The state of the cryptocurrency

Back to the roots.

Full disclosure: I am not a Bitcoin-afficionado or enthusiast. I am not a Bitcoin-speculator or have any other financial interest in Bitcoin as of so far. I do not even own an Android phone, which would out me at once as an outsider, if I hadn’t disguised my iPhone with Sennheiser headphones and a bulky black Lifeproof case (but still: no Bitcoin wallet on my phone, due to the app store ToS).

I have been a sceptic. To quote myself from June 2011 on Quora

“Bitcoin is a lot of things:

  • a fascinating proof of concept for a p2p cryptocurrency
  • a virtual value store with a highly irresponsible carbon footprint
  • an exercise in mass-psychology, illustrating that any perception of value is based upon mutual understanding, not some inherent natural qualities …”

Guess what. I still think this is a valid analysis. In hindsight to be amended by an appreciation of the ingenuity of coupling a complex cryptocurrency system with sassy speculation as an adoption booster.

OK, so, what am I doing on a Bitcoin conference, between wild eyed neo-neo liberals, post-Austrian libertarian economists, rags to riches full time traders, gnomish core developers, gold digging VCs, crypto-artists and software jockeys, infighting factions and secret forkers of code behind all this?

Mostly, I was enjoying myself. “This is just like in the first years of the Internet”, told me a fellow veteran of the dot-com-days. And yes, it’s true, for a variety of reasons, from potential social impact to entrepreneurial incentives to a positivistic anarcho-technological believe system like a WIRED-issue from 1993.

But, besides, net-nostalgia, Bitcoin offers much more.

  • “It’s a settlement system, which in the last four years has never failed”, says Tamás Blummer of Bits of Proof. His company is looking into Bitcoin-Enterprise application.
  • “Whole national economies might switch over to Bitcoin”, declared a whole set of panelists.
  • “A single coin might reach valuations up to a 100.000 or a Million US-Dollars”, predicted a more speculative mind (but hey, who am I to argue with any many-thousand-fold increase in exchange value).
Bitcoin in Amsterdam.
Bitcoining in Amsterdam.

But the real value of Bitcoin for the further developments of the Internets might even be more arcane. Most successful web service of nowadays share on principle: Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, Instagram, you name it are private ventures operating huge black boxes, which can be accessed over the Internet. The underlying protocols are private property. And, looking at Twitter, it might be easy to explain where the problem sits.

Twitter is basically a very simple messaging protocol, which (for whatever strange reasons) took the Internet by storm. Thousands of companies contributed into an API-fostered ecosystem based upon 140 characters and a central server. But with ever increasing VC investments into the monolithic service, the need for a cash out became so urgent, that it finally began to shape the service. Applications, which were to close to Twitter’s future money flows got the boot. With Twitter’s IPO becoming somewhat inevitable, what’s mostly left of the ecosystem is a 15 billion US Dollar media giant, which dabbles in some ad revenues and sells consumer intelligence to broadcasters.
Now try to imagine how the world would look like, if basic concepts like email or SMS would have taken the same path.

From this perspective, Bitcoin is a healthy step back into a direction of the Interwebs. Technically it’s a protocol, a reference implementation, and some forks of the reference. In technical reality, it’s a very stable crypto-based transactional infrastructure with many different potential uses. Economically, Bitcoin related companies are already attracting serious financing. And Bitcoin-assets seem to be in the 1bn USD range. Not a lot for a currency. But quite a lot of money for being real values stored in still kind of clunky software applications.

It’s the power of open.
And I think I’m going to make use of it.

The Future of TV

Some of you might remember the little booklet I did in the early 90ies, Fernsehen 2000: global, digital, interaktiv. Back then, the year 2000 still had this Stanley Kubrick Sci Fi ring. Now it seems like a good time to ask the same question again: What is the future of TV?

At Internationaler Medienkongress at ifa, Columbia University’s Eli Noam presented a quick ride into his take of the future of TV. Basically, he sees the following problem: according to Moore’s law, IT technology changes with an assumed 40% per year CAGR. Doing the same calculation for TV, you end up with a CAGR of 4% (dubbed Sarnoff’s law by Noam).

As IT encroaches  more and more into CE hardware territories (even a sluggish Smart TV has more processing power than your first laptop – equally, you can watch TV on your iPad or PC), there might be a threshold when the stupid box finally will disappear, like a demented dinosaur. Or, maybe not. But at least, some drastic changes are on their way. When buying a new TV set, consumers already experience a new sales spiel. It’s not just about screen size anymore (and has never been about 3D). Creative sales people now sing the praise of quad core-TVs vs the lame old dual core CPUed TV screens. Next thing, they’ll get a start button to turn them off.

But it’s not just about the hardware. The whole ecosystem is changing, and Noam sees some drastic changes coming up. One pretty convincing example: cloud delivery is not an if, but a when.

But then, what’s tv anyway? For the guys at ifa it’s all about the hardware. For a broadcaster, it’s a linear sequence of audience reach optimized content. For a professional producer, it’s professionally produced formats. For the audience, it’s their beloved hanging out in front of their beloved telly. But hey: does watching VoD qualify as watching TV? And what about a catch-up service vs. a movie played locally from your hard disk recorder vs. a bootlegged stream served via YouTube? Hmmm. It’s a hornet nest. That’s why Noam wisely prefers a Gestalt definition of TV (some kind of: if it looks live TV, it’s very likely that it is TV).

Ooops, I do it again. ooops, I do it again.

And as we were chatting after his talk, he nudged me into the following direction: how about setting up a scenario for television in 2020? Well, OK, call me a fool in fiddling around with the future, but here we go: My pretty ambitious and hopefully not too preposterous snapshot of 2020 television.