What does a government document look like when it’s put on the blockchain?

Well, it looks a lot like a regular, old government document.

That’s the case in South Burlington, Vt., at least. The city, which is running a pilot project with the company Propy, has received its first ever blockchain-recorded property deed.

It’s the same as any other property deed, except that at the end of the legalese there’s a long string of letters and numbers followed by a QR code, both of which any person can use to find the property deed’s location on the Ethereum blockchain.

Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, much like Bitcoin and Monero, that runs on the decentralized public ledger technology called blockchain. Aside from supporting cryptocurrency, blockchain technology can also be used to record information such as transactions — from a government standpoint, that could mean things such as property deeds, citizen payments and the supply chain of procured items.

The string of letters and numbers, called a hash, is essentially the name of the location of the information in the blockchain.

The South Burlington-Propy pilot, a fairly low-key endeavor compared to some other government pilots of emerging technology, is a simple test of using a new technology to record property changing hands. That documentation is already the function of the South Burlington City Clerk’s Office, but blockchain technology could possibly enhance the existing process if it were used consistently:

Because it’s publicly available online, it’s transparent. It’s inherently digital, so it might run faster than a paper-based system. It’s designed for security, so it could protect against property scammers. Propy is a company that allows remote buyers to purchase property using a platform built on blockchain technology. City Clerk Donna Kinville said her office didn't do anything differently when processing the Propy deed; the company oversaw the blockchain recording.

It's likely that a lot of government blockchain applications could also be accomplished with minimal disruption to existing systems. After all, blockchain is simply a means of recording information — that can be done by taking in information in whatever format a government already has it. For example, the elections company Voatz can work with paper-based ballot systems simply by recording voting information onto its own blockchain.

If government were to start using blockchain for its own internal processes, that's where agencies might have to start doing more heavy technological lifting.