I really can’t wait for the day when all these consortium/permissioned/private so-called blockchain initiatives will finally be recognized for what they are: a huge pile of over-designed overkill crap!

But in the meantime, everyday, I’m frustrated a little bit more by those initiatives that just suck time and money away from the the projects that would need them so desperately. It’s becoming painful. The last example of that phenomenon is the French retail group Carrefour.

After recently announcing they would fire 2400 employees and instead invest 2.8 billion euros in their digital transition, they made another big announcement, saying they had developed the first blockchain for food traceability of its kind, to track chicken. And as always, every news outlet jumped on the occasion to insert the b-word in their titles, hoping for views and clicks and shares by the millions. And I was eagerly waiting for one of them to ask the real question to Carrefour: “but… what kind of blockchain”.

And this morning, I found the answer in Numerama (FR). Let me translate the relevant passage of the article:

We are based on an open source blockchain, Ethereum, in version 1.7+ to be exact, deployed privately for members of the consortium. Carrefour does not plan to use any crypto-currency: our ambition is to trace all the information as it flows. (Emmanuel Delerme, Chief Innovation Project Manager for Carrefour)

So apparently they are using the Ethereum implementation itself, not the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance implementation with its Quorum consensus algorithm, which I deduce based on the version number. Which also means that they do use a proof-of-work consensus algorithm, which does require some crypto-currency, but it’s fake Ether, only usable by users of their private network.

And all of that is even more silly in several regards:

First of all, their solution is incredibly complex with regards to the problem they are trying to solve. Each member of their consortium will need its own wallet, with fake ether on it, in order to be able to pay for the gas needed to write something into the blockchain. Or even worse, Carrefour themselves are centralizing those write operations and the corresponding wallet, and they are simply exposing an API or a web interface for members to use, which would be even more ludicrous. Couldn’t they achieve the exact same purpose with a good old database, some webservices and/or a good web app? Heck, with that kind of thing, they would even be able to add some mobile apps to the mix, to ease tracking steps in locations where they are easier to use than a computer.

Second of all, such an initiative would have been the perfect opportunity for some transparency, which consumers would have appreciated after all the recent salmonella, egg and milk scandals. If they had used the Ethereum public chain, consumers would have been able to track goods themselves, directly, with the assurance that the information was reliable and had not been tampered with. But here, members of the consortium can do whatever they want with transactions, they can fork back, change history, and lie. It’s just like before with Lactalis and others, only more hype and more newsworthy.

Again, it’s not the first time I complain about that kind of project. It just drives me mad to see that kind of pointless attempt at doing old stuff with new toys without considering architectural relevance. And if it was juste a waste of money and resources, even though they fired 2400 people in part to finance this BS, it would be almost OK.

But right here, right now, I’m writing this in a hotel room in Paris, in the middle of EthCC, the Ethereum Community Conference in Paris, that gathers a huge Ethereum crowd to discuss all the under-staffed challenges that developers have to tackle, from scalability to security while maintaining privacy and decentralization. So much work to be done, and so many resources wasted on that kind of dead ends. It’s sad, really!

Airplanes on highways…

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Sébastien Arbogast
Développeur passionné et indépendant, entrepreneur dans l’âme et apprenti visionnaire, je suis toujours à l’affût de ces technologies qui vont bouleverser le monde et nos sociétés. Consultant depuis plus de 12 ans, je me suis récemment lancé à la conquête de la blockchain, je donne des conférences et des formations sur le sujet (notamment en ligne sur Udemy). A côté de ça je suis curieux de plein de choses: la conquête spatiale, la moto, la musique électronique, les hippocampes albinos ambidextres… plein de choses.