Data, platforms...and value sharing. A topic that to date is still evolving and it is difficult to understand if and when we will reach a sort of dominant design. Many big tech platforms, such as Facebook, Amazon or Google, have often been attacked for the great power they have in managing the value created on their platform, through the use of data, but more generally in managing the dynamics between the various sides involved. However, there is a technology that in recent years has begun to show that there could be another model: I am talking about the blockchain. In 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto, a programmer whose real identity is still unknown, published the white paper “Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system” explaining the idea of peer to peer virtual currencies, able to operate worldwide without the use of financial intermediaries: I am talking about ‘The Bitcoin protocol’. The central idea was to allow people to use money in a decentralized way, without being tied to any institution, nor with the need for permissions. It was a major statement of protest against the financial industry, which had caused the biggest economic crisis since the great depression. Ten years later, its most important incarnation, the Bitcoin, had reached a market capitalization of $830+ billion and together with hundreds of other cryptocurrencies, the idea had lost its anti-conformist / anti-establishment message. Indeed, what was generating most interest was not Bitcoin itself, but rather the underlying technology on which it works: the blockchain. Invented to “overcome the problem of double spending on the internet”, blockchain had the potential to radically change the world in many ways, with the same pervasiveness that the internet had in its infancy. In the ‘90s, the world was not yet able to understand, manage or imagine all the possible (and impossible) applications for such a general-purpose technology like the Internet. Once the technology began to diffuse, however, more and more researchers started to explore the possible applications of this innovation. The same is happening today with blockchain. A major breakthrough came when blockchain technology emerged as relevant not only for financial services but showed disruptive potential in many non-financial activities. The protocol described by Nakamoto enables the creation of a decentralized network which, relying on the computational capacity of the network participants, allows the exchange of assets between untrusted actors through an online transaction, without the need for a trusted intermediary. Blockchain is a technology that builds upon 4 different principles: The first one is Peer-To-Peer Network: The architecture provides the database structure for a public distributed ledger, with each transaction occurring between nodes without recurring to a central node. Each node stores and forwards information to all other nodes. Thus, it does not require the presence of a central node that operates as a validator of all the activities and transactions completed on the platform. The blockchain technology allows users to have the right to access the database in real-time. Second, transaction Logic: Cryptography and a digital signature are used to secure the completion of transactions between anonymous accounts. Third, immutability of data: the ledger consists of consecutive data blocks individually secured and cryptographically sealed, interlinked to previous data within a chain. And fourth, a consensus mechanism: a consensus mechanism can be considered as a set of rules and protocols for governance that work to coordinate the execution of transactions, their validation, and their recording. More practically, it is an algorithm that enables a global “election” allowing users to agree about one true systemic-state of the network for synchronizing the shared ledger. Does it seem pretty complex? Well, it is not that complicated. We tried to study how this technology can impact on two-sided platforms, and we can try to analyze it through a case: Gamb. Gamb is a decentralized marketplace that aims to give decision-making power to the owners of a marketplace, who are participants in the marketplace itself. Gamb has been funded by a software provider for e-commerce with more than 20,000 merchant customers. The COO told us: “[Our original company] was known in the trade market for having a good relationship with their merchants, and, by this, you know and you learn about their pains, and one of the pains they have is… it is very difficult to generate traffic in your own shop and you enter into a competition with marketplaces. We thought ‘What about leveraging our customer base and offering them something they can control themselves’. Another good example is Cyber Miles. CyberMiles was founded in Asia in 2017 to create a decentralized blockchain solution for the e-commerce industry supporting smart business contracts. Working on a smart contract platform similar to Ethereum, it aims to avoid rent-seeking monopoly behaviors, targeting a fair allocation of network rewards while achieving greater network effects through the use of economic incentives. The goal of the platform is to enhance the community around it. The VP of communication told us “the idea is to build up a network offering business services for its members, by its members. The governance structure is open, all members have a voice in strategic decisions. In the same vein, the governance of disputes among parties will also be self-managed by users who will play the role of arbiters.” Hence the company plays a different role in comparison to traditional marketplaces; not being an intermediary, but working behind the scenes, in their view the platform will move gradually to the background with respect to commerce activities, leaving the marketplace governed by the community itself. These two cases allow us to begin to understand two things. The first is that there is a different way to create platforms, putting the idea of value sharing at the heart of the project. The second is that the blockchain acts as an enabler of this change, changing at least part of the two-sided platform model we are used to. Let's try to look at them together. First of all, what are normally called transactional two-sided platforms become blockchain-enabled platforms or decentralized platforms. These platforms are different from the ones we know, such as Amazon, Airbnb or Uber, from three perspectives: - the first one is the role of the platform provider that somehow splits in two, on one side the blockchain provider, like Ethereum at the base of the two cases of before, that becomes the enabling technology, a generator of Platforms-as-a-service, on the other side a service provider, like Gamb or CyberMiles, that builds its service - The second is the role of users, the two sides identifiable as buyers and sellers still exist, but it's easier to identify them as members of the blockchain network, who can take on different roles in different services...or simply decide to own the tokens, the coins, of one of the various service providers. Just the tokens generate the third point. In addition to the typical network externalities between the sides, the blockchain generates another type of externality, called "Token based externality" that explains the increase in the value of the initiative as the number of token holders increases, as if it were a different way to invest in these realities. These three key points allow blockchain-based decentralized platforms to be different from what we are most familiar with as users, but the very technology they are based on - with the values of transparency and sharing at the core - could foster the emergence of new businesses and new business models where the value of the data generated during the service will also be shared with users. Definitely a technology to consider when evaluating the creation of a new platform.