Taking Blockchain Seriously

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One of the benefits of the crypto currency market decline in prices over the last few months is that we are less burdened and distracted by the kind of manic pronouncements one both sides of the table. You don’t hear quite as as much of the likes of high-profile nonagenarians proclaiming that bitcoin is like trading “freshly harvested baby brains!” Nor do you hear as many prognostications from swooning European bank analysts like “$100K per bitcoin by December 2018!!”

Bitcoin’s stall aside, the ICO phenomenon appears to be steaming ahead, with, as reported by Business Insider, more than $13 Billion raised in the first five months alone, which has essentially dwarfed all of 2017 – itself a banner year. So it appears that interest in the space has by no means waned. It has changed, however, with more massive deals (Telegram at $1.7 Billion, EOS at $4 Billion), and with less investment going to smaller projects, and (we can only hope), far less money going to outright scams, since ICO investors seem a bit more skeptical this year than last. And we do see slow and steady work on the Compliance front, with SEC actions against true criminals, and with the FINMA token classifications earlier this year, and other decisions leading toward what might be a somewhat brighter (and clearer?) future.

Earlier this year, a headline-grabbing report suggested that 80% of ICO’s in 2017 were “scams.” That headline is a bit of an oversimplification of the report itself, and the good news of that report was that 70% of the money raised in 2017 didn’t go to those questionable projects. Still, it’s disturbing that as much as $3 Billion could have been essentially stolen from naive investors. Then there’s the news that nearly all of the “ICO rating” sites are biased – perhaps something most of us instinctively knew – and one begins to wonder whether there could be a sector that is more rife with fraud and foolishness.

So between the Baby Brainers, the Mooners, and the Scammers, I’m sorry to say that I’m faintly embarrassed by all of this, because to someone who has not looked very carefully at the underlying technology – and those of us who count ourselves as passionate about this should remember that  this is STILL the vast majority of serious people on this planet – the steady stream of information around this entire vertical space seems like a freak show.  It’s just hard for common folk to take it seriously. And especially hard to take seriously by those that don’t really understand how blockchain works, and therefore can’t appreciate the potential. I understand where they are coming from … the technical aspects can be a little daunting, and we don’t have a LOT of voices out there standing between technology and business, attempting to translate concepts.

When I speak with non-blockchain people now, in September of 2018, about the technology, the ICO market, and various projects, I get a sense that from their perspective, the decline in price and media circus show has somehow invalidated the sector altogether. Many of them have moved on. Yes, we can say “…their loss …” but it’s nevertheless not a great thing.

So what is to be done? I believe that the best way for us to rectify this willful ignorance displayed by the many is for each of us –  those of us inside the sector — to make some small change in our approach. A small step to a more sober analysis, perhaps. I personally believe in tools. So for my part, I spent a decent part of this year taking a break from the podcast ICO 41 to create some software to to help me make better sense of the chaos that is the current state of affairs in blockchain and crypto currency. The software is called KryptoTrak, and it provides support for serious analysis of blockchain projects. With tools like this, where findings and conclusions can be converted into useful and quantifiable data points, we can form and document our own careful analyses, and keep track of our own conclusions, rather than relying on questionable third-parties. And my other small thing will be through the podcast. In my return to ICO 41, I intend to take a much more skeptical view to projects, and also to be a bit more discerning. In fact, I’ve decided to not cover an ICO until the project is actually underway and in development. No more coverage of “upcoming ICO’s” because I frankly don’t wish to be part of the marketing hype, and in the year of analysis I have done, it appears that many teams behave quite differently before they raise the millions than they do afterward. I’ve decided that I would rather speak to someone who is building now, than someone who is hoping to raise money to build something in the future. These are my small contributions to the concept of taking it all a little bit more seriously.

There are some great resources out there. A podcast that started in July of this year named Bitgenstein’s Table is an example. As we meet people who are not well-versed in the space, it’s our job to teach them the fundamentals and help prevent them from being distracted by the manic silliness that is endemic to blockchain and crypto currencies.  Maybe we should all keep such a “Blockchain Beginner’s Toolkit” that can be handed out easily and at will. This could take the shape of a sticky blog post or a page on a website, and it could feature a curated list of resources. (I may start on that today, now that I think of it … )

One of the toughest things to do is raise kids. Especially when they become teenagers. You SO WANT them to succeed, to be better than you were when you were a kind, and so you do every little thing you can, hoping that your small actions can have some overall affect over their evolution through life. It’s kind of the way I feel about blockchain.

What small or large thing will you do to help blockchain and crypto grow up?