Will Blockchain Finally Enable Us to Map a Network of Trust Online?

In January this year we at This Place published an article about our initiative to research the potential of Blockchain technology. In order to illustrate its potential, we will frequently publish new ideas. It is important to understand that the potential of the technology goes beyond just cryptocurrencies. In fact, we believe that the technology will soon exceed the significance of the world wide web.

One of the key features of Blockchain technology is that it enables us to map trust. Because the networked nodes of computers use an algorithm to ensure consensus that the data they host commonly in a shared ledger is correct, any information they host cannot be questioned. This means the data can always be trusted unless the unlikely scenario applies that the majority of the computer nodes (or those with most at stake) are attacking the network.

If trust can be mapped out in a decentralised way, the fabric of society will have to adapt to new paradigms and models with far reaching consequences beyond just online.

At This Place, we believe, that trust is currently the “missing piece” of the internet. In a world where everybody can communicate with everybody in such an instant manner, the importance of trust can too easily be forgotten.

To provide that missing piece, we believe there must be an easy way to map trust between individuals or businesses in the future. Platforms such as Linkedin or Google that connect between people or businesses try to fill that gap, but the problem with those platforms is that they are all centralised. This means that everyone within their network of trust must trust the platform. What would happen if Linkedin loses its trust from one day to another, for example by getting hacked? The entire network of trust could completely collapse.

Trust is so important, because any transaction we ever conduct in our lives is based on it, no matter if it’s buying a chewing gum at the corner shop or buying a 10 bedroom villa at the Cote d’Azure. Every movement of money or every shift of value is underpinned by direct or indirect trust. Considering this fact, it comes as a surprise that no internet technology has yet been invented to provide a trust mechanism.

So how does a solution look like that can fill that piece from the technical point of view? In other words, how can users trust their online counterparts, online shops, search engines or social network portal? At the moment, there is no available technology that can ensure trust. People do it based on their “gut feeling”. Projects like PGP or GnuPG have tried to tackle the idea of a decentralised trust network in the past, but they have never become mainstream as they are too cumbersome and complicated to apply in everyday situations.

Users want convenience. A smooth user experience and a beautiful interface design can convey trust, ease and convenience. But conveying isn’t enough to actually provide a traceable guarantee of trust. Now Imagine there was a simple way of telling who you are, tie that unambiguously with a digital immutable token that represents your identity and allow that token to be part of a trust network. Within that trust network, trust would not only be between two entities, but could actually quantify the degree of trust between two entities by simply following the shortest connection of trust. This could be a very powerful concept and potentially revolutionise the way we would shop at and interact with online parties. People would be able to go to a small online “corner shop”, but they could trust it, because trusted connections can guarantee to a certain degree, that this corner shop can be trusted.

We believe, Blockchain technology will make this possible.

There is, of course, also a big risk in that idea. Especially for large brands. Brands act as a vehicle of trust for the masses. Brands make people trust them, so their products can piggyback on the established relationship. However if, in the future, trust is no longer conveyed through brands and marketing but through peer-to-peer networks and technology, this will have to force us to rethink the concept of branding. In fact, in a society where communication is decentralised and everybody can have a say with a potential to reach the world through the internet, controlling the narrative becomes increasingly difficult for brands. Volkswagen for example has shown that in our world, a brand can become a liability as any negative news can have much a deeper impact.

It’s impossible to predict the impact on brands and branding today, but we predict that Blockchain technology will enable us to make the vision of decentralised trust reality. A big part of this will be creating smooth user experiences to make the complex technology accessible to the masses. We don’t know yet how that may look like in the future, but we are currently experimenting with a few ideas that could crack that hard nut.

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