Public blockchains' superpower: strict global consensus

There’s nothing new here. I’ve been talking about applications for the last couple of years, but very few care - the industry is still mostly obsessed with infra and gambling. Some people told me “next bull things will be different” - but nothing has changed; indeed, I only see a greater indulgence in infra and degeneracy as speculation has returned. I have given up on things ever changing, but I’ll keep writing occasionally, repeating myself.

I have written many times about how blockchain apps only make sense when three criteria are satisfied a) peer-to-peer, b) strict global consensus, c) objective outputs.

But really, all of this can be boiled down to just b) strict global consensus. To achieve strict global consensus, you need peer-to-peer, and it can be only accomplished with objective applications anyway.

Let’s start with peer-to-peer. This paradigm has existed way before blockchain, and indeed, blockchains are just one type of peer-to-peer network. File sharing/storage, multiplayer games, messaging & social media - pretty much every application you can think of can be “decentralized” using peer-to-peer. Blockchains can be used to incentivize these, but that is the “objective money” usecase, not the application usecase. Indeed, it also adds centralization vectors, so a non-blockchain peer-to-peer network can potentially be more decentralized.

The key purpose of blockchains is to come to consensus in (near) real-time, a set of outputs that everyone running a node can agree to. Once the consensus is achieved, the blockchain’s work is done, and the data can be discarded.

Most, if not all, blockchains will prune and purge old data. Even Ethereum has a roadmap towards state expiry and history expiry. The only exception, then, is Bitcoin. Public blockchains are definitely not the solution for permanence. Indeed, most blockchains will rely on non-blockchain peer-to-peer storage/sharing solutions so old transactions are not forgotten.

Addendum: a lot of usecases are also fine with local consensus, without needing strict global consensus. For example, if the gold mining industry needs to coordinate, they don’t need to broadcast everything to the entire world - they can just come to consensus within the industry, which is the only place this information matters. Indeed, most industries already have consortiums and standards.

To be clear, we have seen applications shoehorned into public blockchains chasing incentives, and this will continue to happen, but that doesn’t mean it actually makes sense or is the best architecture for the product.

The question then, is - what new applications can benefit from strict global consensus? The two key ones that have been proven over the last decade are “objective money” and “objective identity”. Of course, this can take many forms, and be remixed in various ways. Perhaps a broader vision would be to look at non-blockchain apps, and see how or if “objective money” or “objective identity” can enhance the user experience, or at least expand user choice - these are what I’d call hybrid apps.

The simplest fit is accepting stablecoins or cryptocurrencies as payment. But it can go deeper than that. Farcaster uses public blockchains for money & identity, but everything else is off blockchains. Or it could be a multiplayer game that’s mostly peer-to-peer, or even with a centralized server for most things, but using a public blockchain to come to consensus on valuable or even non-valuable (like, narrative) outcomes. Of course, I’m not an app developer, but I hope app developers think about strict global consensus deeply and come up with new, novel usecases that leverage this unique property.

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