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A Web Of Interoperable Blockchain Platforms




Interoperability protocols will grant incompatible platforms the means to form a viable ecosystem.

Exclusivity. Sometimes it comes with a membership, sometimes it's associated with a social class. In the world of technology, it can be exclusive content, or rights, or the ability to run software. Exclusivity can be divisive and create boundaries between consumers, social groups, and technology. An example of this in recent history pits Windows Operating System (OS) against Mac OS in a battle royale for consumer interest and business applications.

The idea that one must choose one or the other can limit integration, and adoption, particularly when mutually exclusive and equally viable means to solving a problem arise. But in principle, these mutually exclusive problem-solving architectures can still be developed apart from one another, if not in concert.

To go back to the Windows vs Mac debate, the issue on the Mac side was one of closed architecture; only certain developers could make programs that integrated with Mac, whereas Windows was an open OS anyone can build upon. Mac’s retention of its architecture paved the way for future innovations which captivated the world, and changed the modern phone. Similarly, Windows’ open architecture paved the way for developers to draw from a wealth of open source material and create a business intensive infrastructure, much of which the economy relies upon today.

Integration for these growing technologies was only a matter of time. The days of rich text files being the only means of passing a document between varying operating systems became a thing of the past as developers were forced to acknowledge that shared information was fast becoming a cornerstone of industry, spliced together with an emerging internet of connectivity. As time passed, mega-corporation Google, and others, began to build features into platforms that were operating-system agnostic, in that any operating system could interact with them through the medium of the internet.

When blockchain technology first reared its head, interoperability was not a subject of much debate; there was only one blockchain and it was all about bitcoin. As time passed, more and more disparate blockchain platforms rose, among them Ethereum, and these various platforms innovated in different directions, creating their own protocols. These protocols make it impossible for the chains to send and receive data from one another for reasons similar to that of why a program designed for Windows OS will not function on Mac OS.

Rather than stifle development and innovation in various sectors, some companies propose to build an external web of connectivity in the form of interoperability protocols. These protocols are designed to both maximize efficiency between disparate blockchain deployments and allow for a co-existence between them to form, creating a more cohesive ecosystem. There are some great examples of innovation to that end.

One such means to interoperability between various versions of blockchain technology comes from the Cosmos Network. Cosmos is a proof-of-stake-based blockchain that is being developed to bridge Ethereum and Bitcoin blockchain platforms with future plans of integrating a distributed exchange. Cosmos' plan to function as a relay between various deployments of a blockchain is similar to a translator between individuals who speak different languages.

Another project hinging upon interoperability protocols is the KyberNetwork, founded by Loi Luu. Luu built the KyberNetwork to allow transactions between paying parties and recipients who don't have access to the same digital currency. A layer of executable distributed code contracts (EDCCs) facilitates payments across blockchain platforms, but does not modify any code. KyberNetwork will use its own reserve of crypto-assets to make this possible, and use a series of specially designed relays built on EDCCs to facilitate the interaction between each separate blockchain.

Similar endeavors have been made by Wanglu Tech's blockchain project, Wanchain. Wanchain's purpose is to create a decentralized bank built on the framework of the Ethereum blockchain. By creating custom templates for assets to be registered to its network, Wanchain presents an intermediary platform, backed by EDDCs, that lets traders interact across blockchain networks.

Even within its own borders, the Ethereum blockchain is built on a cornerstone of interoperability. ERC20 tokens themselves are Ethereum's symbol of interconnectivity, as the ERC20 standard arose from a necessity to create a universal protocol for tokens minted on the Ethereum network. Tokens can literally represent anything that can be imagined, and thus it makes sense to create protocols that allow for the agnostic acceptance of these tokens by Dapps if they meet a standard, in Ethereum's case the ERC20 standard.

Some companies opt to go another route. Rather than build a connective framework between square pegs and round holes, they create blockchain agnostic protocols that can operate seamlessly with any blockchain. Agnostic protocols allow for seamless integration with any blockchain, instead of creating relay systems that allow for differing blockchains to talk to one another. Music industry blockchain project, dotBlockchain (dotBC) decided early in development to maintain a blockchain agnostic stance during its testing phase, so that it could stay open to all blockchain platforms while growing.

Some crypto-wallets, like Jaxx, take pride in the agnostic approach. In a statement made in October of 2016, Anthony Di Iorio, CEO of Jaxx, said, "Jaxx has always been blockchain agnostic, but we listen very closely to the requests of our users. I’m extremely proud of what our team has been able to achieve by including so many popular tokens in such a short time. We will continue working around the clock to make these integrations and will include even more in the near future." The commitment to agnostic protocols allows Jaxx to serve multiple blockchain protocols, as well as reach a larger consumer base.

Marine Transport International recently completed a blockchain pilot of its SOLAS VGM tool and built its platform around agnostic protocols as well. The project's whitepaper describes the advantages of such a protocol:

"This interoperability, afforded by the introduction of configurable data adapters, allows for the seamless sharing of data between all parties of the supply chain, regardless of whether they are registered on the Container Streams platform or not. This lowers the barriers to entry for the smaller players upstream in the land-side of the supply chain. Container Streams can thus contribute to expanding the digital reach of the existing supply chain systems, while making the business processes more transparent, faster, and easier to securely connect to by all parties."

A Toronto-based blockchain innovator, Nuco, has a product launched on August 30, 2017, called Aion, which stylizes itself to be a “third-generation” blockchain network. Aion is designed to allow public or private sector organizations to federate data values between any Aion-compliant blockchain and Ethereum, and scale with fast transaction processing speeds. With Aion, public or private blockchains can be custom built for deployment. Publishers are free to select methods of governance while maintaining an underlying foundation of interoperability.

From a broad perspective, the Internet itself, upon which these platforms promulgate, rose up from a nest of loosely tethered protocols built around the necessity of interoperability rather than to create exclusive access channels. The commitment to agnostic protocols allow Jaxx to serve multiple blockchain protocols, as well as reach a larger consumer base. The sentiment of the pioneers who created the web of interaction, now heavily relied on by global industries, was one of collaboration, and perhaps it will be a sentiment that future blockchain platforms shall embrace.

Jeremy Nation

Jeremy Nation is a writer living in Los Angeles with interests in technology, human rights, and cuisine.

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