People often ask me, What is Ethereum used for? What does it do? Even for those who understand blockchains, Ethereum, and smart contracts, pointing to specific use cases can sometimes be surprisingly difficult. So lets explore. The purpose of this guide is to act as a reference point for new members of the community who can sometimes become overwhelmed by the current disorganized nature of news flow.
The themes in the following apps are trust minimization/elimination, diversity, and disruption. As you read, keep in mind how transaction fees for reputation/trust are removed by simply cutting out the middleman entirely, and how established business models across a wide variety of industries are threatened. Keep in mind, however, many of these apps are incredibly early stage, and its hard to know which ones will take off and which ones will fail.
The primary use case of Bitcoin also applies to the Ethereum network. There is much debate about Ether being used as a currency or store of value, but for the time being, Ether can be and is actively being used to transfer value. Payments are validated by a network of nodes/miners and logged onto the immutable ledger, just like the Bitcoin blockchain.
The team at Digix has engineered a method for anyone to buy gold in tokenized form on the Ethereum blockchain. Ask yourself, how easily (and inexpensively) can you buy, say, $500 worth of gold right now? With Digix, you can convert your fiat (or Ether) immediately into gold tokens that are cryptographically linked to and backed by the Singaporean gold vault. At any time (even in the case of a Digix bankruptcy) a person can redeem their tokens for physical gold. No brokers, no banks, no fractional reserve, near-zero fees, immediate, and secure. Now, why stop at gold? Why not other precious metals? Diamonds? Oil? Oranges?
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others have dominated the crowdfunding space for some years now. A start-up pitches an idea and sets a target for funding. If successful, Kickstarter takes 5%, and passes the rest on to the start-up. On the Ethereum blockchain, a start-up pitches an idea and sets a target for funding. If successful, the smart contract automatically sends the money to the startup and takes 0% as a fee.
At the start of May, the largest crowdfund in history began with the launch of TheDAO. TheDAO is essentially a decentralized venture capital fund that relies on a wisdom-of-the-crowd voting system to make investment decisions. This is one of those revolutionary experiments that throws absolutely everybody off guard, especially the regulatory bodies. Legal implications are still being worked out, but if successful, you will start to see companies governed by blockchain code instead of a CEO and Board of Directors. This is another of those concepts that is really too hard to believe at first glance. I expect we will be hearing a lot more about this experiment in the coming months. This subreddit is a great source of information. Or watch this video.
The IoT might become a multi-trillion dollar market. Stephan Tual, Simon Jentzsch, and Christoph Jentzsch aim to capture a share of that market through slock.it, an ambitious start-up that is building a bridge between the blockchain and the real world. Through the use of a device called the Ethereum Computer, any asset (bike, apartment, car, etc) can be digitally locked or unlocked and turned into income by renting it out. Just as Ethereum crowdfunding does away with the Kickstarter fee, slock.it potentially does away with the AirBnB fee. More information.
Like to gamble? In the Ethereum platform, you can code provably fair casino style gambling. Imagine playing online poker without the website employees cheating, or playing the lottery without the lotto fees going to private gambling conglomerates. Ethereum will be a gamblers paradise with no cheating and no fees.
Prediction markets offer a way for market makers/speculators to bet on the binary outcome of an event. Augur and Gnosis are the decentralized versions of prediction markets such as PredictIt. How they ultimately decide to handle the oracle problem will become crucial not only for the success of their app, but will also be a hallmark for blockchain technology, as getting information from the real world into the blockchain reliably and credibly is no simple task. If successful, we will be able to see a new wisdom-of-the-crowd type of governance that has been thought to have many useful applications.
Swarm is the project of Ethereum developer Viktor Tron. As I understand it, decentralized web hosting means that a website is hosted by everyone at once, meaning that it cannot be DDoS attacked or censored by any government. So what we have here is a potentially censorship-free Internet. For example, throw in some decentralized poker, and all of a sudden you have online gambling that is tough for governments to take down. Simple and disruptive.
Stablecoins are a way to enjoy the fruits of blockchain technology without taking on the currency risk of cryptos. For example, the team at Maker is pegging their stablecoin to an index published by the IMF. This is an ambitious project that is potentially the key to mass adoption. Keep this one on your radar.
Ever been censored on your favorite forum by a moderator on a power trip? The team at AKASHA is working on decentralizing online communities with a clever rating system. With open source code and rules governed by smart contracts, you should expect to eliminate future censorship scandals.
ConsenSys is an app studio run by Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin that is building a giant suite of products made specially for developers. While these arent exactly the flashiest apps for the average consumer, what ConsenSys is developing is absolutely crucial for developers trying making their way onto the Ethereum scene.
The TransActive Grid is a partnership between energy company LO3 and ConsenSys that allows residents to transfer or sell excess stored renewable energy to your neighbor automatically. This allows for more efficient and cheaper energy usage in any community with solar panels.
Make your marriage official and put it on the blockchain. Also, a simple smart contract can transfer assets to next of kin following death. Theres no legal standing to these, but maybe one day?
EtherEx is a decentralized exchange in the works for cryptocurrencies. More on financial markets later.
ConsenSys has some interesting thoughts on how the entire supply chain is ripe for disruption.
Okay, so the following are probably never going to happen, but they are theoretically possible, and the public should demand these if they could ever get their collective voice heard.
One of the most obvious use cases resides in the financial markets. Rampant deception, fraud, and manipulation of markets make this the Holy Grail for disruption. But lets face it. The banks, the government, and Those In Power will probably never, ever let this happen. If financial markets ever hit the blockchain, it will more than likely end up on a private blockchain. However, for the dreamers out there, UBS showed a demo at the annual Ethereum conference last year showing how Bonds could be transferred on the blockchain.
Some say the real estate industry is ripe for blockchain disruption. I cant say that I know much about Rex, or that theres much information written about them, but at least one team is working on this.
Hopefully, the potential uses of blockchain technology and smart contracts have been made a little bit clearer. Personally, its not the power of blockchain technology that surprises me, but rather its diversity of use cases. And how many use cases are out there that havent been discovered yet? Keep in mind, Ethereum has only been in development for a little under two years. It is is by all accounts still a raw, unfinished product. Im curious about what we can expect to see from the Ethereum foundation in the coming years.
For questions/comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to send me any more additions (and corrections!). Thanks for reading.