For Inclusive Communities in Blockchain — An Interview with Bloktalks
I had the pleasure to chat recently on the Florida International University (FIU) Modesto A. Maidique Campus with a co-founder of the Miami Blockchain Society and CEO of #Bloktalks, Robin Lam. The group hosts large, monthly meetups and numerous networking events with startups, investors, enthusiasts, and professionals, as well as educational workshops to learn more about blockchain and cryptocurrency.
(This interview conversation has been edited for clarity, flow, and focus).
Tell us a little more about Bloktalks and a general intro to the Miami Blockchain Society.
It started in September 2017, with myself, my co-founder Dax, and 3 other people, who just wanted to meet up and discuss cryptocurrency. So we all met for happy hour at the Blue Martini in Brickell, and it was a get-together which ended up with us staying for around 5 hours talking about all-things crypto and blockchain. It went so well, from there we thought to ourselves, “OK, let’s do another meeting!”. We just invited whomever we thought wanted to discuss these same topics with other people — and we slowly grew to 5, and then to 7, then to 40, to 100, to 300, etc — now our Telegram group counts 600 members, and growing.
The classic question: how did you get into both blockchain and cryptocurrency?
I got into cryptocurrency around 2011 from a friend of mine suggesting I look into this online, digital money, that no government can control. So I was somewhat interested, and at the time I must have put about $100 in, and then unthinkingly forgot about it.
Blockchain itself, and the many projects around this new technology, came into the picture mostly last year around March 2017, when I started reading more about things like Ethereum, and smart contracts, and other new blockchain protocols, etc. The currency + the technology is when it got interesting for me.
What are your thoughts as to how the world and community has evolved in the last few years?
In the conversations around it I could see the gradual evolution, especially with the idea of cryptocurrency, from “that seems like a scam” to “that seems interesting”. And the space in general kind of took on a whole new identity from being more “geeky” as it was before, to harboring these “thriving niche communities”, even with their own lingo or different take on future impacts. Beyond cryptocurrency as a keyword and all of the speculation, it’s thankfully changing into an even more evolved culture and language — #HODL, “to the moon”, etc.
There were also many people who stood against critics and skeptics, who became very influential and advocated for the solution potential of blockchains to many problems, such as double-spend, or trust in systems, or centralization.
What is your sense of the problem around centralization?
The problem is too much power concentrated in one thing, which never ends well. With too much concentrated power, you know that change is not going to happen that quickly, and this also makes people less receptive to change. Control makes it harder to move things; control makes it harder for whomever has it to give it up. The difference here is that this technology and this new move toward decentralization doesn’t rely on any one person, but on everyone relying on trust in a system, versus needing to rely on trust (in untrustworthy actors).
Why is what you’re doing important for the community?
We realize that there’s a real lack of education, in general. We’re not really aiming for the most advanced user, but the person who is interested and curious and wants to learn more. Foundations are very important to include new people, and this gives them a means to understand basics.
If you’re skeptical, there’s not much I could do to change your mind. But if you’re receptive, but hesitant or don’t know where to start, and want to know how to “get in” to make more impact, then those are the people we are trying to reach. If you’re afraid of something, you’re less likely to take risks — and without this, there’s no way to have free-flowing ideas and things to build on. Our end goal is to have many more people as educated as possible, and this would hopefully lead to be able to start building greater ideas from there.
Gabrielle: “Bloktalks in this way definitely has a more inclusive viewpoint, in getting people with maybe more “limited” education, but “unlimited” curiosity, into something in which they then could have a real impact, and actually further grow the community — they who might be considered on the “fringe”, or more of what has not been done and who has not been there before in the past.”
Robin: “Yes, for sure.”
Do you think how the infrastructure currently exists and is being built can be improved in any way, and how?
Blockchain technology is very new. Almost everything that’s learned, even for “high-end” and talented developers, is still through very early trial-and-error, and this is great. However, when there’s resources to help others see another person’s trial-and-error because it’s open and shared, that is really something can help accelerate learning, accelerate adoption, and accelerate building ‘bridge’ projects.
Creating something where there is that bridge from the “traditional” world of development to the “blockchain” world of development, to close those gaps, is important. It’s hard to find funds as an intermediary connecting the two, and I think this is where a big part of the problem is that could be addressed.
What does your short-term future vision look like in what you would like to accomplish specifically for Bloktalks?
We want to eventually create a super conference — for Miami, by Miami, in Miami. In the past, many outside events and conferences have come in, and taken out all the money, and don’t contribute anything back into the community: no educational platforms, no charitable donations, nothing. We want to work with groups in Miami, facilitating their projects, getting them audiences, and making this kind of contribution on a grand scale. Hopefully we can also create something like a fund to continue building the cycle after the event. We’re currently working a few different groups, such as Hyperledger Consortium, and hopefully we can all succeed together to realize this goal for a super conference, to prop up our local ecosystem.
What is the grandest vision you can imagine and want to see happen with blockchain in the long-term future?
I like to see blockchain as a revolutionary technology moving away from cryptocurrency hype and speculation. You can create a ledger without needing tokenization, or something economically-driven attached to it. There is already more focus on more projects that innovate the blockchain through real-world applications, and I hope this continues to successfully separate the general public’s understanding of blockchains versus cryptocurrencies.
Last words? Any questions you wanted to be asked?
I did want to mention a few events:
April 5 is our next BlokTalks Workshop: Master Nodes Edition. Here we’ll discuss topics like: What are Master Nodes and what incentives do they offer? What is Proof of Stake vs Proof of Work? How do I go about setting up a master node? What are the advantages/disadvantages? limitations? What is the future of master nodes in the blockchain ecosystem?
April 17 we’ll also be hosting another BlokTalks Workshop: Startup Edition, along with Erik Mendelson, CEO/Cofounder of Recordgram and Tunetoken. This is a workshop worth its weight in (bitcoin!) gold. Their team spent big money on crypto-startup costs and legal fees, so they wanted to offer this class covering everything they’ve experienced and learned about how to run a blockchain startup, step-by-step: from SEC regulations, to compliance, to successful marketing, and beyond. The cost of the class is a steal-of-a-value for the kind of education and insight they want to share, and from there you can decide if you’re spending large amounts of money wisely by hiring the right people and the right kinds of advisors for your project.
#Bloktalks and the Miami Blockchain Society welcome everyone — as one of the largest and fastest-growing communities of its kind in South Florida, the group is open to anyone who is truly interested or simply curious about:
- Blockchain and decentralization
- Bitcoin, ethereum and smart contracts
- Mining bitcoin and other altcoins
- ICOs, cryptonews, legal compliance