Serge Ravet is a deep thinker, a great guy, and a tireless advocate of Open Badges. In the first of a series of posts on his Learning Futures blog he explains why, in his opinion, blockchain-based credentials “are the wrong solution to a false problem”.
I wouldn’t phrase things with Serge’s colourful metaphors and language inspired by his native France, but I share many of his sentiments about the utility of blockchain-based technologies. Stephen Downes commented that he didn’t like the tone of the post, with “the metaphors and imagery seem[ing] more appropriate to a junior year fraternity chat room that to a discussion of blockchain and academics”.
It’s not my job as a commentator to be the tone police, but rather to gather up the nuggets and share them with you:
My attention was recently attracted to an article describing blockchains as “distributed trust” which they are not, but makes a nice and closer to the truth acronym: dis-trust…
Blockchains are, in some circumstances, a great replacement for a centralised database. I find it difficult to get excited about that, as does Serge:
It is time for a copernican revolution, moving Blockchains from the centre of all designs to its periphery, as an accessory worth exploiting, or not. If there is a need for a database, the database doesn’t have to be distributed, if there are decisions to be made, they do not have to be left to an inflexible algorithm. On the other hand, if the design requires computer synchronisation, then blockchains might be one of the possible solutions, though not the only one.
One of the difficulties, of course, is that hype perpetuates hype. If you’re a vendor and your client (or potential client) asks you a question, you’d better be ready with a positive answer:
In the current strands for European funding, knowing that the European Union has decided to establish a “European blockchain infrastructure” in 2019, who will dare not to mention blockchains in their responses to the calls for tenders? And if you are a business and a client asks “when will you have a blockchain solution” what is the response most likely to get her attention: that’s not relevant to your problem or we have a blockchain solution that just matches your needs? How to resist the blockchain mania while providing clients and investors with something that sounds like what they want to hear?
It’s been four years since I first wrote about blockchain and badges. Since then, I co-founded a research project called BadgeChain, reflected on some of Serge’s earlier work about a ‘bit of trust‘, confirmed that BlockCerts and badges are friends, commented on why blockchain-based credentials are best used for high-stakes situations, written about blockchain and GDPR, called out blockchain as a futuristic integrity wand, agreed with Adam Greenfield that blockchain technologies are a stepping stone, reflected on the use of blockchain-based credentials in Higher Education, sighed about most examples of blockchain being bullshit, and explained that blockchain is about trust minimisation.
I think you can see where people like Serge and I stand on all this. It’s my considered opinion that blockchain would not have been seen as a ‘sexy’ technology if there wasn’t a huge cryptocurrency bubble attached to it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you need to understand a technology before you add it to the ‘essential’ box for any given project. There are high-stakes use cases for blockchain-based credentials, but they’re few and far between.
Source: Learning Futures
Image adapted from one in the Public Domain