Defining Blockchain

Jun 29, 2019 · 3 min read

Blockchain is a technical term that threatens the homogeneity of dictionaries because of lack of a standard definition. We draft a technical definition of Blockchain.

In over a decade of its existence the term Blockchain lacks a standard definition. A definition is “a statement expressing the essential nature of something.” But why is a definition so important? Because definitions enable us to have a common understanding of a word or subject. They allow us all to be on the same page when discussing or reading about an issue.

When a term is scientific and technical, and it isn’t properly defined, it constitutes a ‘threat’ to the homogeneity of the macrostructure and of the microstructure of general dictionaries.

In 2015 Oxford Dictionaries added a new definition for blockchain:

“A digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.”

However, their current definition as of June, 2019 reads:

“A system in which a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network.”

In 2018 Merriam-Webster added blockchain defining it as:

A digital database014 containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network; also : the technology used to create such a database

For Harper Collins blockchain is

a system in which records of transactions using digital currencies are stored and may be accessed by linked computers.

Other leading dictionaries, such as American Heritage Dictionary, Chambers and Random House haven’t yet included blockchain in their vocabulary.

Blockchain is a technical term that threatens the homogeneity of dictionaries because of lack of a standard definition. It also allows vested interests to introduce self-serving ambiguity into its definition as it happened in an ongoing Ethereum vs EOS war triggered by some bold claims made by a report published by Whiteblock claiming that EOS is not a blockchain. The authors justified their claim by conflating the general definition of blockchain with some specific features of Ethereum. If there was a universally accepted definition of blockchain this would not have happened.

For all the above reasons a technical definition of blockchain is urgently warranted.

Incorporating all the essential elements that constitute the technical features of blockchain, here is the definition we propose.

Blockchain is a decentralized ledger technology that immutably links a growing list of publicly accessible records called blocks in a chain, using cryptographic hashes that require consensus of majority of record validating peer nodes in a peer-to-peer public network incentivized with tokenized rewards for contributing their resources for validation the blocks.

The following five essential elements make the definition of blockchain complete:

  1. Decentralized ledger
  2. Immutable chain of publicly accessible records
  3. Cryptographic hashing
  4. Consensus of peers for validating records
  5. Incentivized public network
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