Social MediaI remember one of the biggest societal shifts in my life. It was the mid-2000s and I was a student at the University of Minnesota. I was sitting in French class just chit-chatting with people, and I heard the term "Facebook" for the first time. It sounded cool and exciting. When I joined, I instantly had access to information and communication I had never had before. I felt like I was a part of something.
Fast forward nearly 2 decades and social media is omnipresent. I was digitally connected before Facebook. I was on AIM, and ICQ and browsing and building the web, but social media was different and has changed over the years in ways we couldn't have predicted. Now in the 2020s, the average social media post is viewed for 1.7 seconds before being swiped past or liked. There are ads and shopping now, but even more pervasively there are these giant algorithms deciding what information to show us based on maximizing our time on the site/app and maximizing our engagement.
We have tools that enable us to connect to anyone in the world instantly, create groups, and rally behind causes. We have giant well-funded interests trying to push us in different directions. We have an algorithm that is always going to feed us the most sensational forms of information and entertainment because sensationalism and outrage are what tap best into our weak human brains. For better or worse, large swaths of human society are influenced by and dependent on social media every single day. From our elections to entertainment, social media has changed society.
BlockchainI think that Blockchain is another one of these societal transformations. I think the power for developers to build immutable applications, have public consensus, are privacy-preserving, decentralized, and paid for by users is a huge deal.
With technologies like Ethereum and Cosmos, you can build in ways that were never possible before. Let me give you an example.
Every year Reddit used to do a giant Secret Santa project. It matched up millions of people and brought joy to their lives. You join, get paired up with a random person, and then send them a gift. In exchange, you are going to get a random gift. It's a surprisingly great system.
But if you look behind the scenes, what you've essentially done is give this huge tech company your address and correlated it with your Reddit profile. That data is super valuable to them, and based on the number of data breaches worldwide, is somewhat likely to be compromised.
If you built a secret santa system using Blockchain, it would be different. You would use public and private key cryptography to ensure that your address is only ever revealed to the parties you want to see it (the person sending you the gift), and it would be impossible to be hacked (in the traditional sense), or organizationally compromised, or sold. You may think that Reddit could build this. They could TRY to end to encrypt the data to hide it from themselves, but at the end of the day, you're always relying on their goodwill and security. If they get compromised, or if they are subpoenaed by a powerful government, or if they change their minds, they could make slight changes to the interface or APIs and save the keys that are being used, and it would be very hard for anyone to detect or notice. We should have similar concerns about iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.
There are other benefits from this type of system. Imagine a new Facebook that is built as a public good on the blockchain. Instead of relying on maximizing engagement and time on site, it could maximize other properties. Instead of needing to push advertisements and agendas on you to survive and make money, you could have the users paying small amounts to a network when they comment, post, and configure their profile and then having the system work autonomously, for the users.
Blockchain allows us to build software that is not owned and controlled by the people who built it, giving power back to users. I'm not sure this technology is going to take over every use case, but I think that this is a software development superpower that can never be taken away and will always exist in some form.
AxelarIt's the 2020s and Blockchain (not necessarily the whole universe of "crypto", but we can come back to that in another post) is great and pretty successful at what it's trying to do, but we have a problem. There isn't just one consensus-driven network that allows anyone to participate, there are thousands. While this is great for decentralization, it's terrible for user experience.
Every person who wants to start interacting with a blockchain application (aka decentralized app or Dapp) now needs to worry about what blockchains (chains) they want to be a part of, where the applications they want are, and where the funds to interact with those chains are. With literally thousands of blockchains and a constantly shifting constellation of attention, this is a nightmare for people who want to casually interact with these applications.
Luckily, there's an answer.
The answer is to build these applications and experiences cross-chain (aka interchain). This means that users can use whatever currencies they may have to interact with applications, users can interact with applications from any blockchain, and even apps themselves can be architected to take advantage of the uniqueness and differences between these blockchains.
- Need more privacy? Use a privacy-preserving chain.
- Need more security? Use a chain with a higher TVL.
- Need more speed? User a faster chain.
By being able to build better blockchain applications that are more powerful and omnipresent, we partially solve the user experience problem, making the entire system more valuable.
The Axelar Network is a project that addresses this problem head-on by offering infrastructure for building applications that interact across multiple blockchains, even across different tech stacks.
I'm a big fan of Axelar for three main reasons:
- Security through decentralization and focus - The team I work on is not in control of the system or messages. Every change to the network, even down to some types of parameter tuning, is done on-chain by governance vote. This means that even if I wanted to, I could not compromise or fake a message. A single team or group of individuals doesn't control the network. Cross-chain is inherently risky, so getting individuals out of the pipeline connects back to the ethos that powers blockchain in the first place.
- Chain connectivity - If we want to fulfill the dream of all of the blockchains of the world working together, we need a technology stack that is present on them. Axelar is currently connected to 54 blockchains across three tech stacks and has plans to make this self-service so that every tech stack powering a blockchain can be connected.
- Developer experience - Building cross-chain feels complicated, but Axelar has done an amazing job of making it as simple and easy as possible. There are simple methods to build and send messages and invoke functions, and there are amazing tools to do local development and see what's happening across this giant ecosystem of chains and explorers.