The Most Essential Crypto Long Reads 2018

The threads and essays that defined a year that went from the height of mania to something much more interesting

Photo by Tom Roberts on Unsplash

Originally published on Twitter.

Long Reads Sunday #27 — Best Of 2018! Simply put, this is the best crypto content of the year — the most interesting, influential & inflammatory threads and essays. You may not agree with everything here, but you can’t ignore it. For the last time of 2018, strap in — it’s long reads time!

Much of this year was about prying ourselves from the fever dream of free money and non-dilutive capital that was the 2017 ICO frenzy. Even as the token bonanza continued into 2018, @Melt_Dem flagged the inevitable collision course with the lack of natural demand for tokens

As the dust settled and we asked how we got hundreds of speculative assets with valuations in the tens or hundreds of millions, @nic__carter connected the dots between exchanges, coin ranking sites, and coin developers

Exorbitant profits from listings weren’t the only critique levied against the exchanges. Well before the exchange manipulation narrative took off, @ArtPlaie argued that more than $3b in volume, including 93% of then #1 OKex, was fabricated.

As time has gone on (and as regulators have caught up) many tokens have gone the way of the dodo — being delisted, shutting down, or, as @Obstropolos points out, attempting to transform into something that actually has value.

The point of all of these posts is this: those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Knowing just how short the collective memory are, @ercwl wrote this reminder to our future selves

Then again, personal stories tend to have more power to inspire perspective change than general arguments. Take, for example, @PeterMcCormack’s Melville-esque tail of going from $32k to $1.2m and then all the way back to (wind)

Stories like that of the evaporating million dollars are part of why @CryptoMacro called crypto in 2018 a “Traders’ Paradise, Investors’ Hell.” This year was nothing if not a culling of the play-for-fun money.

But 2018 wasn’t just about reckonings and comeuppance. One good thing about the mass increase in attention on crypto was the influx of new talent and ideas, and the resulting opportunity to wander in what @jon_choi_ called the crypto “idea maze”

Admittedly, some parts of the crypto idea maze were still reactions to the conceptual bloat that happens when ideas go mainstream. Take for example the “decentralization theater” that slapped that word everywhere without articulating why it mattered.

Another reaction to the mass influx of “investment” capital into tokens was an attempt from folks like @BMBernstein to clearly delineate the difference between equity — what Silicon Valley is used to — and money, and to argue how different it makes investing dynamics.

The tension between the money mindset and the Silicon Valley technology mindset was part of the crypto story all year. Without elevating one over the other, @ErikTorenberg tried to sum up the perspective each comes from.

Part of the motivation that animates ’tech crypto’ is the idea that centralized platforms have reached an inevitable but still hugely problematic stage of exploitation of user data and monopoly power. @kjer writes about why tokenization could be transformative

Building on similar themes of what might be different in the context of decentralized networks, @m2jr argued that cryptos create a model that allows the commons to scale and can transform the tragedy of the commons into the wealth of the commons.

Technology firms aren’t the only big institutions that have lost the public’s trust. As @avichal points out, crypto is emerging in the context of a 40-year decline in trust of schools, banks, media — the former institutional pillars of American society

With the degradation of institutional trust as the background, it’s reasonable to ask: why aren’t states more threatened by crypto? Or, as @hosseeb puts it — “Why isn’t Bitcoin banned everywhere?”

As some of what might be charitably called over-enthusiastic promises of the “tokenize the world” days recede, there has been a return to focus on Bitcoin. When I asked people what should be on this list, the #1 response was this tome from @real_vijay

Once again, @PeterMcCormack made the Bitcoin bull argument personal with his “Open Letter To Banks.” The choices, he posits, are simple: either ignore it and pay the cost on the other side, or adapt and reap the rewards.

Beyond boosterism, Bitcoin saw some majorly important developments this year, notably including the emergence of the layer 2 Lightning network. In this series, @timevalueofbtc presents the layered vision of Bitcoin.

Of course, with prices steadily declining throughout the year, there are many voices particularly outside crypto preemptively attempting to dance on BTC’s grave. @danheld has emerged as one of the most important anti-FUDsters, taking on common critiques with threads like this.

Another constant voice in the Bitcoin community has been @pierre_rochard. In this piece, he captures one of the important memes to be cemented this year — which is the importance of Holding as a use case

Indeed, in one view — articulated to perfection here by @misir_mahmudov — holding through the crash of alternative cryptoassets is the essential activity that strengthens Bitcoin’s ascendence to global money.

Maybe the most articulate believer in Bitcoin’s path to become global money is @MustStopMurad. His podcast with @APompliano this fall exploded into one of the most essential listens of the year.

Then again, if Bitcoin maximalism picked up a few new adherents in the wake of the ICOs, it wasn’t without its critique. In this essay, @ferdousbhai argues that Bitcoin is better if it embraces competition

One person who has been extremely thoughtful about the evangelism of Bitcoin for those not-yet-bought-in is @hasufl, demonstrated most recently in his series (collaborating with @zhusu) on Bitcoin for skeptics

Hasu also co-authored with @nic__carter one of my favorite pieces of the year, “Visions Of Bitcoin,” which showed how ideas and narratives of Bitcoin have changed over time and why that is a sign of dynamism and complexity in the community.

Anyone who has followed me this year likely knows how important I think narratives are a field that is so reflexive and fighting to legitimize itself on a world scale. I wrote a piece on narratives for @TokenDaily which then spawned a series called Crypto Narrative Watch

Speaking of the evolution of narratives, @Felipether gave Ethereum the historical narrative treatment as well, from Bitcoin 2.0 to world computer to crypto crowdfunding and utility tokens to open finance.

In the back half of 2018, decentralized finance or “open finance” absolutely emerged as the most important Ethereum narrative — in part because of actual use in the form of collateralized loans with DAI. @max_bronstein wrote this phenomenal overview.

The idea of “open finance” represents, in part, a broadened understanding of the full technical crypto landscape. One of the most clicked links from any LRS this year was @KyleSamani’s Web 3 stack, which articulates both the parts of that stack and who is working on them

Speaking of technical, this beast of an essay by @iam_preethi is the 301-level course on how distributed consensus works that you know you needed but were afraid to ask for.

To me, one the most interesting conversations in crypto beyond its use as money is the idea of organizing networks in new ways. My most viewed thread of the year asked whether networks would start to replace firms as the dominant mode of human organization.

For anyone interested in questions of human organization and crypto networks, one of the essential organizations to follow this year was @AragonProject. Take, for example, this essay by @izqui9 and @ramonrecuero

New thinking about DAOs was, in many ways, simply the tip of the iceberg for even broader explorations of how to re-organize social structures to achieve things in different ways. See, for example, this essay on Harberger Tax by @simondlr

Continue your tour of futurethink with @paulkhls’ look at how to use curation markets to fund and distribute ownership of intellectual property in areas as diverse as scientific R&D, software and Pharma.

Not everything was theoretical, either. Perhaps unsurprisingly, games were the closest thing 2018 saw to a crypto break out. Specifically, Ponzi-style games from anonymous teams. This awesome thread captured the most exciting moment.

One of the most consistently great essayists in the space, @tonysheng, also recently looked at games — arguing that *if* games drive crypto adoption it will be through yet-to-be-created game titles designed around the crypto opportunity — not today’s leaders.

It makes sense that over the last month or two, we’ve seen a transition from explaining what happened in 2017 to thinking about what comes next. @Melt_Dem called where we are now “the long road to utility”

Coming off of DevCon in the fall, @lrettig wrote a dozen reasons why he’s bullish for Ethereum’s future, from wallet UX to Maker usage to the @SpankChain ecosystem. @vitalikbuterin added 5 more reasons like work on ZK-SNARKS in the comments.

One of my favorite recent threads came from @SarahJamieLewis, who simply pointed out the “actually interesting things” happening in crypto, with a heavy focus on emergent privacy technology

Privacy is one of the areas I’m most interested in. There has been a phenomenal amount of good thinking and writing this year, but a good starting point is @AaronvanW’s series for @bitcoinmagazine

And no list of “actually interesting things” happening would be complete without a mention of the massive growth in Lightning. For this one part of the best of thread, I’ll leave you with an image that validates the old adage of being worth 1000 words.

It’s clear that down markets are for building, but what are we supposed to build? @thedanigrant and @nickgrossman blew up the idea of a distinct “infrastructure phase” arguing that app adoption and infrastructure develop in a continuous feedback loop

There has also been much reflection on the right role for investors to play in crypto networks, and the conversation about “generalized mining” — in other words, the array of network building activities like staking, validating, relaying etc — is top of mind heading into the new year

One more on “generalized mining” that I think deserves more notice is this thread from Lawson that argues that the stakes of “trust minimized work” are way beyond just what crypto investors do to make money.

Then again, if crypto insider investors are thinking about generalized mining, the mainstream financial world is hovering on the edges of the industry thinking about much more basic involvement. @CaitlinLong_ is a must follow for the good *and* bad of the herd coming

The emergence of fiat-backed stablecoins also represents a fascinating new force to watch. There is an argument that much of the global demand for digital currencies is met as well or better by things like GUSD than by bitcoin. Do you buy it?

When it comes to crypto around the world, the anti-authoritarian narrative and opportunity has growing focus — and real application — everyday. @Gladstein writes eloquently about it in that ol’ rag @TIME

I would also be remiss not to mention @jchervinsky, whose threads on regulatory questions and institutional involvements have become so must-read that he may be Crypto Twitter’s threader of the year.

As we wind down a year that has seen a total paradigm shift from the heights of mania to something very different, @cburniske argues that the prices are down more than the fundamentals. This bodes well for a 2019 that is more substance than hype.

But then again, a little hype — as long as it’s about the right things — is part of the believe-making we all have to do as we will crypto into existence against the power system of today. With that, I’ll leave you with a patented Pomp tweet that captures my excitement about as well as possible:

And there we have it! I’m 100% sure that I’ve missed so much. For example, I didn’t get to dig into the amazing podcasts/newsletters @WhatBitcoinDid, @stephanlivera, @VillageGlobal Venture Stories, @TFTC21/@martybent, @theonevortex @cryptocastnet & @messaricrypto

Second caveat, I noticed that a lot of the folks like @katherineykwu who are godsends to LRS tend to write extremely current threads that are amazing, but don’t make sense for EOY lists. I could do a whole thread just on those threads.

Lastly, being sure I missed things, please share your recommendations and I make sure they get included. For those who want this bookmarked, click below. Happy Long Reads 2018, everyone. Here’s to an even better 2019!