Surmounting the Challenge of Building Web3 Applications
Back in 1995, when I was director of product management at Wired, it was a big deal when we no longer had to go through AOL (remember them?) to get our content in front of our audience. There was a sense of excitement and potential about how the World Wide Web enabled us to bypass the gatekeepers and innovate without intermediaries.
There was a lot of experimentation, and a lot of mistakes were made, but in the end, it opened the door to a world of game-changing — and, in some cases, world-changing — innovation.
For those who are involved with or watching developments in blockchain technology, this might sound familiar. Has there been a lot of craziness happening around NFTs and crypto lately? Yes. But the blockchains, the decentralized ledgers for modern, decentralized transactions of all sorts, are also opening up a new world of innovation that, I’d argue, is similar to what we saw with global content 20 years ago, or social media 15 years ago.
In this article, I’ll provide some historical blockchain context, some ideas about the potential for blockchain and discuss Astra Block, a new service DataStax announced today that makes it far easier for developers to build on blockchain data and enables them to build Web3 applications by making real-time blockchain queries.
Making Sense of the Decentralized
Almost 30 years ago, search engines arrived on the scene to make it easier for users to navigate the web. They competed by offering the largest and most up-to-date data sets.
Capturing data and updating and delivering it through a user-friendly frontend made a lot of great things possible for users. Some purists argued that search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing brought too much centralization and intermediation to the web.
It’s a valid argument, but I’d also argue that the decentralized web benefited from the centralized search engines. By indexing — storing and organizing online content in a database — they essentially made it possible for users to find what they were looking for in an ever-more-sprawling world of information on the internet.
Something similar is starting to arise with Web3: the next iteration of the World Wide Web, founded on the notions of decentralization and disintermediation, is going in the opposite direction.
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase and peer-to-peer payments platform Circle, for example, are well-established. But this provides the user with a choice: Should my wallet be centralized? Some will say yes, some no; both are right. The fact is, centralization is happening, and it provides users with freedom of choice and simplicity.
The Blockchain Innovation Challenge
It’s easy to get distracted when it comes to the possibilities of Web3 and blockchain data. Cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens and smart contracts have drawn a lot of attention, but there are many other areas that will benefit from innovation — healthcare, real estate, IoT, cybersecurity, music, identity management and logistics, to name a few.
Again, it’s similar to the advent of Web 1.0 and 2.0. The possibilities were essentially limitless, but, at the start of each new phase of the web, people were restricted by their imaginations. Even if imagination isn’t a problem, innovating and building Web3 applications brings its own set of challenges. Building a product on blockchain data is laborious and complicated.
For one thing, much of the data out there isn’t available to developers in real-time, and it’s expensive. Blockchains are decentralized and immutable, but require a great deal of expertise to navigate. This isn’t something a developer wants to grapple with.
Blockchains also require a great deal of expertise to navigate. Something like pulling all the metadata associated with an NFT or the ERC20 transfer history requires a variety of different RPC and API calls.
You can quickly rack up costs if you use a node-as-a-service provider, or you might be forced to run your own node, which is a painful, complicated process.
There has to be a simpler, cheaper way for developers to build on blockchain data.
Astra Block: Kill the Blockchain Pain
To unlock the potential innovation that can be created with blockchain data, developers need access to reliable blockchain data with real-time query capability.
The blockchains are a new global dataset. The need to capture, index, store and query a similarly huge global data set (the web, in this case) is exactly what set in motion the innovations at Google that resulted in the creation of NoSQL.
A lightbulb came on for us at DataStax. After all, Apache Cassandra, the open source database on which we’ve built our managed service DataStax Astra DB, is one of the fastest, most reliable NoSQL databases around.
We set out to understand whether we could offer a live copy of the Ethereum data set, update it fast and use, like Google did, a globally distributed database that’s optimized for query performance to provide queries with very little latency against this data set.
Astra Block, a new capability of Astra DB, enables developers to easily clone the entire Ethereum blockchain dataset to an Astra DB instance for Web3 applications. With this real-time access to blockchain data, developers can query it as often as they want, they can build apps, alerts, games — whatever they can dream up — without the need to stand up their own infrastructure or struggle with the complexities of pulling the data directly.
Getting applications into production quickly is always a priority for developers. The expertise required to deftly navigate blockchain data shouldn’t get in the way of building Web3 apps and managing the lightning-fast queries they require.
Learn more about DataStax Astra Block.