Almost all aspects of computing today are influenced by just a handful of companies. Google dictates the way we look for information. Our computers run either on Microsoft or Apple. Our social interactions are facilitated by Facebook. We buy almost anything online over Amazon.
These companies have provided us with convenient and (admittedly) revolutionary means to manage our lives. However, many are now questioning whether or not we’ve traded much for the ease they bring. The recent growing hubbub concerning privacy concerns and unfavorable terms and conditions is putting an increasing number of users at odds with these services. As a reaction, we’re now fighting back by opting for alternatives.
This has been good for blockchain. The decentralization and privacy that the technology promotes is enticing more users to try it out. More projects are looking to become legitimate alternatives to centralized services are also emerging.
For example, decentralized search engine Presearch seeks to challenge Google by emphasizing an open ecosystem for search. BitBoost is launching a decentralized marketplace that seeks to change the ecommerce space. Cardstack is also looking to provide better utility for decentralized apps (dapps) and better experiences for users through orchestration.
Blockchain’s latent capabilities puts these projects in a position to disrupt many of the mainstream services available today. But can these truly challenge the dominance of the industry’s giants?
Control and Silos
One of the biggest criticisms that big tech companies face right now is the control they have over their services and platforms. Google and Facebook may provide most of their services without charges but users do cede ownership of data such as content, usage statistics, and even personally identifiable information in exchange.
Companies also have control over how data can be monetized. They can bombard us with targeted ads that use our online activities. We rarely get an opinion about this. Recently, YouTube faced some backlash from content creators when it changed its monetization policies to the disadvantage of many smaller creators.
These companies also employ closed systems in order to consolidate their respective markets. Most of their services operate within silos that limit interoperability with other services built by competing developers.
As such, users often have to pick one ecosystem (like either Mac or Windows) and stick with it. However, since users may require the use of apps available across ecosystems, they have to find ways to integrate them. Often, this also leaves them with a fragmented user experience.
These are issues that blockchain services seek to solve by addressing users’ growing demand for control and ownership.
In decentralized systems, rules placed on smart contracts are responsible for much of the processes. Consensus protocols are used to facilitate decision making by the community of peers. No single entity or facility has control over data, rather, information is encrypted and stored in a distributed infrastructure.
Presearch, for instance, relies on a distributed infrastructure to work. Creating a search index requires vast and costly computing resources. But by letting users share their bandwidth and computing power, decentralized search now becomes possible. In return, the service provides an open and transparent search engine where users can choose which data sources to use and have their search histories remain private. The project recently announced its integration with MetaCert which protects users from fraud and phishing sites.
Another project, BitBoost aims to provide better terms and mechanisms for users of its ecommerce platform. BitBoost is building a decentralized marketplace that provides efficient mechanisms for buyers and sellers to perform transactions in absolute privacy and without the interference of intermediaries. Sellers are only charged a minimal listing fee and takes no other percentage from the final sale unlike in traditional ecommerce platforms which charge merchants various fees and commissions. This way, sellers can enjoy better margins and can even pass on some of the savings to buyers in the form of lower prices.
The fragmented user experience caused by the silos created by the major tech players also decreases user productivity.
In response, Cardstack provides an orchestration platform that allows users to organize various functionalities into customized and personalized workflows. Functionalities and data sources such as cloud services and blockchains are presented as cards which users can then chain or “stack” together. This allows users to essentially build their own meta-dapps that cover their digital requirements.
Chris Tse interviewed by CryptoGrinders
“We’ve been building decentralized composable software on the frontend and the backend, so that people can bring different mix and match components together and build cohesive experiences that tap into many systems” said Chris Tse, founder of Cardstack.
“That toolkit cohesive orchastration experience is particular useful to the Blockchain world, because there are too many coins and protocols, so you’d have to go to 10 different websites and download 10 different apps. We want Cardstack to become an essential tool to create an orchastration layer to offer end users and developers that easy experience layer and deliver it in an easy to digest way” he adds.
These platforms also encourage fairness as token economies incentivize contributions and positive behavior. As the platform grows, the community is also rewarded unlike with centralized services where growth equates to profits for these companies.
Challenging the Dominant Players
So how do these features help blockchain platforms and services challenge the dominance of centralized services?
Essentially, they are able to provide the following:
– Control. Most blockchain services are facilitated by smart contracts. Rules and conditions are transparent and can’t be changed at a whim or arbitrarily. Users are also able to retain full control over their experience and their data. Users can choose to keep their data private, or share and monetize the information.
– Experience. Ventures are building their services based on open-source standards which promote further development. Instead of letting users be constrained by fragmented user experiences, orchestration services can provide personalized and customized workflows that cover every need.
– Fairness. Users can also enjoy fair terms and conditions. Changes to rules that govern decentralized services are made democratically by the community. The token economies that drive these platforms are also designed to be self-sustaining where contributions to development and positive behavior are rewarded.
Still, we have to be realistic. This will be an uphill battle for blockchain. Despite the growing disdain for centralization and the clout of major tech companies, they are well-entrenched in the landscape. But as far as the mechanics and principles are concerned, blockchain does have the potential to chip away at their dominance.
Thus, the real power to change the status quo relies on us, the users. We need to start trying these services out to encourage wider adoption. Blockchain use cases like cryptocurrencies have already entered mainstream consciousness so dapps and other blockchain platforms shouldn’t be a tough sell anymore. We just have to realize the benefits that these services provide.