The power of open source is the power of the people. The people rule.
– Philippe Kahn, Technology innovator and Entrepreneur
Research recently predicted the global blockchain market would hit $20 billion in the year 2024. New paradigms like cryptocurrencies stand on the mighty shoulders of this decentralized ledger. And soon, entire industries will reinvent themselves with its support. But what made blockchain such a hit? In my humble opinion, the fact that the blockchain worked on an open source model paved the way to its success. The fact that developers could freely engage with each other in large numbers to improve and iterate on the technology, is one of the founding principles of its poularity.
But winds seem to be blowing in other directions as well. Permissioned or closed source blockchains are increasingly finding mentions in media, digital publications, and in general conversation. At the same time, a question is often being asked — what impact will adopting closed blockchains have for the technology’s future?
Before we get closer to the answers, perhaps a recap of what it means to be open and closed source with the blockchain, would be helpful.
What does going Open Source and Closed Source mean?
Open source products are made publicly available with their users free to inspect, modify and improve their code. Users are empowered to replicate and distribute the copies made, to anyone and for any objective. The creator of the software accepts edits from various ends under open source licenses. Prominent examples of such licenses are the Apache license and MIT license. Open source software has become a pioneer in the open source movement.
Closed Source Blockchain
Closed source products on the contrary, are governed by, and are under the ownership of a single entity or organization. Only approved developers are authorized to access the code of permissioned or closed source products.
For a blockchain perspective on this — in the words of Wayne Vaughan, founder and CEO of Tierion, a closed source blockchain is a privately owned network which maintains a shared record of transactions. The network is accessible to only those who have permission and transactions can be edited by administrators.
Closed source software is everywhere, right from Apple’s MacOS to Microsoft’s Windows. But closed source projects like these, however exciting may they sound, are ultimately only one interpretation of what software can do. They are often rigid, slow to change, and simply can’t match the exciting, and continually ongoing development open source standards — like HTML5 — offer. In today’s times, where 9 out of 10 countries want to invest in blockchain technology, one can imagine the perils of building those in a permissioned way.
I’d like to be clear — I don’t oppose permission blockchains. In fact, they may be crucial to some exciting disruptions in industries. The insurance sector, for example, could do well with permission blockchains that protect patient data and privacy. But its features, tools, and other advantages will often come from developments made in the open source blockchain arena. This is why the majority of our attention, must remain there.
One of the prominent reasons why blockchains elevated cryptocurrencies to a level of success and popularity, is due to the security they offer. Along with being a secure mode of currency transfer, blockchains work on the ethos of the transparency itself. But any attempts to bring closed source inclusion of closed source blockchain in future may take some shine off this transparency, since those blockchains will then operate under a veil.
Blockchain is also referred to as a decentralized ledger. The primary factor behind blockchain being such a celebrated and innovative advancement, is because of its decentralized nature. If the blockchain is developed in a closed source way then it will lose its decentralized character to the overseeing authority. This will not only change the ethic on which blockchain was developed but also open the gates for commercialisation of a free commodity.
Permissioned or closed source blockchain therefore are not a feasible and appreciable route to undertake on a mass-level, keeping in view the future of such a dynamic technology.
Let’s take a quick glance on how going open source drives the bulk of innovation and excitement for the industries.
Open source programmes are groomed under a large group of developers. Software often has bugs that creep in as code is repeatedly altered. These not only disrupt functioning, but can also be a huge deal breaker when they are deployed at work. It is an established fact that humans are prone to biases, the greater out of them being self bias. Self bias births blind spots. When a small team of developers works on software, there is a high probability of these blind spots remaining undetected. But when a community of talented developers is involved, these blind spots and bugs can be resolved much quickly and accurately. Hence we relish a better outcome without any discrepancy.
Going open source is significantly useful in reducing redundancy and boosting error correction potential. When code is reviewed under many eyes, there’s massive potential for simplification, removal of redundancy, and an overall satisfactory polish on the end product. An end product that is precise and uncomplicated.
Open source products are akin to canvases on which developers can channel their inner Picasso, to develop high-value, high impact products. Most developers associated with an open source project are often users of the product themselves. This puts them in a superior, convenient position to ascertain issues, and make modifications. In other words — bug fixes, improvements, and other changes are often much faster.
Open source products offer developers opportunities to prove themselves worth their salt. When creative and talented minds coverge in on a project, it’s reasonable to assume then the end result would be one that remains vibrant, and impressive.
In a nutshell, going open source is the key to blockchain’s success. Permissioned or closed variants will of course, serve valid, and unique needs. But without mass-adoption of an open-source approach, the blockchain may be headed for standard monopolisation and commercialisation that many tech paradigms eventually collapse into. As many enthusiasts would agree, nothing could be further from Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision.
Going Open Source Is Key To Blockchain’s Success was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.