Recently I started representing Jolocom and our approach to digital identity at blockchain related events. With interest in the technology growing steadily, these events attract a diverse audience mainly interested in understanding the implications of blockchain for their business.
While this question could theoretically be answered in methods as simple as following the beautiful step by step guide on doyouneedablockchain.com, the practical, pragmatic implications of distributed ledger technologies can be difficult to assess. With the people in the audience representing a wide range of industries ranging from media production to mechanical engineering, it can be challenging to catch everyone’s attention. The fact that blockchain technology is often misrepresented as a round-up style solution to the technical weeds of your business make this even harder.
Playing the game of hype and responsibility
Assuming a short attention span from my audience and a high reaction to buzzwords, I decided to balance my presentation in a way that acknowledges the hype surrounding blockchain technology, but also highlights its challenges. To hint at the challenges is not only responsible, it is necessary if we want to see a post-hype blockchain economy that can be used by everyone. At Jolocom, we aim to make this promise a reality, with the development of a fully self-sovereign identity solution that can be used on any kind of blockchain system and even solve privacy issues in existing online services.
When talking about self- sovereign identity, the most important thing I want to get across is how its relevance has changed over time. In the early days of the internet people interacted on a basis of mutual trust. As today’s internet emerged out of this early community, identity became a constant challenge that ultimately developed into what we know today: identity as a service. Every time we currently interact with a digital service, we are required to create a representation of ourselves with this service, a user account that is ultimately provided and controlled by them, not us. While some people think that this is a problem, most people might be ok with trusting someone else to handle their personal data in exchange for the convenience of a modern digital lifestyle. While others might be concerned by the general surveillance, others might wrongly think they have nothing to hide“Nothing to hide” is actually a confusion of privacy and secrecy, or would you want someone to join you on the toilet, just because you have nothing to hide?
Even worse, we accumulate multiple identities over time, creating a growing challenge to sync and manage our digital identity. While we use our digital identities every day and rely on them as if they were public infrastructure, they are fully dependent on the service that provides it. If our digital identity is deleted, we often have no chance to recover it.
A decentralized economy can not rely on centralized identity services
In a time where digital identities have become indispensable to participate in modern life, the above described concept of company owned identities is outdated. If we use these digital identities as public infrastructure, we should build tools that help users to create digital identities which actually function like public infrastructure, or even better.
How this is relevant to blockchain technology becomes clear if we understand that blockchain technology is perfectly suited for trustless exchange of values, meaning that in contrast to the current internet, we don’t need to trust or pay a third party to do business. Blockchain technology is all about peer to peer interaction and the potential to organize complex exchange of value without intermediaries. By nature, blockchains are allowing for anonymous exchange relationships that have proven both beneficial and problematic in the past.
Enabling the post hype blockchain economy
While a ledger that is both public and anonymous is a huge benefit in terms of safety, it is a hindrance when we try to introduce people and innovative business cases to the blockchain. Imagine you want to run a decentralized application that allows you to rent out your apartment to someone while you are out of town without needing to go through an intermediary like Airbnb. It is true, with a blockchain based system, you don’t need the platform that matches you with a potential visitor and handles the booking for you because the decentralized application (DApp) is replacing the centralized platform. Still, you would want to know who is interested in your apartment and whether the information they tell about themselves is actually true. The blockchain just tells you that someone’s anonymous address exists and is gonna pay you. To allow someone into your private space, you probably want to know more to feel good about letting them enter your apartment. Currently, this trust is facilitated by centralized platforms, but in a decentralized economy, we have to decentralize identity and trust. This is why the blockchain world needs an identity layer and we at Jolocom are building just that. Allowing you to enrich your digital identity with a potentially infinite list of verifiable attributes will bring an even higher level of trust to the blockchain world, allowing blockchain businesses to really take off.
What I got asked after these presentations was how we aim to provide everyone with a self- sovereign identity and how we make sure that it is accessible. While our soon to be published whitepaper will do a much better job in answering this, Jolocom aims to make self- sovereign identity accessible by keeping it fully open source and blockchain agnostic. When asked about our business model, people assume that we will monetize identity. Fortunately this is not true, as it would go against our core objective to provide a fully self-sovereign digital identity that is accessible for all. With our software being fully open source, we make sure to live up to our promise of transparency by inviting everyone to review our code or contribute in the community. Actually, I feel that the user pain that is caused by current style digital identities is our biggest ally in this, preparing people via frustration for what we are going to solve with the next generation of digital identity that is fully controlled and owned by you.
If you have any questions about Jolocom and our approach to deliver self-sovereign identity, make sure to reach out to us via Telegram, or sign up for the next round of testing to get a hands-on feel for our product.