Chances are that in the last year you have heard of the words Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies. Most likely then you have also heard of their underlying technology: Blockchain. Considering that in 2017 startups have been able to raise millions in crypto-token sales (ICOs), sometimes without even clarifying whether they had a true working product behind them or not, you may have reacted with skepticism or even rejection to such mixture of hype and strange techy words.
When something has got so much hype as the market growing around such tech, how can we tell whether or not there is any substance behind it?
Before I answer this question I would like to say that among the various things I do for both passion and business there is software development. Now, as a software developer, I recently decided to explore what was really going on beneath the money-driven headlines and the jargon. What I found actually interested me.
After about a year of reading about and getting myself educated on the subject, I finally decided to invest money into Bitcoin and several other altcoins in July 2017. Last year was also a busy year for me though, with my property development company AGAPE Properties crunching through quite a few deals and several freelance software projects on the side, so I stopped short of actually trying to build something Blockchain related.
Eventually, though, I just could not resist getting my hands dirty with actual crypto-programming, so I took part in what’s probably going to be remembered as the biggest blockchain hackathon in London in 2018.
Here is what I have learned from this last chapter of my crypto-journey
1. It is NOT just about cryptocurrencies… Seriously.
I’m probably not the first person who says this, but I have to admit that going to a Blockchain Hackathon has really made me see this through.
First of all, because the project that my team and I came up with had nothing to do with money. Then, because being among the best performing teams (albeit not winning in the end :[ ) has allowed me to get a pass for the 3-day Conference that followed the Hackathon. This has meant meeting a huge crowd of serious programmers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, inventors, PRs, managers, bankers, hippies, and geeks, which fundamentally shifted my perception of the world around cryptos and blockchain.
Of course, Blockchain does have a big role in trying to disrupt Fintech, but the applications that are being developed around it are all but limited to this field. From weather forecast recording to healthcare supply chain management, from product origin tracking to (in the case of my Hackathon prototype) Credit Record scoring for unbanked people.
2. The crowd is genuinely fun
Walking around the rooms of the London Blockchain Week and meeting so many cool people has helped me drop a big fear I secretly had. The fear that a huge portion of blockchain and crypto startups and products could be ultimately filled with a bunch of sharks trying to eat as much profit as they can before running away with the money.
As a matter of fact, I was so positively surprised by coming across a crowd so diverse, unpretentious, enthusiastic, and open-minded, that I seriously felt good about joining the movement.
3. The tech is not just a secure protocol that allows people to trade digital coins: it’s a powerful software framework
At a Hackathon, you are expected to actually build something. Since neither myself nor the three guys I ended up teaming up with knew how to code blockchain stuff, I decided to be the brave soul who would have had to learn this. My team partners in the meantime took care of other sides of the project.
As it turned out, I got quite good at it pretty quickly. The result? A fully deployed smart contract allowing transactions to manipulate and record data on the Ethereum ecosystem. The lesson learned? Ethereum is freaking awesome and what you can develop on its platform is limited only by your imagination.
4. And it’s not just Ethereum
Building smart contracts may have just become another passion of mine, but to be fair it’s not all about Ethereum.
Other blockchains as well allow for the hosting of applications and immutable data recording, which is even more powerful than what I had grasped by reading blogs about Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies last year.
At the conference, for instance, I have met the team behind NEM (link) and I was really impressed by what I learned by talking to one of their developers. Their API is a great tool in my opinion for businesses who want to tap into the power of Blockchain, without necessarily having to recruit a blockchain development team.
5. Reducing costs – Saving time and money is always a good thing: Blockchain achieves that with a level of security that tops the biggest banks in the world.
What Blockchain really allows is for every transaction within a certain ecosystem (not just financial but literally ANY system where there are , or passages between two entities in a chain) to be processed through the network, as well as for a record to be kept in both the initiator and the recipient’s private, offline accounts.
This creates a system of ‘triple entry’ bookkeeping where accounting entries are distributed across the Blockchain network and cryptographically sealed, making the falsification or destruction of the records practically impossible and ultimately reducing fraud.
This would be an excellent way to save time and money for an open and transparent business that wants to, for example, publicly share its accounts with a potential investor; or for a freelancer who needs to submit a tax return.
Also, thanks to projects like Nem and Ethereum, which enables all sorts of properties to be programmatically transferred over the network, the cryptographic transactions wouldn’t even have to involve the transfer of any actual coins, or anything of real monetary value.
It would be more like an exchange of contracts that each party cryptographically signs, saying: “I promise that I gave X party X amount of X property.” Having said this, it would ultimately make more sense for these contracts to execute the actual payments too, which is also perfectly possible.
6. In summary, what does the future look like?
Blockchain technology is still in its infancy. There is a wide range of plausible future scenarios that this tech can bring about, ranging from efficiency improvements for commercial transactions through to a complete reinvention of the economy.
As with any disruptive technology, understanding the plausible, possible and probable impacts – the opportunities and risks – will be vital for wise policy, strategy, and design choices by any business, individual, or even government.
However, I do feel that this is a time of opportunities. And most importantly, I walk away from London Blockchain Week with much more than new coding skills.
I walk away from it and into this 2018 with the clear understanding that whether or not my Bitcoin investments keep growing by 500% ultimately won’t matter. What will matter is which role we are each going to take in this Blockchain revolution. A revolution that will not be just about money, but will surprisingly be (I believe) about social inclusion, increased productivity, and value assessment disruption.
If you are also passionate about Blockchain, are currently developing something, or would like to know how your ideas or business could practically gain from Blockchain, then get in touch!
I’d love to hear from you.