🎶 Talkin‘ ‘bout a Blockchain-ution and it sounds like disaster 🎶

Paul Johnston

I was recently asked to do a 10 minute talk to a conference on blockchain. I thought this would be relatively easy. The conference is relatively non-technical — mainly web and social types rather than developers — and mainly not people who do this as their main paid job either.

Slides are here:

https://www.slideshare.net/padajo/what-is-blockchain-and-why-should-we-care

I’ve said this a lot, but these slides would not have come together without the help of David Gerard who has helped hugely, so thank you David!

Now, I’ve followed various debates on twitter about blockchain over the years, and never really quite understood the value of it. It always felt like a technology looking for a solution and when I did the digging, some reading and asked some of the experts for help, I didn’t find much more than the hype.

I did find out some astonishing things though, like the B*tc**n Energy Consumption Index — an estimation of the energy consumption of B*tc**n mining:

As of November 2018, the current mining of B*tc**n is estimated to be the same energy consumption as that of Austria… ON GUESSING NUMBERS TO WIN A LOTTERY! That’s about 0.5% of the world’s electricity btw. #climateChange

The more I look into blockchain, the less actual end product I find, and the more hype. I completely see the value of Merkle Trees and distributing databases, but beyond that, there’s not really much more.

Then somebody pointed me at this rather brilliant post, which says a lot about the whole idea of blockchain and Web 3:

https://www.theblockcrypto.com/2018/10/16/weaknesses-in-the-web-3-0-thesis/

This post identifies the current move towards blockchain as an example of Social Proof (herd behaviour) that only very few people understand — a move based not so much on data, but on the fact that everybody else is moving in that direction, so then so must we.

I have to agree.

It’s not that blockchain may not be an amazing technology of the future, it is that we have very little evidence of that, beyond a few cryptocurrencies, and their “success” (if it could be called that), so rushing headlong into blockchain is at best gut feel and at worst a massive mistake.

The problem with taking a position against blockchain is the massive amount of money invested, and the massive number of people moving in that direction.

Moving against the herd is not a fun position to take.

You get trampled on by all those people moving with the herd.

And some of those people are your friends.

When I gave the talk, one of the responses I got via twitter was that the talk I gave was “v poor”, because I didn’t talk about all the possible “opportunities” that blockchain affords.

The thing is, that I did point people to resources to look for themselves — specifically The Economist’s Technology Quarterly from September 2018 which did a whole section on blockchain:

What I aimed not to do was to signpost things for which there is no data.

If technologists don’t learn to talk in this way, then what we do is build up unreasonable expectations of technology and unreasonable expectations for investors. We generate and create bubbles. Some will win, but many will lose, and to be honest, that’s not good for anyone, except the very few.

Talking about a technology and telling people that it’s going to “change the world” without any data to back that up, is pretty close to fraud if it is matched with investment.

Sometimes technology loses it’s integrity when the promise of easy money is given.

The joke going around startup-land for the last few years has been that if your startup wants to be funded, all you have to do is find a way to fit a blockchain into your technology stack, and the investors will rush in.

Sounds like a disaster to me, because the technology has such specific use cases, that it simply doesn’t fit all the use cases I’m seeing it applied to.

There are always exceptions to the rule, and there are a few interesting ones (go read the Economist articles), but they are few and far between in my research.

I think we’re a long way from a blockchain revolution.

Paul Johnston

Written by

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian

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