At the start of every ambitious undertaking, you need a diverse collection of determined and dedicated pioneers to help lay the groundwork. The digital currency revolution is no different.
Ever since Bitcoin’s launch in 2009, the world’s most-proven, best-known, most secure cryptocurrency has been supported by devotees whose allegiance borders on and sometimes even extends into religious extremism. For many of these true believers, the Bitcoin blockchain is practically the only distributed ledger technology worthy of serious attention, and the famous Satoshi white paper that started it all is a holy script. Meet the Bitcoin maximalist.
The maximalist believes in a world with one true blockchain to rule them all with maybe just a little tolerance left over for exceptional lesser projects like, say, Monero. For the maximalist the fragmented world we now have with thousands of small cap tokens is an unacceptable mess. From his perspective 99% of the projects in the sector won’t work and are doomed to failure. The maximalist may be one of the wisest people in the room, but is sometimes so judgmental he’s hard to follow. His dedication has grown into frustration and often outright hostility toward others who haven’t seen the light.
At the other end of the extreme are the profiteers and trash coin kingpins. They are willing to set aside the criticism of the maximalists for a get-rich-quick scheme. They will make the kinds of compromises that would make a maximalists’ skin crawl. In this group, too, are scam artists and snake oil salesmen who engage in market manipulation or who take investors money in an ICO for projects they have no intention of realizing.
It should be made crystal clear that when fraud is committed and laws are broken, our law enforcement needs to understand how to identify and quickly put a stop to it. Complex new regulatory regimes aren’t going to help get the job done. We urgently need well-informed, unprejudiced investigators, lawyers and judges — not to mention policymakers, and I believe, a society and news media who are at a similar level.
In between the scammers and maximalists — as different as night and day — is the diverse majority who live in twilight, either dusk or dawn, and represent all the possibilities between those two far-flung extremes. Taken as a whole we see an emerging industry that is well-funded, dynamic and global, but highly polarized. It is ironic that policymakers around the world have dreamed of engineering a way to capitalize their home-grown (i.e. outside of Silicon Valley) startup sectors, but now that this world has suddenly arrived in the form of a thriving, global ICO marketplace, many jurisdictions seem to feel the need to try to regulate it out of existence.
In the world we have now there is acrimony and gaslighting between the various groups to the point where it is damaging to the industry and both regulators and newcomers are getting confused. Rather than set the record straight, we have a news media that prefers sensationalistic clickbait. Journalists seem to be looking for ICO founders who have raised millions and then absconded with the cash. That seems to be the emerging portrayal of our industry — of slick ICO gangsters that dupe ignorant consumers out of millions only to resurface in a chalet in Switzerland with call girls, cocaine, champagne and a Lamborgini in the driveway.
My simple solution: Let’s stop fighting and just talk to each other.
Maximalists, get real. The world will never agree on one blockchain. A critical part of Bitcoin’s governance model is the right to fork or launch a new chain at any time.
Bitcoin can win but none of us alone have the final say. The market decides, and for better or worse it has chosen a world with thousands of projects, most of them doomed to failure. But so what? The failure rate in the sector is no worse than for early stage tech in general. So if there’s a way to fund open source projects that, for example, make use of public key encryption and zero knowledge proofs, let’s understand the glass is more than half full. PGP’s creator Phil Zimmermann, who gave this excellent keynote for Bitcoin Wednesday’s 5-Year Anniversary, nearly lost his house while writing software that arguably changed the history of the world.
Profiteers and trash coin kingpins, please join us in educating the public. Bitcoin Wednesday is emphatically not a curated platform, so you will eventually have the opportunity to take the stage and try to cheat our audience out of millions. Best of luck!
To everyone else, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Anonymous co-founders who never speak in public are the most likely to disappear. One of the best ways to learn about contributing to ICOs is to meet the founders in person at an event, watch their demos carefully and ask challenging questions. You want to compare the good, the bad and the ugly, to expose yourself to new ideas and to support projects you understand and actually want to use. If that’s too much to ask, then listen to the maximalists and stick with Bitcoin.
Bitcoin Wednesday is a monthly conference on the digital currency revolution held every first Wednesday of the month since 2013. Richard Kohl is the founder.
Join us: We host this group on Meetup with a live event once a month.