Don't Panic sign from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Blockchain Identity

Douglas Adams was incredible. He invented an invisibility field.

The science behind it was brilliant and it worked.

Blockchain breaks it though – especially Blockchain Identity

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 – they are in an SEP field. You see, the best uses of blockchain (and its ilk) are situations where the underlying problem is somebody else’s problem to solve – or worse, nobody’s problem (is an NEP field some kind of cloaking field too?).

Think about where blockchain-based solutions are gaining major traction:

* Identity – truly an SEP. Nobody really wants to own your identity (well, facebook and google do – they make money on owning your identity).

* Logistics – if you’re looking for an industry that has amazing paperwork, mistakes, and confusion this is the one.

* Supply Chains – from farm to store to your table there may be dozens of players that tough 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 shares most if not all of the following aspects:

  • Many Players with diverse and unaligned needs.
  • Lack of trust between players – especially competitors, but upstream/downstream players as well.
  • No convincing mandate for one party to coordinate/control
  • Major inefficiencies (direct, indirect, errors) due to the way information is exchanged.

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.


  • The Diversity of Players – we have people that just want to get logged in, share some info. Companies that want to establish a trusted relationship with their customers. Companies 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 biggest 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 normally. While there are some federation opportunities they are fractured and contentious (can you use your Facebook ID to log into Google or vice versa?). Many expect governments to provide some services here but that makes no sense. They are certainly major parties to the system 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 major expense and liability. Just getting to the point where your customer has a digital identity takes amazing 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 actually 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 comes 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 that is global and available to everyone. That required blockchain.

Before blockchain we had to create massive databases that you left 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. 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.

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