Over the last decade, nothing has promised as much when it comes to revolutionizing the global marketplace like cryptocurrency. From fears of cryptocurrency upending the mainstream financial industry to elation over the thought of finally achieving the free market ideals postulated by Adam Smith, we have seen it all. Or have we?
While the entire planet has been chasing its own tail trying to figure out the best way to apply and integrate cryptocurrency with the economy in a way that would make it a viable alternative to fiat currency, we have all missed the true innovation behind cryptocurrency and that is the blockchain technology on which cryptocurrencies sit.
And just like we have spent the better part of the last decade trying to understand one of the seminal applications of blockchain technology (cryptocurrency), we are going to spend the rest of this decade getting to terms with one of the other revolutionary applications of blockchain tech and that is decentralized applications (DApps).
However, before we get into what decentralized apps are, let us first go over a basic description of blockchain technology and how it works.
What is blockchain technology?
While it is often confusing, there is a simplified way of understanding blockchain technology, and that is a unique, decentralized way of storing information. Simply put, blockchain technology refers to a relatively new method of storing data in a database.
With blockchain, information or data is split into individual packets called blocks and each block is connected in chronological order to form a chain (Conway, 2020). In addition to the blocks and chain approach to recording information, blockchain technology also varies from conventional database technology in how it stores the recorded data.
While conventional databases have one centralized location where all the data is stored and all the updates to the database go to that specific digital location on the cloud or hundreds and sometimes thousands of centralized servers, blockchain data has no central storage location. Instead, the data is stored on many different terminals (computers) and not controlled by any one individual.
This distribution of the blockchain across many different computers is why blockchain technology is usually referred to as tamperproof. It is hard to distort a ledger that is not centrally held in one location and has a record of every transaction ever made stored on every one of the terminals in the chain. To tamper with the data, one would have to access all the terminals in the chain to make the alteration, which is virtually impossible with today’s technology.
The most popular analogy that has been used in the past to explain blockchain technology is Google Docs. When you create a Google Doc and share it with your teammates, everyone has real-time access to the Google Doc. Everyone can see changes as they are being made, and the Doc will keep a record of what changes were made, when and by whom. Nothing needs to be copied, and no updates have to be sent out to anyone.
That is how blockchain works except for the difference in storage. While with Google Docs, the document is stored in one location and is distributed to the members, blockchain technology would store the ledger (Google Doc) on everyone’s terminal. This is why blockchain technology is sometimes referred to as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
This makes blockchain technology suitable for sharing valuable digital assets without requiring any KYC and background checks because it is impossible to corrupt. This is why blockchain technology was necessary for cryptocurrencies to exist. Blockchain provides cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, ethereum and many others with the required protection against fraud and hacking.
But this article is not about how blockchain has helped cryptocurrencies, but rather about how it has helped create a new form of technology, which is decentralized apps. And now that you know what blockchain is and what it does, we can discuss DApps, specifically the latest trends emerging in DApps.
What are Decentralized Apps (DApps)?
Decentralized apps are computer applications that run on blockchain software like ethereum, TRON or a peer-to-peer computer system. They are just like other applications except that they are not hosted on a centralized server or platform, and a single entity or authority cannot control them.
These apps give the users a usable interface to interact with blockchain technology, giving the technology real utility and function to ordinary users. While blockchain technology is great, its utility has remained limited to the cryptocurrency industry because it is the only one that discovered how to leverage it.
However, even that industry was suffering as owners and traders of cryptocurrencies didn’t have a way to use their cryptocurrencies to consume. This lack of user interfaces limited cryptocurrencies to exchanges where they were traded for other currencies.
Some of the additional utility that can be leveraged from blockchain technology with decentralized apps includes digital ownership, cross-platform exchanges, passive income through interest and lending, as well as an ability to make an income through the play-2-earn model (DappRadar, 2021).
Benefits of DApps
While DApps perform similarly to standard apps in the front-end functionality, their decentralized nature gives them inherent benefits over typical centralized applications. According to Mark Yosef’s article on decentralized apps published on August 19th, 2020, some of the benefits of DApps include;
Simple to integrate with Blockchain
All DApps run on pre-existing blockchain technology like ethereum. Regardless of how sophisticated the DApp is to build, the developers don’t have to build the blockchain protocols that the DApp runs on. This reduces some of the developer’s burdens since all they have to do is integrate their API with the blockchain platform’s API.
Reduced reliance on other data users’ integrity
Enterprise blockchain-based applications are usually designed to connect different organizations or trading partners. If even a part of the solution is centralized, each organization must trust the entity controlling that part. Fully decentralized applications don’t have this problem because a decentralized structure allows each party to run the app without having to trust any other party. This usually results in faster adoption of the application.
Better data protection
DApps are based on a shared database that distributes stored information across all other terminals in the chain. This means that hacking a single node doesn’t restrict the organization’s ability to access its critical data. Furthermore, it also doesn’t mean that its data could be altered since every node in the blockchain would have to be hacked and each individual ledger altered.
All DApp code is designed to be open-sourced/ open access. This means that all DApps are transparent and can be viewed by anyone who wants to verify the developers’ claims on what they do. Every user can access all the back-end protocols, so developers can’t hide any back doors or separate data storage units that the users can’t access.
It is not uncommon to find users of centralized apps wondering where their data goes after they put it into the app. Users often complain about data integrity and ownership with centralized apps. There is still an ongoing debate about whose data it is once the user volunteers it to the centralized app.
Since DApps are on a public blockchain, and there isn’t a singular authority hoarding all the data, this information can’t be hidden or commercialized by anyone on the chain without the owner of the information either knowing or approving of it.
DApps are more robust and flexible than centralized applications since they don’t require connectivity to a single centralized server to run. For centralized applications, once the server hosting the app goes down for whatever reason, the entire application will stall or go offline, which is not the case for DApps. This means that enterprises can ensure minimal interruptions and downtime for maximum business continuity and resilience.
Data is never lost
Once information is added to the blockchain, it’s stored permanently. It doesn’t matter if one of the nodes leaves the chain or is compromised in whatever way. The lack of centralization means that the information is always replicated on other terminals, so it can never be lost.
Impossible to block
DApps aren’t hosted on any particular IP address. Since there is less authority owning a DApp’s network, it is much more difficult for external authorities like national governments, regulators and hackers to block a DApp.
Lower transaction costs
DApps offer a higher transaction speed than the options offered by mainstream financial institutions and applications. This means reduced costs to administer and run the app. Unlike centralized systems, organizations don’t need to install heavy servers and hire experts to manage and maintain their servers and data.
The latest trends to watch in decentralized apps in 2021
Now that we have covered blockchain technology and decentralized apps, we can delve into the trends to watch in DApps in 2021. While the industry is still relatively new, there are some exciting new developments that everyone is talking about as the industry grows and the DApps start to scale and reiterate their designs. Here are the four main trends we are watching for in 2021.
1. Much better UI and UX
One of the main complaints about the first generation of DApps is the lack of a well-developed user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). It has been argued that the early DApps are nothing more than extensions of cryptocurrency trading with gamification and some basic UX features (DappRadar, 2021). The majority of them look like darknet sites that have no UX design whatsoever. They are incredibly buggy, take forever to load, and are off-putting for users who are not familiar with early DApps.
However, we can forgive this basic rendering of the first generation DApps because developers were more interested in proving the concept and showing functionality and utility. Therefore many of them focused on putting out a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as a proof of concept, not necessarily as a final go-to-market version ready for scaling.
However, as the DApps sector starts to mature and the market grows, developers are beginning to focus on UX. Some DApps already on the market like Uniswap have already released second versions of their platforms to improve the platform’s user experience. The new versions have better color schemes, fewer bugs and glitches, and offer users more functionality and opportunities to integrate with other platforms.
2. The proliferation of DeFi DApps
One of the significant trends of 2020 that we expect to continue into 2021 is the proliferation of decentralized finance DApps. Decentralized Finance (DeFi) DApps are finance applications that run on a blockchain or peer-to-peer systems. These DApps are blowing up mainly because they offer owners of cryptocurrencies opportunities to carry out various financial transactions like lending, borrowing, saving and investing, just like banks do for fiat currencies (Malkov, 2021).
This lack of ‘value exchange potential’ and financial utility is one of the main reasons why many critics of cryptocurrency thought it could never become a viable alternative to fiat currency. DEFI DApps make it easy for cryptocurrency owners to access financial instruments like credit, derivatives and others directly with their cryptocurrencies (Cryptopedia Staff, 2021).
According to bybit.com, DeFi DApps like MakerDAO, Uniswap, Curve, Compound, and others actively turn cryptocurrency into real currency with real-world applications other than value storage. This real-world application for financial activity makes cryptocurrencies less erratic and more predictable for traders, making them less risky for investors and holders of the cryptocurrencies.
Furthermore, DeFi DApps are quickly becoming the lifelines of other DApps on the various blockchain ecosystems. They provide other DApps with opportunities to monetize their platforms easily by integrating with a DeFi DApp.
3. More NFT marketplace DApps
This is one of the most exciting new trends in the DApps ecosystem that has grown in part due to the proliferation of DeFi DApps mentioned above. NFT or non-fungible tokens are tokens that represent ownership of unique digital assets. Non-fungible items are unique items like art, music, airplane miles, collectibles, pieces of property, and in-game items (PixelPlex Team, 2021).
These items usually cannot be exchanged for other things because of their unique properties. However, with NFTs, these unique items can be turned into digital assets represented with digital tokens that can be traded. These tokens can be exchanged, either in part or whole, for fungible assets like cryptocurrencies (Non-fungible tokens (NFT) 2021).
NFTs are proving especially useful to artists and other creators who typically don’t get the recognition or compensation they deserve for their work. For example, let’s say you created a meme, but instead of sharing it online for free, you put it up on an NFT marketplace on ethereum like Rarible, specifying the exact quantity of this asset (the meme) that you have created.
For anyone to use your meme, they would have to buy it from you, and the blockchain platform hosting your marketplace would record the transaction and identify the new owner. If that new owner wishes to resale their NFT, they can, and you, the creator of the meme, will still get royalties from the reselling of your meme. This model ensures that creators get recognized for their work and continue to make a commission from any continued sale and purchase of their creative work.
With this model, it won’t be long before music creators, movie makers, and other types of creatives are all making their art in the form of NFT and thus easily maintaining control and getting royalties for all their work. DApp Radar estimates that the four biggest NFT DApps on ethereum have a daily turnover of USD $10 million (Quarmby, 2021).
4. Many more video game DApps
One of the industries that have benefited the most from DApps is the video games industry. Not only have many new decentralized games come out, but DApps have revolutionized how games are played on computers and mobile phones.
Due to NFTs and DEFI DApps, decentralized games have revolutionized how games are played. New game concepts are coming up that never would have been feasible with conventional video games. New games like Upland, for example, give players a chance to own NFTs of real-world properties. Gamers are not only becoming property moguls in the game, but their properties purchased in the form of NFTs can be resold in NFT marketplaces.
One such game that offers players the chance to build NFT assets is Cryptokitty (Image above). This game allows players to raise virtual cats, which can be sold as NFTs in exchange for ETH to other players and people in NFT marketplaces. In 2018, a cat was sold for USD $170,000, becoming the most expensive cat in the crypto world (HB Wallet Team, 2019).
This revolutionary approach to gaming offers gamers the opportunity to be compensated for the time, progress, and achievements they unlock. While this indirect approach works, other games offer players in-game cryptocurrency as a reward for achievements made in the game. However, unlike traditional games that give credits that are useless out of the game, the rewards earned in these games have ‘out of game’ value that players could exchange for either other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ETH.
An excellent example of a game like this is Splinterlands. Winners of fights in the game are rewarded with Dark Energy Crystals (DEC), which are the game’s local cryptocurrency. The game can be connected with a player’s ethereum or TRON wallet to exchange and deposit their Dark Energy Crystals into (DappRadar, 2021). Many experts in the video game industry believe that this is the inevitable future of gaming.
There you have it. This is our prediction for the new and continuing trends in decentralized apps in 2021. Whether you agree with our list or not, one thing cannot be denied, and that is that DApps are going to see an increase in market size, user demand and integration with conventional platforms in 2021.
While we don’t believe that DApps will completely replace all centralized apps on the market, their potential for disruption and innovation is bound to challenge conventional apps enough to go back to the drawing board and redesign their models to stay relevant to users in this changing climate. Love them, hate them or ignore them, DApps are here to stay, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s to come. So watch this space.
Gerald Ainomugisha is a freelance Content Solutions Provider (CSP) offering both content and copy writing services for businesses of all kinds, especially in the niches of management, marketing and technology.
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