"Like many others, we're a part of R3. Most of you are probably thinking 'what for'?"
So said RCI Bank head of innovation and partnerships Jean-Christophe Labarre about participating in one of the bigger consortiums bringing together institutions looking into blockchain technology.
The comment drew some laughter from the crowd of attendees at day one of the developer-focused EDCON conference in Paris, France. The reaction seemed to voice agreement from the developers that they were not so excited by the promise of private consortium applications when compared to the enthusiasm for public ethereum blockchain which anyone can join.
Labarre was one of the first to address the crowd on day one, but the reaction seemed to extend to other private implementations as well.
For example, Enterprise Ethereum, first reported on by CoinDesk at the beginning of the year, is a secretive project that's in the process of emerging from the shadows.
Public details are, so far, thin on the ground, but the gist is that it seems like an equivalent of R3 but utilizing ethereum, with big banks like JP Morgan and Santander reportedly joining ranks.
Knowing that, attendees shared opinions on enterprise applications of ethereum in general and whether or not it would have an impact going forwards. While some were ambivalent, the most common view seemed to be that it would benefit the public ethereum blockchain overall.
"I think it would be a good way for people at the corporate world to hear about Ethereum," Jorge Izquierdo, tech lead at ethereum project Aragon, told CoinDesk, adding:
"Probably they have some use cases, but I personally think the public chain will eventually work and will be more important."
Having said that, his partner, Aragon project lead Luis Cuende, sounded less convinced, saying: "In some way it misses the point."
Serving a purpose
Others seemed more optimistic. Yessin Schiegg, former advisor for the Ethereum Foundation, described what he sees as the potential applications.
"Banks putting up their own blockchain system consortium that has the benefit of cost-savings to the banks. It's a new way to get together. It's a good thing," he said.
It's fairly common to hear comparisons of budding public blockchains (such as ethereum) to an early internet, which took time to grow and develop.
Some go as far as to argue that private blockchain implementations are like intranets - the private networks that were popular with organizations for a time.
But, the open internet is what ultimately won out. And, the open internet, so goes the analogy, is more like the public ethereum blockchain, since it's one big system to which anyone can connect.
Schiegg made the same analogy, but with his own twist, arguing that private internet lines still have an impact today, so private blockchain networks probably will too.
"I think it will survive for a long time. Nowadays, 20 years into the internet, we still have banks having bulletin boards with dedicated lines which are completely cut off from the internet. Permissioned blockchains will survive and coexist and will serve their purpose," he said.
This echoes what others in the space have said for a while, that private and public blockchains will each have a place in industry going forwards.
Still, Schiegg emphasized (multiple times) that he thinks that the main ethereum chain will have a more far-reaching impact overall.
"True disruption will come from public implementations," he said. "But it will take a lot more time because you can set up an MPV [minimum viable product] within months, whereas in order to take advantage of the network affect, the public blockchain needs to grow for years."
The EDCON conference talks focused mainly on potential additions to the public ethereum platform, and enterprise applications were not often the subject of discussion.
However, CEO of Brainbot Technologies Heiko Hees, perhaps best known for work on the Raiden Network, delivered a presentation on Trustline Networks, which he described as "Ripple for ethereum" that would be one day be downloadable as a mobile app.
Outside of the presentations, the Aragon team offered bold ideas for how enterprise implementations could potentially provide a 'Trojan horse' for the public ethereum blockchain - a common interpretation of the developing situation.
Izquierdo offered the example of how Aragon-style firms (essentially DAOs, or leaderless companies) could first be implemented on private networks run by a national government, before they move to a more public venue.
As a developer working on a range of enterprise ethereum applications, architect of the ethereum e-wallet project Omise Rick Dudley put his reaction more bluntly:
"This will be good for ethereum."
Image via Alyssa Hertig for CoinDesk