Advancements in technology and the bear market we’re in have reignited the conversation of how to use blockchain outside of cryptocurrency. A simple search on the topic brings up everything from proven use cases to pie-in-the-sky ideas that are still years off. What's more, they primarily seek to answer WHAT can be stored on the blockchain and not HOW to do it––the reason we're all here!
To get some answers, I decided to find a developer to speak with. To do that, I used the Catalyst Voter Tool on our website; it's pretty cool, and though I may be biased, I think you should check it out! It was built to assist the Catalyst voting process, but I have also found it quite helpful as a general Catalyst project research tool. It is now my primary source for finding the right people to talk to behind the projects.
For this article, I interviewed a developer many are well aware of––you may have seen him in the Twitter/YouTube news this past week talking on other topics. I found the Cardano developer , Adam Dean, hard at work for his BuffyBot Publishing, a Cardano NFT company hosting this October's cNFT Con in Las Vegas, NV.
Though various ideas of what we can use blockchain for will be explored in more detail in an upcoming article, I'll include a few here to quell (and perhaps stoke) a few curiosities:
Journalism: Independent journalists and larger media companies, learning how to use the blockchain to copyright their material and pass ownership/rights to their work
Automotive: Recording odometer readings on the blockchain to stop fraudulent data from being used to sell pre-owned vehicles
Supply Chain Management: Maintaining warehouse data and accurate inventory schedules
Food Shipping: Tracking food cargo to reduce the weeks or months it can take to locate and destroy shipments from a contaminated field, packing facility, etc.
Real Estate: Outright ownership of real property and/or fractionalization of others for investing purposes or co-op living
Record Companies/Solo Musicians: Music copyright data on the blockchain and fractional ownership, opening the potential for multiple beneficiaries of royalties––shout out Snoop Dogg and Champ Medici on their recent partnership with Clay Nation, where they plan to do just that!
And many more!
Anyhow, I spoke with Adam and asked about a few potential ways some of these scenarios could be solved. Read along as we scratch the surface of a topic many people, utilizing billions of dollars in funding across several blockchains, are laboring to solve.
On to the conversation:
Benjamin: Thanks for meeting today, Adam. As you know, I'm trying to look more into how so many implementations we hear and read about can potentially take place. I suppose I'll begin with an open-ended question: what thoughts come to mind when pondering putting various types of data on the blockchain?
Adam: Well, first, I'd ask if the information actually needs to be on the blockchain. That is, many organizations may be better served by using redundant cloud systems, servers on site, or some other method of controlling their data other than the blockchain.
Once it is determined that the blockchain is the way a company/operation needs to go to best meet its objectives, the next question is how to secure and encrypt that data, if necessary (so we are not, in the case of a hospital, publically publishing medical records, for instance). As yet, industry-wide, it seems we are all still searching for a solution to this issue…no one has a solution yet on how to put something on a public ledger without others being able to read it. If a key becomes compromised, the blockchain can't simply be rewritten or erased…that information will be there as long as the blockchain is around.
Finally, if there is some anonymized analytical data you are trying to store, such as supply chain data, a blockchain can make sense, but what seems to make the best sense is to use a sidechain. For instance, we can very easily create a sidechain using the Cardano software with zero fees. Users could simply come and add items to it quickly and easily to this purpose-built and purpose-driven sidechain. Then you would be looking at somehow transferring that data or linking it to the Cardano mainnet, so you have proof that that data has not been compromised or tampered with on your sidechain.
Benjamin: Would you use some sort of code in the meta-data in a transaction to link it, or perhaps some other mechanism?
Adam: Essentially, what you would be doing is creating a hash that proves that the data on the sidechain is at state x. That gets recorded to Cardano with its timestamp. It should add up to this hash; if it doesn't, the data has been compromised or tampered with somehow. You could do this update hourly, daily, weekly, monthly––whatever interval seems to work for your particular project or purpose.
For instance, if we were to employ a voting mechanism on Cardano. That would likely take place on a sidechain to keep the costs low-to-no while still recording the data on a public ledger that can be publicly audited, and then time is also secured…essentially.
Benjamin: What thoughts on implementation for a musician using the blockchain to copyright their intellectual property (IP), as opposed to using the current governmental processes, or perhaps in conjunction with them?
Adam: At the open "public domain" level, if we were talking about filings to the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), for instance, where it's a matter of public record anyway, and we don't need it encrypted, we can use a public blockchain so that we can have everything there listed publicly…maybe it still has to go through the PTO first, but then they publish it to the blockchain, and it's backed up and recorded and kept on copies of ledgers by random interested and concerned citizens who then host that information, so we are not relying on only centralized governmental servers to hold that data and store it forever. So we become more active participants in the ownership of our own data.
Benjamin: So if I'm part of a public company and want to publish our accounting data to the blockchain once a month, for instance, would it be viable, in your opinion, to use IPFS to upload a document of that information and mint it to a token on the blockchain, while perhaps keeping copies in redundant systems?
Adam: This is what we have going on in the NFT community right now: Essentially, people are trying to figure out how IPFS works. A lot of people would suggest the Arweave or Filecoin blockchains since they are both built for optimizing file storing on a blockchain. However, there's nothing that says Arweave is going to continue as a blockchain forever. The price could go to $0, and everyone could shut down their file nodes. Filecoin could go to zero. Although IPFS can also go down, it isn't connected to a blockchain or a coin that could go to zero. So in terms of real object permanence, I think IPFS stands the best chance because it's free to participate. Anyone can run a node on their local machine, and they're connected. File fetch can be slow, but it would still work. It doesn't become more or less expensive to store your data based on arbitrary market costs. For that reason, I'm a fan of IPFS for storage.
Back to the scenario: I think it would be possible, where you create a PDF containing your corporation's prospectus or other accounting data, to put it on IPFS. You'd then sign it, and put it on Cardano by linking that file to a token by use of the metadata of a transaction, so nobody can change those numbers anymore. So yes, you could absolutely do that to store and record public domain information that needs to be open and accessible to the public, very quickly, very easily, and in the case of Cardano, for a trivially low cost.
Benjamin: Back in 2017, BMW began working on a project to link all their odometer readings to a blockchain to curb nefarious actors from trying to roll back the miles on used vehicles, which impacts 1 in 3 cars in the European used car market today. What are your thoughts on how that objective could be achieved?
Adam: Well, if we're only talking about a car's VIN and odometer readings, then that's essentially public data anyhow, through the local Department of Motor Vehicles, and poses no real threat to your privacy. So this, again, is another instance where you would use a sidechain. In this case, you can't use a public blockchain like Ethereum or Cardano, where you are not in control of the other actors in the ecosystem where a large influx of other activity might slow down transaction settlement on the base layer. So you could have a Solana-level fast blockchain running on a sidechain, and then you roll that data up so you can say to your user: "Go over here and take a look at our blockchain explorer. You can look up any car with its VIN and see exactly what the up-to-the-minute stats are." The same person could then look on the Cardano mainnet to see that every time the company does a snapshot every day, every 6 hours, etc., we record our block hash back so that way you can see that the data hasn't changed at all.
Benjamin: So, let's say a nefarious actor turns back the odometer reading to make a quick buck; how is anyone alerted to that change? It wouldn't be done on the Cardano level, would it?
Adam: It would be fairly complicated to set specific requirements for a block to be valid––such as requiring odometer readings to move progressively higher for a particular VIN. You could do it another way. You could open-source the interface that can read your sidechain with a block explorer, like cardanoscan, which would be your third-party scanning software that could show a big red warning, for instance, and alert whomever it is programmed to alert. If it's all open-source, third parties could write their own software to potentially track other elements like making a leaderboard of the top driving BMWs, for instance…etc.
Benjamin: Thanks so much for exploring that with me a bit and giving us all some ideas on what these companies might be looking at doing when they talk about using a blockchain for something beyond crypto.
Adam: Not a problem. I enjoy thinking through these scenarios and thinking about how they might be solved.
As mentioned, in a future article, we'll be exploring some of the industries looking at using blockchain for storage, which ones have been successful this far, and those that might be some time away from actually finding their concrete solution and real-world implementations. If you have something in mind or questions on the topic, please mention them below so we can begin a conversation; perhaps some will become part of the upcoming piece.