Open source code is more than just a way to create new technology. It’s a disruptive force that changed the way software is built, from taking individual developers and turning them into thriving communities to changing how enterprises do business–building open ecosystems versus restricted walled-gardens.
The next evolution of this movement is blockchain technology. Decentralized groups of developers across the globe are contributing to greater data integrity for businesses, better guarantees to ecosystem partners and can work together on live instances including their data. And that was the missing piece–live instances. Up until now, we could only collaborate on writing the code for a system together. Today, with blockchain technology, we can also collaborate on running this system together.
Open Source is Decentralized
Over time, open source connected thousands of developers and established a corporate precedent. In parallel, the largest corporations in the world are also the biggest contributors to open source. It is with these two transformations open source is now over 50% of all code relied upon in the average proprietary system in enterprise.
Now, blockchain is disrupting existing business models by extending the implementations and possibilities of open software. It does so by providing a transparent and immutable record keeping method, auditability of algorithms, forking of live instances with the data and possibility facilitate governance participation, all derived from an open source, decentralized community.
Amazon recently added support for open source blockchain frameworks such as Hyperledger and Ethereum on AWS. This is a great first step toward making this technology widely available. As more AWS blockchain customers build on the open source frameworks to build for enterprise business, the powerful capabilities of open source will become a part of the blockchain movement. Transparency, auditability and forkability in code, all present enormous opportunities for developers while also demonstrating a precedent.
It should be noted where these instances run, whether on private permissioned networks or public permissionless ones, is material to their ability to provide external guarantees to their users. The highest standard of trust is permissionless–where any member of the public can participate in their operation and audit.
Decentralization Rewards Both Developers and Enterprise Business
Businesses have gained major advantages through the use of open source software. In the same way, decentralized blockchain infrastructure offers businesses increased security, robustness and most importantly, guaranteed transparency with its customers.
Prior to the open source software movement, traditional methods of programming were expensive, slow to develop and lacked insight into user experience until long after each new release came to market. Today, developer communities download, interact and actively contribute to blockchain projects in the same way as open source. Decentralized developers give businesses rapid ability to replace arbitrary features with intentional decision-making by a large, merit-based community. Decentralized blockchains are Open Source 2.0.
Today, most standard apps run with centralized back ends. The server hosts the back end and dictates how the database evolves, given users’ requests and transactions. End users interact through the front end and never see what’s going on behind their static experience. What if we gave users a way to shift the power structure inherent in this state? Apps could become better for their users and much more competitive.
Not All Blockchains Fit the Open Source Credo
There’s a wide spectrum in the industry with blockchain technologies ranging from fully public to completely private. There’s a lively debate whether the value given by these fundamentally different solutions is comparable. I argue that distributed ledger technologies or private blockchains have little technological innovation. Their validators are permissioned, which means they cannot provide unbiased external guarantees to their partners and users.
That said, there are some benefits to using private blockchains in certain use-cases such as coordination between a small number of competitors or WalMart onboarding all its external supply-chain services onto one coordinated platform, but they are limited in giving any guarantees to anyone not participating in the consensus (i.e. not running a node).
Public blockchains offer a business greater transparency, because there are neutral and external parties operating the blockchain outside of the company and its customers with an independent incentive system. This removes anyone’s opportunity inside the company to falsify records, as they could potentially do on a private blockchain, or have data integrity relying on business relationships and dependency. Public blockchains also live up to the ultimate test of trust–from the comfort of your home you can verify by yourself every guarantee provided by the network.
Where Hybrid Blockchain Comes In
Most public blockchains were designed for absolute decentralization, which makes them impractical for mainstream businesses. Private blockchains are highly practical but don’t offer the transparency and trust possible with public blockchains.
Hybrid blockchains, such as the one developed by Orbs, offer the best of both worlds. They’re perfectly designed to address fundamental issues with performance and interoperability while allowing for applications in highly distributed environments. They provide strong guarantees, verifiable by anyone, yet leave businesses in control of their business models, governance and security.