Why we need an Internet of Blockchains

This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network written by Jack Zampolin in his capacity as director of product at Tendermint Inc.

Tendermint is the company behind the eponymously named consensus protocol Tendermint and the interoperability platform Cosmos.

Zampolin writes…

The first computers were individual machines.

Then, in a quest for more computing power, bigger and bigger machines were built, initially by linking these individual machines together, until, eventually, supercomputers emerged.

These huge entities took an army of people to maintain and after a while, the benefits of adding power to these large computers dwindled and the returns fell off.

Then, the Earth cooled… and we decided on a different approach.

We made a huge number of smaller computers and ended up scaling them; this is what we now call the Internet. So essentially, we went from computer to supercomputer, to network computers.

As with machines, it is in blockchain

The development cycle has been roughly the same in the blockchain world.

We started out with Bitcoin — the first decentralised ledger technology, the first computer in this case.

Then Ethereum came along, like those original supercomputers.

Now, on Ethereum, it was possible to run a lot of different programmes, but it was still relatively slow compared to the third approach.

This third way allows to build an interconnected network of computers to Ethereum’s supercomputer. When blockchains connect to each other and network with each other, we get a development that will enable the true global scaling and growth of this technology.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for blockchains in enterprise – particularly public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum – has been the ability to scale and to transact with different blockchain networks.

Crossing the blockchain chasm

If blockchains are to matter at all beyond cryptocurrencies… and if they are to be used for applications such as maintaining self-sovereign identities, delivering decentralised social media and in a variety of use cases throughout the supply chain, then they would profit greatly from being able to interact with one another.

A lack of interoperability leads to individual chain maximalism and tribalism, so for many the conflict is unavoidable. Sometimes this is even helpful, in a positive way, because it compels developers to enhance their projects’ code so that their blockchain might rise above all others.

More often than not though, because these disconnected chains think they will need to cover all use cases (and be a kind of Swiss Army Knife blockchain), they end up lacking specialisation… and so are not fit for many uses.

There’s quite a chasm between these views, one that comes down to how each approaches the question of trust. We should make these chains talk to each other in a permissionless, frictionless way.

Operable interoperability

Instead of participating in divisions between crypto factions, we need a way to offer a network of interoperable blockchains. Blockchains have been traditionally siloed and unable to communicate with each other. They have always been hard to build and could only handle a small number of transactions per second.

The industry is now looking for tools that allow any engineer or developer to build a brand-new, custom-designed, independent sovereign blockchain which can interoperate with an arbitrary number of others. Each individual chain should be able to choose and run its own independent governance, adding further flexibility and allowing developers to select the mechanisms which best suit their particular use cases.

Zampolin: A lack of interoperability leads to individual chain maximalism and tribalism.

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