In a private discussion with Noagendamarket, we stumbled across what we feel might be the perfect identifying (eg, intrinsic use value) for a system like bitcoin. As mentioned in some other posts, typically the only industries that one can think of which truly value decentralization, anonymity, etc are porn, gambling, and drugs. These are not mainstream friendly industries
However, what Noagendamarket and I realized is that there is a perfect industry in dire need of something like bitcoin...and it's been under our noses the whole time! Drum roll please: education!
While education (and I'll speak more to this in a bit) is the overall industry, the actual product/service that I think bitcoin would be perfect for is an educational escrow and digital title service. Think about it, with advances in cryptography (digital certificates) and a decentralized, yet publicly audit-able system like bitcoin, it's the perfect combination to start building a true free-market in education! The service I'm proposing would remain completely content/course agnostic and be purely responsible for escrowing an internal educational currency (bitcoins) and proof-of-learning certificates (digital certs) between students and teachers.
First let's talk about the escrow service. IMO, as long as there is a teacher and a student willing to pay that teacher we have a market. While I do not propose to know the outcome of a pure free market, I can speculate that a free market in learning would have some serious improvements over the current educational landscape. For example, I'm not a cryptographer. Most of what I know about encryption and hashing I have either learned from these forums or I have merely read about. That being said, if Satoshi himself offered to teach an online class on cryptography I would be ecstatic. At a very basic level, I envision the following:
- A mentor/teacher lists some information about a course that he would like to teach to any customers
- Additionally, if the market has not given the teacher enough brand equity (reputation) yet, the teacher can post a teacher's deposit in escrow. In addition to paying their own student fees, students (and maybe other third party auditors) then would decide how much of the teacher's deposit he "earned back"
- Students could bid on slots in the course.
- Courses could be as short as one test (multiple choice reading comprehension) or as long as a couple years, on any subject. It doesn't matter. Reputation of courses/teachers will be reflected in prices and popularity.
- Anyone can be a teacher! Anyone can be a student!
- The market might figure out a better mechanism...this is just an example
Example: I want to teach Calculus. I have no formal teaching credential from the state, but I sure as hell could teach someone calculus over the internet. In fact, I'm so confident in my ability to teach you calculus, that I will even match your student fee 100%. That means that at the end of the course, you would get to decide how much of my "deposit" I get back. If I turn soft and just pass you without teaching you the material, you might give me all of my deposit back...but my reputation as a teacher (and therefore the price I can earn per course) will surely suffer. Additionally, no third party curriculum agency would vouch for me.
Essentially this results in a system where all parties have something on the line, in a good way. Teachers are truly investing in their students. Similarly, students are investing in their teachers. It's a win-win. Poor teachers would be weeded out, and logically so would (and should) incapable students (or they will merely take different classes that they will do well in....the market will adapt).
So, many of you may be thinking to yourself, "how will teachers make sure that their students are qualified?" or "what about unqualified rich students who just keep buying their slots in classes?." The answer to this, lies on the "digital title company" side of the proposal.
When a student completes a course (to the teacher's satisfaction) he is awarded a digital certificate of completion. Similar to the bitcoin blockchain, I envision this as a pseudonymous publicly auditable asset that the student owns from that day forward. Of course, as the market evolves there would be curriculum committees, and other auditing committees that would help teachers build a brand, maintain grading standards, etc. Depending on how the market evolves, the certificate of completion (eg proof-of-work) might actually be signed and awarded by a committee rather than the teacher himself. Additionally, now the foundation would be layed for pre-requisite certificates. For any course that a teacher wants to teach, he could list pre-requisites (certificates) that the students must possess first.
The bottom line, IMO is that we could utilize the properties of bitcoin (opensource, decentralized, auditable, pseudonymous, etc) to develop the first platform for a true free market in learning. This would probably be popular with homeschoolers and corporations alike because they can play directly into the market, rather than sit on the sidelines observing bureaucrats screw it all up
I hope I have done an ok job explaining how I think this could be the industry identifier necessary to get bitcoin over the hump and into mainstream. If I have not, please let me know and I'll give examples of how it could work.
I would love some feed back on this, because I'm very much considering trying it (startup, business plan, try to get funding, etc). I realize that the "title" aspect of it is outside of bitcoin's current scope, so that is something that would be developed separately. However, is bitcoin currently capable of handling complicated escrow payments and such (multiple signatures necessary to release escrow)?
Looking forward to hearing what you guys think.