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@adlrocha - From open-source Ato open-platforms
Originally published in 2022 in the newsletter
On the killer app for blockchains
It’s been over 6 months since my last publication. I could start making up dozens of excuses to justify my absence, but honestly? it has just been a matter of priorities. I realized that all of the time I was spending finding topics to write about, researching them, and writing the publication, could be better spent building new systems (i.e working on my day-to-day projects), and spending the weekends with my family and friends.
**I was starting not to like the quality and depth of my last few publications. **Even more, I felt I was starting to lose too many “family points” for spending time in front of my PC on a Saturday morning, so I decided it was time to take a break. Throughout this break I tried to start writing again several times, but I couldn’t find the inspiration… until today.
I once mentioned that I started this newsletter to have a “public diary” to share my thoughts with the world. And that is exactly what I want to consistently do in this new version of the newsletter. Instead of forcing myself to write every single Sunday —or with any other periodic cadence—, if you get a new publication from me is because I have something interesting (at least for me) to write about.
“*But what about your paid subscribers? They deserve high-quality content at a predictable cadence?". *Fair enough, to my amazing supporters I want to extend you my most sincere apologies for being M.I.A. Writing is not my main source of income (and never has been), it has just been a hobby, something I enjoy doing on my free time. However, I transformed it in an unnecessary obligation,and when I realized I was “abusing” my free time for a few bucks, I decided it was time for a change.
And so much for my autobiographical excerpt. Let’s move know to the topic responsible for my newly found inspiration.
Is there a killer app for blockchains?
It’s been more than a decade since the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper, and seven years since the Ethereum whitepaper. And if I asked you, **"*****what is the killer app for blockchain technology?” ***What would you say? Cryptocurrencies? Decentralized Finance? Decentralized Identity? NFTs? All of the above? After all these years we should know, right?
I’ve been asking this same question to myself lately, and after all these years, I couldn’t come up with a good answer, until (maybe) today.
The three pieces that drove me to realize the potential killer app of blockchains were when Carlos Fenollosa shared how after self-hosting his email for twenty-three years he have thrown the towel; hey.com’s announcement stating that they decided to leave the cloud due its high costs; and this article describing how cloud costs may be in a bubble. What do all these pieces have in common? Our need to rely on a hardware infrastructure to run our day-to-day digital services and businesses, and the fact that the one currently available belongs to a select few.
Is there a killer app for open-source software
If I asked you “*what is the killer app of open-source software?” *what would you answer?. This is also a hard one. Free alternatives for existing proprietary software? Software libraries? Drivers? Severless platforms? Programming languages? Freemium-based business models? Github? Kubernetes? All of them?
In this case I think I know the answer. I would say all of them. Open-source is a new paradigm in software. It changed the way we deliver software products to our users; it has enabled the implementation of composable systems reusable by many; it has fostered the collaboration of companies and individuals towards the implementation and development of new technologies, — fill in the blank with your own, my dearest reader —, etc.
There is no killer app for open-source software. Open source didn’t improve the performance of our existing programming languages, or was the reason for the appearance of Google, it didn’t even made possible a better Microsoft Office. What it did is to introduce a new way of writing and distributing software that any application and software developer could benefit from.
Open-source is like a database, it represents a cross-layer powering our current software products and the web (from SaaS to proprietary systems). It benefits the long-tail, but there is no specific sector or application that has benefit the most from these innovations.
Blockchains as the core for open-platforms
After this brief detour, let me ask my first question again “what is the killer app for blockchains?". My claim that there is no killer app for blockchains. As it happens with databases and open-source, blockchains are a cross-layer that will be at the core of the infrastructures required to power the digital products and the web of the future (read as future 3-5 years. I really think we are getting close either to this realization, or to the complete demise of blockchains).
Human beings are lazy, and the same way I decided to prioritize my free time over writing, any human being prefers spending time watching “The Lord of the Rings” with their significant other than maintaining their email server. We rather focus on building the new great feature of our SaaS than having to spend time fixing the HD in a server, or pushing a security update on a Saturday night. And while it makes total sense, **this laziness is the one that has led us to delegate all of these critical operations **(along its underlaying costs, power, and profits) to the select few running them.
How can blockchain help with this? By enabling an infrastructure that foster the deployment of open platforms. The following tweet from Bluesky’s Jay Graber (who I had the luck to meet at LabWeek22), and the AT Protocol are perfect illustrations of the concept of open-platforms:
Open-platforms will (“potentially”) enable cost-effective infrastructure (relying on economies of scale by aggregating the existing —and new— pool of resources) where users are able to deploy their applications with 100% (or 9.% uptimes) while requiring low-levels of maintainance. The same way a developer can pick up an abandoned open-source project and make it their own when its original contributor lost interest in it or moved on, services deployed in open-platforms will be able to keep running even when the developer or company behind it moves on.
Obviously, we are still missing lots of pieces of the open-platform puzzle to be able to replace the select few currently owning the infrastructure of the Internet, but we are getting close. We already have several decentralized identity proposals, projects like Filecoin that aggregate storage providers enabling it to become one of the largest storage networks in the world, or proposals to decentralize Github like Radicle.xyz. And why not? We may see soon decentralized alternatives to email or even OnlyFans over open-platforms powered by blockchains (more about this in future publications).
And what is the role of cryptocurrencies in all of these? you may be wondering. Well, as you may also have realized by now, I haven’t brought them up a single time throughout the course of this publication. Cryptocurrencies are just a necessary consequence of blockchains but not their raison d’être (something worth remembering in the on-going winter).
The future of the Internet are open-platforms.
The Internet today runs on open-source software. In a few years the Internet will be powered by open-platforms. **Blockchains are just a small piece and an enabler for this to be possible.
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