Sometimes the most profound aspects of life are right in front of us and yet we fail to recognize it.
While the world has been grappling to find use cases for this latest shiny toy called blockchain, we may have been using it everyday, without even realizing the potential of what it is – which is exactly how technology should be. Invisible to end users.
The Extremities of Blockchain
Personally, as a Business Strategy & Digital Transformation Consultant, I have met clients from across industries – Banking, Telecom, Insurance, Retail and the general refrain has been about ‘wanting to do something around blockchain’. Why? No one knows really. Most of the time, it seems like they are exhibiting a trait more commonly seen in the millenials. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who used to work in an ‘industry influencing’ company. He had pretty strong views around that fact that blockchain is probably not solving any real problem at all that a traditional distributed database on steroids could not, Such are the extreme views on this technology.
For the topic today, however, let us just assume that blockchain does indeed bring to the table a value proposition that current set of technologies cannot solve – partially or completely.
Enter WhatsApp Groups
What is a Blockchain? In simplest terms, it is a ledger of records, that is
- Public (or Private/Permissioned)
- Has Fraud Prevention Mechanisms
- Has a Consensus Mechanism
- Security (Access Keys)
Now think of WhatsApp Groups, and see how it fares against these parameters:
- Public/Private: As of today, WhatsApp Groups are Private where an Admin can add users. Hence in-effect these are permissioned chains. If WhatsApp was to allow ‘Open Groups’ where any one can join or leave, that would essentially become a public/permission-less chain. Imagine 1.5 Bn. users in one single group!
- Distributed: The messages are Public. Every one sees exactly the same content.
- Encrypted: The messages are end to end encrypted.
- Immutable: The entire message chain in WhatsApp is immutable (it was 100% until last year, now we have a 7 min breathing time to recall our messages, but nevertheless) once the message is IN, its IN. There is no way to delete it from the records.. even if I delete it from my timeline, every other user in the group still has a full copy.
- Fraud Prevention: A single Admin or a user cannot delete the entire WhatsApp Group or the chat history. Even in case of foul play, if an Admin starts deleting each user one by one, every user in the Group (the ones booted out as well as the ones that remain) still has a copy of the entire chat transcript (ledger). The only way to delete all the records is for every single participant in the group to work in collusion. In effect, this provides a much better security against 51% attack kind of scenarios. In this case, the attack needs to be 100% for it to be successful.
- Secure: WhatsApp by itself is very secure. Today itself, there are two levels of security – your phone number as well as your phone lock (biometric or passcode). If WhatsApp introduces (as is rumored) biometric security of its own, we basically have 3 levels of security which is fairly impossible to breach.
What Else is Needed?
So, WhatsApp Groups ‘ticks’ all the boxes that effectively make it a viable mass blockchain platform. What remains are the following aspects.
- Use Cases: WhatsApp can themselves introduce use cases (or a library of use cases, similar to the ‘Gallery’ in iOS ‘Shortcuts’ App). Users may also be allowed to launch/create new use cases with some pre-defined tools and rules as well.
- Smart Contracts: In India, WhatsApp has introduced ‘WhatsApp Payments’. This can be the beginning of Smart Contracts. Whatsapp as a ‘platform’ can easily enable other more complicated and pre-defined contract types such shopping, rent payment etc.
- Money Matters: Since smart contracts will inevitably involve money, and a specific blockchain within WhatsApp should be able to ‘verify’ a user’s monetary status, for the lack of a better solution at this point in time ‘WhatsApp Wallet’ is the way to go. In this scenario, other users wont be able to see your ‘wallet balance’, however when you enter into a smart contract, inbuilt algorithm will verify if you have enough balance to enter into the contract.
- Consensus Mechanism: Every use case will require its own consensus mechanism and it should be fairly easy to implement on WhatsApp.
- For 2-party use cases, an inbuilt algorithm can check the users credentials (wallet) and validate the transaction (how payment systems work today)
- For multi-party use cases, a PBFT derivate can be used where a certain percentage of users need will need to verify a transaction before it receives its very WhatsAppy ‘blue ticks’.
- Multi-party use cases could also use ‘named nodes’ for verification if the use case is for a more controlled transaction type.
I believe WhatsApp (and other similar platforms) have a great opportunity to bring Blockchain to the mainstream users. It has a familiar interface, users trust it (mostly) and its presence is Global.
Well, those are just some beginner thoughts on the concept. I sincerely hope WhatsApp (Facebook) or someone else can improvise on the same, iron out the kinks and bring blockchain to masses.
And the Kicker
WhatsApp could introduce all of the above; for users these will just be ‘new updates and features’ while they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are on the world’s most advanced transaction platform – the blockchain. Which is exactly as it should be. Invisible to end users.