Every few months, someone announces the perfect use case for blockchain. Here’s why this won’t stop anytime soon.
By Alissa Fleck
Let’s forgo the usual explanation about blockchain and the intense if short-lived buzz that took the world by storm. If you’re reading this, you already know that story.
Of greater interest are the latest, greatest projects riding the coattails of blockchain’s meteoric rise to pop cultural prominence. Looking back on these past few years, it’s interesting to note how these so-called “killer apps” follow trend lines of their own.
Indeed, virtually every industry has its share of developers boasting about their “game-changing” apps, dApps, services and platforms. Eventually, someone will surely disrupt an industry and revolutionize an entire market.
The question is — which industry, which market, which killer app?
Traditionally centralized healthcare faces several pitfalls, which is why blockchain appeared as a sort of godsend to the healthcare industry when it moved from mere hype in 2017 to technological development in 2018. Over the course of the year, numerous projects were thrown at the wall. A few even managed to stick.
Walmart made headlines in 2018 for filing a patent for a blockchain-based wearable that would allow medical professionals to read a patient’s EHR (electronic health record) information even if the patient loses consciousness. The CDC also tapped into the emerging technology last year, in partnership with IBM Watson, to attempt to tackle the opioid epidemic via longitudinal surveillance. Change Healthcare meanwhile adopted blockchain technology to introduce greater transparency and traceability into the complex relationship between patient, hospital and payor.
It may not have the life-or-death exigency of the healthcare industry, but the real estate sector is nonetheless fraught with fraud, bureaucracy, human error and other obstacles, which blockchain developers seized upon early.
The last two years saw the emergence of several real estate applications, including ShelterZoom, a blockchain-based platform that claims to integrate with other real estate websites; Blocksquare, to tokenize real estate and allow users to invest in properties with greater liquidity and Atlant, which allows p2p property-sharing.
One can’t talk about blockchain without mentioning supply chain, another industry already being disrupted by DLT. Supply chain management struggles with many problems — inefficiency, wastefulness, loss — the results of which can be felt across nearly every sector. Devastating food poisoning outbreaks, for instance, can often be attributed to supply chain failures.
In 2017, IBM partnered with AOS to tackle the supply chain with DLT and IoT, implementing technology to better track and protect cargo. IBM also teamed up with Walmart and several other food giants — like Unilever and Tyson — to track how food was moving along the supply chain. A Swiss food supply chain company called Ambrosus also implemented blockchain technology to record incorruptible “farm to fork” data.
The Blockchain in Transport Alliance coalition was even founded to encourage greater exploration in shipping DLT.
Payments were naturally the first real-world use case for decentralized ledgers. After all, this is Bitcoin’s raison d’etre. But blockchain- and crypto-based payment apps have grown significantly more advanced since Satoshi was still on the scene.
Increasingly, we’re seeing these projects integrate with conventional payment services. BitWage, for one, launched an app that partners with payroll companies to improve payment efficiency for smaller businesses. Then there’s AirTM, Revolut, Uphold and Kraken — all hope to use crypto to facilitate payments across borders, across the country or just between friends.
Then there’s the fact that crypto exchanges are themselves a means of exchanging funds across borders, beyond the reach of regulators. And Ripple, of course, continues to ignite controversies in the crypto community as it forges ahead with its own payment products that may or may not be cryptocurrencies at all.
What will come next for blockchain technology? As crypto believers are fond of noting, these are very early days —the internet in 1998, perhaps. The sky may not be the limit, but it’s fair to say no single “killer app” will put blockchain in everyone’s pocket. Just as Amazon built its business on traditional shipping channels, so, too, will tomorrow’s most successful blockchain apps rely on today’s technology.