Top 10 Reasons to Use Blockcerts
The open standard for issuing blockchain-based records is your easiest bet for creating records that remain verifiable for a lifetime.
With more blockchain credentialing solutions popping up every week, it can be difficult to navigate the landscape of offerings. How do you decide which blockchain credentialing framework to use? One of Learning Machine’s previous posts discussed some of the options out there in more detail, but in this post I want to keep it super simple: here are the top ten reasons to use the Blockcerts open standard for blockchain credentialing.
Notice I said top ten reasons to use “Blockcerts,” not top ten reasons to use “Learning Machine,” because while Learning Machine helped build Blockcerts with the MIT Media Lab, we don’t own it. Blockcerts is published under an MIT Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) License, meaning it’s free for anyone to use to build their own applications for issuing and verifying credentials. Learning Machine sells software for issuing Blockcerts at scale so institutions don’t have to build their own applications if they don’t want to. Learning Machine actually wants competitors out there also issuing Blockcerts: not only does this create a bigger, more competitive ecosystem for issuing institutions and their vendors, but above all, it helps recipients and relying parties who can use their Blockcerts in many different contexts instead of being marooned across varying proprietary platforms.
Blockcerts helps recipients and relying parties who can use their digital records in many different contexts instead of being marooned across varying proprietary platforms.
Unfortunately, some of the vendors out there who started out using the Blockcerts codebase ended up making their solutions proprietary in an attempt to create and maintain lock-in. This is against the spirit of the open standard. It would be like a vendor taking Open Badges, making changes to the code, and then selling a closed solution so you are dependent on their software to receive, view, and verify badges. This may be a way to make money, but it’s not a way to create a global, interoperable ecosystem for digital records. The people who suffer most from this practice are recipients, who are disappointed to find that their “digital credential” actually can’t be used very widely. And this gives digital credentials as a whole a bad rap.
So without further ado, here are the top 10 reasons to use Blockcerts:
- Own Your Records.
Blockcerts are co-owned by issuers and recipients, which means that issuers own and keep all the records they issue, even if they decide to switch vendors later on. It also means that recipients (students, alumni, workers, citizens) own and keep all the records they have received, even if if their government, company, or University switches to different records providers later. Recipients can still cryptographically prove that they are the individuals to whom certificates were issued. By contrast, most digital and blockchain credentials providers hold issuers’ and recipients’ keys for them, meaning they either can’t prove they are the rightful owners of their digital records, or they can’t take their documents with them if they choose to switch vendors later — or both. Not only does this make verification more difficult (how do you know whose digital credential you’re looking at?), but it defeats the purpose of using a blockchain. The promise of blockchain technology is that individuals should be able to directly own their digital assets without a middleman. That is what “digital self-sovereignty” means.
- Vendor-Independent Verification.
Verification of Blockcerts is vendor- and issuer-independent, meaning that if vendors are changed or issuers go out of business, Blockcerts remain verifiable. You can check out the Universal Verifier at blockcerts.org — it is a “Google for document verification” that will verify any Blockcert issued by any institution anywhere in the world, even if the original issuer or vendor used to issue the documents is no longer around. No need to download anything, buy tokens, or pay anyone. Verification is instant and free. This is important for documents that need to remain verifiable 10, 20, or 50 years from now. Try it out with some Example Blockcerts!
- Issues to Multiple Blockchains.
Blockcerts can issue to any blockchain (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Sovrin, Hyperledger, etc.). This means you can issue to multiple chains if you want to be extra secure, or just use the chain of your choice. No need to “pick a winner” blockchain today or get locked into a single company’s proprietary blockchain that might not be around in 5 or 10 years. Note: Many blockchain credentialing vendors don’t tell you which blockchain they actually anchor records to, because you’ve probably never heard of it! And those that do often want to lock you into using their proprietary blockchain, which generally has little adoption or chance for long-term survival. Remember, a blockchain is a network — how many “intranets” (closed networks so popular in the 90’s) are still around today? Answer: not many, because everyone just uses the public internet. When choosing blockchains, bet on large networks that have a proven track record for security and longevity. And hedge your bet by going with a solution that can issue to multiple chains.
Blockcerts aren’t locked into any one identity platform. You can add them to any identity profile you choose — public profiles like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or an ePortfolio, or hold them privately and never associate them to a public profile. There is no need to create an account with Learning Machine or Blockcerts to receive Blockcerts — they’re sent peer-to-peer, directly from the issuing institution to the recipient. Recipients don’t need an account with Learning Machine to store, access, or share their records either. Issuers can store the Blockcerts they’ve issued in student profiles within their Student Information System, LMS, or CRM, or in whatever other database they choose. This means the free, open source Blockcerts Wallet isn’t the only place recipients can store their Blockcerts. The Wallet allows recipients to prove ownership of their records by managing their keys, but it isn’t the only place you can keep a portfolio of your achievements!
Because Blockcerts are sent directly peer-to-peer, from issuer to recipient, only those two parties have copies of the records. And, if using a public blockchain like Bitcoin or Ethereum, no personally-identifiable information (PII) gets stored on the chain. Instead, what is stored is a “digital fingerprint” of the Blockcert: it can’t be used to reconstruct anything about the record, but the record references the hash for verification. If the issuer and recipient don’t want anyone to ever see the record, they can simply delete it. There is no way to recover the document from the blockchain. This makes Blockcerts compliant with the GDPR, including the “right to be forgotten.”
Blockcerts uses a standard data format (JSON-LD) which can be parsed by any system that can read structured data. This means it’s easy to automate verification and screening of Blockcerts without needing to buy special software. Some blockchain credentialing vendors have created proprietary file formats for their records that can only be decoded within their own ecosystem. Again, creating lock-in!
- Open Source, Open Security Review.
Blockcerts is open source, meaning anyone can run a security audit of the code. What you see is what you get. With a “black box” solution, how do you know what is actually going on the blockchain and what is off-chain data? How do you know how verification actually works? How do you know where the security vulnerabilities are? Answer: you don’t.
- It’s Simple.
This is perhaps the most important reason to use Blockcerts. So many blockchain solutions out there are based on a company’s ICO or proprietary blockchain, where you have to buy tokens, create accounts with identities tied to their blockchain, and everyone who issues, receives, or verifies the records has to become part of the network somehow. With Blockcerts, institutions can issue, recipients can receive, and relying parties can verify digital records without having to buy tokens, run a node, or become “members” of a network. You don’t even have to know what a blockchain is to use Blockcerts. It’s designed to be as open and easy as possible.
- It’s the Future.
By 2020, most companies and governments will be using the blockchain in some way for verification of claims. The main question we have to answer now is, will organizations go with a solution that privileges ownership of data and vendor independence, or will they choose solutions that give ownership of their data over to yet another series of vendors? We are now at the exciting historical moment when we get to choose what our future will look like. Everyone who chooses an open standard makes the world better for everyone else. Blockcerts is a public good that creates a global ecosystem of truly interoperable, enduring digital records for all.
- Support a Women-Led Blockchain Company!
OK, the tenth reason isn’t strictly a reason to use Blockcerts, but there’s a lot of discussion about the need for more inclusivity and diversity in tech and crypto. Learning Machine isn’t just talking the talk — we’re walking the walk. Our CTO is Kim Hamilton Duffy, who is also Principal Architect of Blockcerts. She’s also Co-Chair of the Credentials Community Group at the W3C, which is working on cutting edge, blockchain-based digital identity technologies like Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) and Verifiable Claims (VCs). I lead Business Development and love translating Kim’s genius into concrete projects that make the world better. We’re a close, supportive, and talented women-led team. If you choose to license the Learning Machine Issuing System to issue your Blockcerts, you are contributing to the brain trust behind the open standard and supporting a future-focused company.
The upshot: Everyone who chooses an open standard makes the world better for everyone else. Blockcerts is a public good that creates a global ecosystem of truly interoperable, enduring digital records for all.
So, if you want to try out the world’s simplest way to issue independently verifiable, recipient-owned, secure digital records, reach out to me — I’m happy to show you what’s possible!