Consensus 2017 Recap

This was my first conference, in fact I have never even been to a Bitcoin meetup before Consensus 2017. A lot of people contacted me, asking if I was going, so I decided to finally risk getting doxed and just go. No regrets.

I was a bit paranoid though, so I just took a burner phone (if my live streams had shitty quality, sorry, it was a cheap phone) with me with no 2FA on, just Telegram, Slack and Twitter basically. That way I could find the other trolls at the conference and live tweet some interesting stuff. I’ve heard from more experienced conference attendees that they often also take burner phones and laptops so it wasn’t that strange.

One thing I did forget at home was an extra battery pack/powerbank for my phone. Thankfully Riccardo was better prepared than me and allowed me to charge my phone on his powerbank (this sounds way more sexual than it actually was).

About the conference:

Let me start by saying that the tickets are (too) expensive. I understand why: if it’s sold out, then you can’t really blame the organizers. It’s in NY, 2,500 tickets were all sold out, I get it. As an individual who doesn’t work for a big company/bank that pays for my tickets, it was expensive. I paid $1,500 as an industry professional. Add to that a hotel for 4–5 days and a flight to and from NY and that easily adds up to $4,000–$5,000. Next year it will be in the Hilton and there will be 5,000 tickets for sale.

I went to register for the conference on Sunday, because I expected there would be a long queue on Monday morning. I was actually surprised that I didn’t even have to show my ID. I could’ve signed in as Barry Silbert if I wanted to.

On Monday morning I was still pretty jet lagged so I woke up at 4:30 AM so by the time that breakfast was served at 7:30 AM, I was quite hungry. It was basically just muffins. I didn’t really have any expectations but my suggestion for people considering going next year: have breakfast before you go to the conference.

The opening show was cringeworthy. In case you missed it you can still watch it here from my live stream (bad quality). I was sitting in the back together with Fran and Tuur and we all had the feeling it was the start of a Onecoin conference.

The first thing that I really wanted to see was “Can Bitcoin Scale?” (live stream starts around 8 mins in). It was an interesting talk with a strong performance by Eric Lombrozo, it was a bit awkward with the news from the “Barry Silbert Bitcoin scaling consensus” just being released right before this debate.

Next up was “Chasing Privacy in Blockchains” (live stream starts at about 1:03:00 in). I missed that one since I had ETC lunch, but according to the people there it was funny due to some clueless remarks by Anne Wallwork. Note that Monero wasn’t on this panel since “Monero was not corporate enough”.

With all the ICO’s going on I decided to go to “Legality and Structure of ICOs” (live stream starts at about 4:37:00 in). It was actually an interesting discussion with Peter Van Valkenburg and Preston Byrne and the room was full.

On Tuesday morning there were the announcements by Blockstack, it’s a really interesting project and they announced some cool stuff.

I also went to see “Bitcoin Beyond $20 Billion: Digital Currency’s Future” with Erik Voorhees and Peter Smith. Peter Smith is a good public speaker, even though I don’t always agree with his views.

Next up was “Digital Currencies: An Emerging Asset Class”. This was an interesting debate. Michael Moro from Genesis Global Trading mentioned that while before they had a lot of millionaires as clients, now they’re seeing more billionaires coming to them as well. Marco Santori commented on the NY Bitlicense: “We have a Soviet situation here in NY because of the Bitlicense.” After the talk there were 20–30 people running to Marco like he was some kind of rock star.

My personal highlight of the conference was the panel “Beyond Bitcoin and Ether — The Long-Tail of Blockchain Assets”. This had representatives from Ripple, Cosmos, Augur, Golem and of course Riccardo Spagni from Monero. He educated the other people on the panel on a lot of different things but the quote of the day was: “There are scammers that don’t realize they are scammers yet.”. At the end of the debate he told everyone to not buy Monero.

There were some interesting talks, but overall I was still a bit disappointed. I think I was just too naive going there. When I walked in the conference I was expecting maybe 70% suits 30% devs/traders/people like me. I think it was more like 95% suits and 5% “other”. Which of course is normal considering the blockchain hype. So it’s also normal that Coindesk focuses more on the 95% of the (clueless) attendees.

Inb4 Pete Rizzo from Coindesk writes me an angry DM. (he’s a nice guy though)

The real value of Consensus:

The previous part might sound a bit negative, but for me it was still a very positive experience. It wasn’t what I expected from it, but the real value for me was meeting people. Almost everyone is there in NY during Consensus and that gives it its real value.

The people within the community are so diverse that you get to meet people with all kinds of different backgrounds. The original plan was to go there to meet up with trader buddies like Phil and Collin and trolls like Samson.

I met so many interesting people. Fran told me about Brock Pierce’s parties. Tuur talked about some interesting plans he had for a future project. I met the Milan based Blockchainlab team (Giacomo, Mir, Gabriele) and had some drinks with them. I also had a lot of fun with Riccardo, the Monero dev.

There was a Blockstream party with an AMA on Monday where you could directly talk with some of the most respected developers in the crypto space. I had a nice chat with Vinny Lingham while walking through NY talking about trading and Civic. I had a dinner with some of the Poloniex people where we discussed the recent influx of new traders. There was an ETC lunch organised by Grayscale on Monday and I met 3 of the ETC devs and had lunch with them on Wednesday,…

There are so many people I’ve met in just 4 days: Pete Rizzo, Brad Chun, Ryan Selkis, Alex Petrov, Eric Lombrozo, Bruce Fenton, Matt deCourcelle, Jimmy Song…

The list is just too long and that’s also kind of my point. It’s the perfect place to do some networking or just meeting people with the same interests.

Other interesting things I learned:

Bitcoin:

There are so many brilliant people working on the development of Bitcoin and Bitcoin-related projects that I’m still very bullish on Bitcoin. Even with the mining pools and certain individuals trying to stall and block progress. Yes, fees are up and actually too high, the price is also up x10. There is no logic behind blocking Segwit besides bad intentions.
What I actually noticed is that someone like Adam Back is more respected in other communities (like ETC, Monero,…) than in some parts of the Bitcoin community which makes no sense. 
Everyone wanted a UASF hat, Samson ran out of hats really quick, and it will be interesting to see what happens on the 1st of August.

Ethereum Classic:

I was at the ETC lunch organized by Grayscale. The food wasn’t great but the talks were. I was really impressed by Matt Mazur and Charles Hoskinson. Matt had the difficult task to implement a monetary policy in a coin that already launched and already had 80 million+ coins on the market. Charles is very articulate and manages to explain complex things in a way that everyone can understand them. I also had lunch with a couple of ETC devs on Wednesday, including Matt. They’re very smart guys and I’m glad I got to meet them. I’m long term bullish on it.

Ethereum:

If you think that Ethereum is the real future of crypto and all the ICO’s on it are great and EEA is awesome, you might want to skip this part. These aren’t my opinions, these are opinions of people I talked with at Consensus (and I know I’ll get a lot of angry responses for posting it)

The insanity around ICO’s was a hot topic at Consensus. What I learned from the regulatory panel is that ICO’s which don’t have a working product on launch, are basically scams and they will probably get in a lot of trouble at a later point. I’m not saying that ICO’s with a working product on launch aren’t scams, but at least they put some more effort in than just writing a whitepaper. Take Golem for example: $400 million+ marketcap and not even a properly working product, just because it’s on Ethereum. Elastic for example is a similar project, they raised 700+ BTC in donations but they basically have a superior working product close to launch. Or just think about the Gnosis launch. ICO insanity has to end badly.

Ethereum came up quite a few times during Consensus and never in a positive way. Basically everyone I talked with agrees that Ethereum will split again into multiple chains with the PoS switch, besides the fact that there can potentially be huge issues/bugs with PoS. It’s just way too profitable for the miners at this point to give up on it (see image below where even certain ETH devs agree). So you’ll have the obvious PoW/PoS split at that point. The fact that DAO fork already happened makes it very likely that there will be more similar bailout forks too, when certain people mess up.

Another point that obviously came up was Vitalik. He isn’t nearly as intelligent as he thinks he is or as other people think he is (of course this is subjective, just giving the general sentiment). The people I talked with think it’s mostly due to his lack of experience/age that he’s just too naive. Adam Back for example is on the other side of the spectrum where he has the experience to deal with complex situations to find the right solutions (sorry Adam, not calling you old, just experienced). Common remarks on Vitalik: he doesn’t understand game theory and he doesn’t understand network theory. Developers of other crypto projects also pointed out that the math he used in a 40 page paper on scaling made no sense.

Some of the same people however did speak highly of Vlad and consider him the brains and voice of sanity in the Ethereum project.

Monero:

So I went to my first Monero meetup in NY too during Consensus. I was thoroughly impressed. All the drama aside, they have some really smart people working on their project. As Brad Chun pointed out to me: “There might be less people at Monero meetups, but the people that are there are way more intelligent than in any other type of crypto meetup.” After attending it, I agree. For me it’s definitely a long term hodl now.

Identity on the blockchain projects:

I’ve heard of Civic before, but still I wasn’t really convinced. After talking about Identity projects with Vinny Lingham, Phil Francis and the Poloniex people, I’m now a lot more convinced of its use and its future. I’m not saying Civic will be the main one, there are multiple projects that are trying to do similar things, but overall it’s a very interesting use case and I’m convinced it will make our lives easier and our private data more secure. For exchanges for example it could greatly simplify the verification KYC/AML process which is a serious bottleneck at the moment with all these new people signing up. It’s a very labor-intensive process which could be greatly simplified.

MaidSafe

This was actually quite interesting. A former Maid dev said that they were having so many issues, that the boss told them to rewrite the code from C++ to Rust in 4 weeks. That way they could potentially get extra funding from certain companies if they would write it in Rust. I know they’ve been working on the project for a very long time, but I think like most people I was completely unaware of all the issues and unrealistic expectations they have. It’s summed up here pretty well.

Conclusion:

Overall I would say that coming to the conference is money well spent, even if it’s mostly for the meetings and chats you have outside of the conference itself. Some people actually just go to NY and don’t bother buying a ticket for the conference.

See you at Consensus 2018? Or at least near Consensus 2018 since I’ll definitely be in NY then.

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