For most people, the word blockchain still calls cryptocurrency to mind. The technology was invented as a platform for bitcoin to operate on, and has since become known as the foundation upon which all cryptocurrency stands. Without blockchain we wouldn’t have cryptocurrencies, and vice versa.
As much as the two concepts are tied together though, it’s becoming clearer all the time that blockchain is not only useful with regard to cryptocurrency. The technology is actually widely applicable, and can be tweaked and customized for any number of different purposes across industries.
In recent years we have already seen this expansion in action. Blockchain technology has been put to use for countless purposes that go beyond basic cryptocurrency functions. And this has led to a great deal of discussion about the industries the technology could ultimately influence and disrupt. Already, there are clear signs that blockchain is going to become essential in major areas such as healthcare, law, logistics, and banking. Indeed, these are some of the spaces in which a lot of early experimentation with the tech’s possibilities has been done. But when one considers all of this, it’s also interesting to think about which industries beyond these big examples might be influenced and altered by blockchain.
To come up with a comprehensive list of such industries would take many pages. But the following are some of the possibilities that stand out most of all.
Online Communication & Exchange
When we discuss blockchain in online communication, it actually is with regard to the use of cryptocurrencies — or at least digital tokens that will act very much like them. It’s been in the news for quite some time now that Facebook is working on its own, on-site digital currency that users will be able to exchange through Facebook Messenger. A few years ago, TechCrunch reported on Kik’s curiosity with a similar concept as well. And there are even light rumors that Apple is keeping a close eye on cryptocurrency, with some potential that the company will ultimately develop a token of its own.
It’s hard to say exactly what this will all turn into, particularly given that Facebook’s project has been delayed repeatedly. But it does appear that we’re moving closer to major online communication platforms adopting tokens and blockchain technology to facilitate a swifter and more secure method of peer-to-peer transfer. This could ultimately change a great deal about how we go about making online payments in general.
Vacation rental agreements today are increasingly handled via popular apps and their corresponding online platforms. Indeed, we recently made note of Airbnb’s IPO boom — just the latest indication that these apps have basically taken over the vacation booking industry. And while they don’t make use of blockchain technology just yet, the very same apps appear to be ideally suited to blockchain adoption.
One of the technology’s best features is that it can be used to arrange and fulfill contracts, such that certain actions have to be triggered by other transactions. So, with Airbnb for example, we could see the blockchain used to make the rental and payment processes even smoother and more automated than they already are. Properties could be made to unlock only when deposits are paid; security deposits could automatically be returned upon the property owner’s signal that all is well after the agreement, and so on. Blockchain tech would essentially eliminate the need for interactions (as well as the potential for disputes) between renters and owners.
A few years ago, we wouldn’t have thought of delivery or courier services as a big industry in the United States. However, we’ve seen massive growth in this area, and growth which has actually been helped along by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, according to a ZenBusiness piece on how to start a delivery business there are “over 111.7 million customers in the online food industry alone.” That number alone explains why more people are in fact looking to get a foothold in the delivery business. And it’s note even factoring in the immense amount of activity revolving around product delivery either.
With all of those positives noted though, we’ve all had frustrations with delivery businesses. Maybe you pay for an order that never shows up; maybe the order shows up, but is incomplete; or maybe an app tracker shows you that a driver is nearly at your home, when he or she is really all the way across town. Blockchain technology can (and will) smooth out these issues. It can streamline payments and tracking, such that each step in the delivery process has to be fulfilled before the next one can begin. There will in theory be no more issues with lost deliveries, unfulfilled payments, or even wayward drivers.
The notion that blockchain could disrupt content streaming is one that primarily relates to music. It seems as if musicians have been locked in a decades-long battle with studios, third-party companies (thanks, Napster), and even their own fans — all in a struggle to retain a fair portion of earnings for their work. And it’s quite possible that blockchain technology could give them their best chance yet to do just that.
The idea here is basically that digital music files transferred via blockchain could be held back until they’re paid for. An artist could opt into a blockchain-based download service such that his or her latest single or album is only available via direct purchase through that service. The money (or an agreed-upon portion of it anyway) would go directly to the artist, and the music would then go to the buyer — presumably in the form of a file that couldn’t then be shared or transferred elsewhere. It’s a fascinating idea that could change music streaming, and which would ultimately impact other forms of content distribution (from films to written articles) as well.
Politics — and specifically the election business, such as it is — has become a sort of Holy Grail for blockchain dreamers. The simple fact is that the blockchain seems very much like an obvious solution to inefficient voting processes, as well as for voting processes that aren’t trusted by the public. A “universal public ledger” that is at once transparent, anonymous, and incorruptible would appear to be an ideal system for voting. ZDNet’s look at potential blockchain elections went as far as to suggest they could “save democracy” (particularly in an era in which election systems are increasingly distrusted).
Unfortunately, early government tests of blockchain-based voting have revealed a few problems. There have been hints of security flaws, and surveys have revealed that people participating in these test elections aren’t buying the benefits much more than they’re questioning the concept. Nevertheless, this is still the “Holy Grail.” Many still believe that political elections will ultimately run on blockchain, and that it would perhaps be the single most significant disruption the technology could bring about.