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Beyond the Blockchain Infrastructure Layer Wars: Embracing the Interoperable Future of Apps and Services

“Technical people don’t ask the right questions.”
– Henry Kissinger (1923-2023)

In blockchain technology, a heated debate persists surrounding the efficacy of various infrastructure layers. On X (formerly known as Twitter), proponents of Ethereum (ETH) and Solana (SOL) have been engaging in a ‘pissing contest’ debate, arguing over the merits of their respective platforms. [Here are two links to such discussions: Link1 and Link2]

These infrastructure layers are simply a means to an end, and this debate overlooks an important vision and fundamental aspiration: to become a global interoperable network of blockchains with Apps and services on top. This vision transcends the limitations of individual platforms, fostering a cohesive environment where applications and services can operate seamlessly across diverse protocols.

ETH, SOL, L1s/L2’s: Stepping Stones for Developers, Not Consumer On-Ramps

While leading blockchain protocols such as Ethereum or Solana play crucial roles in the blockchain landscape, they primarily serve as developer tools, enabling the creation of innovative decentralized applications (dApps) or augmenting Web2 ideas with Web3 capabilities. 

However, blockchain protocols do not directly cater to mainstream consumers. Instead, they serve as the foundation upon which consumer-facing applications will emerge. The applications, not the underlying blockchains themselves, will act as the real on-ramps for consumers, via user-friendly interfaces and intuitive experiences.

Moving Beyond Pointless Debates

The ongoing debate between vocal Ethereum and Solana enthusiasts often delves into technical minutiae and pedantic discussions over ‘degrees of decentralization’, transactions finality speeds, scalability factors, fees, validators conditions, governance methods, etc. These debates, while intellectually stimulating, tend to forget the overarching success factor for blockchain technology: to empower individuals to become regular users of blockchain-based applications.

Prioritizing User Experience and Market Reach

As blockchain technology matures, the focus of discussion, attention, and activity should shift from infrastructure layer ‘turf wars’ to cultivating a rich ecosystem of user-friendly applications that are interoperable across the patchwork layers of the underlying infrastructure. These applications will target diverse market segments, providing tangible benefits and exceptional user experiences.

Revisiting Blockchain’s Core Principles

We should not lose sight of the fundamental principles of blockchain technology amidst the noise of the current landscape. Blockchain’s inherent value lies in its ability to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions while eliminating the need for unnecessary central intermediaries. At this point of maturity, all leading blockchain protocols effectively achieve this core objective.

Beyond the above core principle, blockchain technology also encompasses mechanism design and smart programming logic as another blockchain ‘first principle’ of sorts. While each protocol approaches this aspect differently, most have demonstrated this capability. 

Consumer Indifference to Blockchain Infrastructure

The average consumer will ultimately care less about the underlying blockchain infrastructure powering their applications. Instead, they will prioritize functionality, convenience, and a seamless user experience. 

The field remains wide open for imaginative mainstream consumer applications. These applications may operate on diverse blockchain platforms or even transcend blockchain entirely, utilizing the technology’s underlying principles without explicitly exposing it to users.

Let me illustrate with two examples I’m familiar with.

To the user, Blackbird looks like a restaurant loyalty application. Tucked somewhere in a corner of its technology architecture, you will find blockchain technology in the form of unique, non-transferable certificates (NFT-based) that users earn as a status symbol reflecting their customer loyalty activity. Also, in there, you will find a private currency equivalent to airline points, except that rewards gained are redeemable for restaurant perks with very low levels of transaction friction.

In the field of decentralized finance, Prime is a cross-chain prime brokerage that allows users to deposit, borrow, repay, and withdraw cryptocurrency across 8 different chains seamlessly. This sounds like a banal feature when compared to traditional finance where interoperability is taken for granted (albeit with a lot of friction). That said, Prime represents the leading edge of where interoperability exists in blockchain technology.

Let’s Embrace Interoperability and Innovation

Blockchain ecosystem players should move beyond the infrastructure layer wars and embrace a more collaborative approach. Interoperability between blockchains is paramount to achieving the shared vision of a global, interconnected infrastructure. Applications developers should focus on building innovative applications that cater to diverse consumer needs, while infrastructure layers should continue to evolve and adapt to support this growth. 

Ultimately, the success of blockchain technology hinges on its ability to empower individuals through user-centric applications that deliver tangible benefits.

The future of blockchain is about the applications that empower users rather than the battle between different layers.

The New Internet "User Stack"

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1. Consumer Cloud

The Cloud is not just for enterprise SaaS solutions. Cloud services are also for consumers. Cloud storage and peer-to-peer decentralized applications are some example, but there is a flurry of new services that will be enabled by a direct connection to cloud-based applications, and that controlled by our smartphones, tablets or personal computers.

2. Self-Quantification

We’re going to get more Internet-connected to our bodies and minds. It will happen via our smartphones or other sensors, and it will be used for healthcare, or health wellness purposes.

3. Smartification of Things

Small, medium and big things are getting connected to the Internet and starting to fill our surroundings. Whether it’s in a room at home or at the office, a car, retail store, or a public space; smart things are talking back to us and to our smartphones and computers.

4. Cryptocurrency

Online payments were just precursors to the upcoming onslaught of cryptocurrency-enabled services and wallets. Banking is being un-banked. And Bitcoin and blockchain-related services and transactions are emerging.

5. Personal Robotics

If you have never flown a drone yet, that’s OK. Most current models aren’t easy to fly and have limited functionality. But there is an emerging generation of drones and robotics software that will be a lot easier to use for entertainment and business purposes. The Sphero ball is just one example. What is common to these 5 areas is:
  • they are fairly new and embryonic
  • the leading players are still emerging
  • as users, we need to learn how to use them (hint: it’s not straightforward yet)
  • big companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter are vying to occupy pieces of that stack
  • venture capital is pouring into these areas
So, as users, let’s get more familiarized with these new stack options. They are the new “Internet user stack” layers.]]>

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