Questions for Blockchain Experts

Here are a sample of questions I’d ask any blockchain expert today…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a back-and-forth email exchange with one of my favorite podcasters (also Chicago-based!). They were going to interview the author of a recently-published book about blockchains and the potential of blockchains to change the way business records, transactions, votes and other interactions are executed and recorded, and this person requested my input on questions for the interviewee. Unfortunately, the questions I posed came just a tad too late. However, the few questions I wanted to ask this blockchain expert are currently relevant and worth asking of anyone who claims expertise in blockchains and cryptocurrencies, so I decided to share them here on this blog.

Here are a sample of questions I’d ask any blockchain expert today:

  • Bitcoin has been called “The Internet of Money” or “The Email of Money”. Well, both email and the Internet are basically just a collection of core protocols, just like Bitcoin. One could argue, correctly, that the core protocols of email and the Internet haven’t fundamentally changed since their creation, and that their relative stability has led them to become great platforms to build on. Is the rapidly-changing nature of blockchain tech, and strife over Bitcoin’s protocol design, hindering blockchains‘ broader and sustained adoption as another core protocol?
  • In your opinion, what are the relative merits and drawbacks of closed/private blockchains like Stellar or Ripple? Is there a use-case for them, or is he an advocate only for open blockchains like Bitcoin?
  • (Keeping in mind that open blockchains like Bitcoin are most secure and resilient when they’re decentralized…) To what extent does he think that Bitcoin is centralized? Are there any risks created by centralization in each of Bitcoin’s three core economic areas: mining, exchanges and financial services?
  • Investors like Marc Andreessen seem to be staunch believers that the potential of blockchain tech is inextricably linked to Bitcoin. This is to say, he’s a skeptic of blockchains that don’t build on top of Bitcoin in some way. Are startup investors right to be leery of companies that build on a blockchain and mining infrastructure other than Bitcoin’s?
  • What are his thoughts on Distributed Autonomous Corporations (DACs) and how should startup investors think about companies aiming to build them?

Author: Jason D. Rowley

As I mentioned elsewhere, I wear a lot of hats. Currently, I'm interested in VC data, early stage startups, and journalism. Previously I've been a blogger, designer, researcher, startup founder, (temporary) college dropout, connector, occasional branding designer and amateur chef.

2 thoughts on “Questions for Blockchain Experts”

  1. Matt from Hedgy.co here.

    We build blockchain applications for enterprise clients and have seen many different use cases over the past two years we have been doing this.

    1. The protocol design (block size) is only part of what’s holding bitcoin from gaining wider adoption. It is a broken payment system and much inferior to VISA or paypal. As for gaining adoption, when a company has a specific use case for blockchain tech they must evaluate whether using the bitcoin blockchain in its current form or using another private ledger and/or ethereum/hyperledger makes more sense. Often the case, a private distributed ledger will meet the applications needs. The Bitcoin Blockchain in its current form cannot fit all and has limitations.

    2. Stellar and Ripple serve very different functions then the bitcoin blockchain. Ripple and stellar allow for instant settlement, limited known actors, known identity & more seamless asset issuance. They also allow for custom integration into current business work flows which is appealing to banks & large corporates with already existing systems.

    3. There is significant centralization risk in bitcoin – particularly with the miners / mining pools. This could become a problem any day they decide to collude. However, we will not know until it happens. The exchanges are less centralized but the market is dominated and moved by Chinese buyers/sellers.

    4. I actually disagree with Marc Andreessen in the sense that I believe there can be successful blockchain tech/apps built on other ledgers besides bitcoin. Eventually we will get interoperability between blockchains (ex sidechains) at which point smaller and or private chains can be secured by the mining power of bitcoin. (See http://www.rootstock.io for one example.) However, other apps dont NEED the bitcoin blockchain to succeed. Ethereum has emerged as a major contender to bitcoin – I predict venture investors will begin making significant ethereum investments this year (www.boost.vc has already started)

    5. DAC’s are incredibly exciting and powerful although they have limitations. I believe they will be used to automate many of the basic corporate functions such as issuing shares, corporate actions, voting etc. However, we have an existing legal and financial system that C corps among others must operate in and abide by the laws. Many times there are qualitative based events and responsibilities that we need lawyers, bankers and accountants to take care of. For example, when raising equity capital, a startup must file specific forms with each state in which they have an investor that they receive money from. A DAC will not be able to file those forms. Point being we will always need the current way of doing things in order to abide by the law. The key will be to find the use cases where the current system poses significant challenges – for example imagine crowdfunding a company with 100,000 shareholders. At that scale, a DAC could provide a lot of value in the automation of corporate actions like issuing shares & providing an unalterable, provable record of ownership. Imagine the paperwork with 100,000 people!

    Another thought:

    6. Some of the most exciting and interesting blockchain applications require changing the laws or current banking system. For example, if we could have USD issued by banks on a blockchain (Fedcoin or USDCoin) then we could program smart contracts with USD like we can Ether or bitcoin. However, this is not a technical problem, it is a regulatory & banking problem. Fortunately, some countries are already taking action in this direction like the bank of England:

    Hope that helps shed some light!

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