Blockchains Are Protocols
Crypto is more than currency
I used to think of the blockchain as the foundation for a new form of money called cryptocurrency, and that the use case for cryptocurrency was as “digital gold.” It’s an attractive investment because it hedges against inflation, or maybe because it will make you rich. In other words, I thought the blockchain was only about wealth. Maybe that’s what you’ve heard, too.
That’s why I avoided the industry for so long. How interesting can money be? I’m a software developer, not an accountant.
But it turns out that most “cryptocurrencies” are not currencies. They are assets. We call them tokens, except for a special few called coins which genuinely are currencies. Currency is just one of the blockchain’s many use cases. While it’s an important one, it’s far from the most interesting one.
So if a blockchain isn’t just a way to build wealth, what is it? Here’s what made it click for me: A blockchain is a protocol. It’s a set of rules that allows data to be shared between computers. Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like the world wide web. But blockchains don’t replace the web—they build on top of it.
The web enabled people to read and write data on the internet. Blockchains go a step further: They enable people to own data. If you’re a developer, you know that the web consists of several layers: TCP/IP, HTTP, and so forth. Think of blockchains as a new layer on top. It’s the ownership layer.
Bitcoin’s breakthrough is that you can own money on the internet, but the blockchain’s breakthrough is that you can own anything on the internet. The use cases are endless.
In short, blockchains are less like gold and more like TCP/IP.