Last week I attended my first Blockchain Week in NYC, headlined by the Consensus 2019 Conference from CoinDesk. Although I missed day 1 of the conference (Mother’s Day duties kept me from traveling sooner – once you’re married, you’ll understand), I found the speakers, panels, and discussions to be lively and indicative of the significant progress in the blockchain space.
Here are some musings about the conference and the state of Blockchain in general:
Wall Street or Comicon?
Last year’s event attracted 8-9 thousand people, while this year’s event had about half that amount. Apparently, this year’s event was more buttoned-down (no costumes), reflecting a continued maturation of the space. Case in point: I saw more than one suit barking into their earpiece about some deal they’re working on.
Enterprise adoption (or lack of) was a big topic at the conference this year. More to come on this in a separate blog, but it seems enterprises are more interested in the transparency and immutability aspects of the technology, as opposed to decentralization. While Joe Lubins of the world preach about a future decentralized utopia, enterprises are looking to ride the wave without disrupting their own business. (This makes Binance’s BNB token and plans for a decentralized exchange a bold move in my book, and a good example of a company willing to decentralize itself.)
The Construct and Changelog tracks were meant to provide technical details on various protocols and implementation considerations, but they mostly felt like glorified commercials. The few events I attended here were long on style and short on substance.
Moving Beyond the Money?
In walking through the Exhibit areas, it’s clear a heavy focus is still on crypto and financial services businesses. Wallets, mining, exchanges, security token platforms – all were well represented by companies looking to rise above the noise. Anyone who thinks there aren’t mass-adopted apps should look no further than wallets and exchanges gaining huge traction despite the crypto-winter.
Consulting’s Big Bet
All the big service companies (and a few niche providers) were well represented at the conference. Deloitte had a lounge and a large exhibit; so did Microsoft and IBM. Accenture hosted a lunch while Tata Consulting had advertisements plastered throughout. Blockchain-related service revenue is unlikely a big part of the pie at these companies today, but their presence is a telling sign about where they think blockchain is headed.
Blockchain’s White Male Problem (Author’s race and gender duly noted…)
Speaking of Accenture’s hosted lunch – they sponsored a panel on diversity, which included women of many races and backgrounds talking about the importance of diversity in the blockchain space. It was an important and timely topic, yet I was shocked at the audience’s rude behavior during the panel. The largely white, male audience was extremely rude, talking so much over their lunches that they were drowning out the speakers. Ironic that the audience’s behavior essentially validated the problems described by the diversity panel in real time.
Really, a Cowboy Hat?
I’ve heard about the famous cowboy hat that Jimmy Song – the influential bitcoin core developer – wears in public. But seeing him wearing it in the conference hall struck me as a little silly. As a born-and-raised Texan, if you’re the type of person that wears a big cowboy hat, you’re also the type of person who takes it off indoors.
I watched a great panel about the History and Future of Money with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase. Sometimes those of us who are deep into blockchain forget how little the general public knows about our space. Fred said it best when he commented, “if you walk down 6th Avenue, 90 out of 100 people probably don’t know how to buy Bitcoin.” Something to keep in mind…
Laura Shin is The Bomb
My favorite session was at the end of the conference when Laura Shin interviewed Olaf Carlson-Wee in a fireside chat. I’ve admired Laura’s coverage of the blockchain space for a long time and I’m an avid listener of her Unchained and Unconfirmed podcasts. Olaf was a great panelist, answering Laura’s provocative questions in a very thoughtful and well-spoken manner.
Laura’s session was followed by a fireside chat with Justin Sun, the founder of TRON. The moderator, Pete Rizzo of CoinDesk, seemed to angle the interview to catch Justin off guard with tough questions about the controversies surrounding TRON, but Justin answered earnestly and willingly, despite being cut off multiple times by Pete. It made for an awkward an unrevealing interview – a poor way to wind down the conference.
There is some sense that Consensus, like many conferences, is full of hype creators while the real work continues far away in garages and basements. I believe this movement is broad and deep — only the tip of the iceberg was visible at an event with a $1200 ticket price. While I found the conference to be very informative, the movement is in your favorite project’s telegram channel, your local meetups and your technical debates with other blockchain enthusiasts. Those venues are just as informative and necessary to help blockchain achieve its potential.
Also, check out Blockchain: Trust Is Not A Binary Option