Thessy Mehrain is director of product and innovation at ConsenSys, where she works on dapps and protocols to enable social innovation via the ethereum blockchain. She is also the founder of "Women in Blockchain" New York, a distributed global network building diversity and inclusion.
The following article is an exclusive contribution to CoinDesk's 2017 in Review series.
2017 was an exciting year for blockchain.
Despite the fact that the world today is rife with discord and polarization, there are those who are passionate about building a better future, one where people are empowered to self-organize and the institutions that underpin society actually work for the people they serve.
That is why as we reach the end of the year, it is a good time to step back and review the progress we have made towards those goals. Blockchain enables a world in which every human being has their needs met and has a voice, an open world, where we can collaborate globally on what is meaningful to us and where we benefit from our diversity of experiences.
By shifting data ownership and control, once passive consumers can become active participants in society as a whole. Equipped with tools to audit supply chains, values like labor safety, fair trade, organic production and other values can be verified, replacing advertising jargon with proof, replacing trust with auditability.
Being involved in the blockchain space today feels like being part of something larger, grander, something with a socially valuable purpose. That is why blockchain meet-ups are overflowing, conferences are sold out and the difference between personal and professional interests, for many, are blurring.
Not just ambitious, these goals should serve as reminders that we HAVE to get this right.
In 2017, we saw:
- The rise of new tokens and funds
- The largest increase in the global blockchain participant pool we've seen to date
- Valuation bubbles.
In 2018, we need to:
- Educate new participants in the blockchain ecosystem
- Work intentionally on diversity and a representative culture
- Understand the opportunities as a matter of empowering human rights.
Attracting money and masses
In 2017, blockchain leapt into the public conscious by ways of forks, CryptoKitties and token launches, also referred to as ICOs. Driven by investment opportunities and media attention, traditional businesses and consumers started to take active interest in cryptocurrencies and their underlying blockchain technology.
But, we should remember this expanded participant pool joined primarily for financial gains, drawn in by newly generated tokens that have given buyers expectations of positive performance.
For those already involved, confidence in a blockchain future was validated and fueled by the high volume of crowdsourced funding. To date, an estimated $3.6 billion was raised for token projects created just on the ethereum blockchain, an amount that justified calling token launches themselves the platform's "killer app."
With it came a sense of a modern day gold rush, but also an expansion of what is possible.
Compared to the phases of the previous internet boom which rang in the information age, the age of blockchain, of direct, disintermediated value transfer and automation, just reached 1998-levels of interest. Just like then on the back of bubbles, the crypto world invited the mainstream to join.
Laying the groundwork
And the arrival of an Apple-spoiled consumer audience lacking the passion and patience to adjust to developer jargon and unusable workflows has also brought new product requirements.
To make it easier to onboard new customers, an emphasis emerged on simplifying complexities of blockchain-based applications with delightful user experiences, appealing designs and consumer friendly language. Everyone loves CryptoKitties, the tradeable and breedable representations of value.
They are denominated in ether and have been bringing the network almost to a halt, being the cutest motivators to scale transaction throughput and liquidity.
2017 also brought a focus on making blockchain workplaces more inviting.
How better to create a more inclusive and equitable society than with diverse creators? A notable PBS study demonstrated that diversity is instrumental to building better products and systems.
The smarter companies have already well established diversity efforts (ethnicity, cultural, age, orientation...), while Women in Blockchain meet-ups and Social Impact initiatives popped up across the globe, expanding the blockchain story with female narratives.
What's next? Opportunities in 2018
But with all this achieved, now what?
In 2018, we must:
- Redirect already captured interest to create equality – Bubbles are signals of a market demand, and represent mostly expectations of monetary returns. Let's embrace them as opportunities for growth. But if we stop here, we might easily continue to centralize wealth, repeat traditional power structures, and miss the real opportunity.
- Educate new participants about the value proposition of public blockchains – and reposition 'profit' to include monetary and social value.
- Create a safe environment that supports innovation – Inevitably, some of the bubbles will burst, some of the milestones will be missed, and some of the projects will evaporate and investors will get burned, leading to calls for regulations. But if we regulate based on old structures and paradigms, we will stifle innovation.
- Take responsibility to self-regulate – This includes expanding efforts like those of Consensys' "Brooklyn Project," which has the mission of providing market participants and regulators with powerful tools to protect consumers and enhance the integrity of token-based networks.
- Intentionally build diversity and inclusion in the creator space – We are early into the blockchain era and still struggling with figuring out the technology. That focus is one of the reasons why the creator space is so young, white male dominated. Even with the best intentions and demonstrated intelligence, this doesn't create an inviting environment for diverse people, needed to build robust global products.
- Involve diverse communities in the creation of all blockchain products – education efforts to aggregate diverse intelligence and ensure that solutions serve everyone.
- Enable the core promises of blockchain to empower human rights – We have experienced systematic failures in the globalization of society. Entire populations have been left behind in poverty, lacking education and basic services, without a voice to stand up for themselves, bereft of mobility and freedom, while the right of corporations has been expanded and been protected, often benefitting from the misery of the poor.
- Promote and protect the right to freely exchange value between any two parties. The freedom to exchange is essential to participation in the future world. It is equivalent to the freedom of speech in the digital space. It is a matter of equality and has to be protected and considered as a human right.
For many, the initial draw towards the blockchain and crypto world might be financial gains.
But for a more just future, we must expand the definition of profit to include both monetary and social gains, and understand that blockchain alone is a technical solution that enables social innovation.
A diverse creator pool and innovation-friendly regulations are essential to building mechanisms in line with equality and human rights.
It is our responsibility and opportunity to get that right in 2018!
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