New technologies are typically met with controversy and confusion. Blockchain has raised concerns about the environmental cost with its high-energy use, lack of regulation and risk, complexities, benefits, shortage of speed, and the “Establishment’s” vested interest in blockchain failing. – Forbes, 2018. Another concern is with initial coin offerings (ICOs).
After attending many events on FinTech, ICOs, blockchain and Social Media Week, I sat down with Jeffrey Lancaster, Head of Product Development, North America at Decoded to decrypt all the data discussion. “The true vision is the democratization of data and giving content back to the creators. Companies need to be more customer-centric and storytelling is the way to connect. We find most people are good at telling stories at a pub, but not as much in corporate meetings. We teach non-tech people how to sell technology solutions,” said Lancaster.
It all started seven years ago when Kathryn Parsons, a U.K. Ogilvy alum, specializing in digital media and technology at her previous creative agency, The Scarlett Mark tried to hire developers. “It wasn’t just me, but CEOs of tech companies weren’t even sure what we were talking about when it came to coding. I was in a tech business but noticed the skills gap and I thought to myself ‘could you teach someone to code in a day?’”
While working at The Scarlett Mark in the U.K. she met her future Decoded co-founders, Alasdair Blackwell, Steve Henry and Richard Peters. Decoded’s Code in a Day launched in August 2011 as a workshop for 10 people but the seminars evolved globally, from Hong Kong, South Africa and New York.
In 2011, Fast Company challenged their idea and wrote an article, “Can You Learn to Code in One Day? We Sent a Non-Nerd to Find Out.” The story began with, “a U.K.-based program called Decoded promises to teach n00bs (tech newbies) to code in a day.”
Since 2011, Decoded has taught tens of thousands of professionals in more than 70 cities around the world to code. The program enables people to build their own responsive mobile web app in a single day, using HTML, CSS and Java Script.
Other courses include; machine learning, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. Understanding how these platforms were developed and where they came from makes technology less mysterious and intimidating. Anyone, without prior knowledge of technology, or IT skills, can learn. Decoded assumes no prior technology experience.
Jeffrey and I discussed Forbes’ article, “5 Big Problems with Blockchain Everyone Should Be Aware Of.”
1. Environmental Implications and Energy Costs
Jeffrey said, bitcoin is an implementation of blockchain that uses complex algorithms which can consume large amounts of computing power because it uses proof of work. The underlying technology is blockchain which doesn’t necessarily have to use proof of work as the consensus mechanism. The energy is consumed in public blockchains – private blockchains, implemented by companies which may not consume so much energy because they can choose to use different consensus mechanisms such as proof of stake.
2. Lack of Regulation Creates a Risky Environment
Jeffrey explained the confusion with regulation. You don’t have to use blockchain with cryptocurrency. It’s important to distinguish between the two type of users. One, is a public blockchain network, such as a miner validating transactions which incentivizes people to get their transactions on the blockchain. Second, is the speculative markets, people buying with the hope that the value changes. But the intent of cryptocurrency was not to be speculative. It was to create value. Getting around the notion of centralized intent is premature.
3. Its Complexities Mean Users Find It Hard to Appreciate the Benefits
There are huge benefits that are easy-to-understand. I’ve listed eight, but there are many more across a wide variety of industries.
- Musician Imogen Heap advocated for blockchain technology in the music world in 2015, when she released a song called “Tiny Human” with blockchain startup Ujo Music. Fans could choose to pay for the song using the Ether cryptocurrency; a smart contract which automatically splits the revenues between Heap and her collaborators.
- Charities and foundations have been trialing Bitcoin donations. These include, The Red Cross, Save the Children, United Way and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Cryptocurrency donations to charity are clearly on the rise. Fidelity Charitable, which houses the nation’s largest donor-advised fund, received $69 million in cryptocurrency donations in 2017, up from $7 million in 2015 and 2016 combined.
- UNICEF is enabling people to donate to its Australian branch without giving any money. Instead, you give away a part of your computing power to let it mine cryptocurrency for charity. “The longer people stay on the site, the more cryptocurrency they’re able to mine on UNICEF’s behalf. The site says the cryptocurrency will go toward giving children life-saving supplies, like safe water, therapeutic food and vaccines. — The Verge, April 30, 2018
- Facebook and Google sell people’s data. YouTube hosts a Partners Program where creators earn money from ads appearing on their videos or Red subscriptions. U.S. data brokers are valued at $15 billion and have no relationships with consumers from whom they harvest and sell data. The overall goal is to remove the middleman.
- DataCoup, Inc. develops online applications that lets users share and distribute their personal data from the apps and services they use, including online social data, and offline spending data giving consumers complete control. Today, identity verification can be done on the blockchain so that it’s connected to a trusted source of data; usually a service delivered through as API.
- Beyond cryptocurrency donations and tracking, several social purpose digital coins have been created to support specific nonprofit programs and endeavors. Clean Water Coin, for example, was designed to raise money for the nonprofit Charity:Water. The blockchain is meant to raise money for social impact projects.
- The Provenance blockchain helps businesses build trust in their goods and supply chain for fresh produce with product claims from origin to supermarket. The initiative has demonstrated the possibility of using blockchain technology to track ethical claims and digitally prove fair trading practices. Working with NGO Fairfood, Provenance tracked ethics claims on 1000 coconuts.
- Walmart partnered with IBM’s (IBM) Hyperledger Fabric — a blockchain system — to track food shipments. From the start of their journey at the farm, pallets of mangoes were tagged with numeric identifiers and every time they crossed a checkpoint it was digitally recorded via blockchain.
It takes roughly two seconds for the information to appear. If there’s a foodborne illness outbreak and it takes a week to figure out the root cause, that’s a lot of time, energy and money. In the event of an E. coli or salmonella outbreak, the difference between two seconds and nearly a week is lifesaving and can save companies millions of dollars.
4. Blockchains Can Be Slow and Cumbersome
Jeffrey clarified that the real question is, speed as related to what? Is blockchain slow relative to Visa’s inter settlement network. Yes. And, wiring money to other countries takes several days, instead of ten seconds. Blockchain is not the solution for every problem because not everything needs processing in seconds.
The slow performance issue is with bitcoin which takes up to ten minutes to create a block. Blockchain is a digitized, distributed, secure ledger to guarantee immutable transactions and provide trust when value is exchanged. Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin rely on blockchain to conduct transactions. But, blockchain goes beyond cryptocurrencies with many other solutions.
5. “The Establishment” Has a Vested Interest in Blockchain Failing
The banking industry is collaborating with blockchain for FinTech solutions to reduce settlement times, increase speed of global transactions, and make banking more seamless and customer-focused. The IBM-backed Hyperledger Fabric project is a trade finance platform aimed at international payments utilizing blockchain, with seven of its largest supporters including Deutsche Bank, HSBC, KBC, Natixis, Rabobank, Societe Generale and Unicredit. IBM’s blockchain platform will run through the IBM Cloud, allowing for interconnectivity between all parties in a particular secure transaction.
The RC Consortium, Inc. is bank-based governance and foundation model to support the worldwide community of users, maintainers, and developers of R language, a data science platform. It raised $107 million from Temasek, SBI Group, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Intel.
An R3 project is Corda, an open source blockchain project, designed for businesses and financial institutions to build interoperable blockchain networks that transact directly, in strict privacy, with value. Consortium arrangements enable all parties get involved.
At the end of our meeting, I told Jeffrey I worked with a software entrepreneur marketing mobile apps and coding. I sat through months of coding courses and weeks of webinars on how to code and didn’t think I’m wired to code. Jeffrey disagreed, “You can definitely learn to code in a day.”
After, I toured their offices and saw blockchain and etherum working. I spoke with the CEO of Decoded, Elizabeth Lukas and told her how impressed I was with everything they’re doing. When I looked at all their clients on a large white board, I was wowed.
Their website says, “We build products that are inspirational, hands-on and simple. This means telling human stories and giving people the time to play. We make things clear, accessible and – most importantly – memorable.”
Decoded employees used human-speak, were passionate, inspiring and fun. And they’re right, I felt as if I was speaking with friends in a bar. It’s exciting to know we can all learn to code in a day.
About the Author: Wendy Glavin is Founder and CEO of Wendy Glavin Agency, a NYC full-service agency. Wendy is a 20-year veteran of corporate, agency, consulting and small business ownership. She specializes in B2B2C marketing communications, PR, social and digital media. Her website is: http://wendyglavin.com/. Contact her at: [email protected].