The media hype about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in recent months has made it easy to lose sight of what's truly exciting about blockchain technology. Underneath all the investment fervor lies blockchain's true potential for disrupting industries, streamlining services, decentralizing databases and connecting users in a way never done before.
The most obvious area to apply a blockchain shake-up is the financial industry, and there are many companies out there doing just that. However, countless other projects are taking innovative approaches to disrupting industries from digital identities to city management, building their business models on the blockchain.
Here are five industries that are primed to experience the blockchain revolution in 2018.
1. Digital identity management
Our digital identities and personal data are some of our most valuable assets. With more and more horror stories about data breaches and the harvesting of our personal information without our knowledge (case in point: Cambridge Analytica), it's clear that a radically different platform for cybersecurity is needed.
Here is where blockchain could make for a vastly improved system. As a decentralized public ledger, it shakes up the traditional method of data storage – you don't have to worry about a centralized power abusing your data without your knowledge, because there is no centralized power. All personal information entered into the blockchain remains firmly in your possession, with no incentive or even capability for outside data harvesting.
Blockchain can assure security for your data, but also accessibility. With at-your-fingertips storage, you'll be able to draw up personal documents and onboarding information instantaneously. This will allow for one-click applications to help you save time and maneuver red tape, secure in the knowledge that your data is secure, private and local.
Blockchain projects that focus specifically on organizing your digital identity make managing your information easy and reliable. For example, SelfKey, built on the Ethereum blockchain, aims to make identity data breaches and theft a problem of the past using a self-sovereign identity approach: You can control your identity documents and attributes at all times and also verify and notarize them through its free and open-source identity wallet.
While the world of blockchain-based digital management is constantly evolving, projects like SelfKey are already secure and private by design, allowing you to own and control your personal data, painlessly undergo KYC processes of financial and immigration services, and so much more. The technology has been built with the help of Standard Chartered Bank, which collaborated with KYC-Chain, the founder of the SelfKey Foundation.
2. Property rental
Anyone looking to rent a home in an in-demand area will understand how severely broken the rental industry is. Apartment hunting, signing a lease, and scraping together the money for your first month's rent plus deposit can be a momentous task. With many tenants offering landlords higher rental prices behind the scenes, people who are rejected for an apartment can feel like they're expected to bid against rivals in the dark.
Of course, there is also the trust issue – how can a landlord trust that the tenants they've met for five minutes at a viewing are a good fit for their property? And vice versa: how can renters be confident they're not signing the next year of their life away to a less-than-reputable organization?
Then there's the deposit. Not only can this be prohibitively expensive for renters who are living paycheck to paycheck, but it's damaging for the economy as a whole. When you think of how much money is lying stagnant, locked away in rental deposits, it really is amazing that we've kept to our current rental model for so long without updating it for the modern world.
One blockchain project trying to disrupt the rental industry that has gained traction is Rentberry, a San Francisco-based startup that's already garnered a lot of media exposure. Rentberry aims to address the common pitfalls and headaches of the traditional rental model. One of its functions is to allow prospective tenants to bid on the landlord's offered price, bringing transparency to the rent auctioning process. The security deposit crowdfunding capability, in which a new tenant can take out microloans from the Rentberry community to be paid back with interest, removes the barrier of saving up a lump sum of money before moving in.
The use of e-signatures and smart contracts to cover all monetary transactions, including rent and bills, allows payments to occur in a reliable, trustless system. The rating system for both landlords and tenants means people have a reliable, network-approved way of assessing each other before they enter into a legally binding contract.
3. Blockchain as a service
When it comes to the industry of blockchain itself (blockchain as a service, or BaaS), Ethereum rules the roost as the platform most projects are built on. However, Ethereum is far from perfect, its one notable flaw being its poor scalability.
The beauty of blockchain is that it's a permanent, immutable ledger. In Ethereum's case, it's also its biggest drawback. The fact that every transaction ever performed on the blockchain is there forever is highly detrimental to Ethereum's scalability, and it slows down the system considerably; currently, Ethereum can only process 15 transactions per second.
Many blockchain projects have tried different methods to fix Ethereum's scalability issue, including Ardor, the new BaaS that offers data cloud storage, customizable monetary tokens, decentralized trade, encrypted voting and messaging, and a local marketplace. Where Ardor is notable is in its unique method of tackling blockchain bloat.
Ardor actually consists of two blockchains: a parent and a child. The parent chain, Ardor, takes on the brunt of the processing functions, while the child chains pay a fee to have their transactions processed. Older transactions can then be pruned, with certain nodes opting to act as archives for obsolete transactions.
Ardor has already launched its first child chain, Ignis, with more to come, promising a cost-effective and secure solution for companies to piggyback on a full-fledged blockchain as opposed to building their own from scratch.
4. Digital advertising
Digital advertising is another example of a deeply flawed industry that wastes time and money on all sides. Ads and banners that harvest our attention are a necessary evil that we as internet users have resigned ourselves to as the cost for using Facebook or YouTube. However, those seconds and minutes build up, aggregating into a colossal chunk of time and data that would be better spent elsewhere. This is frustrating and invasive on the consumers' side and – given the prevalence of ad blockers – a waste of money on the advertisers' side.
Given that online ads are a must to fund the free services we enjoy, if there was an option to make viewing targeted ads less onerous, wouldn't you take it? What if you could choose what types of ads to view, instead of being forced to sit through superfluous or irrelevant commercials What if, instead of paying third parties like Facebook to ply you with ads, advertisers paid the very people they were trying to attract in the first place – you, the viewer? What if you were given a choice as to whether and what type of ads show up on your devices?
There are many startups taking a crack at solving the attention economy problem, but perhaps none are quite as on the nose as the blockchain project, Basic Attention Token. Not only does BAT provide an internet browser that blocks ads and trackers, but its business model works on the revolutionary concept of directly paying consumers for viewing ads. This incentivizes users to view ads they'd normally block or tune out, and it achieves more precise targeting for advertisers with lower rates of fraud.
5. Internet of things
IoT is an increasingly relevant concept in our daily lives. Essentially, it is the interconnectivity of all our devices – watches, cars, phones, etc. – that haven't traditionally been computers. The thought of all our gadgets syncing up and communicating without any human input may sound exciting, but there are enormous security and functional considerations to account for.
Forbes predicts that by 2020, annual revenues for all aspects of IoT – hardware, software and solutions development – will be upward of $470 billion. Clearly, this is an incredibly robust market with an enormous need for someone to manage regulation and infrastructure.
In an industry that, like blockchain, is still relatively new and chaotic, there are plenty of companies stepping up with management solutions. One making waves is Waltonchain, an award-winning Chinese project that seeks to integrate IoT and blockchain technology on an unprecedented scale. Using smart contracts, radio frequency identification tags (to be implemented in 2019), and mother and child chains similar to those used by Ardor, Waltonchain is disrupting a wide array of industries, including retail, supply chain management, marketing and sales.
Its most ambitious goal involves something that seems straight out of science fiction: building smart cities. And it's well on its way to making it happen, with a few key partnerships in the works with companies that provide the payment network and infrastructure to match Waltonchain's vision and technology.
While smart cities may still be a few years down the line, IoT remains a tremendously powerful ecosystem that is already embedded in every aspect of our lives. As we have seen in a series of scandals, breaches and data abuses over the past few years, nothing so fundamental to human functioning should be controlled by a centralized authority.
2018: The year of blockchain?
With the cryptocurrency markets still struggling to recover after a gruesome three months, Q2 2018 may be the opportune time to step back from crypto as an asset and instead focus on the fundamentals of the blockchain industry.
These projects are only a handful of many ingenious startups working to transform the industry they're operating in. Blockchain is poised and ready to disrupt every aspect of life we ever took for granted.
Even if you aren't investing in cryptocurrencies, these projects are worth following for anyone with an interest in cutting-edge technology that provides solutions to everyday problems. Whether it's to streamline our digital identity management, help us find an apartment, monetize our ad viewing or integrate all aspects of our lives via IoT, blockchain technology will likely be at the forefront.