From mainframes to blockchains. How to look at the future.

Stop talking about blockchain and start talking about trust.

Ben Longstaff
Jan 21 · 5 min read

Blockchain is a feature, trust is the benefit.

Not everything needs a blockchain. When trust issues create friction in the users’ experience maybe there is a use case for blockchain.

I’m getting ahead of myself though.

“It was easy to predict mass car ownership but hard to predict Walmart.” — Carl Sagan

I find studying tech history a helpful way to understand the present. So let’s look at the changes that have occurred going from mainframes to blockchains. Examining the technology tradeoff and the opportunities it unlocked.

Technology shifts have occurred when developers get new tools to build with. This is usually accompanied by a change in where computation occurs and data is stored.

Mainframes provided centralised CPU and storage. Users accessed the resources through a terminal.

Mainframes → Personal Computers

The adoption of PCs was something I observed growing up. More of my friends had computers at home and retail shops selling computers appeared.

This trend saw the decentralisation of access to computation and storage.

Costs — less processing power, less storage Benefits — more people can afford access

Developer Benefits

  • New Technology (local data, GUI, speakers)

New Markets

  • Video Games (EA sports, ID software)
  • Hardware (Apple, IBM, HP, Dell)

Personal Computers → Internet

I witnessed the adoption of the internet as businesses started having websites. My friends started playing games online and ISPs appeared.

This trend saw the centralisation of specialised data storage.

Costs — internet data bill, capital outlay for new public infrastructure Benefits — more access to information, more storage, more processing

Developer Benefits

New Markets

  • Online Advertising (Google)
  • Streaming (Skype, Netflix)
  • Internet Service Providers (AOL)

Internet → Social Networks

Social networks were the first technology I experienced that had strong network effects. The power of inviting your friends to improve your experience was genius if not annoying. The social proof of receiving 20 emails to try a service from your social group was compelling.

I vividly remember the moment when I knew that Facebook was mainstream. I was sitting on a bus and I overheard two teenagers going on and on about their newsfeeds.

This trend saw the centralisation of personal data storage.

Costs — privacy Benefits —offline connections bought online, personalisation

Developer Benefits

New Markets

  • Sharing economy (AirBnb)
  • Social gaming (Zynga)

Social Networks →Smart Phones

Smart phone adoption was obvious as you could physically see people using them.

This trend saw the decentralisation of data creation.

Costs — smaller screens, no keyboard, less processing, less storage Benefits — easy to create media, increased access to internet

Developer Benefits

  • New technology (GPS and camera)

New Markets

  • Location based services (Uber, Lyft)
  • Messaging (Snapchat, Whatsapp, Telegram)

Smart Phones → Blockchain

The benefits of trust suit business processes that occur behind the scenes. Sure the ICO craze meant your hairdresser told you about this project they just heard about. This didn’t really have anything to do with the benefits of trust.

This trend is seeing the decentralisation of trusted data.

Costs — More processing, more network traffic Benefits — Immutable data, censorship resistant

Developer Benefits

New Markets

  • Store of value (Bitcoin)
  • Law (Legal Contracts, Governance, Audit)


Sprinkle some blockchain on it and we have a unicorn right?

If you don’t have a really compelling answer to “why do you need a blockchain” odds on you don’t. In case you’re wondering, so we can raise money is not a good reason.


What benefit does blockchain give your users?

My Hypothesis

The long term implications of this are unclear. It makes it difficult to verify the authenticity of the data supplied by a person. Around 2.5 exabytes of data is created daily (2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes). It is becoming increasingly complex to be able to verify the integrity and ownership of data.

The nature of data is changing.

I believe that the killer apps for blockchain lie in the answer to the question

What opportunities does universal access to time stamping create?

Being able to trust that something was true at a particular point in time is a new tool for developers to build with.

If you would like to get notified when I publish a new article, please join my mailing list.

Ben Longstaff

Written by

Playing at the intersection of privacy and personalisation. Fascinated by the state of trust in a world with leaky data. Blockchain Architect at @meeco_me