How OpenChat and the Internet Computer Are Decentralizing Online Communication

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Online communication tools are convenient, but they also come at the cost of privacy and transparency. Building truly decentralized applications is the next frontier waiting to be conquered. OpenChat, a web-based messaging dapp that runs end-to-end on the Internet Computer blockchain, introduces a WhatsApp-like experience with the promise of exciting new features. 

OpenChat launched this past June and already has a user base of over 45,000 individuals. It confirms the need for secure and decentralized communication alternatives to data-harvesting companies and intermediaries.

Never Compromise On Privacy

Using an online communication or messaging tool is convenient. It allows anyone to stay in touch with friends or family, as millions of users use the popular platforms. Products like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others are prevalent, yet they also have multiple pitfalls.

Users may not know whether their account details, personal information, device identifiers, and other data are being accessed by third parties. Why that information is stored and how companies will use it are also a mystery. Such tools erode user privacy in favor of revenue-generating practices.

The time has come to look toward decentralized communications solutions. One such contender is OpenChat, a solution built on the decentralized Internet Computer network.

Why OpenChat Matters

On OpenChat, the design principle is to have no central party capable of storing data, let alone accessing it. OpenChat is implemented using software “canisters” — advanced autonomous smart contracts — to ensure secure chat transmission and communication. Whereas most conventional dapps run their front-end websites on the cloud, OpenChat operates entirely on-chain.

These smart contracts are fast enough to transmit messages and serve HTTP requests, delivering interactive user experiences to browsers with minimal latency. Unlike other blockchains, the Internet Computer also enables smart contracts to scale efficiently, allowing OpenChat (which is currently available in limited Alpha release) to scale to millions of users over time while maintaining a smooth and frictionless experience. 

What’s more, canister smart contracts pay for their own computation. Holding crypto is unnecessary for end users to engage with a web-based dapp like OpenChat — there’s no need to use something like MetaMask to bundle crypto to pay for interactions. The average user can operate on OpenChat free of charge. This type of web-based service functioning entirely on a blockchain simply wasn’t possible before the Internet Computer.

OpenChat will soon implement a “disappearing messages” option as well as end-to-end encryption for private chats without compromises — an approach that will extend beyond communication. Because the dapp is created through smart contracts, OpenChat can be combined with decentralized finance (DeFi), allowing users to send crypto transactions to one another in the same secure environment. Accounts can function as wallets, and users can pay one another via chat. 

Recently approved proposals for the Internet Computer to directly integrate with the Bitcoin network and for canister smart contracts to transfer ICP tokens signal that OpenChat will soon offer users exciting tokenized features. This presents a model for how Web 3.0 integrations are evolving DeFi by weaving it into web-based products and services.

A Few Unique Features

OpenChat uses the Internet Identity cryptographic authentication system, abandoning conventional usernames and passwords in favor of allowing the dapp’s users to authenticate into it using a device like a laptop or a smartphone. This conveniently enables a user to authenticate using a device’s biometric login, such as a fingerprint sensor or a Face ID, or a security key like a YubiKey. More importantly, everyone can do so anonymously, introducing an extra privacy layer.

Additionally, the OpenChat team is preparing to open source the code and relinquish control, letting its user community control the dapp as an “open internet service” through decentralized governance. This model is analogous to the Network Nervous System (NNS), a tokenized autonomous governance mechanism that organizes and manages the Internet Computer’s nodes, subnets, rules, and upgrades. Individuals and entities can stake ICP utility tokens into NNS “neurons,” which allow them to submit and vote on proposals to change the Internet Computer Protocol or its features.

Autonomous governance for Internet Computer dapps will involve a forthcoming tokenization network upgrade that allows developers to derive a “service nervous system” from the NNS along with a ledger of governance tokens. Control of OpenChat would be assigned to the service nervous system; the autonomous dapp would distribute OpenChat governance tokens to users, who would then stake and use them to direct decision-making to govern OpenChat and evolve the dapp’s infrastructure.

Conclusion

OpenChat is the first communication tool of its kind to leverage decentralization across every aspect, but it goes further than just applying blockchain technology to chat. It demonstrates the potential of a new class of Web 3.0 dapps that can incorporate DeFi and other advanced functions into efficient, web-based systems, as well as the promise of tokenized governance for global participation — ushering in a new era of open internet services unlike the world has ever seen.


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