Since cryptocurrency cultists began buzzing about bitcoin years ago, they’ve hinted that bitcoin’s technology might have much bigger implications than the ability to just move around digital coins. As Bitcoin startups become fintech’s latest craze, these kinds of applications are starting to rear their head in the startup community.
Blocksign, a startup that launches this morning, is using bitcoin’s giant records database, the Blockchain, to build an entirely un-financial application. Their service lets you sign legally binding documents and agreements in the same system that keeps all records of bitcoin transactions.
This had obvious customers in finance and law, but this could also be helpful for anyone who needs proof they signed something. If you had, say, a lease agreement with some sketchy landlord, and you’re afraid he might try to lie about it or hide it later, the entire bitcoin community can back you up.
“It’s simpler than anything anything else in the space, it’s more trustworthy, and it’s more cost effective,” Blocksign’s Nicholas Thorne told Betabeat.
Cost effective and trustworthy might be right, but “simpler” is a stretch. After all, bitcoin tech isn’t something that many people even have a fleeting grasp of.
The service uses bitcoin’s Blockchain, which, simply put, is a big record book of information that is kept in thousands of locations at once. Anyone can host a copy of the Blockchain, meaning that you can’t simply take it down, and each copy is constantly referencing all other copies to ensure the records match up for accuracy.
This is the ledger where Blocksign puts the record of your signed contract.
The service works by logging in, uploading a document, and putting it through a process that digitally signs your document and creates a “hash.” A hash is a string of 32 characters that represents a cryptographic fingerprint of some file or transaction. Then that hash is recorded in the Blockchain.
To be clear, Blocksign isn’t necessarily a safe way to store documents themselves. Your Blocksign account can hold documents behind some password protection if you choose, but it’s mostly up to you to keep the originals secure. Blocksign is simply a way to safely record that an agreement was reached, and make sure that record is on the books and easily reachable.
Blocksign takes a big risk building an entire company on Bitcoin, considering that no one knows what the cards hold for BTC and the Blockchain. A separate Blockchain could be built and become more popular, or people could abandon bitcoin technologies altogether. But Mr. Thorpe put together Blocksign, like any good bitcoin evangelist — on unabated faith in the system.
“When we’ve looked at the future of cryptocurrency,” Mr. Thorne said, “we’re of the opinion that the Blockchain will win.”