#Blockchain is defined as the ‘great chain of being sure about things” by The Economist. We are moving towards a blockchain future where the marginal cost of a transaction drops to zero and peer-to-peer commerce is facilitated by ‘trustless’ transactions.
One of the greatest areas of upside for blockchain is to aggregate new sources of data – unstructured data, social data, platform data – onto a trust passport, a digital application that can be used by individuals across different ecosystems to show that they are trustable.
“The vision of blockchain-based identity promises to empower users to be in complete control of their identity. This promise could lead to easy, single or seamless sign-ons that zigzag Internet users straight through the maze of entry and access points to unlock personal information, access services and transact digital assets.” The Promise of Blockchain Identity
This isn’t as far out into the future as we may think. Work is already being done to develop ‘trust signals’ that can be used to measure the trustworthiness of an individual based on specific sources of data:
Beyond identity information, this could include data like:
- reviews from ‘sharing economy’ platforms such as Airbnb and Uber
- transaction data through eCommerce or payments platforms
- social and behavioral data such as Lenddo in Asian and Latin markets
- mobile phone usage data such as Tala in Africa
As such trust signals are developed, they can be aggregated across applications, and that’s where the blockchain comes in. The blockchain provides an immutable record that proves that something did or didn’t happen. There are public blockchains and private blockchains – bitcoin would be an example of a public blockchain, whereas any blockchain that results in a collaboration between private enterprises (ie. R3) would be considered a private blockchain. Public blockchains inspire more trust in the public because they are not subject to collusion in the same way that private blockchains are. In the future, enterprises may start with a private blockchain and then enable certain data to move, inter-operably, onto a public blockchain like bitcoin, Ethereum, or whatever the primary blockchains of the future are.
Airbnb would be an interesting potential example. Earlier in the year, they acquired a blockchain startup known as ChangeCoin:
This acquisition feeds into Airbnb’s ambition to create their own ‘passport’ that can be used across different layers of the sharing economy – car sharing, equipment rental, etc – as part of their new push into ‘Experiences:’
“I think that, within the context of Airbnb, your reputation is everything, and I can see it being even more so in the future, whereby you might need a certain reputation in order to have access to certain types of homes. But then the question is whether there’s a way to export that and allow access elsewhere to help other sharing economy models really flourish. We’re looking for all different kinds of signals to tell us whether someone is reputable, and I could certainly see some of these more novel types of signals being plugged into our engine.” Airbnb Cofounder Talks Blockchain
But with a company like Airbnb facing their own trust issues, it’s unlikely that the breakthrough innovation will come from them or similar platforms. Instead, we see it as a combination of multiple trust signals coming from multiple sources, aggregated across several different blockchains, coming together to create an entirely new way of transacting across the global ecosystem of goods and services:
“The blockchain brings safety to everything from online purchases to opening the front door of your holiday home,” he explains. “It’s not just a new way of thinking about money – it’s a new way of thinking about trust.” The Blockchain is Only Getting Started
‘Economy in a Box’ blockchain startup Colu estimates that the blockchain could add billions of dollars back into the global economy, as a starting point, by resolving market inefficiencies. Blockchain technology is currently being applied to finance, insurance, supply chain provenance, consumer tech and a host of other applications. The idea that blockchain will have the same impact on commerce as the internet did on communication is driving billions of dollars of investment and inspiring entrepreneurs globally to take their shot at future fame. But for mainstream consumers, this technology is unlikely to create everyday benefits until different applications are unified under something like a ‘trust passport.’ When that day does finally come, however, the way we travel, transact and conduct business will be completely revolutionized.