Hitchhiker’s Guide to Blockchain Identity
Hitchhiker’s Guide to Blockchain Identity was inspired by the incredible Douglas Adams.
He invented an invisibility field.
The science behind it was brilliant, and it worked.
But hang on – “it worked”? Here’s the premise – and you’ll mentally get that it works (or you take life a tad too seriously, perhaps):
“An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem…. The brain just edits it out; it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly, you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.” – Ford Prefect, HHGTTG.
I was walking around, and the following thought hit me.
The situations where blockchain makes the most sense are invisible – in an SEP field. You see, the best uses of the blockchain (and its ilk) are situations where the underlying problem is somebody else’s problem to solve – or worse, nobody else’s problem (is an NEP field some kind of cloaking field, too?).
Think about where blockchain-based solutions are gaining significant traction:
- Identity – truly an SEP. Nobody wants to own your identity (well, Facebook and Google do – they make money on owning your identity).
- Logistics – This is the one if you’re looking for an industry with fantastic paperwork, mistakes, and confusion.
- Supply Chains – from farm to store to your table, dozens of players may touch what you’re eating.
- Healthcare – perhaps the ultimate system of somebody else’s problem. Patients, doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, and more.
I’m focusing here on identity but let’s take a quick look at what each industry has in common. Each share most if not all of the following aspects:
- Many Players with diverse and unaligned needs.
- Lack of trust between players – especially competitors- and upstream/downstream players.
- No convincing mandate for one party to coordinate/control
- Significant inefficiencies (direct, indirect, errors) due to the nature of the information exchange.
These industries have layers upon layers of distraction and confusion. They are fragmented and inefficient because the underlying problems are nobody’s problem to solve.
Let’s look at digital identity as an example here – as that’s the main focus of my efforts – but it also cuts across so many industries that it applies broadly.
DIGITAL IDENTITY HAS:
- The Diversity of Players – we have people that just want to get logged in and share some info. Companies that want to establish a trusted relationship with their customers and some that want to market to you – ethically or via surveillance approaches. Governments that may provide identity foundational documents and want to interact with citizens.
- Lack of Trust – there are very few trusted pathways to establishing relationships. The most prominent players (Facebook and Google) have power, but what level of trust will banks or government give to their “identity” for logging in? Little.
- Central Coordination/Control it’s a 1:1 relationship usually. Federation opportunities are fractured and contentious – can you use your Facebook ID to log into Google or vice versa? Many people expect governments to provide services, but they have little to no role in owning and controlling how I introduce myself to you.
- Incredible Inefficiencies – Adding digital identity support for your organization and its applications has historically been a significant expense and liability. Just getting to the point where your customer has a digital identity takes impressive effort that is largely wasted.
Here’s my premise about digital identity – as a person or organization (profit-driven or not-for-profit), we don’t need to own the identity. Once we have established that you are who you say you are, we focus on the relationship. That’s where our investment, value, and growth come from.
So, where does digital identity fit with blockchain? Simple – the ownership of your digital identity can now, finally, be yours. You can own your own digital identity.
It is a simple shift that just wasn’t possible before blockchain and related technology came into being. The shared nature of the blockchain means we can anchor our identity to something global and available to everyone—that requires Blockchain.
Before blockchain, we had to create massive databases that left you to others – it’s painful. That’s why you see “Login with Facebook” and “Login with Google” everywhere – they are the organizations with both the scale and financial reasons for hosting that expensive database.
Now that you can own your own – the problem of digital identity is no longer “somebody else’s problem.”
So basically, we just broke an invisibility field. The SEP field collapsed, and initiatives like Sovrin caused it to fail.
Damn – that’s kind of a shame – but not really because digital identity has cost far too much to date. It is time to use it as a positive.
And, there are loads of other areas that remain invisible!
So when you’re wondering where blockchain may apply – keep an eye out for invisible things.
(hint: look out of the corner of your eye)
Also published on Medium.