Blockchain, a communication channel
When McLuhan wrote the lines “Medium is the message”, almost all of the communication mediums (newspaper, radio) were unidirectional. Messages were pushed out and listened to by the intended audiences. Measuring the quality and quantity of the reach was mostly guesswork whereas getting feedback for the pushed message was near impossible. Till internet gave birth to the web (http) and email (smtp) protocols, 2-way communications were made possible only between 2 parties. We witnessed a paradigm shift in 2-way messaging after internet. Email, SMS, VoIP, Chat, followed by social media and then mobile-based messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram.
Fast forward to 2008
Satoshi’s 2008 paper is about transparency with trust enforced by verification of every transaction by everyone in the network. Such a “trustless” protocol was originally intended to serve one purpose – Create programmable money that can be transferred between parties without a centralized authority such as a credit card processor or a central bank.
Unbeknownst to many early adopters, BitCoin network was starting to be used in ways outside of just money transaction even in the early days. People have written image of Nelson Mandela to prayers to saints to happy birthday to their loved ones. These messages are written permanently in the network making them “immutable”. Writing such messages requires transaction fee, aka “gas”. When the value of BTC kept raising, such efforts were carried out considerably less than the beginning days.
Let’s fast forward to 2015, Ethereum enters the scene. We can safely call this the second major milestone in the blockchain era. Ethereum took the Distributed Ledger to a whole new level, starting with the ability to runnable code in the blockchain. Called “SmartContracts”, these special blockchain accounts (aka Wallets) can autonomously run a defined piece of code. The SmartContracts can also be Token Contracts that mint tokens to those request and meet the needed conditions. One of the most popular condition is the delivery of tokens in exchange for a certain amount of Ether and this has become the defacto standard for the wildly popular Initial Coin Offerings.
Let’s get down to the discussion of blockchain as a communication channel. There are three specific aspects of Ethereum makes it qualified to be a Communication Channel.
1. Fungible Token Travel and Tracking
That’s a loaded title. A fungible token is something that can’t be distinguished from the other. A real-world example of a fungible token is one US Dollar. A dollar note in your hand is no different than another one. It is exactly the same. A fungible token contract can issue these tokens which can be transferred or burned. The total supply and the hops are all tracked with distinct hash entries in the contract address at the blockchain.
2. Non-Fungible Token Collectibility
Unlike the fungible token, a non-fungible token can hold data which makes it unique. The concept gave birth to the crypto-collectibles genre in the blockchain, starting with cryptokitties. With the power of holding data in every token, non-fungible tokens can solve a variety of business problems. One of such areas is – communication.
3. SmartContract Events and Logging
Outside of tokenized communications, a SmartContract that connects two or more parties can connect multiple event blocks, each containing immutable data records. For ex, an employment contract could be executed as a SmartContract that connects the Employer and Employee. An event block for the contract could be a link to the executed copy of the contract itself, making it a permanent, verifiable data record, leading to significant cost benefits in reduced cost in maintaining data records offline or online.
Using Blockchain as a communications medium is in its early stages. There are some initiatives in this direction, some are on a safe distance:
- Basic Attention Token (BAT): Rewarding content viewers and connecting them directly with advertisers and publishers.
- Mercury: Private communications between parties in exchange of Mercury token. They have a reference implementation in the form of mobile app called Dust.
- RedTie: Introducing TieCoins, a reward token system for omni-channel messaging. In addition to just being rewards for messaging, RedTie offers the ability to have SmartContracts that hold TieCoins as Escrow.