Why blockchain really matters

I’ve previously posted about some of my favorite plain-English resources for newbies to learn what blockchain technology is. Today I want to address a separate but related question:

Who cares? Even more specifically, why should an average Joe or Jane who’s not a blockchain developer care about it?

My short answer: Blockchain technology, because of its use of shared transaction ledgers, is inherently well-suited to address problems caused by middlemen in business or society. Anywhere that such a problem exists — usually in the form of increased cost, hassle, and general inefficiency imposed by the middleman — a blockchain tool may be able to help.

That’s what this stuff exists to do. It’s what it was built from brass tacks to do. Even a cursory reading of Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper documenting the design of bitcoin in 2008 — generally considered the Big Bang of blockchain technology in general — will demonstrate that.

Of course, the real world we live in everyday has middleman problems galore. That’s why blockchain enthusiasts are sometimes accused of being zealous to a cultish extreme.

I try not to go full Jim Jones with it myself. But let it suffice that the promise of a more decentralized world (assuming we’re willing to put in the hard, necessary implementation work) does excite me greatly.

For example, I’d say the struggling U.S. news industry essentially has a massive middleman problem in the form of Google, Facebook, and their Big Tech peers. These companies have effectively insinuated themselves as the gatekeepers between news orgs and their audience — a situation that ultimately makes the news orgs’ business position untenable.

The solution to this situation — one dear to my heart as an ex-reporter — isn’t to get the Googles and Facebooks of the world to act more benevolently toward the news organizations, as popular tech coverage sometimes implies. The real solution is to engineer these middlemen out of the equation for news entirely, so that the folks actually producing the news can interact with the audience more directly again.

This process will undoubtedly require some kind of new tool, which could very well be blockchain, in my opinion. Otherwise, if we allow the status quo to persist, the middlemen will always extract a prohibitive chunk of revenue from whatever business model publishers are using to support news, whether that’s advertising or subscriptions or e-commerce or whatever.

The tool to decentralize all that could also turn out to be some non-blockchain thing, I’ll admit. But there does ultimately have to be some type of “platform killer,” to borrow a colorful phrase that a friend who’s a journalism professor recently mentioned to me.

There are myriad examples of potential blockchain use cases that could be used from other industries as well, from banking to manufacturing to music to whatever else. I just started with the media use case because I’m very familiar with it. Feel free to do some homework and pick a favorite of your own.

Consultant and writer focused on Web 3.0. Former award-winning reporter for WSJ, Washington Post, and Vice. Sometime founder and product manager as well.