Tech giants are getting into blockchain. This year we’ve seen Facebook’s long-awaited stablecoin, Microsoft is helping companies like Starbucks get “on the blockchain,” Amazon is quietly building its own coin and Twitter has been tentatively hiring blockchain engineers. Google meanwhile, while keeping its hand close to its chest, has been quietly pondering its move into the space.
Since 2016, Google Cloud researchers have been quietly sticking their fingers inside blockchains and indexing public crypto datasets on Ethereum and other major platforms, for the search giant’s big-data analytics platform BigQuery.
BigQuery allows large swathes of data from multiple blockchains to be correlated and analyzed. The datasets have been used to develop processes such as profit sharing, characterizing network participants, and detecting software vulnerabilities and malware.
Through BigQuery, slowly but steadily—as is its way—Google is amassing an immense depth of knowledge about the inner workings of blockchains, with a view to servicing the hundreds of thousands of clients it believes will want to introduce the technology. And it has determined that a smart contract is something they will want and need.
However, a smart contract without access to outside data is a wretched thing indeed. And equally sad is the lack of reliable oracle providers available to securely plug smart contracts into data sources outside the blockchain. But there is one.
Last week, Google quietly announced a partnership with the gold standard in the business, decentralized oracle provider Chainlink. The pairing promises to deliver a raft of goodies for developers, supercharging the building of tools that weren’t previously possible.
Chainlink will act as the “middleware” between smart contracts and Google’s real-world data, and provide a secure on and off ramp for the outside information they need.
“At a high level, Ethereum Dapps (i.e. smart contract applications) request data from Chainlink, which in turn retrieves data from a web service built with Google App Engine and BigQuery,” reads Google Cloud developer advocate Allen Day’s explanatory post (somewhat drily).
He adds that the Chainlink partnership will drive the development of hybrid blockchain/cloud applications. Examples of applications that will get a boost include prediction marketplaces, transaction privacy, and futures contracts.
In just one example, Day explains how data about on-chain activity—such as average gas prices—can be used to create smart contracts that provide payouts where gas prices rise too high.
While Google hopes (in a low-key kind of way) that development teams needing cloud services may be persuaded to buy into its “hybrid applications,” Chainlink fans and its CEO Sergey Nazarov were decidedly more enthusiastic.
“We're excited to be working with Google on their forward-looking view about what it takes to make smart contracts a widely used technology that powers our daily lives,” Nazarov told Decrypt. “The sooner smart contracts have secure access to useful data like Google's BigQuery data sets, the sooner they will reach their full potential.”
The announcement is the latest in a series of strategic partnerships Chainlink has formed since it raised some $32 million in its initial coin offering in 2017.
But OBVIOUSLY it’s Google that’s stolen the headlines. And we’ll hazard a guess that, while they’re largely subterranean in nature right now, more revelations about Google’s blockchain ambitions are not far off.