How can the security structures of decentralized apps be reliably combined with the polish and patterns of centralized apps?
Software applications created and maintained by a single company typically enjoy characteristics of convenience, like being fast, easy to change, and easy to use. Over the last two decades, these centralized apps have become remarkably polished and created expectations for a quality of experience that is very high. However, a common downside of centralization is that people don’t really have ultimate control or ownership of their data, only access to it within a pretty cage. This isolation, along with reliance upon a single custodian for safety, keeps data from being useful in other domains and makes data vulnerable to corruption.
Decentralized applications are a powerful new type of software that offers a different set of strengths and weaknesses. First, what are decentralized applications? These are apps that are created open source by software developers and then run by a network of participants who are paid to participate in running the service. Bitcoin is the first and longest lasting example of a decentralized app to date, and a global network of people running that service get paid in that coin. A blockchain simply keeps a record of those transactions, so everyone knows how much coin they have. This is the basic structure for how all decentralized apps function.
The benefits of a decentralized apps are generally openness of access, efficiency of transacting without middlemen, real ownership of digital assets, and a tamper-proof historical record of those assets.
The benefits of a decentralized apps are generally openness of access, efficiency of transacting without middlemen, real ownership of digital assets, and a tamper-proof historical record of those assets. The downsides can be slowness, expense, and lack of good user interfaces.
However, recent hype about “blockchain” has made it seem like a magic technology that makes anything possible, somehow. The truth is, no technology can do it all. Every system, product, technology has been optimized to solve certain problems, which requires making trade-off decisions about what’s important. In the case of decentralized applications, what they gain in prioritizing security and openness is typically at the expense of usability, speed, and many of the benefits we have come to love about consumer software.
In an attempt to have it all, many decentralized apps are sacrificing what makes them potentially unique — a high degree of security and ownership — to gain the benefits of centralized apps. Rebuilding foundations at the blockchain level is typically driven by an intention to graft on complex features later, hoping to make the software more fully functional. We think this is the wrong approach.
A hybrid approach
At Learning Machine, we combine the best of both worlds by maintaining architectural separation between our commercial software for issuing records, which is centralized and beautiful, and the decentralized network used to verify the authenticity and ownership of those records, which is decentralized and interoperable. In this situation, recipients can use an open-source mobile app like Blockcerts to hold, own, share, and have their records be verified by anyone in the world, instantly and for free.
This separation of concerns allows us to get the best of both worlds, convenient software for institutions to issue secure records and a decentralized verification network to make records interoperable and trustworthy. Of course, this requires producing records that have no ongoing dependence upon us, the vendor. While this goes against the traditional model of fully controlling the end-user experience, we believe that official records should be fully controlled by recipients, vendor independent, and be verifiable by anyone.
Centralized and decentralized software both have something special to offer, and preserving those unique qualities is critical for successful implementations. To learn more about our enterprise software for creating and issuing official records, contact us. For more information about the leading open source implementation for universal verification of records, visit www.blockcerts.org.