Firing up „social machine”

This is the first post of the blog accompanying the „Social Machine” project. It will be documenting next two years of researching Polish blockchain ecosystem and analyzing global trends in distributed ledger technologies. The goal of the project is to find out how the blockchain solutions and institutions of the state accommodate each other.

Łukasz Jonak, Analityk DELab UW

The situation of the blockchain scene is now radically different from what we’ve had 1,5 years ago, when cryptocurrencies where on all time highs and numerous startups were racing ahead, fuelled by funds raised in initial coin offerings and pure hype. Since then, a lot of money (both in cash and investors’ optimism) have evaporated from the ecosystem and with it many startups unable to deliver on their business model fast enough.

But the ecosystem is regrouping. Developer teams of founding projects, actual blockchains, concentrate on basic infrastructure, tackling problems of scaling and interoperability of different chains, without which ecosystem will not grow. The surviving projects, built on top of blockchain infrastructure, revise their business models to make sure they are delivering products the users will actually understand (not to mention, value).

The established IT companies (your IBMs and Microsofts) did not waste their time since the burst of the cryptocurrency bubble and shaped blockchain technologies so that they match their product portfolios. Blockchain-based solutions are aggressively marketed as cheeper and faster versions of legacy products, with careful messages, stressing their agility without the negatives of anonymity and revolutionary zeal; exactly what the hatching „Industry 4.0” might want to buy.

Blockchain is also on collective, institutional minds of nation-states and international organisations. A number of governments already moved some of their information services to blockchain-realed infrastructure, some states introduced legislations removing obstacles to the development of cryptoeconomy. The reasons may vary – attracting capital and innovation (Malta, Singapore), improving quality of public service (Singapore), while off-seting some aspects of in-favourable geopolitical position (Estonia), or augmenting traditional ways of doing internal politics (Switzerland). In Poland, the discussion about the role of distributed ledger technologies is ongoing, however, it can not be said that we are spearheading the blockchain transformation.

It also looks like the European Commission is considering blockchain technologies (just after artificial intelligence) as a possible way to counter the dominance of technological giants from over the ocean. The re-empowerment of European citizens is unlikely to happen by building a new, European (and centralised) versions of Facebook or Google. These technologies need to be leap-frogged, and EC is actively researching how the new Internet, new digital ecosystem can look like and how to get member-states on board in this transformation.

All of it is extremely interesting to a sociologist. If blockchain ecosystem is to take-off in any meaningful way (especially the public part of it), it will profoundly change the way people associate, interact with institutions, what they know and what they can do. The same will be true about traditional institutions of state and economy. Whether it happens or not – and to what extent – is being decided right now, and this blog is intended to analyze and document this process.

Autor projektu: Łukasz Jonak

Projekt finansowane ze środków programu „Dialog” MNiSW