Why Blockchain must die in 2016

Without a doubt, 2015 has been an eventful year for blockchain technology. What for years has firmly been the domain of hackers, scientists and geeks, has now also reached entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, media outlets and even corporate board rooms — all of which are starting to notice the value of the technology beyond its monetary aspects. And for good reason. The promise of decentralized trust at scale enabling value transfer without the requirement of an intermediary is likely to have a profound impact on business, but maybe even more so on our society as a whole.

The promise of decentralized trust at scale enabling value transfer without the requirement of an intermediary is likely to have a profound impact on society as a whole.

Having overcome the early Bitcoin debacles of Mt. Gox, extreme currency volatility and of course the ever recurring ‘it’s used by terrorists’-claims from government agencies across the globe, Blockchain seems to have now moved past the phase where it can easily be discarded and ignored. Reaffirming this have been a slew of startups, initiatives and mainstream publications in 2015, culminating in a report on Blockchain in The Economist and of course the formation of an alliance of more than 30 of the largest global banks that are seeking to use blockchain technology for a ‘generic shared ledger’ for financials.

However, that does not mean that the technology has hit mainstream adoption. Not by a long shot. Though it sometimes seems that technology adoption has accelerated over time, we should not underestimate the intangible human and sociological factors that are critical to mass adoption of a new technology*. There is still a lot of work to do. And that is exactly why Blockchain needs to die in 2016.

There is still a lot of work to do. And that is exactly why Blockchain needs to die in 2016.

Stop talking about Blockchain

All the attention for blockchain technology recently has already spurred something of a new technology gold rush. And this has brought in a large number of gold-diggers. However, looking at the technology hype cycle, the outlook for blockchain technology on the short term is not very pretty. There will be a lot of pivots and (possibly epic) failures before we’ll see significant and sustainable successes.

2016 is likely not going to be very pretty for blockchain technology

This is in large part due to a misunderstanding of what blockchain technology is and greatly hyped expectations on where, how and when it will add value. Though eventually its impact on society will likely be profound, blockchain technology is not the short term silver bullet that magically solves everything.

Dilbert nails it. Once again.

Related to this is a lack of insight in the state of the technology and more intangible — but very real — aspects (like regulatory issues, incumbent’s fear of losing control, etc) that stand in the way of optimally leveraging all the technology’s benefits. Jumping on this have been more than a fair share of consultants that are very willing to offer their advice. However, just talking about blockchain or writing reports on it really does not get us any closer to where we need to go: the plateau of productivity. To get there, we actually need to start building blockchain enabled solutions, fixing real world problems one step at a time. Because only by doing that, we will be able to fail. And learn. And iterate. Until we get it right.

Just talking about blockchain or writing reports on it really does not get us any closer to where we need to go. We need to start building blockchain enabled solutions to fix real world problems.

So here’s my wish for 2016: let’s stop talking Blockchain and start building solutions. Because however interesting the subject matter may be from a philosophical, organizational technological or societal point of view, having yet another discussion on any of those topics will not bring us any closer to usable solutions. And ultimately, that is where the true value is.

What does the blockchain look like?!

But first, we need to do two things.

1. Our perspective on blockchain technology must change

We need to stop looking at blockchain technology as something that is or offers a ready made consumer facing solution. If anything, it’s mostly an enabling infrastructure. And like any infrastructure, it needs to move to the background, only becoming visible when it fails. It should offer a standard that is robust, interoperable and open, enabling potential solutions that we are not even aware of right now.

Like any infrastructure, blockchain technology should offer a standard that is robust, interoperable and open. And it should only become visible when it fails.

This also means that we need to think about blockchain enabled solutions in a more broad context. Because while solutions may have specific needs, the use of blockchain as underlying foundation does require some fundamental principles to be met, at least at a high level. Or put differently: it needs to make sense to use blockchain technology in the first place.

Think about your context before considering the use of blockchain technology, based on the excellent article by Gideon Greenspan, avoiding the pointless blockchain project

2. We need to bridge the gap between developers and business

While an infrastructural perspective on the technology and its application is certainly useful, this alone does not guarantee useful solutions. For that, we also need a better shared understanding on how blockchain technology can add value. As history has shown with other technologies becoming useful, this demands a high level of accessibility. This means moving away from the low-level tech stuff and create high level abstractions (i.e. better tools), that are easy to comprehend and work with.

It also means bridging the gap between developers and (non-tech) business-people. And given the fact that these two groups have vastly different mindsets, this is no trivial matter and requires some serious investments in understanding each other’s point of view when working on Blockchain.

The gap that needs to be bridged before blockchain enabled solutions will become useful
  1. Developers: accept that business people will not understand the technology completely and will make bogus claims every once in awhile. Also accept that proof-of-work, tokens, and altcoins or other nitty gritty that is essential to the working of blockchain technology might not be of any interest when looking at business applicability. Try to understand how blockchain could benefit relevant stakeholders. You’ll need them.
  2. Business people: deep-dive the technology. Read up on it. Learn. Try not to make inflated claims that your developers have to deliver on. Genuinely listen, be critical but always come prepared. The added level of understanding will help you in seeing business opportunities. Try not to own the technology, but accept a key factor to broad adoption of blockchain lies in collaborative efforts. Focus on the strategic opportunities a shared blockchain infrastructure offers. That’s where your advantage lies.

Looking forward to 2016

As we move into a new year that is likely going to be a critical year for blockchain to deliver — at least in part — on its promise, I think it is important for everyone in the blockchain-space to remember one key thing. Ultimately, like mobile, like the internet, and like computers before that, Blockchain is not the thing. It’s the thing that enables the thing.

Ultimately, like mobile, like the internet, and like computers before that, Blockchain is not the thing. It’s the thing that enables the thing.

The sooner we all realize this, the sooner we can let Blockchain die as a popular discussion topic amongst analysts, consultants and speakers and get to work on the useful solutions that the technology will enable.

So let’s all move away from debates on block size or private vs. public blockchains and focus on jointly developing real world solutions that are truly functional, convenient and reliable. Not because these debates are not interesting or important. It’s just that we will deal with all of those issues when we start building the solutions for a decentralised, private, open, interoperable, accessible, secure & sustainable future.

It’s time for Blockchain to die and fade into the background. Time for blockchain enabled solutions to take center stage.

Let’s make that happen in 2016.

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