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Crypto, blockchains and the next computing paradigm

How blockchains and crypto bring a new paradigm in computing, what this means and how to identify the areas it could disrupt.

This is a post I've been trying to write for years but I was unable to find the right way to frame until I heard Chris Dixon on the latest episode of Bankless.

For me it started 8 years ago, when I founded a company called "Longaccess". Our mission was "to safeguard and preserve personal digital archives for the future". We offered strongly encrypted, long term storage where someone could put their data (for example family photos) pay once and have it preserved for at least 30 years. The data owner would get a "Certificate" (a short document including the archive ID and encryption keys) that could be used (by anyone that had it) to recover the data. (See Using Longaccess if you are currious.)

The business model was solid, and looking back into all the assumptions we did about storage costs and viability, they hold better than we originally thought. But we failed. We failed for various reasons, but if you ask me now, the main reason was that we could not answer the core question: "how do I know you will be around in 30 years".

At the time, I had some complex solutions in mind that involved the creation of a trust fund that would use the money paid up front to ensure that there will always be a financial incentive for someone to preserve the data, but this was a complex and costly solution, that required scale and resources out of reach of our small tech startup.

Longaccess closed in 2015 and, for not totally unrelated reasons, this was also the time I started paying attention to cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Shortly after, the ICO boom started and when I got familiar with the idea of on-chain contracts, I knew that this would be the tool we should have used for Longaccess if only it was available to us at the time.

I could not exactly describe how this would have worked, until I heard Chris Dixon describe what the blockchain paradigm brings to computing.

Blockchains are computers that can make commitments. -- Chris Dixon

Yes! This is it! We were trying to sell a commitment, but we did not have a computer that could make commitments.

I've been paying attention to things like Storj, Siacoin, Filecoin since their early steps because I have a personal interest and passion about this area. I now know what they are missing. They are trying to sell "decentralized storage" which is something that adds no value to most of cloud storage buyers. They try to compete with centralized storage giants in efficiency or price instead of offering something that these companies cannot offer (or would be less capable of offering): long term data storage commitments.

And this is probably a great way to identify the places where blockchain will be the catalyst for the next big thing.

Look at successful services and search for explicit commitments like "we will never..." or "we will always...". "We will never sell your data", "our API will always be free", "we are committed to...". Or implicit ones that come up in debates, like "Google/Amazon/Apple/xyz would never do this because..."

Look around you. What are the things, based on social or legal contracts, that don't work well? What are the activities that require a lawyer or a contract? Our social, business and even political life is based on commitments.

Well, we now have computers that can make commitments.