Thursday, July 26, 2018

Is blockchain a boon -- or just a lot of bullsh*t?

Yes, it's a provocative headline, but this is the internet, so the more extreme the statement, the more likely people are to pay attention to it.  Or so they say. I personally believe that blockchain is a lot of bullsh*t?

Actually no. I remain hopeful. Even though there are plenty of informed naysayers and plenty of technical and regulatory hurdles to be cleared. Not unlike the consumer internet of 25-ish years ago we're not yet sure what the decentralized ledger of blockchain is best suited for. For those reading this post in, say, 2040, you're probably getting a good laugh. Then again, one of the initial visions for personal computers was to store recipes in the home. So keep that in mind as you chuckle away, people of the future.

My personal blockchain hurricane started a few weeks ago when I posted this piece about the potential for blockchain in the creative industries, citing examples such as the facilitation of micropayments  and a more streamlined way to attribute rights and in turn royalties. There was also a reference to a a $30 million movie able to be made for about $5 million, with all the middleman workarounds that could become available via blockchain. Is that an overstatement? Perhaps. But then again, there's a thing called Hollywood accounting, an entrenched system that all but guarantees that a project, regardless of how many hundreds of millions of dollars it generates, becomes profitable. One would think it's reasonable to assume that a public, distributed ledger, where all the accounts are held, would be kryptonite to the old, bloated system. And that's just one example.

But back to our story. I tweeted out a link to my blog post about blockchain and the entertainment industry, and in fairly short order heard back from practitioners and technologists currently investigating blockchain solutions. And let's just say this group is skeptical about much of the blockchain promise.

In the interest of providing as balanced a perspective as possible here on the blog, I wanted to capture those thoughts and arguments here, so they're all contained in one place. The full thread can be accessed at this link, and a subsequent article on the dubious benefits of blockchain for creators can be found here. What follows are some highlights the Twitter thread. I hope these comments will pique your interest enough to look at the full thread, to look into the work of those tweeting, and to give some serious consideration to the points raised.

That last tweet comes from one of the most high profile shade throwers in the blockchain game, David Gerard. His book, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchainhas been called “a sober riposte to all the upbeat forecasts" by the New York Review of Books.

And then there's Harvard computer science professor James Mickens, who recently did a lightning talk with the provocative and prodding title Blockchains are a bad idea. More specifically, blockchains are a very bad idea. 

And yet, I still want to believe in the power of disintermediation.