If blockchain was truly revolutionary, why wouldn't top tech firms like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple be doing more with it? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Gaurav Mokhasi, Tech Product Management at Visa, on Quora:

This is a quasi-acid test that blockchain fails, at least so far.

At the NASSCOM Product Conclave in Bangalore recently, Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani was asked what the one thing is that keeps him up at night. He responded that it was "the fear of missing a trend." I suspect the leadership at great technology companies are similarly vigilant; the last thing they want is some new kid on the block disrupting their business models.

In the last 20 years, it's hard to think of a single revolutionary technology that Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook did not experiment with. Cloud technology, artificial intelligence, big data, voice assistants, augmented reality, self driving cars, machine/deep learning ... all of these have been embraced (even pioneered) by these companies. But when it comes to blockchain, these firms don't seem fazed by (or bothered with) it.

I don't buy the argument that blockchain is just not relevant to these firms, because it's not difficult to imagine scenarios where it could affect these companies. This article cites a few examples.

"Yes, I could absolutely imagine a decentralized Amazon," Lubin replied. "We've seen the pieces. They're not all connected to one another. They're not all but out or remotely mature, but I could imagine an open platform of many different actors with different roles."

The same could be done with Facebook, said Lubin, who is also founder of ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based studio that develops Ethereum-based projects. "We could stand up a decentralized platform that offers same services."

The silence of these companies with respect to blockchain is therefore conspicuous for sure.

The esoteric nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology makes it difficult for regular people to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have consistently attracted the best engineering talent and researchers from the top universities in the world. These folks understand Computer Science better than most, and if blockchain did in fact have the technical merits that people claim it does, it's unlikely that the technologists at these companies would seemingly care so little about it.

If you look back at the last five years, you can classify most people promulgating the values of blockchain technology into two buckets:

  1. People with vested interests -- those who are running or are invested in related startups, offering ICOs, etc... This group is typically experimenting with public blockchains.
  2. Big financial institutions -- theirs was an understandable reactionary measure to check whether their business was under threat, and to ensure that they don't look like luddites. This group championed something called private or federated blockchains.

If you look closely at what private blockchains are, it's not apparent what's technically novel about them. Princeton University's Professor Arvind Narayanan, who offers what is perhaps the only reliable MOOC in this space, published a blog post that goes as far as saying that "Private blockchain" is just a confusing name for a shared database.

Even the decentralization promised by public blockchains, while utopian in theory, is not without its fair share of problems. Firstly, there's the issue of performance. Bitcoin, which uses blockchain in its pure form, has an abysmal throughput of 3-7 transactions per second. Compare this to a traditional system like Visa which can easily process over 25000 transactions per second [1]. Secondly, blockchain is still a solution in search of a problem. It doesn't have a single application so far that's either gone past the proof-of-concept phase or where it's been definitively proven that the proposed blockchain-based solution performs better than the incumbent technology.

Therefore, given that companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple are not doing much with blockchain, even in the face of ever-increasing frenzy surrounding this technology, one could not be blamed for doubting blockchain's potential as a game-changing paradigm.

Disclaimer: I make the statements above in a personal capacity. They should not be seen as a reflection of my employer's view on the topic.


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