I recently published an article comparing Skycoin’s Skywire service to 17 potential competitors. The article generated considerable controversy on social media. In particular, members of the Elastos community argued their platform would deliver a superior decentralized internet solution, whereas I had concluded that Elastos is not really a competitor to Skycoin due to its very different objectives and approach.
So lets take a deeper dive into these two projects to learn more.
What is Skycoin?
Skycoin is a blockchain ecosystem with several integrated components.
What is Elastos?
Elastos is decentralized operating system for running DApps and hosting content on mobile and IOT devices. The Elastos Runtime Environment is a ‘middle man’ layer that isolates Elastos DApps from the World Wide Web. Elastos DApps will use Elastos Carrier to essentially ‘tunnel’ through the Internet and communicate with other Elastos DApps.
Elastos users will utilize the Trinity Browser to interact with content stored in the Elastos ecosystem. Development of Trinity is expected to be completed in Q4 2019, with support for Android and iOS devices. Windows, Mac and Linux may also be supported in the future. Trinity (and any future Elastos DApps) will only be able to interact with content that exists inside the Elastos ecosystem. It cannot see anything on the outside, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online banking sites, corporate websites etc.
This segregation from the outside world is by design, and is intended to protect the Elastos community from the hazards of the World Wide Web, such as malware, identity theft and copyright infringement. The Elastos Runtime Environment is essentially a closed sandbox, protected from the World Wide Web by Elastos Carrier. Trinity will prevent Elastos applications from accessing APIs or plugins that are not supported by the Runtime Environment.
Content on Elastos can’t be infected by malware, because a virus circulating outside the Elastos Runtime Environment will have no way of making its way inside. And users who establish an identity, or create content inside the Elastos ecosystem, can’t have that information stolen or plagiarized, because the originals will be linked to an immutable record on the Elastos blockchain.
Does Elastos compete with Skycoin?
Not really. There are superficial similarities — for example both platforms enable the creation of DApps, and both platforms employ a decentralized architecture. But that’s about it. The differences between the two platforms, in terms of infrastructure and accessibility, are far greater and more significant.
Skycoin is building a mesh network with nodes that can communicate directly with each other using antennas or cables, thus bypassing expensive, monopolistic, centralized ISPs and government-controlled infrastructure.
However Elastos is fully dependent on that same centralized infrastructure for communication between its own nodes.
So Skywire is decentralized at the physical transport layer, while Elastos is only decentralized logically.
The risk to Elastos is that governments and ISPs can block or monitor any traffic that relies on centralized infrastructure. This infrastructure can also be shut down by invading forces or natural disasters.
Skywire users will ultimately be able to ditch their costly Internet Service Providers and route all their traffic over the meshnet, with exit nodes from the Skywire meshnet to the World Wide Web being hosted in independent Colocation Centers. On the other hand, Elastos users will always need to continue paying for a local ISP connection.
Skywire integrates with the World Wide Web, while Elastos isolates itself from the web.
If an Elastos developer creates, for example, a web browser, then that browser will only be able to reach content that exists within the Elastos Runtime Environment — it would not be able to visit Facebook or Twitter. Likewise, someone searching on Google will never find Elastos content, because Google can’t see it.
There are certainly security benefits to building this type of closed sandbox. But the very thing that keeps Elastos content safe also hinders adoption. The World Wide Web is not going away, and even if Elastos developers create their own versions of Google and Facebook, it will be hard to persuade users to switch over to these closed platforms when they can’t interact with their friends and favorite websites on “the outside”.
Elastos wants its Runtime Environment to evolve into a new decentralized Internet, replacing the existing Internet. But it can’t do that while it relies on legacy Internet infrastructure, and while the world’s most popular websites exist outside the Elastos Runtime Environment. It’s difficult to imagine banks or government agencies or corporations moving their sites into the Elastos ecosystem where most people can’t reach them.
Elastos proponents argue that corporations will want to transition to Elastos to protect their systems from hacking and malware. But if security was their only concern they’d simply unplug their servers from the Internet. Of course they can’t do that, because then nobody could access them. But that’s essentially what moving to Elastos would entail.
The identity protection and copyright assurances of the Elastos platform also sound good at first glance. But this only prevents copies from being created inside the Elastos Runtime Environment. There’s nothing to prevent someone copying content from Elastos and uploading it to the outside world. If you can view something on a screen, or listen to audio, then you can also make a copy of it.
Skycoin’s approach is very different. Skywire nodes are carrier agnostic. They can be connected to multiple antennas and cables, and also to traditional ISPs for access to the World Wide Web. Games and applications developed on Skycoin CX, or content hosted on Skywire nodes, can be made accessible and discoverable to anyone with a normal Internet connection.
Skycoin developers are already building decentralized social media apps, messaging apps, and other popular applications similar to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Wikipedia, WhatsApp and YouTube. And anyone will be able to access these apps via their regular browser, just like any other website.
With Skywire, you’ll be able to grab a photo from Google Images and send it to your friend via Sky Messenger — something you couldn’t do with an Elastos Messenger because Elastos apps can’t interact with Google Images or with anything else outside the Elastos Runtime Environment.
Skycoin is building Skywire, a physical meshnet that circumvents centralized ISPs. Skywire enables users to create and interact with content that exists both on Skywire nodes and on the World Wide Web. Skywire-based apps and content will be available to everyone, but they’ll be hosted on decentralized infrastructure, free from government control. Skywire is a free, open, uncensorable, ISP-independent Internet service for the masses.
Elastos is building a decentralized operating system that protects users by segregating apps and content from the World Wide Web. While this is a commendable endeavor, it’s likely to attract only a niche community. It doesn’t have mass-market appeal due to its isolation from the outside world. How do you convince the mass of Internet users to move to a closed ecosystem, where their favourite applications don’t exist, and where any applications that do exist can’t interact with websites and content on the World Wide Web outside?
Elastos also relies on centralized ISPs to provide the physical transport layer. However, like all blockchain platforms, Elastos could run over Skywire infrastructure if the developers wish to achieve true decentralization. This would be an improvement, but obviously the “sandbox” problem would still remain.
Thus the conclusion from my original article stands. Skycoin and Elastos have very different architectures, objectives, and target markets. They cannot be considered competitors in the “decentralized Internet” space.