AUSTIN, Texas — We’ve wrapped up the first full public day of Consensus, and I’ve been asked to share my thoughts about what I’m seeing from the ground. But it’s hard to think of anything more meaningful to say than simply:
For a bit of context, CoinDesk held the very first Consensus event just under seven years ago, in 2015. Attendance was a whopping 500 people.
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This year’s Consensus is the first in-person iteration of the conference since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The most recent attendance number I’ve heard for this year’s event is 17,000.
So yeah. Wow. Woah. Dang.
I’ve attended most of the Consensus conferences since 2016, and one point of reference in particular stands out – the infamous 2018 conference at New York’s Marriott Marquis. It was the height of post-initial coin offering mania, and though the mood was beginning to turn sour, the event attracted nearly 9,000 attendees.
That was seemingly too much for the Marriott's space to handle: The registration lines give attendees trauma flashbacks to this day. That grim memory is one reason we made the move to Austin, Texas, where I’m ecstatic to report that I’ve seen no such traffic jams so far despite almost double the attendance.
An even more interesting comparison to 2018 is the vibes, man. The 2018 event came after a brutal market crash, with bitcoin (BTC) trading at about $6,600 during the event (down 66% from the local peak just shy of $20,000 the preceding December). The mood was fairly grim.
This year’s event was also preceded by a market crash. Bitcoin is down 57% from its all-time high of $67,000 set last November. But unlike in 2018, it’s hard to find a downcast eye or frowning face at Consensus 2022.
The convention center is packed with curious attendees hungry for knowledge about decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO), Ethereum scaling solutions and all kinds of relatively arcane, future-forward or speculative matters that don’t have much to do with the current market but could pay off big-time in the long run.
It’s true that markets in crypto are highly tied to sentiment – but for the most dedicated, it’s increasingly clear that sentiment isn’t entirely tied to markets. And that group is growing.
Another notable new presence at Consensus: real, widespread, in-your-face diversity. We’ve been talking for years about how the openness of crypto would make it accessible for a much broader spectrum of people, and we’re starting to see that really happen. As someone who grew up and lives in a multiracial environment, it made me feel particularly great to see a lot of Black folks in attendance, onstage and backstage. No small kudos for that has to go to the efforts of CoinDeskers and contributors including Isaiah Thomas, Tyrone Ross and Spencer Dinwiddie.
See also: Consensus Compared: Why 2022 Feels Different | Opinion
Unfortunately, Consensus’ growth also means more chances for attendees to misbehave. If you want to keep your dignity and reputation intact, you might want to avoid having full-length conversations while watching a panel, sneaking into unauthorized areas to pitch journalists or bringing a loudspeaker to disrupt panels (all behaviors I’ve seen in the last two days).
There’s a lot to gain at Consensus – but there’s even more to lose, if you leave people in the industry convinced you’re a jackass. Just because we have fun and make our own rules doesn’t mean we’re not respectful of each other.
Amid everything else, I managed to moderate a few panels on Thursday at the Big Ideas stage, put together by the Layer 2 features and opinion team. I got to talk about DAO design with Ellie Rennie from RMIT and others, and also had a VERY weird and fun conversation with Chris Gabriel, AKA YouTube’s MemeAnalysis. For those who couldn’t make it or watch the streams of those events, we’ll likely have some clips and write-ups available soon.
Of course, it would have been a whole lot cooler if you’d seen it all in person. Here’s hoping that next year you’ll join us.