From apps to Dapps: view blockchains as app stores
Most of us see blockchains as speculative investments. Their biggest hope in this space is to win a ticket to a x10 or x100 on their initial stake. More geek oriented animals focus on technical properties, comparing transactions per second, scalability, decentralisation, consensus mechanism.
TLV (=Total Value Locked) is often viewed as the main metric to compare the value of a blockchain. The more value locked in its applications, the more the blockchain is worth.
If you are a computer scientist, you'll see blockchains as P2P networks of validator nodes sharing a common open ledger where transactions are bundled in blocks.
If you are an investor, you'll see blockchains as fields of speculative tokens.
But there is another way to consider blockchains, and this is that perspective that will decide of their future. This is that perspective that will chose between their success and their failure.
Blockchains are app stores
When you take a step back and forget about the tech and the speculation, blockchains are platforms where developers can deploy and run their apps*.
Ethereum, Avalanche, Fantom, Polygon, ... are used, because useful apps run on them. And these apps are the real value of their blockchain hosts.
Take your smartphone. Then remove all the apps you've installed on it: would you still use it as much? Appart from passing a few phone calls and taking one or two pictures a day, what your iPhone would be used for without its apps?
The Apple and Android app stores are what make our smartphones the most central tool of our daily lives.
Apps vs Dapps: the power of composition
Ok, so blockchains are app stores. Well, that's nothing new then. We already have app stores. What's the point?
The huge difference between classic app stores and blockchains, is their composability. When you have two different apps on your iPhone, they cannot communicate with each other. Imagine you have 10 000 followers on your Twitter app, the YouTube app doesn't know anything about it. It cannot do anything with it.
The difference with Dapps (=Decentralised Applications that run on blockchains) is that they each have their own address on the blockchain they run on. So if they can be accessed by any user with a wallet, they can also be accessed by any other Dapp.
A blockchain is an tightly integrated ecosystem where any Dapp can use any other Dapp.
The web has been raging with APIs (Application Public Interfaces) for years, and a lot of websites either offer APIs so that you can use their data, or use APIs of other websites to create improved services. But these APIs are costly to develop, maintain, are often subject to changes and have complicated access rules. And most of the time, they simply don't exist.
On a blockchain, as soon as your decentralised application can be used by someone with a wallet, then it can be used by another decentralised application just as easily. This is by default. This is part of the design.
This opens the way to application composition. Blockchains will allow you to use the followers you got on a decentralised Twitter-like, in a decentralised YouTube-like. The reputation (the number of likes for example) you got in a Dapp, will be accessible and will enhance your user experience in any other Dapp.
This is why it is so easy to stake tokens you got on SpookySwap, in any other lending, borrowing or staking application. On blockchains, vaults, yield farming and staking Dapps, seamlessly work together.
Forget about TLV for a while
We've seen with the Luna crash how a 40 billion dollar capitalisation can vanish in less than 48 hours. In this speculative era we live in, (speculate comes from Latin "look out" "explore") TLV can be deceiving.
Because blockchains are application platforms, if you want to compare blockchains, then the number of apps deployed, and the number of their users are more important. Dappradar is a better friend than Defillama.
What does it mean for the future of blockchains?
The question boils down to: which Dapp store will win in the end?
No. The winner in the blockchain race will have to attract much more users. Ethereum is just too expansive to use. You cannot reach mass adoption when your new users have to pay $5 for a single transaction.
Developers might get lured into deploying their new Dapp on Ethereum because they will look at the TLV and think that Ethereum is where the money is. But it's a very bad decision for your user to make them pay $5 each time they want to use your Dapp. There is no way you will get massive adoption there.
Innovation is too expansive on Ethereum.
Polygon? Arbitrum? Optimism?
Layer-2s won't work. Too fragmented. Bridge hell.
The number of Transactions Per Second made us think Solana could be the winner. But developing on Solana is a nightmare. The learning curve is too steep. Young innovators with brilliant ideas will just break their teeth on the complexity of developing in Rust and learning all the nasty caveats that Solana had to use to reach its amazing TPS. And Solana is the most unstable of all top blockchains, with far too many outages.
An alternative layer one?
Yes. Most probably. One that is easy to develop on (so EVM compatible). One that is scalable, fast and cheap.
Actually, the winning blockchain could very well ... not be a blockchain. Fantom, indeed, has a special technical particularity: it's not a blockchain (a linear chain of blocks) but it's a DAG (Direct Acyclic Graph). Think of it as a chain with many interlaced branches. This feature allows Fantom to process much more transactions than traditional blockchains. So with Fantom, we have speed and scalability. It's very very cheap too (less than a cent for a transaction). Deploying a Dapp on Fantom costs less than 10 cents.
Fantom has been running safely for years, it has a big ecosystem and user base. So it could be the winner.
What will decide?
A killer app. The winning blockchain will be the one that hosts a killer app that will attract the new wave of users and withstand the load. Will it be a censorship resistant publication platform? a self sovereign social network? an NFT enhanced metaverse? a world wide reputation system on top of which other under-colateralised lending platforms will be built upon? It can be anything we have not yet imagined.
Disruptive innovation ... without congestion.
[*] Here we are just talking about blockchains with smart contracts. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Doge ... and all other blockchains that cannot execute code, where you cannot deploy applications, are of no interest for this story.