Peer-to-peer network (P2P) apps are highly popular mainly for telecommunications (Signal, Skype and Telegram) and document sharing purposes (BitTorrent).
The main advantage of the P2P apps is: the communication and activities within these apps are conducted directly among the participating nodes, without the mediation of central servers. This way, data and information can flow smoothly, without the connection bottlenecks of the centralized systems.
The absence of such connection bottlenecks explains why Signal and Telegram have relatively clearer voice quality compared to the most popular over-the-top instant messaging platform WhatsApp. Skype also runs partially on the P2P network and it had been the communication platform of choice among individuals living in different countries long before the COVID-19 pandemic happened and video conferencing has somewhat become a norm.
Blockchain is of course the latest innovation in the P2P network development. The whole hype with the non-fungible token (NFT), through which various content creators, gamers and house owners make their intellectual and material properties available through blockchain platforms such as Open Sea or Ethereum Classic, among others, have shown that not only the P2P apps are capable of performing highly complex functions; they are easy to use.
Recently, the P2P blockchain apps have also shown their prowess in functionalities like document and supply chain management. The European Union, for instance, has come up with what it calls “the European Blockchain Strategy”, adopting the technology to manage university diplomas to help higher education institutions and employers manage enrolment and recruitment processes, respectively. Currently, big retailers like WalMart and Carrefour, as well as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Nestlé and Unilever have adopted the platform to manage their supply chain.
New advances in P2P apps have also seen the integration of blockchain platforms into internet-of-things (IoT) systems intended to make human affairs more efficient. Tech giant IBM, for instance, is now developing a blockchain platform which will enable multi-party functions involving various institutions and countries to work more effectively on complex issues such as emergency supply chain (especially in the face of disasters) and public health system readiness. Such innovations are expected to boost disaster preparedness and resilience.
Not all P2P apps are created equal
Currently, blockchain platforms exist in amazing diversity boasting various functions and interface complexity, no different from the diversity in which smartphones/computers exist — from Lenovo to Samsung to Apple — with different user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) complexity.
We have seen from the evolution of computers that these devices have become simpler and easier to use overtime. The blockchain platforms have also evolved to become user-friendlier, as can be demonstrated by the popular adoption of the NFTs.
There are some basic P2P apps using hardware with limited capacity such as the Raspberry Pi, which performs simple functions and can only hold limited amount of data and information. Meanwhile, there are other apps with larger capacity for data and information retention thus are apt for more complex functions.
Furthermore, there are some P2P apps which are still at the very basic stage of their development, thus appearing in a highly niche UI/UX design which only the computer geeks would understand.
Taking this diversity into consideration, in the process of adopting blockchain technology for your organization’s operations, you can always use the help of some consultants who can help you pick the most suitable platform for you.
Barriers to adoption
Considering the sophisticated form of the P2P app in this day and age, the biggest barrier to blockchain technology adoption among institutions and organizations no longer has to do with technical difficulties. Rather, it is the fact that by adopting P2P apps for their operations, most organizations and institutions also have to, at the same time, transform their management process and at the same time also familiarize employees with the new system.
Many companies that have enabled their organizations to adopt the system through a cost-benefit analysis. For instance, when big American retailers named above adopted blockchain platform for their P2P network in 2017, it was after a nasty e-coli bacteria outbreak which affected their lettuce supply and resulted in lots of consumers getting sick.
These retailers decided that the blockchain platform could help them break through the interdepartmental data silos which had often made traceability difficult. Finally the P2P blockchain app has also helped them make supply chain management more efficient, transcending differences among different apps, while also helping them boost their food security.
In the strength of the P2P platform, therein lies its weakness: as data and information in the network are pretty much accessible by all members of the network, this boosts transparency but can also cause trouble when the document in question is private, such as individual contracts or agreement.
Fortunately, the P2P network has come up with an encryption method which transforms some private documents into an unintelligible string of numbers and letters. These documents are also safeguarded with digital signatures. This mechanism ensures that only authorized parties can access certain documents. For instance, in a hospital management context, the financial department will only be allowed to access documents regarding patients’ payment, without having access to his/her medical records.
But you also have to take note that not all P2P network guarantees data transparency. It all depends on how the system is being coded. If the owner of the platform wishes to operate in secrecy, nobody will gain access to certain data and information.
Likewise, it is also still pretty much a myth that the P2P apps will always serve as a fairer alternative to the “gig economy” scheme. Yes, the P2P apps have no middlemen such as the big e-commerce, travel or ride-hailing operators. But, when you use the service of the P2P networks to put your goods and services on offer, you sure have to pay the node operators.
Another issue with the P2P apps with just how frequently people lose their passwords and can’t get them back. Thankfully, the advancements of the digital signature system has helped us overcome this problem.
All in all, it is interesting to look at how the P2P apps advance, with the efficiency they offer.