Blockchain has been in the news lately, but beyond knowing that it has something to do with payments and digital currencies, most people don’t know what blockchain is or why they should care. A major part of the reason is that we still don’t have the kind of easy-to-explain blockchain killer-apps that propelled the internet forward.

Blockchain has yet to cross the chasm from technology enthusiasts and visionaries to the wider marketplace that’s more interested in business value and applications. There’s considerable research on blockchain technologies, platforms and applications as well as market experimentation in a number of industries, but blockchain today is roughly where the internet was in the mid-late 1980s: full of promise but still confined to a niche audience.

In addition, outside of digital currencies, blockchain applications are primarily aimed at institutions. And, given that blockchain is all about the creation, exchange and management of valuable assets, its applications are significantly more complex to understand and explain than internet applications.

The management of information is quite different from the management of transactions. The latter, especially for transactions dealing with valuable or sensitive assets, requires deep contractual negotiations among companies and jurisdictional negotiations among governments.

Moreover, since blockchain is inherently multi-institutional in nature, its applications involve close collaboration among companies, governments and other entities. In my opinion, there will likely be two major kinds of blockchain killer-apps: those primarily aimed at reducing the friction and overheads in complex transaction involving multiple institutions; and those primarily aimed at strengthening the security and privacy of the internet through identity management and data sharing. Read more from blogs.wsj.com…

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