It’s time for crypto to grow up.
When crypto crashed in late 2017 and 2018, a lot of folks drew parallels to the dotcom crash in the late 90s.
But let’s face it, the dotcoms were a lot further along than the crypto platforms of today. Sure, they were drunk on their own hype, but they still had working websites and business models. They had employees and lots of users. They were close to building themselves into the powerhouse companies that now dominate the global economic landscape.
Today’s crypto projects pale in comparison.
Those dot com websites had adoption. Crypto most certainly doesn’t have mass adoption. 5% of people in first world countries own crypto. Japan has the highest ownership in the world and that’s a measly 11% of the population.
But that’s not even the whole story. Ownership doesn’t mean adoption. Having 50 ether in a wallet somewhere doesn’t mean a thing unless we’re using it to buy and sell things. Economies work when money is in motion, flowing back and forth between buyer and seller, producer and shipper, entrepreneur and customer.
Today, we’ve got almost no decentralized apps and no functional platforms to build them on. The dApps that do exist are clunky and clumsy. It’s hard enough for skilled tech people to use them, let alone regular folks.
Try to get your mother or father to buy crypto. If it takes you less than a week, you’re a master.
By the time you explain crypto to them, get them registered on an exchange, KYCed, wire in money from a bank, get their two-factor authentication set up, buy some bitcoin or ether and get it download to a wallet, you’ll be begging for mercy.
Now try to imagine the average person doing this process with no help whatsoever?
Back to Basics
Cryptocurrency brought us a whole new wave of ideas and ways of thinking about the world. They’re a reaction to loose monetary policies, mass surveillance and way too much centralization.
Decentralized, distributed, localized platforms are the antidote to all this. In a federated trust system, we can remove bad actors when they fail us. It’s not just a nice to have, it’s essential we get there as a society to restore the balance.
But while these are big problems that affect everyone, expecting most folks to understand them is extremely naive. These are complex problems, with complex solutions.
And even if you can get folks to understand, getting them to care is even harder. Yes, they’ll grudgingly admit that it’s not great that the same three or four companies control the vast majority of our data, but once you’re done talking they’re straight back on their smartphones. They don’t want to lose Facebook, Google, Uber, and all the other centralized services the modern internet gives us.
And you know what? They’re not wrong.
Why give up on the amazing developments of the past few decades? Yes, the system is broken, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Our current trust-based systems are horrible and we can’t fix them, but that doesn’t mean they’ve got nothing to teach us.
Crypto needs to focus on what people really want and give them what they truly need. Once people are using crypto every day, distributed platforms will automatically grow the roots they need to fix every single aspect of our broken and crumbling system.
But to get there, those platforms have to change.
What crypto needs is a good old-fashioned company.
Cogito AERGO Sum
That’s what I like about AERGO.
They’re a Hong Kong-based, non-profit, open source foundation, all of which is cool, but most importantly they’re a back-to-basics, block and tackle kind of company. They’ve got a killer team and they know how to apply the working computer science design patterns of the past to the present.
Instead of jumping on the crypto bandwagon, they’ve gone back to the beginning and started building their company the right way.
First, they’re paying attention to what people actually want.
What problems do they have?
What applications could they build to solve them?
Maybe that all seems crazy obvious, but so many crypto projects are focused on ideology and cool infrastructure, and sadly regular people don’t care about any of that at all. But once you get cool software in people’s hands, that’s when things start to take off. Cool software will gift people privacy and security secretly. It’s a stealth move.
Do it the other way around, with infrastructure first, and you’re just doomed to fail.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Like Microsoft in the early years, AERGO got smart and focused on developers, developers, developers.
Today’s crypto platforms need to bring devs into the fold as fast as possible. That’s how we get this whole ecosystem kickstarted and off the ground.
Where are they looking for these developers?
In the open source world, of course.
Open source is really the only good model we have for this kind of distributed development. AERGO’s CTO wants open source at the core of everything they do, and he knows it’s not just something you slap on after the fact. He sees Red Hat as the template for his business: like Red Hat, AERGO will take open platforms and build super stable enterprise versions of those platforms, all while delivering killer support.
You could do a lot worse than picking Red Hat as your model. They’re the only major open source company in the S&P 500, and they’ve done it while resisting the urge to build freemium models.
The AERGO folks know you either go all in with your open source platform or you go home.
Like we’re seeing in crypto at the moment, without solid governance and support systems, open source projects have a way of tearing themselves apart.
An open source platform isn’t just a cheap gimmick:
It’s a way of life.
It needs to deliver long-term support to developers and make sure they have the tools and resources they need. It needs stability and structure. If you can do that, the community will grow itself and the cool apps will follow like day follows night.
No amount of ICO money can brute force that into place.
To the Moon, One Step at a Time
We don’t need radical transformations in crypto. We need to iterate on old ideas and blend them with brand new ones.
Reinventing the wheel is a waste of time.
Databases work. XML works. TCP/IP works.
That’s why AERGO updated tried and true tools for the crypto era.
In many ways it’s amazing when Ethereum rolls out a shiny new programming language, but the truth is it’s a real choke point and makes it hard to actually get anything done. Programmers have to learn a whole new language and there are bugs and scaling issues and all the other hallmarks of an immature platform.
Instead of forcing them to learn a whole bunch of new skills, AERGO’s distributed, decentralized database uses an updated SQL, a decades-old language that’s proven, battle-hardened and has tens of thousands of developers who know it inside and out.
They brought this practical approach to other aspects of their tech as well. They’re working with a classical design pattern: private chains anchored by a public chain.
That’s the model that made the Internet.
A billion private networks live behind firewalls all over the world, connected to the public TCP/IP and DNS platform that lets you read the very words I’m writing right now. That model works.
So why reinvent the wheel and force everything to work on chain? This lets them scale the system faster and farther than anything we have working today.
There’s very little doubt that a major public chain will eventually solve scaling, blowing away Visa level transactions and uniting the world in a next-gen Internet. But it will take time. And not just crypto time, where every month feels like a decade.
We’ve grown impatient as a society. We think everything happens at light speed. But the truth is the Internet took twenty-five years to really take off and it was one baby step at a time. There’s no template for doing something brand new. Engineers are inventing decentralized and distributed versions of the platforms we’ve had thirty-plus years to build on now.
Why ignore everything we learned over those decades? As long as we’re careful to keep them in check with trustless systems, there’s nothing wrong with using the proven design patterns of the past.
Once we have killer apps, we’ll have people using them. And once we have people using them, mass adoption is only a matter of time.
One day we’ll look up and everyone will have a decentralized communication platform in their pocket and WeChat and WhatsApp will be relics of the past.
Crypto is a massively disruptive technology, there’s no getting away from that. But disruptive doesn’t have to mean destructive. Not everything needs to be torn down.
We just need to bring a little enterprise software thinking back to the blockchain space. Once we start doing that, the new crypto boom will make the dotcom boom look like the caveman era in the face of the glimmering rocket ships of the space age.