The early days of the Internet seem quaint when we look back on them now. Before mass adoption, some were predicting it would be the next big thing, others dismissed it. From the electric light to the automobile, history is full of powerful innovations that initially looked like fads.
But in each case, there came a point where adoption spiked. The costs fell. The benefits became obvious. Barriers to adoption were overcome.
When I look back at the Internet pre-mass adoption, I see a lot of similarities with blockchain in its current state. It has incredible potential to change the way we live, but I can also see that it needs some work before we’ll see mass adoption.
The World Wide Web was created in 1991, but there were no browsers for it until 1993. It wasn’t until the creation of Netscape Navigator in 1994 that adoption began to accelerate.
Netscape introduced the idea that the Internet should be for everyone. They created a consistent browsing experience across operating systems — something we take for granted now. And they made it all available free of charge. In effect, Netscape opened the floodgates for mass adoption of the internet.
Five billion people now have a mobile phone connection. In our current era, mobile devices have allowed billions of people to connect to the Internet and granted them access to information, even in remote locations. What mobile phones have done to accelerate proliferation of internet, blockchain clients will do for adoption of blockchain. One thing that’s holding blockchain back right now is the lack of user-friendly wallets — or clients — on mobile devices. Ease of use is key. It’s difficult to get people to use something if it actually makes daily life more complicated. As it stands, the general population doesn’t have access to mobile wallets that allow them to make payments with cryptocurrency.
But blockchain doesn’t just need wallets, although making payments is what most people think about doing first. After all, people will want to spend their cryptocurrency. Blockchain’s Netscape is going to be something even more universal than money transfer.
Like the Internet 1.0, blockchain is also a network that’s missing interfaces and browsers. What it needs is something that’s so user friendly, so elegant, that the user doesn’t know that they’re using blockchain.
There are multiple ways that this could work.
Imagine being able to sell your car, or even your house, via a simple asset ownership and transfer app. A decentralized DMV or Deed of Title would mean that you could find and buy a car on Autotrader. You could sell your house on Zillow. It would all be secured and authenticated on a blockchain.
What about a literal browser for all the things in your vicinity? IoT devices, all registered to a blockchain, could then be “browsed” by users. At Chronicled, we’ve already developed an app to do just that, called Discover. It allows you to view and authenticate IoT devices that are within range. But we could be moving even further beyond apps or browsers and into actual infrastructure as blockchain technology matures.
Netscape is no more. The browser wars with Microsoft in the 90s put it on a downward trajectory. But the Internet has only become more powerful and more deeply ingrained in our everyday lives. The same is going to happen with blockchain.
The real innovation, that killer app that sets off mass adoption of blockchain, will power the machine to machine economy. In the M2M economy I envision, drones can self-authenticate, enter your home, and deliver a package. Amazon Key is already allowing delivery people to enter your home, but they aren’t using a blockchain when they should be. That same drone can hitch a ride on an Uber, charge itself on an induction pad, then make a micropayment before flying to its next destination. The electric Uber car receives a quick charge through induction plates in the road below it, then makes a micropayment to the power company.
In a blockchain-connected future, I see homes that are connected to smart grids. They harvest their own wind and solar power and sell it back to the electric company, or even their neighbors. Manufacturing is directed by smart machines that determine demand and availability, then produce goods only as needed — all while paying the necessary parties through smart contracts.
Will that vision come to pass? Maybe not immediately, but when blockchain has its Netscape moment, things are going to move quickly. Did anyone working on the World Wide Web in the early 90s envision exactly how we use the Internet today? I doubt it. And I think the same can be said about blockchain.
I envision a fully automated, machine to machine economy, but is that what’s best for society? How different will my vision be from what actually comes to pass? It’s difficult to say. But this isn’t a technology that any of us can afford to ignore. Because blockchain’s Netscape moment is coming, and it may be here sooner than you think.
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