Tracking the Blockchain Hype

September 29, 2016 View Comments

Now that I’ve been through the Internet wave and the social media wave, there’s some pattern recognition going on in terms of what is happening in the Blockchain/decentralized world.

Gartner’s recent report suggested that the industry (after north of $1bn in VC investment last year) has hit the peak of inflated expectations.

Honestly, I don’t know if that’s right or not.

But what I do suspect is an indicator of where a new technology is on the adoption curve is whether mainstream firms jump on the “keyword bingo jargon” bandwagon to sound forward-thinking while actually not being so much.

In this case, the recent Accenture announcement saying they had made an “editable” blockchain falls into that category.

The whole basis of a blockchain is digital immutability, so an editable version is an inherent contradiction, kind of like saying the Godfather is a “chick flick.”

Still, it is a data point and they are probably doing it in response to customer inquiries about how to “do the blockchain thing” but also “protect the downside risk of the enterprise.”

It’s great to have a new database offering that is distributed and more efficient, but calling it a blockchain does a disservice to the rest of the industry and only creates doubt and confusion.

But the major point is this…if they are doing it, demand (or at least interest) in blockchains are growing.

Note: obviously the key is to not get caught up in pattern recognition so you are blinded to outliers.  That’s why I blog though…you’ll keep me honest.           

 

Making the Blockchain Consumable

September 28, 2016 View Comments

Any longtime reader knows that I am a huge fan ofFred Wilson’s blog.  I often tell people that if I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have 2 blog feeds, 1 of them would be Fred’s.

In my opinion, he is as on top of things as can be, so it’s rare that I think he’s off-target.

In this case, however, he undersold just how creative and insightful is the Blockchain Future States at the Petzel Gallery.

In short, Simon Denny is a genius.

Here’s why: The biggest challenge that I foresee in the world of decentralized computing/systems is identifying the right message to make it palatable to more mainstream potential customers and finding the right community of advocates to help you get over the chasm.

Telling the story of the blockchain’s potential through a board game like Risk (as this exhibit did) is the quintessential “same, but different” that helps people adjust to new concepts.

The complementary components of the exhibit really helped visualize the potential of this worldview.  It’s difficult, I believe, to walk out of there unconvinced.

Some pics here.

When Will We Get Tired of Being Hacked, Surveilled, & Compromised?

September 27, 2016 View Comments

I was at a party the other night with a friend, Aaron, whom I would consider to be a Tier 1 technologist.

He said something both pragmatic and scary.

"I'm kind of at the point where I have just accepted that everything I do is being tracked, measured, and sold."

He's at the front-end of the curve, I think, where he's basically acknowledged that to participate in the modern world, you need to sacrifice your privacy.

There are plenty of others who don't realize they are making this trade-off.

I was thinking about this because I wonder if we have sort of reached the "end of history" and we will all reach that point OR will we get to a point where we say enough is enough?

Looking at last week's news about Yahoo's massive data hack, it feels like these have become commonplace and we all just accept that we'll get a note from the company saying "hey, we lost all your data, but we've bought you 2 years of Identity protection to make up for it."

In fact, prior to the Yahoo announcement, there was an article in the WSJ asking: When to disclose you've been hacked?

As if the hack is a foregone conclusion and you just have to figure out if it's bad enough so that you tell the people whose persona info has been compromised.

Or will we say..."No! That's no longer ok." 

The problem is that, until very recently (and arguably not even yet), we haven't really had an alternative.

That seems to be changing (at least the existence of an alternative, that is). 

The question is whether our habits have become so ingrained in terms of trusting big corporations to protect us that we won't be able to overcome the inertia (or dare to remove ourselves from the surveillance state) to do something about it.

We're starting to see distributed storage platforms like Storj that will make it increasingly difficult, near impossible, for a hacker to find what he is looking for.

As they state beautifully on their blog:

"Adding data to the Storj network is like blowing a handful of encrypted sand onto an encrypted beach - as the beach grows, it becomes much harder for an attacker to find the specific grains of sand s/he wants."

And, we have the emergence of social networks like Steemit (whitepaper) and Synereo (whitepaper) which offer a new way to ensure privacy, non-trackability, and payment for your time and attention.

So, the uber-question is: when will people like Aaron say (to quote the movie Network ):

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Blockchains and Philanthropy

September 26, 2016 View Comments

If you don't give any money to charity, this post probably isn't for you. But if philanthropy is something you care about, it might be.

In the recent Forbes Unchained podcast, Blockchain 101 With Andreas Antonopoulos: How Bitcoin Makes Each Of Us As Powerful As A Bank hosted by Laura Shin with guest Andreas Antonopoulos, the conversation turned to blockchain-powered automated giving.

He gave the example of the earthquake in Haiti.

I'm going to extend it a bit here.

Let's say that, at the beginning of the year, you earmarked a certain percentage of your income to charity, similar to the way that you might put money into a 401k.

Then, for example, let's say you prioritize your charitable giving according to certain criteria....natural disasters, religious causes, health issues, whatever.

Finally, you could have a pre-programmed rating for severity (earthquakes above 6.5 or number of deaths reported-gruesome I know and sorry about that, but part of the example) that automatically channels money directly to the organization collecting it (reducing their overhead and thus enabling more to go to recipients) or...even better...automatically sending it to people who are impacted.

And all of this would be automated, verifiable, transparent (no money getting lost to corruption/graft) and in line with your principles.

Plus, you'd be helping more people faster and more cost-effectively.

I'm reading Kevin Kelly's book "The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape our Future" and this feels like one such inevitable thing.

Ok, so I'm only on Chapter 2 and Kelly will probably get to this, but the idea that you can have automated activity around your money (pre-programmed) that you can verify at any time (and others could as well if you want--think about all the furor re: tax returns) seems like it's a no-brainer.

Maybe not in this way, but it will happen.

Decentralization and the Challenge of a New Paradigm

September 23, 2016 View Comments

I know I'm on a Laura Shin/Forbes Unchained podcast kick, but what can I say?  There's a lot of value in there.

The most recent one that inspired this post (and a few more to come) is Blockchain 101 With Andreas Antonopoulos: How Bitcoin Makes Each Of Us As Powerful As A Bank.

Andreas is a well respected entrepreneur and bitcoin expert and in this interview he makes a key point that I think should be in everyone's frame of reference.

Roughly paraphrasing, he said "the big disruption isn't Bitcoin or even Blockchains, it's the move to de-centralization."

He's right and he foreshadows a key problem for the industry as it matures.

How to tell the story of a decentralized existence.

Think about it...for centuries, human societies have been organized in a hierarchical, centralized fashion. Tribal chieftains, nobility, kings.

Heck, "all roads led to Rome" for a reason...it's where power was concentrated.

In the past century, large organizations were built in a centralized "command and control" fashion.  

Satellite offices were like the distant provinces of the empire...irrelevant and basically ignored.

No longer.

Now, every satellite office or remote outpost plays a critical role in the infrastructure and integrity of the entire system.

It's not about the center. 

It's about the periphery...and everywhere in between. It's the nodes.

But getting people to think like that isn't going to be easy.

It's like someone walking into a car dealership and saying "I really need 4 wheel drive."

"No, you don't," says the salesperson. "Our cars hover."

"Right, but the winters here are tough. I've always needed 4 wheel drive."

"Yes, winters are rough here, for sure. But now that cars hover and don't touch the ground, you don't need wheels."

"Great. So how much are the best tires?"

The paradigm shift is tremendous. People like Laura and Andreas are paving the way to help others understand it.

Not going to be easy, but will be interesting.

 

Cryptocurrencies and Alt-Portfolios

September 22, 2016 View Comments

Learned a new phrase today.

“Alt-portfolio.”

I was chatting with Neeraj and Jerry of the Coin Center and they introduced me to the CoinCap app (also accessible on your desktop through CoinCap.io) which tracks all of the cryptocurrencies out there.

I made a remark that I have something like 10 different ones.

And they said, “ah, you have an ‘alt-portfolio’.”

The other day, I was listening to the Unchained podcast interview of ARK's Chris Burniske And Coinbase's Adam White and while I don’t remember the exact data they shared, they had some really interesting points to make about how Bitcoin as an investment could start making a lot of sense for many people.

They pointed to how it didn’t necessarily move with or against standard markets which gives it a special kind of appeal from a diversification perspective.

I know that many people still think of Bitcoin as a Darknet currency that is best used for buying drugs on Silk Road type markets, but I think we’re past those early days.

There are plenty of issues with Bitcoin (block size being one of them), but I think the eco-system is past the tipping point.

There are a lot of people who have a vested interest in the success of Bitcoin so, while it’s not guaranteed, I think it’s increasingly likely.

I will admit that I am long on Bitcoin, so I am one of those with a vested interest.

Necessary disclaimer: Do not construe this post as financial advice. 

Blockchains and the Packetification of Everything

September 21, 2016 View Comments

Was listening to a fascinating Unchained podcast from Forbes featuring Bill Tai, a longtime Silicon Valley insider.

Bill was describing Blockchains as the 6th big Wave of technological revolution. 

Whether it's the 1st, 10th, or 500th doesn't matter, but at one point, he made a killer comment.  

"TCP/IP is to Telcos as Blockchain is to banks."

He went on to talk about just how data, voice, images, etc. could be broken up into packets for delivery over the network and reassembled, that blockchains give us the power to attach the same properties/capabilities to physical items.

I heard him say this as I was stopped at a redlight.

Looking at the car in front of me, I started to imagine the various components of the car and how each one could be an IoT device, registered on the blockchain, and delivered/managed as a service.  

Let's explore the tires, for example.

A smart tire would have its own IP/blockchain address and be connected not to a car per se, but it would record how many miles it had driven, how many punctures (from nails, for example), it had and were subsequently repaired (or self-repaired).

The tire manufacture could send Over The Air (OTA) updates to the tire that maybe change the safe mileage limit (up or down) or inform the car owner that it needs to be changed.

Remember...tires can be bought and sold, so someone who has an old car that only does a small amount of driving each year is happy to have a good tire at a good price for its needs. The tire could sell itself on behalf of the car owner when it recognizes that the habits of the car to which it is attached have changed.

This protects the past and future owner of the tire. Right now, you have no way of knowing that a tire or a phone or a TV or a laptop is exactly what the seller says it is, but if your refurbished laptop could be verified that the parts are up to a certain standard because they are evident in the blockchain, that's pretty cool.

The car owner could be Uber or anyone, but that's a different topic.

The point of this thought exercise is merely that if you can assign a virtual address to a physical thing (a tire, a soccer ball, a laptop), you open up an entirely new range of business opportunities.

Every physical item can be broken down to its smallest level, get "packetized" and have its value optimized.

That's pretty revolutionary.

(Follow Bill on Twitter...he's apparently a big kiteboarder as well and does events where people network while kiteboarding. Mine kind of event)

Fish and Wine on the Blockchain Menu

September 20, 2016 View Comments

Back when I started thinking about the potential disruptive force of blockchains, one of the use cases that jumped into my head was supply chain provenance.

In other words...how do we actually know that the things we are buying are actually what we THINK we are buying.

If brands are about a promise to deliver a specific story, then the authenticity of that story is critical to increasing the brand value.

The other day, I was on the train back from New York and sat next to an elegantly dressed woman in her 80s. Refined and thoughtful, she had lived in Milan, Brussels, and New York, and now lives in Delaware.

As is my way, we started a conversation and it turns out her family is in the wine business.

After I helped her customize the notifications on her iPhone, we started talking about how the world had changed in her lifetime and how it might change in the future.

Naturally, I shared that I was interested in this new technology called "blockchains."

I began to explore how they might impact her business.

She was skeptical. Which was fine.

Eventually, I said..."well, I bet if we google it, we'll find something."

And we did.

She was surprised.

"Forward it to me," she asked. "I want my son [who runs the business] to see this."

Good for her.

While the provenance of a bottle of a wine secured by a blockchain may not be a differentiator right now, it's not difficult to imagine that it will be one day in the near future.

Soon thereafter, I saw another article..about blockchains and fish.

Apparently, there's a huge racket going on already in terms of fish substitution (you buy Grouper, but you get something else).

That, and illegal fishing/overfishing issues.

Bottom line: the blockchain revolution is about to hit the shores of a lot of industries where transparency hasn't always been at the forefront.

Should be interesting to watch that.

Avoid the Mistakes of the Past for Marketing Success

September 19, 2016 View Comments

I was a history major in college.

People often ask me how a history major got into marketing.

I tell them that it’s really the same discipline.

You collect a bunch of facts, weave together a coherent thesis about how those facts interrelate, and then you try to “sell” the idea.

That’s marketing in a nutshell.

Recently, however, I realized that there’s another advantage to being a historian/marketer.

As George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

When you go to market with your innovative (hopefully) product or service, you must assess the competitive landscape within the mind of your potential customer. (For a great book on this, see the classic Positioning.)

However, you must also try to figure out where your innovation sits within the arc of the larger macro environment.

That’s where Carlota Perez’s magnum opus, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, can help.

She describes how every major technology revolution:

  1. The industrial revolution
  2. Age of steam and railways
  3. Age of steel, electricity, and heavy engineering
  4. Age of oil, automobile, and mass productions
  5. Age of information and telecommunications

All go through the same 4 stages

  1. Eruption
  2. Frenzy
  3. Synergy
  4. Maturity

 

Why is that important?

It’s important because as you read the book, you’ll start to see where you fit and where we are.  You’ll be able to read the signs and be less subjected to the forces beyond your control.

Blockchain technology for example is in the eruption phase.

I would argue that autonomous vehicles are as well, though you can see the early signs of frenzy down the road.

Placing things in their historical context and looking at it today increases your chances of survival down the road.

Decentralized Marketing Orgs For a Decentralized World

September 14, 2016 View Comments

The march of technology is headed away from centralization to decentralization.  That's one of the the revolutions behind blockchain technology and things like IPFS.

Taking a step back to look at the larger world and the changes we have seen (particularly with the specter of September 11 still on us), we have clearly moved to a more networked and decentralized world overall. 

As Peter Hinssen might say, the Network Always Wins.

So, that got me to thinking about the structure of organizations and marketing teams, in particular.

Marketing is the function that is (supposedly) the function that is most closely engaged with the realities of the market.

Yet, to this day, we still have hierarchical organizations that are command and control, for the most part. Analogous to the way the US military is structured.

The military was on my mind as I read General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, where he talks about the rude awakening that was the US Army’s encounter with Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. How his units were centralized and his enemies were decentralized.

McChrystal quickly recognized how he needed to reimagine how the teams were built and empowered.

Quoting from the Kindle excerpt (attribution below):

 “He made sure the features commonly present within a small team such as shared awareness, trust, decentralized authority, and team-wide purpose are also defining characteristics of the umbrella team.”

The innovation, insights, and awareness happen at the edge of the networks, not in the center.  It’s critically important to empower the edges of those networks with information, resources, and feedback loops.

As the infrastructure and systems that support the world’s largest enterprises move away from away centralized control (much to the annoyance of CIOs, I would imagine), it is only a matter of time before the organizations that rely upon those systems get more and more decentralized as well.

 

 

 

 

--Instanalysis (2015-08-28). Team of Teams: by General Stanley McChrystal | Key Summary Breakdown & Analysis : New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (Kindle Locations 96-99). Unlimited Press Works. Kindle Edition.