Blockchain in a Nutshell in English

Blockchain in a Nutshell in English
by Dennis Gesker

Those of us that work with data — or put another way — all of us that use computers implicitly understand that there are generally only four things that one can do with data. We can create new data, retrieve or recall data, update existing data, and of course delete data. These four tasks create a convention of understanding how we generally interact with data that even has a fun descriptive name “the CRUD cycle”; Create, Retrieve, Update and Delete.

So much of what we regularly do with computers and computer systems of all types — PCs, phones, databases, spreadsheets, etc. — that we hardly even think about the process of manipulating data. One might go even far as to say we rarely consider this convention except when some pesky software or system failure obstructs one of these actions as in the case where perhaps a website won’t process an order or even worse when a system we use accelerates one of these actions in a way we don’t find helpful like accidentally deleting all our photos.

However, a new convention with regard to the life cycle of data is gaining in popularity. Although there are many implementations of this new data life cycle the convention has caught popular attention in that it underlies exciting and novel technologies like cryptocurrencies, digital money, the most well know being Bitcoin; digital money. This new data convention underlying Bitcoin and similar non-government backed currencies and other applications under development is gaining popularity is called “Blockchain.”

In some respects blockchain technology can be thought of as a degraded form of the CRUD cycle. Unlike the CRUD cycle in blockchain one cannot (generally speaking) UPDATE or DELETE data. One can only retrieve data and append data.

And, even these two functions have a spin on them. When one appends data it is as if a new link is added to a chain. And, the new link or record (record block) is both linked and secured using timestamps and cryptographic techniques to protect the contents and assure others that the new record has been successfully added without tampering. And there is very likely many copies of the new record spread about the internet so a user — with the correct access ability — might retrieve or recall the record from a location other than where it was originally written. So, blockchain is said to be resistant to updates or modification and somewhat more durable because it is often implemented in a distributed fashion (copies are spread around on different systems) and the cryptographic mechanisms prevent or at least warn of record tampering attempts.

So, it behaves much like old paper and pen ledger books in that once an entry is made — even if the entry is wrong — the entry can’t be undone. To correct the “bad entry” one would need to append or add a new entry making an adjustment to the earlier entry. But, because the earlier entry never comes out of the “chain” there is a history of how a set of transactions reached its current state.

Have you ever had the experience of working or a document with a colleague and being unable to recall who made and edit and when? This doesn’t happen in “blockchain” because old activity is always retained. The chain of events and data appended only grows.

Presently, digital or computer currencies seem to get most of the attention with regard to this underlying data and record convention but it isn’t a difficult jump of imagination to see that if this convention can work for purchases that it may lend itself to other business processes like contracts (what was in the contract document and when and who signed it) where tracking of revisions, acknowledgment of amendments and the date/time/signatures of the parties involved need to be tracked and verified.

There are many organizations putting new spins on this technology — faster processing, ease of use, side chains or channels for side deals, varying levels of who can see inside a record or transactions, as in the case where a third party may need to observe or intercede in a transaction or contract, and, I’m sure other novel uses.

This is definitely a technology to keep one’s eye on as it is inherently interesting but really the items to look for are regular everyday activities that it can ensure happen consistently and places where it is able to drive out cost. Blockchain absolutely has the potential to be “disruptive” to how we use and interact with computer systems and each other.