Cardstack – Decentralised Full-Stack Application Framework

March 2018
By Sam
Posted: Updated:

Cardstack is an open-source framework and consensus protocol that makes blockchains usable and scalable for mass market adoption, creating a decentralised full-stack application framework built around users.  Their mission is to build an economically sustainable decentralised software ecosystem, no longer based on centralised platforms in vertical channels. For makers, it fairly rewards them for development contributions and for users, it creates a cohesive user experience (CUE) that delivers flexibly designed application layers.

The Opportunity

Blockchain needs a “full stack” application framework to reach mainstream users. The current application silos create three problems:

  • Mobile Silos: One App per Screen – The App Store era turns software features into standalone native apps, which do not, as a rule, communicate with each other and require users to choose between multiple overlapping features to form their workflows.   As a result, most mobile users settle on a small number of apps (< 5) for daily use. Many of these are supported by advertising and silo personal data.
  • Cloud Silos: One Subscription per App – As software moves to the cloud, users need to manage multiple subscriptions to cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products and choose the right plan to optimise costs for necessary features.  The monthly subscription model has taken over and helps to meet the ongoing cost of developing and maintaining software. Most small businesses need 5-10 apps to operate; large businesses need many more. Each app requires separate login details, payment structure, passwords, etc. which creates unnecessary repetitive admin and costly monthly outgoings to pay for multiple applications.
  • Emerging Blockchain Silos:  One Token per App – With the emergence of the blockchain economy, decentralised apps (dApps) will exacerbate the silo problem by requiring users to acquire and manage utility tokens for each service within their ‘decentralised’ software stack.  The possible innovations created by decentralised ecosystems is very real. However, there is also the risk of fragmentation whereby users need different app coins for different smart-contract platforms on different blockchain protocols with different user interfaces and different peer-to-peer requirements.  This level of complexity will only increase as the blockchain economy continues to mature and develop.

Cardstack takes these vertical silos and reorients them to horizontal layers allowing native apps, cloud apps, and blockchain dApps to form a future software stack combining the best qualities of each approach.

The Solution

Cardstack centralises users as the driving force behind application design.  Currently, users are making these layers work together by creating practical solutions to get trades or deals done, using complex multistep processes across layers. Cardstack will allow users to customise their interactions across the dApps they use. It will put users at the centre, acting as their own hub, so that interactions with applications and services flow through a software stack controlled by users.

Cardstack turns each application or service into a ‘card’. These cards can be used to visually break down complex user interfaces and workflow into manageable pieces which can exist on top of multiple cloud and blockchain environments.  The cards become the primary unit of interaction between users and competing services which run locally on your device, in the cloud, or on a blockchain. Each service fulfils a specific user need, and more importantly, users UNCHAIN their legacy data from centralised platforms.  Each card can stand alone or work with other apps. Cardstack enables progressive decentralisation through its card architecture by keeping the same user interface and familiar workflow structures while enabling the transactions behind these to transition from cloud services to blockchain when these systems are ready for use.  

Cardstack’s software and protocols are architected to enable developers to deploy their card-based experiences to the web and reach users where they are today, using the same code across on-ramps.  Acting as the orchestrator of the user’s workflow, Cardstack Hub relays the user’s commands to the right data systems and constantly listens for changes, while building a consistent, query-driven view of reality. The dApps built on this common foundation can work seamlessly to serve users. Configurations across dApps, the data and content they manage, can now be made consistent.

The ‘cards’ in motion system creates a unique advantage as a user interface paradigm: it is instinctive from a UI perspective for the user. The value of the card ecosystem will increase exponentially when the pre-built cards are combined by end users to organise decentralised networks without writing any new code.  

Token-driven application contracts will allow multiple DApps to pool resources and let users mix and match features to meet their needs, while the reward function allocates funds through a network-wide reward pool.  The pool analyses the usage data, to determine fair allocations of tokens as compensation for makers and miners.


End users and contributors can acquire Cardstack Tokens (CARD) during the Token Generating Event or afterwards through peer-to-peer transactions. CARD tokens are converted into Software & Services Coupons (SSC), which are sent to an app contract to establish the retainer agreement. Converted CARD tokens are locked in a reward pool until the next reward allocation cycle, which is triggered by a block-based timer. When a user starts using the applications, usage data is collected and periodically reported to the app contract, as proof that a user has redeemed a portion of the retainer. The redemption history, other aggregated data sets and statistical analysis helps the network-wide reward pool smart contract determine a fair attribution and allocation of rewards to makers and miners in the Cardstack ecosystem.


Having spent three years developing their open source protocol, Cardstack has started with Why and then built the HOW behind their ecosystem.  They should be congratulated on their detailed analysis of the ecosystem, its economic model, incentivisation for participants and the tokenmetrics behind its CARD token.  One could argue that they have in many ways created a general token based on utility for their ecosystem and beyond; challenging the current specific token approach adopted by the majority of ICOs.  

I would argue user interface and its design has driven all great innovations within the internet economy to date.  However, user adoption tends to be driven by the fact that the app or system streamlines a process, or makes a transaction simple for the user, whether they be an individual, a small business or a corporation. Technology adoption continues to be driven by the quest to reduce costs (fewer people to do the same work) and increase productivity by automating tasks; thereby reducing the time it takes to complete business processes.  I am not sure that users necessarily need the user interface to remain constant to buy-in to Web 3.0; what matters is the streamlining of the process to achieve the same results in less time and to reduce the number of applications you need to run your business or process efficiently.

We all have smartphones because they enable us to do almost anything with one device, more quickly than we could before.  If Cardstack can streamline the process for users to code, create and run sustainable, relevant application workflows based on their needs, without the need to write new code, it truly will revolutionise how we use applications in our digital lives.  Cardstack also rewards all participants for their contributions to the ecosystem through algorithmic reward modelling and staking for users, makers and miners.

Getting individual users to come on board is the easy part of platform adoption, getting SaaS providers to give up centralised control of their data silos while still providing services, is a whole other ballgame.   If they can deliver their roadmap, it will put users back at the centre of application design and completely transform how we use applications and our own data in the future.

By CeAnn Simpson


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