The Graph Is the Blockchain’s Decentralized Answer for Disparate Data

Blockchain technology ranks among the greatest breakthroughs in transparency, collaboration, and democratization. It represents the promise not just of decentralized and disintermediated finance, but data and insight. 

There’s one great irony about blockchain technology, though — many of its proponents call it “decentralized”, even as it relies on deeply centralized services. Outages on major blockchains-facing apps such as MetaMask can, and do, happen from time-to-time — and even whole blockchains, such as Solana, can go down for hours. 

To the layperson, those might not sound like particularly consequential things – after all, websites and apps do go down, too. But in the grand scheme of things, they are existential threats to blockchain’s great potential. 

What’s the point of a blockchain if everything is centralized? Maybe all the fancy phrases and semantics – “proof of stake”, “51% attack”, and “ZK rollup” come to mind – will make us feel fancy and smart, but if foundational technology isn’t used in groundbreaking ways, we might as well do it the way it always has been done.

We can telling ourselves that we’re somehow sticking it to the man (you aren’t), are okay with paying gas fees (you aren’t), and that this technology is the future (it won’t be unless it matters.) That’s why truly decentralized tech — especially so-called “public services” by some blockchain proponents — is so crucial.

Sure, Bitcoin maxis might have a point when they say that their blockchain is immutable and uncensorable… you probably won’t be able to bring transactions to a standstill or attack the bitcoin network anytime soon. However, in 2022, we’re looking at a totally different ecosystem for crypto: it’s one which relies on hundreds of applications, tokens and assets, and blockchains. 

There are, of course, centralized options to help you unlock this wealth of knowledge — and platforms which are dedicated to helping investors and maxis make sense of it. However, there’s also a shockingly simple decentralized alternative to sourcing blockchain data. It’s also probably one that even the crypto-skeptic might have some familiarity with…

It’s called The Graph. It’s one piece of infrastructure which powers and connects the vast ecosystem of decentralized apps and blockchains. Though dapps – and their wealth of data and insight – exist in their own boxes, The Graph exists as a database which connects the data from thousands of disparate projects and protocols. 

We took some time to chat with Eva Beylin, Director of The Graph Foundation, and Brian Berman, Marketing at Edge and Node (the formal entity/company which helps develop and maintain The Graph) about what makes The Graph one of crypto’s most important public services.

“The Graph organizes blockchain data, making it easier for anyone — mostly developers — to access that data for their applications,” said Beylin. “And usually that data is used to surface rich activity, historical data, or real-time information across centralized and decentralized applications and DAOs.”

“It makes it significantly faster to build an application without centralized infrastructure which could run into downtime or poor user experiences,” said Berman. “It’s a supercharger for dapps and makes it easier to see what’s going on on the blockchain and make it digestible.”

Berman adds that the open-source APIs, called subgraphs, help developers create frontends to display blockchain data. Protocols, projects, or DAOs can set up subgraphs for their own project – and then developers can query these subgraphs, which are essentially project-specific databases on The Graph’s network.

Think of The Graph as the root directory on your computer – like C:\ or D:\. The subgraphs are the directories which lie under those root directories. UMA, Sushi, Audius, and other projects are just a few of the subgraphs which exist on The Graph’s decentralized infrastructure.

However, to receive and serve that data, members of The Graph ecosystem actually must participate to decentralize it. They can choose to index subgraphs (as an Indexer), curate subgraphs (as a Curator), or delegate tokens (as a Delegator). All of these participants are benefactors when consumers, protocols, and other members of the ecosystem actually query the indexes they have built. 

Ultimately, the $GRT utility token is the jewel that empowers The Graph ecosystem.

“Your capital can work for you, you can provide value to protocols without being an engineer,” Beylin said. “That looks like staking your GRT in the protocol and becoming a delegator on an indexer [which means you think they’re reliable sources for ingesting data] or on subgraphs [(for specific protocols or APIs.]”

Beylin adds that, in exchange for staking your $GRT, you earn rewards. “It isn’t a static role; it almost directly competes with speculation, which is not a value-add, by using your assets to contribute to the web3 economy.” Beylin added.

True to its form, both Beylin and Berman talk a lot about The Graph’s role as a “public good.” It’s not a multi-billion dollar startup with financial interests, but a product that serves developers and other blockchain participants. They also have an  Advocate program, which helps people to “learn and contribute to The Graph community and web3 mission.”

“In my mind, public goods in the context of crypto or web3 is synonymous with open and permissionless,” Beylin said. “It means that some kind of protocol or infrastructure that anyone can access, as a public good would be in our real world.”

Beylin adds that the decentralized nature of The Graph, and its participants, run counter to the nature of web2. “In web2, issues are caused by centralized, proprietary infrastructure, or closed APIs or gated (malicious) activities.” Ultimately, participation is an important element in The Graph, but its a feature which makes it a name synonymous with “blue chip status” among both developers and crypto investors.

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