Ethereal 2018 vs. Consensus 2018

I’m currently in New York for ‘Blockchain Week’, an annual set of crypto conferences held back-to-back-to-back, two of which I’m attending: Ethereal and Consensus.

Ethereal, the Ethereum-focused conference put on by ConsenSys, took place on Friday and Saturday. ConsenSys is an ambitious decentralized application development firm founded by the billionaire cofounder of Ethereum, Joe Lubin. It’s a constellation of different companies all designed to help usher in the decentralized world.

A few hours into day one, I went to refill my water bottle and unexpectedly bumped into Joe at the fountain. I chatted with him for 15 minutes about Cent and got some positive feedback, along with an offer from him to help if he could.

Not two minutes passed while we were talking without strangers approaching to say all manner of hurried things to him. I asked if it was always constant chaos around him at an event like this; he nodded. Through all the mania, though, he felt incredibly relaxing to be around. He speaks in a nearly monotone voice, and his body language relies a lot on subtle eye movements. He seems like more of a thinker than a talker.

The conference was held in Brooklyn, in an old hipster-ified warehouse. The production value was exceedingly high. A gigantic, crisper-than-usual screen with expertly crafted custom graphics overlooked the main stage. A hallway of crypto-related art led to cozier stages for more intimate presentations and demos. There was an outdoor area for yoga and meditation, and several higher-end food trucks to choose (free) food from. It felt like an experience, like a single executed vision. Every pixel was in place; it was calm, yet energized. Somebody at ConsenSys put their heart into designing it.

The talks themselves felt honest, and about a range of topics from the technical to the spiritual. Titles like “Monetary Consciousness” and “HODLism: An Initial Soul Offering” took their place against more conventional discussions of industry advances. There was also a segment where a correspondent named Ronnie Chieng from The Daily Show interviewed Joe Lubin with a lot of fun quips (“Joe, can you use any words that weren’t invented in the last two years?”)

I ended up taking away a few important new connections, and some thoughts to consider. All in all, I think it was the best crypto conference I’ve ever been to. The people were nice and intelligent, and the renegade spirit of crypto was alive and well. Also, Cent got featured on the main stage by the Toshi team, as an example of a live dApp that can be used today:

Constrast this with Consensus, organized by the major publication CoinDesk, which I just snuck out of to get some breathing room. I’m writing this from a coffeeshop nearby, and can’t help feeling like I’m looking forward to it being over.

While Ethereal felt free-spirited and young, Consensus feels pragmatic and old. The production values are much lower, and every inch of the place is covered in ads for this-or-that coin. Every other person looks like they just walked out of Goldman Sachs. It feels like people are here to figure out how to get rich, not redesign humanity.

It also feels overbooked. The line to register on the first day was a city block long, which was an oddly low-tech introduction to an allegedly high-tech event. It’s difficult to find a seat at most of the main talks. Downstairs, a large area for projects to create sponsored booths to give away stickers and other immediately-useless branded trinkets goes on for what feels like a quarter mile. That said, not all of it was negative. At one point I was given a branded mug made out of Legos. It’s a nice mug.

I think part of the reason Ethereal had such a different feel was that it’s just more focused. Consensus is bringing together the entire crypto world, and with that you get a much greater range of people and intentions. I suppose crypto is just slowly becoming like the rest of the world — varied, dynamic, and chaotic.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these events continue to evolve as crypto continues to remake society, but I definitely know the niches within it that I most enjoy.

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