Currently, there are over a thousand blockchain projects and ICOs with more projects on the horizon every single day. However, most of these blockchain projects are trying to do one of two things — either trying to upgrade Bitcoin to make it better, with faster transactions per second and more scalibility, or trying to upgrade Ethereum to make it better with faster transactions per second and more programmability. These should continue to be researched and improved on however, there are very few projects that are trying to do something different, something more radical using blockchain technology. By merely either trying to make Bitcoin better or trying to make Ethereum better lies the problem. There are not a lot of projects that focus on solving the problems of the base layer infrastructure to all of these blockchain projects — the internet. It works, so why bother, right?
Current Problems of the Internet
The internet is broken. Everyone knows it. With every passing day, there are more and more news reports of servers getting hacked, websites getting routed to a malicious destination, or just private data getting leaked from giant corporations. This problem will only continue to get worse in the years to come because as more and more devices get linked up to the internet, especially IoT devices like smart home devices, there are more doors that open up that can be taken over and used for nefarious purposes. We’re talking about someone being able to hijack millions of smart cameras who can proceed to leak private data or use these same devices to send lots of malicious network packets to one central server to take down certain websites. And this is not hard to do with the way the current internet works. Blockchain by definition means a chain of blocks or a ledger to record information that are linked together and that are not tamperable. This means that transactions can be audited using blockchain. So, in today’s world, there are many decentralized applications (DApps) being built using blockchain, but these are not purely decentralized and the reason is simple, the only thing these apps use blockchain for is the execution of smart contracts and recording appropriate transactions on the blockchain. For everything else, including data storage, transferring digital assets between two parties, etc., actions are instead done “off-chain,” which is a fancy word for the “web”.
The DApps of today are actually a hybrid in the sense that the blockchain is used only for recording transactions which can be considered decentralized because there’s no central entity that owns any blockchain data. And these DApps still have to contact some central server to fetch regular data like user data, digital assets such as movies, games, etc or any other big data. As you can see, parts of these apps are centralized while parts of them are decentralized and also, if someone were to hijack these central servers to steal some data, this would be possible. So, while the blockchain is used to store immutable transactions between two parties, thereby establishing trust, if the internet is broken as we know it is, the blockchain does not really fix all of the world’s problems. The fact of the matter is that blockchains solve the problems of trust, they do not solve the problems of the internet.
Let’s look at it from another angle. There are many popular websites and social networking sites like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Wechat, etc. Users can register for accounts and IDs on these websites and the ID issued to the same user is different in each platform. This is because there is no central entity that issues IDs to all these different websites. Google does not trust Facebook and Facebook does not trust Google. In this sense, the internet is decentralized because anyone can hook up their own device or rent a device from cloud providers to join the vast sea of internet nodes and create their own website and issue users their own ID. This means that people can impersonate others and also spam each other with no issue whatsoever because everything is trustable by the internet. But, at the same time, the internet is also centralized because this eventually creates a monopoly for any website or platform that can attract a lot of traffic from consumers. For instance, the social network platform is centralized via Facebook, travel service is centralized via Uber, online shopping is centralized via Amazon, etc. This means that as more users get attracted to the same websites, these websites are able to collect user data and then, sometimes, sell this private data to third party providers for their own benefits. So, while users are free to use these platforms, they’re trading their privacy for convenience. The problem of the current internet is that it is decentralized and the problem of the current internet is that it is also centralized.
Untamperable Interopable Anonymous Identification
It’s clear that in order to solve the problems of the existing internet, there needs to be a central authority to issue IDs to everyone but then, this goes against the very idea that no one wants one party to control everything, especially something as critical as an ID for the entire internet. So, how can we solve this problem? We cannot trust Google to issue IDs to everyone, nor can we trust Facebook to do the same thing. But what if we use blockchain to issue IDs to everyone? Think about it for a second. What if we put our trust not in people or parties who can easily manipulate and take advantage of us, but we instead put our trust in code that is impossible to tamper with and does not take bribes? If you think about it, the blockchain was invented to fix the problems of the internet and that’s exactly what Elastos is aiming for. If we can have blockchain issue IDs for everyone on the internet, we could solve the issue of trust. We could have a world where Facebook trusts Google and Google trusts Wechat because each user has a unique ID that is common to all these platforms. Of course, this does not mean that users can just hand over their private info to the blockchain. Blockchain just issues an anonymous ID that is a random string of characters and each user may generate as many IDs as they want but as with anything, if you use the same ID, you can make your ID more recognizable and trustworthy. This is like using a nickname for yourself. You may decide to use 100 different nicknames but if no one trusts you because you haven’t done anything, it’s hard to find customers for yourself or make yourself look trustworthy.
Elastos provides universal IDs for users, devices, virtual machines and these are recorded on the blockchain. And these same IDs may be used across a multitude of applications being built on top of Elastos, thereby establishing trust between different kinds of applications. Elastos uses blockchain for what it was designed for — trust. You can think of these decentralized IDs as the backbone of the new internet Elastos is creating.
One other thing to mention is that it’ll be possible to port existing smart contract VMs like Ethereum VM or NEO VM to work on Elastos. What does this mean for the future of applications on Elastos? You could have your own sidechain (fancy word for a blockchain that can interoperate with the main chain, which is an Elastos main chain) on Elastos. In theory, you could have two different applications whose code is executed using two different types of smart contracts and blockchains — Ethereum VM and NEO VM and actually be able to interoperate with each other with no issue. This is the main feature of the architecture that Elastos employs with its main chain — sidechain structure but you can find more info about that in other articles and documents on the internet.
Fixing the problems of the old internet
Let’s try to talk about how Elastos is fixing the two problems we described in the earlier section of this article — the idea of a pure decentralized application and the universal trust for the internet. With Elastos, the applications are truly decentralized because the blockchain is used as a ledger to record transactions between two parties and also used to execute smart contracts. And then, big data like user data, digital assets such as movies, music, etc are stored either on your own personal cloud disk (that may be your own computer behind your router) or in the IPFS where data is encrypted and stored across many nodes in a distributed manner. Every time someone requests to fetch data from this new internet, the user ID, device ID, virtual machine ID are all authenticated using blockchain first. The application data is decentralized and distributed so there is no central server for malicious actors to hack into.
Also, the applications are run in a completely sandboxed ecosystem where they are not allowed any access to the internet. Every time any application requests some data, the Elastos Runtime first checks the ID of each user, device, virtual machine on the blockchain and makes sure that it is authorized to access that data. After this verification phase, Elastos Carrier (the decentralized peer to peer network) goes out onto the internet on the application’s behalf and fetches the data and returns the data to the user. This eliminates many of the man in the middle attacks, distributed denial of services attacks, virus attacks, spam attacks, etc. This is what it means to have a universal trust for the entire internet. This is the new internet.
DID Sidechain — A Huge Milestone for the Project
On July 1st, the Elastos team pushed an update to the main chain nodes in order to get ready for the upcoming release of Elastos ID sidechain. This is the very first sidechain in Elastos so this marks a very big milestone for the project. Elastos employs a main chain — sidechain structure so this update signifies that it’ll be possible to build any number of sidechains on top of Elastos all serving their own purpose. ID sidechain just happens to be one of them and also happens to be fulfilling the purpose of universal trust for the new internet Elastos is creating that is safe, resilient, reliable as well as equally trustable, scalable and completely decentralized.
ID sidechain also marks another major milestone which is the merged mining aspect of it. ID sidechain will serve as the trustzone for the new internet so it only makes sense to think that this sidechain should also be very secure and resilient. This is why ID sidechain is also borrowing the hashpower of the Bitcoin network. We know that the Elastos main chain is merged mined with Bitcoin, which means Bitcoin miners can use their mining machines to secure not just the Bitcoin network, but also the Elastos network with the same hashpower. This trust is now passed on to the ID sidechain which means that this sidechain is merged mined with the Elastos main chain which is merged mined with bitcoin. ID sidechain is also being secured by the Bitcoin hashpower. This is the power of merged mining. What does this mean for the future of the applications and services being built on Elastos? Any sidechains that employ the same PoW as Bitcoin can merge mine with the Elastos main chain that is in turn merged mined with BTC so the Bitcoin hashpower is used to secure the Elastos main chain and all the sidechains that employ the same hashing algorithm, thereby using the existing Bitcoin hashpower to secure thousands and thousands of applications that may utilize these sidechains all without using more energy. With elastos, it’ll be possible to power the many many thousands of applications using the bitcoin hashpower which when compared against other traditional methods like banks, centralized servers, etc comes out as a way to actually not burn any more energy than necessary. This will mark the end of the debate many scholars have regarding how much power bitcoin uses because if the same power is used to power millions of applications with billions of users that in turn provide unparalleled security, it’s a worthwhile investment and green.
Because ID sidechain is merged mined with the Elastos main chain which is merged mined with Bitcoin, miners will be collecting small transaction fees in return for securing this sidechain.This creates yet another utility use case for the Elastos coin (ELA) because any subsequent sidechains that decide to merge mine with the Elastos main chain will have small transaction fees that will be paid in ELA. While the issuance of IDs may be free, the transactions that are in each ID block are not free as these need to be mined via PoW algorithm. In the market where cryptocurrency projects are having a hard time coming up with use cases for their native token, Elastos shows that it’s possible to have numerous utility use cases for ELA without making the cost too high. The valuation of ELA does not come with using the token as a payment method and instead comes from using the Elastos infrastructure and building many applications thereby gaining user traffic and adoption thus making it a requirement to use IDs for everything on this new internet. This is just one simple yet powerful use case for the ELA economy model and there are many more which would be too lengthy to go into details in this article.
Of course, services and applications are also free to build their own sidechains with other consensus algorithms other than PoW, such as PoS, DPoS, DBFT, etc and these are entirely possible to do on Elastos, but that’s a topic for another day. The ID sidechain will be open source in the following weeks and developers can get their hands dirty with their test environment using IDs for users and devices and building demo apps using these IDs that are secured using blockchain. On that note, Elastos plans to release a Smart Web alpha version by the end of August. This means that after August, developers will have a full end-to-end solution test environment where they can start building their own applications. This will be an alpha version so it’s subject to change before going to production, but developers are encouraged to start as early as possible so they can get their Elastos DApps as early as possible, thereby reaching thousands and thousands of customers who are eagerly waiting to start using Elastos DApps on the market.