“A Blockchain is a distributed append-only ledger that allows for an arbitrarily high number of actors achieve consensuszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……”
Some things are complicated, and some things are not. A hammer is a simple tool, while a car is not a simple tool. However, both solve a problem which is easy to describe. A hammer lets you hit things harder than you can with your hand. A car lets you move faster than you otherwise could using your legs.
Let’s say you’re not a programmer. If you found someone who is a fanatic about blockchain. If you were to ask them what blockchain is, chances are they’ll say something in the ballpark of the caption under the picture of the sleepy cat. And chances are your reaction will be similar to that sleepy cat because that kind of information is not useful to you.
“But a Blockchain actually is a distributed append-only ledger that allows for a-”
Most people don’t care.
In the same way that when somebody is asking what a car is, they’re not trying to find out if a car is a ‘wheeled motor vehicle powered by a reciprocating internal combustion engine etcetera’. These sorts of descriptions are super useful to you, if you build cars. Or even if you build steam engines, that kind of description helps tell you in what specific way a car is not a steam engine.
I wanted to put this all out there because I want to lay out what a blockchain is, without talking about how it’s built. I want to take my developer hat off and put on my regular person hat. What is a hammer or car kinda like that I know about? A hammer is like a fist or a rock but better at hitting stuff. A car is like a horse or running but faster and less sweaty.
What is blockchain kinda like that most people have seen before?
Blockchain lets a bunch of people who don’t trust each other agree on stuff.
So imagine you have a large group of people you know. You like and trust some of these people, while you don’t quite trust or straight up hate others, but you’re a large group nonetheless. Imagine you want to create GroupBucks™, and you’re all far too lazy to mint coins or have paper money.
You could pick one person to keep track of how many GroupBucks™ everybody has. Let’s pick Tim, Tim is a good person. You just ask Tim how many GroupBucks™ you have, and then tell Tim you want to send Sofia 10 GroupBucks™, and Tim writes it down. But what about the people that don’t trust Tim? There wouldn’t be anything really stopping Tim from giving himself 1 Million GroupBucks™, and since Tim has the only record, whose to say he’s wrong?
What if instead everyone kept track of how many GroupBucks™ everyone in the group has? The whole group could all get on Twitter, and follow each other. Everyone keeps track of the balance of everyone else, and when you want to send your 10 GroupBucks™ to Sofia, you just tweet that fact. Everyone sees your tweet and updates their balance sheet accordingly.
This is essentially how Cryptocurrencies work.
We understand hammers in a very deep way, they do something that we already understand very well, in a way that we understand. But how often do we try and agree on stuff with people that we don’t trust? This isn’t really a problem that humans have had before.
I don’t know what blockchain is like that we’ve seen before.
The world used to be small enough and progress was slow enough that governments and banks and other people in power could build systems of trust that regular people had to rely on.
People that are into blockchain think those days are over.
We live in a world where anyone can make a virtual tool that can help anyone that can find it- potentially millions or even billions of people. These sort of transparent systems are what our society needs to start leveraging more as we move forward. It’s how we can prevent the next Equifax breach, the next Facebook election manipulation, while still taking advantage of the kinds of tools we used to trust them to provide.
This vision isn’t so complicated, why do nerds like me sometimes pretend that it is?
When you’ve been a developer for a long time, you begin to fall into patterns that make your own life easier. Programming is, at its core, explaining to a computer what you want it to in a way that is really precise. And thinking as precisely as possible all the time leads you to speak more precisely.
Right now people who are most into crypto are the ones building crypto: programmers. And they’re building some pretty hard stuff. Making this technology work is a nightmare. The people making this stuff possible are probably the greatest technical minds of this generation. So when they talk to each other, they use the kind of jargon I made fun of earlier, because it’s helpful to be clear and descriptive to other programmers.
But if we want to be clear and descriptive to people that aren’t programmers, sometimes that requires being clear on some parts and glossing over others.