Unpacking the piles of business cards and leaflets, scribbled notes (amazing how much still depends on paper at these events), and nursing sore feet and an overflowing mind. Yes, I just got back from the Malta Blockchain Summit, several intense days of networking and talking and listening and learning on ‘Blockchain Island’, at the start of November 2018.
So it’s good to reflect on some of those lessons learned and thoughts inspired by this event, whilst it’s all top of mind:
Smaller jurisdictions are punching above their weight and moving the world forward
In regulating and embracing crypto and blockchain.
Not just Malta – Estonia, Gibraltar, Switzerland… Europe is leading the pack in many cases, but there are lots of interesting things happening in Asia too, and one certainty is that anyone considering a new blockchain startup has a lot of countries competing for their investment. Nimbler and more flexible governments are taking the lead, in creating regulatory frameworks which embrace innovation, and often this is due to a history of responsiveness and creativity.
Indeed, when a country wholeheartedly puts its support behind something like blockchain technology, you get an event on this scale; address from the Prime Minister, thousands of delegates. Of course a certain amount of ‘showcase Malta’ is inevitable in that case, but they’ve earned it I reckon.
The regulatory and tax regime on ‘Blockchain Island’ looks very attractive, and they put on a good show. Maybe it was slightly too good, or over-ambitious… 8,500 delegates were claimed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. Crowded, noisy, lots of jostling, and difficulty moving around – both within the expo and even on the island – are the inevitable consequence, and the line between excitable buzz and just too many people in one space, is a very fine one.
Mining, especially decentralised/cloud mining, seemed to be everywhere, and being talked about everywhere
Maybe that is the only way true decentralisation can be achieved? But we will need to get over this idea that simply being ‘in the cloud’ means it’s somehow distributed. It was good to see lots of creative ideas for distributing and monetising diverse energy and activity cycles, through everything from gaming to physical exertion.
ICOs are dead – except that they’re not…
Security token offerings are clearly going to be very important going forward, but the pitch session proved that there are still a great range of projects seeking funding in what we must now regard as the ‘traditional’ way, via the sale of utility tokens. It would be great to see a follow-up with all those who pitched, because the quality did vary a lot, and it wasn’t clear exactly what criteria were used to select those who participated.
Meanwhile, expect more regulated token sales, opening up new jurisdictions and opportunities for investment for more of the world. Even if it remains a very contentious issue, and reflects the fundamental conflict between those who see institutional investment as desirable/inevitable for the maturation of the space, vs those who love the democratic wild-west of an unregulated free for all.
The tech is (as always) merging and converging
And talk about permissioned and permissionless blockchains may become less relevant as more hybrid solutions emerge (and with transaction fees and other requirements, there’s no such thing as truly permissionless anyway). Bit rude of ‘the Mac’ though, to tell our Maltese hosts that their new regulatory framework would quickly become irrelevant, and we shouldn’t be asking anyone for permission in the first place. Perhaps that’s why he has to be accompanied by heavies, even on stage?
There is still a major diversity problem in this industry
And events which don’t pay positive attention to this factor are part of the problem.
Yes, you can insert your own pun here involving the word ‘token’, but the fact is, there are a great many experts and projects being fronted by individuals of every demographic – you can see that in the expo and delegates present. So why were so many panels full of exclusively white (and some Asian) men? It’s not good enough, this is just reinforcing the stereotypes so it becomes self-fulfilling, so you need positive action to offset it.
Also, the issue of staffing expo stalls with glamorous female promotional staff, who cannot speak informatively about the project… Seriously, how is this even happening in 2018? Hire people of any gender or appearance who can speak intelligently to what you’re creating and represent your business with some credibility, or else forget it. Certainly we would never represent anyone who did this.
But the biggest problem was definitely on the main conference stage, where one of the most hyped non-male keynote speakers was a robot. Is this the best the industry can do? Not from where we’re standing.
Some people get squeamish about the language.
I get it, we’re talking serious B2B big data management, in some quite traditional industries. But if you couldn’t bear to mention cryptocurrencies and decided blockchain sounded more grown up, don’t start avoiding the word blockchain now because you think it’s hypey or distracting. And I barely heard the words crypto or Bitcoin (yes, I know it was a blockchain conference. Perhaps all the maximalists were larging it up at Cryptocon in Vegas… I wonder what the parties were like there?)
Language is dynamic, words can mean whatever we claim them to mean, so can we please take these two back? Otherwise in a year or two, we’ll all be saying ‘don’t mention distributed ledgers…’.
Another language curiosity:
The word ‘indenture’ came from the idea of tearing a contract into two parts
Leaving a jagged edge – the ‘teeth’ of which could only match the other half of the same original document. As W Scott Stornetta memorably expressed it, ‘blockchain creates a digital tear, with the world as its witness’. I love curious etymologies, this one will stay with me.
Going to events is expensive, time-consuming and exhausting. BUT, it is also inspiring, energising and fascinating.
As a writer who does 95% of my ‘networking’ in this space completely online from a home-based office, it has to be said that there is something really powerful about getting together face to face with some great projects, policymakers and ideas.
I am looking forward to the next one!