Blockchain is described as the technology to drive the next generation of the internet. Yet there are significant challenges to be overcome in regards to interoperability and scalability. One part of the solution is cross-chain technology.
What is Centralization?
The internet as we know it today is centralized. Centralization refers to a structure where one or a small number of entities control an entire network. At the moment, a small number of very powerful technology companies exert the most control over the internet. These few companies are known as the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, with other companies like Microsoft and Twitter also in the oligopoly). These companies are powerful enough to set the terms for industry standards. Smaller entities follow suit and use similar methods of operation. In this way, the current internet can be described as centralized.
There are some serious problems with the centralized internet we know today. For example, billions of pieces of personal data are shared daily online and the vast majority are stored in giant servers owned by the FAANGs and others, located in a few places around the world. This data is valuable to advertisers and market researchers, as well as less credible actors, who can gain access to it and influence our lives. Centralized data storage is vulnerable to direct attacks, such as hacking. Companies that control data also sell it for profit. This affects users’ online experiences and the types of content they are exposed to. At the same time, companies are making money off users’ personal information, yet users get nothing in return.
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How Blockchain Could Power a Decentralized Internet
A decentralized internet based on blockchain technology would rely on a network of many computers, as opposed to large corporate servers. Each computer would act as a node, contributing power and memory to a distributed storage network system. In this way, the network would have no centralized servers. Indeed, it would have no centre(s) at all. Data could not be stored in silos. There would be no central points to hack and no way for an oligarchy to take control of the information.
Blockchain technology is appealing because it responds to many of the concerns about the centralized internet. It is more transparent and less corruptible than the internet we use today. A blockchain network includes a ledger of transactions and smart contracts that can be executed automatically when certain conditions are met. Though not essential, a blockchain network may also have a native coin or token that helps to verify transactions and data on the chain and affords voting or governance rights to network participants.
A central advantage of blockchain-based platforms is they store personal data very differently than the FAANGs. Data is not held across computers acting as “nodes” in a distributed ledger network. Instead of having to give over personal information, individuals maintain control over who/what has access to their data. Instead of sharing our data personal data, again and again, every time we engage in an action or interaction online, there is one permanent record on the blockchain. We can give businesses and other entities temporary permission to access this data when needed. The blockchain effectively acts like a ticketing system, keeping track of who gets access, without giving up control of the data underneath. The structure lets individuals take back control over who/what has access to their data
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Challenges to Overcome
Despite its promise, blockchain technology faces challenges that could impact its uptake as a foundational technology for the internet. One of these relates to “interoperability.” This refers to the current inability of different blockchains to communicate with each other and share data. Cryptocurrency traders are familiar with this. It is why bitcoin cannot be exchanged for Ethereum with using a third party exchange or piece of software. Until blockchains are able to interact with each other directly, the mainstream use of the technology will be limited.
Another challenge is scalability. Even the most advanced blockchains can only process a limited number of transactions (e.g. 10–15 per second for Ethereum). However, in a decentralized internet, each search engine search or social media post would create a blockchain transaction. Widespread use would multiply the number of blockchain transactions exponentially. As it stands, it would not be possible for any single blockchain network to power a global internet until processing capacity is vastly increased.
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In many ways, the challenge of interoperability and scalability are interrelated. One solution to both is developing technology to facilitate interactions between different blockchains, also known as “cross-chain” technology. Cross-chain technology allows for interoperability by offering a platform that lets various blockchains interact with one another, and in essence function as a single chain. This speaks to the issue of interoperability. At the same time, cross-chain could enhance scalability by leveraging the combined respective throughputs of existing blockchains.
One project trying to develop cross-chain technology is the EVEN Foundation, which is creating the “EVEN Cross-Chain Interaction Network.” The core purpose of which is offering an infrastructure for cross-chain interaction by integrating external blockchains in a single platform. With such a platform, cross-chain transactions could be managed, including smart contracts on different blockchain networks. EVEN offers several functionalities that create an infrastructure for cross-chain interaction.
- Cross-Chain Consensus
The EVEN Network has its own consensus algorithm based on a hybrid of various other algorithms. This protocol possible makes it possible to perform transfers and cross-chain exchanges.
- Cross-Chain Smart Contracts
Cross-chain smart contracts are an important part of interoperability, at least in the short term. These are smart contracts that can interact with different blockchains, making it possible to transfer value from one to another without doing a swap or trade. The EVEN platform will feature a library of standard smart contract templates for external blockchain platforms that can be used via the API.
- Cross-Chain dApps
Cross-chain infrastructure could let decentralized apps synch with third-party blockchains, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and EOS. EVEN’s platform lets users develop and run dApps using a unique software development kit (SDK). The SDK includes a collection of tools to deal with various routine tasks and make the process of creating a dApp quicker. To showcase this functionality EVEN is developing two dApps of its own: a multi-currency crypto-wallet and a decentralized exchange.
The distribution of dApps and the storage of user data within the EVENnetwork are based on a “dStorage” system. This is similar to a torrent network where participants provide space to store and distribute files in exchange for a reward, while others download the data for free. EVEN will also offer a cloud service for executing dApps called “dCloud” This is a service for dApps that involve a large number of users and/or need a permanent network connection.
- Interoperability and Scalability
Cross-chain dApps will be more scalable than those built on any single blockchain because of their enhanced interoperability. Cross-chain dApps are able to interact with different blockchains so they can leverage speed from multiple chains enhancing scalability.
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A move from the centralized to a decentralized internet would represent a dramatic improvement in how information is stored and shared online. It would also precipitate a substantial — perhaps revolutionary — change in how we live our daily lives. Yet, currently, there is no single blockchain powerful or independent enough to be a base for a global decentralized internet. Most understand the way forward at this moment in history is to get blockchains to work together. The development of cross-chain infrastructure is one part of a larger movement bringing us closer to Web3.
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This article was originally published in Hackernoon.