How can blockchain help you?

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There’s a lot of hype about blockchain floating around, but there is much less understanding about what it’s good for.

There’s a lot of hype about blockchain floating around, but there is much less understanding about what it’s good for. Sure, we’ve heard that it could disrupt banking, governance, advertising—basically everything except embroidery, but many of us aren’t aware of the concrete details of what blockchain will actually do.

This lack of knowledge is understandable. Until recently, blockchain was mostly used for cryptocurrency, otherwise known as ‘crypto’: decentralized online currencies created with cryptographic techniques, not associated with any government. And, until its recent boom, people thought of crypto as the domain of criminals and other fringe elements. Although that’s all changing now, blockchain still seems a little exotic for many. Quite simply, the public hasn’t seen how blockchain could affect their daily lives, in a concrete way.

But blockchain will, in fact, affect many industries. To establish what this could look like, let’s look at a couple of everyday uses of this soon-to-be commonplace technology that will make it clear how versatile and powerful it is.

The smart part of walmart

This year, Walmart announced a patented new shipping system, involving a proprietary blockchain combined with a new kind of smart packaging device. Like the smartphone, the smart package is an update that could render old packages obsolete. What makes smart packages different is an onboard tracking device, which records the package’s movements on a blockchain. Each package generates its own inalterable data, rather than being recorded on a central shipping manifest. This data is then instantly distributed to every computer connected to the Walmart network.

This is a huge innovation. It allows lightning-fast, error-proof tracking. Walmart will have the ability to locate every single iota of product they move. Products that need recall will be found instantly. Produce, or other items that require temperature control, will be closely monitored. In addition, this will allow for the expansion of online shopping to things like milk and meat.

It doesn’t stop there. Walmart is also adopting blockchain for supply chain control. Soon, its suppliers will track their progress with the Walmart system, as well. This has obvious profitability implications: increased visibility makes efficiencies easier to perceive. But, less obviously, blockchain-powered supply chains could enable more ethical purchasing.

Slave labour is still a big problem in a few industries. For example, a lot of shrimp from Thailand comes from companies that abuse and entrap migrant workers. Not long ago, consumers bought slave-peeled shrimp from Costco. But that could change with blockchain technology. Impermeable shipping records will make it very difficult to conceal the origins of produce. Both consumers and supply chain managers will have the power to see exactly where their goods are packaged. This leads to better ethical practices, and improved consumer assurance.

This makes it clear that blockchain has the power to make the world a more humane place, as well as being a path to increased efficiency. While it’s just one of many use cases, and perhaps not one of the most consequential, it shows how all commercial activity could be affected by blockchain. Relatedly, one other use of the blockchain might make you like online advertising again.

One weird trick to reinvent online ads

Online ads aren’t in great shape. Two major factors are hampering their effectiveness in today’s market.

First, cheap or free ad-blockers mean that a lot of users only lay eyes on a small portion of the advertising out there. This is not good news if you’re looking to build a brand.

Secondly, fraud is rampant, thanks to the power of cloud computing—specifically, its ability to generate large-scale fraudulent activity. It’s never been easier to take free money from advertisers. Here’s how. First, you set up a legitimate-looking website. Then, you sell ads against its content, and hire what’s known as a “click farm” company, which uses cloud computing to send a bunch of artificial users to click on the ads. You profit from fake users clicking on advertising paid for by real people.

To some consumers, this might not seem like a big deal. After all, advertising is annoying, right? But if advertising becomes completely ineffective, that breaks a part of the Internet’s profit model, which could mean beloved sites going offline, or adopting paywalls. Also, what if it were possible to make advertising good for both the advertiser and the consumer?

Enter the Basic Attention Token, or BAT, a blockchain-based advertising platform that changes the game. It's been developed by people like Brendan Eich, the inventor of Javascript. The BAT does something quite different: it adds an incentive for users to look at ads. Every second a user looks at an ad on a browser outfitted with the BAT system, they’re paid for their time with BAT tokens. In turn, the publishers of the ads are paid as well, in the same fashion. Everybody is compensated for their time. Users will turn off their ad-blockers, and advertisers will be guaranteed legitimate interest.

Also, fraud is reduced with an ingenious method. The BAT platform can detect whether its users are legitimate, by determining whether the browser is being used by a human. Bots opening the browser and lingering on ads forever will be outed as bots, because no human actually browses like that. And, while it might be possible to create a bot that browses like a human does, the need to do so would greatly cut down on the efficiency of fraudsters. By incentivizing attention, rather than clicks, the BAT makes fraud much harder.

For some time, the death of online advertising was seen as a critical threat to the future of online media. But BAT, a blockchain technology, could turn that around.

The next link in the chain

As you can see, the hype behind blockchain is backed up by real-world potential. It can better inform suppliers and consumers of transactions by providing incorruptible information. By creating new currencies, it can incentivize users in unusual ways. Those two facts generate a lot of use cases. And this is only the beginning. As more innovators witness the power of blockchain, they'll harness it in previously unimaginable ways. And maybe you’re one of those people.