18 Things, #9: Blockchain’s first killer app beyond payments and currency

While we’re heading towards the 9-year anniversary of the Bitcoin whitepaper, it’s still the beginning of the beginning for blockchains. 2017 saw a flurry of innovation (and scams) in the space. In 2018 expect to see the first useful app with over 5 million active users built on top of a blockchain.

Despite the rise of mainstream media coverage of Bitcoin, the actual innovation of blockchains is still inextricably linked to the virtual currency, and as a result usually misunderstood. Blockchains enable many things, but the most interesting is distributed computing. In 2015 Ethereum launched, combining a blockchain with a fully functioning programming language to create what founder Vitalik Buterin calls "The World Computer".

Where Bitcoin opened up the potential for basic financial apps, Ethereum opened up the potential for pretty much any app you can think of. In 2017 there was a flood of entrepreneurs doing just that, sparking the highly-scammy, probably illegal ICO boom.

If the blockchain space can get through its trough of disillusionment, there’s proper innovation coming up quickly. That innovation needs to move beyond payments and currency. But, I expect that the first killer app outside these areas to not stray too far, and will probably be built around some form of crowdfunding.

Confidence: 60% *(5m users means participants, not just speculators)

18 Things is a slightly different take on the usual “Annual Predictions” posts. For the next 18 days I’ll post one thing per day I believe might happen in 2018, with a brief overview of why. Each will also have a confidence level (an idea nicked from Scott Alexander), so I can come back at the end of the year and see how I went.

I’ve mostly stuck to my circle of competence, but please don’t read in to anything too much, and definitely don’t go betting your house on any of these. You can read previous posts here, or if you’re impatient, I’ll be posting these in 3 parts over at Blonde3.com.