21 Feb 2018

Printing bibles…

Want more context? read this first (3 minute read): 20 years

I wrote how I believe blockchain and distributed ledger technologies may be the next once-every-20-year paradigm change. These waves have an extraordinary impact precisely because the incumbents are not equipped to understand how these technologies fit in their vision.

The immediate consequence of this is that whatever “application” is coming from these new waves does not replace or even compete with what the incumbents do: if they did, the incumbent would have seen them! It just makes them less relevant.

Microsoft did not build a better computer which would have been competition to IBM or DEC. They built an OS which could run on any personal computer, making it irrelevant whether it was built by IBM or somebody else. When Google arrived in 98, they did not build an Operating System, they built a search engine which made the OS that people were using to browse the web irrelevant (thankfully, as I was using a Mac).

Similarly, I do not think that whatever comes from the blockchain wave will be a better social network, a new financial system, or anything that already exists at scale.

Exactly like the previous waves, the main driver for growth and innovation is the decentralisation and the “winning” players are the ones which precisely harness the resulting diversity:

  • Miniaturisation (and Moore’s law) made it possible to create small yet powerful computer at a decent cost. This was obviously a challenge for software makers and Microsoft solved that problem by creating a platform OS which could run on every computer (almost… 🍎!), and, more importantly which could run any software.

  • Similarly, the openness of the early web technologies (HTTP and HTML) made it trivial to create websites. This quickly became a challenge, because finding the right information became nearly impossible… Search engines were invented, and Google’s algorithm proved to be better than the other ones at harnessing the diversity and chaos that the web had birthed.

If we assume that the Blockchain wave will see a similar pattern, in order to bet on the right player (whatever that is: network, company, token…), we need to understand what sort of chaos the new technology creates. Where is the Cambrian explosion? One we start to have clarity around this, then, we can start guessing what type of application is going to be the poster child of the Blockchain wave.

Someone asked why that title. Before the printing press was invented, the one book which had the most copies was, by far, the Bible. It was copied manually over and over in monasteries all over Europe. The printing press was obviously a massive revolution. And yet, like with every new technology, its earliest proponents saw it only as a way to do more of the same: printing bibles, when, in practice it would open the door for much more fundamental changes!