not only should the internet be decentralized, but the control over its data must be distributed significantly across hundreds of millions of users. These users can contribute unused storage capacity to the network, providing 0 points of failure and empowering a true peer-to-peer open internet. 

This decentralized internet will keep everyone's online data safe, but most importantly, it places those online identities back in the hands of the users themselves, 

In your opinion, what are the most promising use cases for blockchain technology?

The most well-known use cases of a blockchain include the banking industry and online gaming. But, outside of those two, three other use cases have the potential to shake up ubiquitous things and everyday life, and these include the healthcare, insurance, and food industries.

1. Healthcare 

There's a massive opportunity for blockchain to impact the healthcare industry. Think about medical records. Every time someone goes to a check-up with the doctor or has a hospital visit, their medical records become more complex and grow in size. 

Each hospital stores its own versions of patient medical records and has different storage methods, leading to poor data integration. Keeping medical records on-chain would remove these challenges due to a blockchain ledger's natural transparency and openness. 

Utilizing blockchain would create an ecosystem of patient data that acts as the single source of truth for patient data. Now physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, and healthcare providers can view medical records (with the patient's approval) to efficiently determine what the patient needs based on accurate data. 

This results in better-personalized care for patients and an increase in security for both patients who can choose who has access to their records, as well as the healthcare providers who would no longer hold the risk of losing any patient data. 

2. Insurance

Insurance is a natural fit for blockchain. With decentralized databases, financial insurance companies can provide transparent coverage for digital assets, manage portfolio and asset risk more efficiently, automate fraud-mitigation protocols, and offer Zero-Knowledge privacy through on-chain security mechanisms. Likewise, all other insurance types, including medical, auto, home, and life, would benefit. 

A decentralized ledger allows insurance companies to efficiently and accurately track policyholder information, claims data, and other vital records. The ledger can also reduce fraud and errors, increasing efficiency and speed in the claims process. 

Additionally, blockchain-enabled smart contracts can automate policyholder payments and claims processing, further increasing efficiency and reducing costs. As a result, blockchain will streamline the insurance industry and create a more secure and transparent environment for policyholders.

3. Food Industry 

The food industry is primed for better, transparent record-keeping because many people care deeply about where their food is sourced. People have to place their trust in the production companies who claim their "beef is grass-fed," that their "chicken is non-GMO," or that a specific set of apples is, in fact, organic. 

Likewise, we place our trust in grocery stores and produce organizations that they're behaving ethically. But if they were to utilize a blockchain, people could track and see each step of the process, from when the food grows on the farm to when it reaches the grocery store. 

Permissionless blockchains are open and transparent, so there would be no central authority with the ability to tamper with the food records. For example, people could scan a piece of fish at the store and track its shipping routes from when it was caught in the sea to when it was placed in the grocery store's seafood aisle. 

The chain ledger provides full transparency and lets people know that the food they're buying is labeled correctly as "organic," "non-GMO," or any other specific label they need. 

Do you believe that a fully decentralized internet is possible, and if so, how would it differ from the current centralized model?

Although some of the internets will remain centralized, a whole new section will become fully decentralized as a true peer-to-peer network where consumers empower each other and fully control their decentralized identities. 

As a result, the centralized powers of the current internet will have to adapt and improve to keep up with innovation occurring in web3. When the UX of dApps reaches that of the current internet, more users will migrate to the ungated section of the web with more privacy, freedom, and shared incentives, and the future of our online lives will become brighter because of it. 

In the meantime, our team at Ankr is working to provide web3 developers with dedicated and decentralized blockchain infrastructure, so the decentralized future gets here faster than any of us thought.