Facebook is pushing into the digital currency business with Libra, which it plans to launch in the first half of 2020. The social network won’t have total control over this new cryptocurrency; instead, it’s part of a group of “founding members” that include Visa, Uber, and other companies and venture-capital firms that will handle Libra’s “validator nodes.”
Facebook has published a whitepaper that breaks down Libra’s technical design, and there’s already an excellent article on Medium that dissects how the “coin” is different and similar to Bitcoin and Ethereum. The key takeaway here is that Libra is controlled from the top-down; it’s not really decentralized like Bitcoin, and it doesn’t leverage blockchain in the same way as other cryptocurrencies. (Unlike other crypto-coins, it’s also backed by “real assets,” in the form of a basket of “regular” currencies and other assets.)
For developers and tech professionals, Libra might not prove all that interesting (unless you opt to use it to pay for services, that is); however, Facebook is also releasing a programming language for the Libra “blockchain,” called Move, that could have some fascinating uses. Here’s a bit from Facebook’s Move whitepaper:
“Move is an executable bytecode language used to implement custom transactions and smart contracts. The key feature of Move is the ability to define custom resource types with semantics inspired by linear logic: a resource can never be copied or implicitly discarded, only moved between program storage locations.”
And another key passage:
“First-class resources are a very general concept that programmers can use not only to implement safe digital assets but also to write correct business logic for wrapping assets and enforcing access control policies. The safety and expressivity of Move have enabled us to implement significant parts of the Libra protocol in Move, including Libra coin, transaction processing, and validator management.”
Smart contracts and traceable transactions could have an enormous impact on nearly all aspects of business; using Move to develop some kind of platform that facilitates that contracting and tracking could prove insanely lucrative. Although the emergence of blockchain technology has promised smart contracting for some time, the latter hasn’t managed to hit the mainstream (despite some use cases from Oracle and other firms). With Move, there’s a higher likelihood that more developers will develop products with blockchain-style underpinnings.
However, there’s also every chance that Facebook will attempt to lay a heavy hand on the Libra and Move ecosystem, which could make things restrictive for developers who want to leverage these platforms for their own ends.
Only time will tell whether Move is truly open and flexible enough for various uses. At least for now, Facebook is suggesting that developers will have the ability to do lots with its cryptocurrency. From the Libra whitepaper:
“The Libra Blockchain will be open to everyone — any consumer, developer, or business can use the Libra network, build products on top of it, and add value through their services. Open access ensures low barriers to entry and innovation and encourages healthy competition that benefits consumers.”
But just wait until some developer builds an app that allows questionable legal activity, payable in Libra—then we’ll see whether Facebook and its partners are truly big on “low barriers to entry and innovation.”
Meanwhile, tech professionals are also optimistic about the possibilities of blockchain. In a survey from last May, some 24 percent of tech professionals told Dice that cryptocurrency was a proof-of-concept for blockchain, and 42 percent saw cryptocurrency itself as “the future of money.” Whatever Facebook does, there’s every chance that the tech industry will continue to experiment in this arena.