The Block Chain Conference, held in San Francisco on February 10, billed itself as the first event to address the intersection of business and blockchains, bringing together the IT establishment and innovative startups. While it’s unclear whether the lofty goal was accomplished, to “accelerate the development, deployment and leverage of block chain-based approaches by global business,” it definitely brought together finance industry and blockchain technology companies in conversation.
The first presenters and keynotes opened with discussions on the nature of the blockchain industry and its strengths and weaknesses, admonishing the audience to think beyond the bitcoin blockchain and short term uses. Spencer Bogart, Equity Research Associate for Block Chain & Software (SaaS) at Needham & Company, championed public, permissionless, and open-source network.
Bogart sees them as being the best to build upon, highlighting their resilience, security, and anti-fragility as features that organizations need to resist the potential shocks of exploration and growth. He imagined a future of multiple blockchains and continued disintermediation.
In a slight contrast, keynote speaker John Wolpert, Global Blockchain Offering Director at IBM, argued that networks should be “permissive,” or a combination of centralized and decentralized services, much like ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
Wolpert also made a case for standardizing communication protocols, and insisted that IBM’s strategy of open innovation supporting projects like Java and XML would be the way to build the economically-aware “fabric” upon which interoperable platforms would grow. Wolpert also called out the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project, a cross-industry collaboration that includes IBM, DTCC, R3CEV, and Digital Asset, amongst others.
Judd Bagley, Director of Communications at Overstock.com and Chief Evangelist of t0.com, referenced US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 2008 speech to give historical economic context for the development of bitcoin and then presented some statistics on who is using bitcoin for transactions and what they’re buying.
Bagley also described t0’s crypto-finance unit as an example of how the path forward must be grounded in regulatory compliance.
The conference was occasion for several startups to launch new products, notably Ascribe’s BigChainDB, and Tendermint. Bruce Pon, Founder & CEO of Ascribe, was very well received, explaining how BigChainDB was designed to address the roadblocks to blockchain enterprise adoption, namely scalability, latency, and query. Special guest Leanne Kemp, Founder & CEO of Everledger, announced their partnership, using BigChainDB as a database for diamond certification and fraud detection.
Tendermint described their new Open Blockchain Platform, or “Trust as a Service,” promising to simplify blockchain application development for enterprise developers. Both products spoke to the needs of large-scale organizations for security, decreased latency, and improved throughput.
There were two jam-packed afternoon streams, one for Wall Street and financial services and the other for the New Business World, both tapping the implementations of smart contracts, integrations with Ethereum, and current development in practical applications.
Highlights included presentations from Ryan Singer (Blockchain Clearing) calling for an interledger protocol, Cheryl Gurz (The Bankcorp) encouraging the growth of global micropayments, Micah Winkelspecht (Gem) breaking down smart networks, and Tiana Laurence (Factom) showcasing how they track mortgages. Gideon Greenspan of CoinSciences sent a valuable video message on Avoiding Pointless Blockchain Projects. The entire conference live-tweet stream can be seen at the TBCCSF hashtag. Some notable tweets came from Michael O'Loughlin, Jen Massing Harris, and Caleb Chen.
All in all, the speaker list could have benefitted from more varied representation in other industries (not to mention gender and ethnicity). Other global businesses could have included media and hospitality, transportation, communications, law, or governmental organizations and NGO’s (for example, BitGive Foundation is currently building a Donation Transparency Project with BitPesa). The continued focus on finance and IT applications of blockchain technology is understandable, but to John Wolpert’s point, we need to think about more than just immediate networks, and recognize that we’re building new environments and tools for the future, for everyone.