Explaining blockchain to laypeople: the analogy of the glass box

Since the first time I was involved with Bitcoin and its main technology, I have sought a simple way to explain what are the cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, for my friends and family; looking for a simple but true analogy which illustrates something so complex.

Their understanding of technological themes is limited, so forgive the fact that this analogy inevitably has its own limitations, but I have the honor to present to you — the box analogy (or safe) of glass.

Addresses, keys and Blockchain

One of the first things people ask me when I talk with them about cryptocurrencies is; “if they are stored on a computer, what prevents the Bitcoin from be copied and pasted by someone?” The explanation that wallets have private keys for public addresses often makes people confused, so this is the first idea I would like to consider.

Imagine a huge vault from a bank. The vault is filled with rows of unlabeled deposit boxes. However, each deposit box has a glass facade, allowing everyone to visualize the contents of the deposit box, but does not access it.

When a person opens a new deposit box, it receives a key that is unique to that box. Making a copy of the key does not duplicate the contents of the box. And in the same way, even though you have the key, the box is not technically yours. You only have the ability to access what’s inside of it.

This is fundamentally the concept of cryptocurrencies based on Blockchain. Anyone can see the contents of all other addresses.

There is no information from the owners for every address, but everyone is aware of the existence of each address. When someone opens a crypto wallet, it is creating a new address in the Blockchain and the private key that “unlocks” this address. This way you can’t “copy and paste” cryptocurrencies because all you could be doing is creating a copy of a key, but not the currency itself.

Besides the analogy

There is a point where the analogy oscillates slightly, the task of telling the fact that transactions are all accessible to the public and that anyone can see that Bitcoin has been transferred from one “deposit box” to another; Although no one needs to reveal their identity. This thought is a bit complicated. I would love to see ideas in the comments about how this can be resolved and how the analogy can be even more developed. Or you can be sincere and just comment that you hate the analogy completely — there are no problems with that either.

Article by Fabricio Santos at Cointelegraph, on 2016.

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