Many users don't care how the Internet works. It just does. Today anyone can type a website address into a computer or smartphone web browser and retrieve information in a matter of seconds. This wasn't the case when networks of computers were first linked together or even when protocols were established. Widespread adoption of the Internet required creation of the World Wide Web and late night television mocking people like Bill Gates. Internet hype in 1999 was followed by an epic stock market crash but the technology eventually made its way into the mainstream and created an entirely new ecosystem of information and commerce.
The same could be said about the state of Blockchain today. Even the most technophobic individual has heard some variation of "that crazy, fake internet money thing". The description is inaccurate, but that's how many people view the technology that came out with the release of Satoshi Nakamoto's bitcoin whitepaper just over 10 years ago. The problem is that initial use case for bitcoin became synonymous with all Blockchain applications.
Blockchain Is Not Cryptocurrency
In its simplest form, Blockchains are just a record of transactions that anyone with permission can see and update. You may be wondering, "Why is that such a big deal?". We already have internet based file sharing and anyone with permission can see the data in spreadsheets, mainframes and other applications. The key difference is HOW the data is recorded, updated and stored. The Enterprisers Project described various ways IT professionals explain Blockchain technology to non-technical business professionals. The school lunch analogy is by far the easiest to visualize:
“Imagine a school lunch table with a bunch of kids sitting at it. Two kids want to trade lunches. Kid A says to Kid B: ‘I’ll trade you lunch if you have a cookie’. Kid B states that he does have a cookie and the two trade lunch. As the kids trade lunches, the Principal comes over and asks: ‘What’s going on here.’ At which point all the kids at the table speak up and say Kid A traded lunch with Kid B."
This simple story outlines the basics of Blockchain. Kid A and B are ‘participants,’ also known as actors, in the Blockchain. Lunch is an asset. Trading lunch is the transaction. Whether Kid A’s lunch contains a cookie is a smart contract. Finally, the Principal’s review is the consensus to approve/validate the transaction.
In more technical terms, Blockchain is the process of participants engaging in transactions around assets. Consensus is used to validate the transaction and smart contracts are used to set parameters around the transaction.”
Blockchain technology can be used to create a permanent, public, transparent ledger system for compiling data on sales, tracking digital use and payments to content creators, or just to make entirely new distribution methods for products (my personal favorite). Even better, permissioned Blockchains allow data to be limited to a private network of users and still provide the benefits of the technology.
The Blockchain Hype Cycle is in full peak mode heading into 2020
According to Gartner's 2019 Hype Cycle for Blockchain Business, a tremendous amount of activity is ready to burst onto the scene in the next 5-10 years. Nearly every single industry is listed in the chart below, with only a small few expected to reach their plateau sooner than 5 years:
This provides an opportunity for early adopters to influence the attitude and change the behavior in their industries by reshaping the status quo. More importantly, there's still time to be mocked on a late night talk show and have the last laugh!