Bringing cryptocurrency to a wider audience via the browser + WebRTC

in #blockchain8 years ago

In my recent introduction post, I outlined a few things that I've really been thinking about in the crypto landscape. Today I wanted to take a minute to talk about one of them - bringing crypto to a wider audience via the web.

One of the biggest barriers to entry with most cryptocurrencies I see is the requirement of a desktop client or "wallet", which although usually rather lightweight in terms of executable size comes with the overhead of downloading and verifying a heavy (multi-GB) blockchain. There are a variety of great "light" wallets which rely on SPV or trusted servers to remove this overhead, but the majority of these clients still err on the more technical side and don't have the most user-friendly on-boarding experience.

Ultimately, this barrier to entry has pushed a lot of less tech-savvy users to leave their cryptocurrency holdings in online wallets hosted by exchanges - placing all their faith in the integrity or security of a startup company with a big "hack me" target on their backs... we all know how this has worked out (cough cough Bitfinex)

A novel solution to this problem would be keeping all the block verification and wallet data securely on the client-side, within a user's browser. The one technical problem is that web apps don't speak TCP directly, so can't connect to a P2P network such as Bitcoin directly... yet.

That's where WebRTC (think of it as P2P for your web browser) comes in, and some great developers have already made this a reality for the BitTorrent protocol with WebTorrent. It would be fantastic to see new and existing cryptocurrencies consider adopting support for WebRTC protocol connectivity, allowing web browser clients to talk directly to desktop peers. Some BitTorrent clients such as Vuze already support WebTorrent, bridging the gap between the desktop and web.

Getting back to reducing barriers to entry - by enabling WebRTC P2P connectivity directly to a cryptocurrency network would mean that wallet developers could build simpler, easier-to-use clients with the simplest on-boarding experience for newbie users: just visit a URL. No executable downloads, no installations and no lengthy blockchain overhead.

The awesome news is that during my research I found that some crypto developers have already started thinking about this! The Webcoin project looks to be the WebTorrent for Bitcoin (and other protocols) and you can check it out @ https://github.com/mappum/webcoin (eagerly awaiting a live demo of an in-browser wallet, if the devs are reading).

One potential hitch is that getting the WebRTC clients to talk to desktop clients currently requires a sizable enough population of users running what is known as a "bridge node" that can talk in both protocols and acts as a "bridge" between the two. To really gain mass adoption and make this a reality, the next steps would be a) standardization around a technology such as Webcoin and b) getting as many desktop wallets/clients as possible to integrate the "bridge node" technology so there is a vast network of machines supporting the web connections... without that, taking down a few bridge nodes could destroy all web connectivity.

This stuff is still in it's infancy but is one of the most exciting recent developments I've seen in bringing cryptocurrencies to a wider audience. If you haven't heard of WebRTC before, I hope you found this useful and I encourage you to go read more about the technology. I'm looking forward to seeing where the community and developers take it next! I can feel a WebRTC side project coming on soon :)

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@ummjackson I was wondering which browser you believe could be secure enough? I use Commodo Dragon and Firefox, Dragon never gives me grief while Firefox been kinda hinky for me the last few years. You suppose a new browser would be built leaning hard towards that technology?

I'm personally a Chrome Dev Channel user... I wish there was a more security hardened, de-Googleized version of Chromium that I could rely on (there used to be Iron but not sure it's maintained). I recently deleted my entire Google account history so Chrome is the last attachment I have to the company. So +1 for new browser, someone just needs to build + maintain it :)

Wow. Big potential right there - maybe some day soon there'll be enough users for this to happen.

That's the hope! I'm thinking my next side project might be a web-based wallet on top of Webcoin... especially for micro-transactions, it'd be nice to have a mini wallet that follows you around the web with everything done client-side.

Just a quick addition to my thinking: The W3C are already making progress on standardizing web payment flows, including Bitcoin (https://github.com/w3c/webpayments-flows/wiki). It'd be awesome to see that firm up in parallel with thinking about P2P connectivity via WebRTC... adoption would be a lot higher it were able to stand up against Apple Pay, Visa etc.

this will be really cool, the easier it is to use the more people will..viva la revolution

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