The term “blockchain” has been thrown about a lot over the last few months, typically followed by a fair amount of hyperbole. For instance, William Mougayar, the author of "The Business Blockchain," described it as “a tsunami-like phenomenon, slowly advancing and gradually enveloping everything along its way.”
Yes, blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt institutions, economics and even social structures, if it finds its “killer app.” But what many analysts and technologists are missing right now is the importance of community in building on blockchain technology.
While many argue that the most notable instance of blockchain technology — bitcoin — enables “the math” to be the ultimate arbiter in transactions, this is not enough to build strong networks in which people will trade in the first place. Bitcoin is the most well-known application of blockchain technology, but most incentives for people to actually trade with it involve avoiding the banking system for illegal or borderline illegal activities (like offshore online gambling). For more networks to be built and be truly valuable, people need a stronger incentive to come together and use the blockchain. This will require the efforts of strong community leaders.
So how can community professionals begin to leverage their skills to advance blockchain technology?
3 Big Ways Community Professionals Can Impact Blockchain Technology
1. There's a massive need for developers and those who can organize them
In the last year, more large enterprises have been adopting blockchain technology. One of the most popular stories of such adoption is JP Morgan’s Quorum project. With Quorum, the financial giant is developing its own public use case for blockchain on Ethereum’s blockchain.
The most important takeaway here is they’re allowing developers to build in public together on this cutting-edge technology: they’re doing their work out loud and in community, as is much of the Bitcoin community. Community is even called out as one of the primary tenets of Quorom because it's open source and "invites collaboration and grows more robust through inclusion of diverse perspectives." This will be the future of blockchain for the next 10 to 20 years. If you’ve ever wanted to become a developer evangelist, now would be a great time to dip a toe into the waters.
2. An emergence of producers and consumers in developing nations – that you’ll have access to
The blockchain’s most promising feature is that it has the capacity to create security and trust in transactions in developing nations. In developed nations, we have many common sets of rules and trustworthy players in our networks (though, as history has shown us, there is always room for human error and greed). This is not true for large parts of the world right now, but blockchain technology opens up the ability to create greater equity and opportunity in these places, and to cement trust in transactions no matter where people reside.
For example, “creating and maintaining incorruptible registers of land titles is a huge — and mostly unsolved — problem for developing countries,” explains a Guardian article on one of blockchain’s uses: land ownership. “So when the government of Honduras launched an investigation into whether a blockchain-based land registry could solve it, the non-geek world sat up and began to take notice. The unmistakable message was that this technology could be much more useful than merely securing cryptocurrencies. It might actually turn out to be one of the biggest IT inventions of our time.”
What does this mean for community professionals? It means that trust can be built anywhere, so our current view of nations as “developed” and “developing” will shift dramatically, opening up more people to benefit from or add value to existing online communities. Expansion of our communities is imminent.
3. Networks become marketplaces. Marketplaces become communities.
Blockchain technology essentially takes a network and turns it into a marketplace, where players who would have previously been blocked out of that network can now buy and sell freely without fees from middlemen.
According to Vinay Gupta, founder of Hexayurt Capital, writing in Harvard Business Review, “If the process of using an ATM had been invented today, with the blockchain as a state-of-the-art database technology as an option, we would most likely not need an administrative entity like VISA to manage the process.” Once we do obliterate middlemen, we still need a way for buyers and sellers to find each other. The work left to be done will be far more about building relationships than about owning access to players in a network. This is the work of a community builder.
Community builders will need to answer large questions like: Where is the trust in a network on blockchain originally created? How do members of the network find one another to learn they can buy and sell from one another?
Every person transacting on the blockchain is responsible for trust, for delivering what they promise, for boosting the network. The rules and ethics of that network must be set by a true community builder in order to build something of lasting human significance.
Will You Be Part of This Wave?
There are many, many implications of new technology on our communities, from artificial intelligence (for chatbots and content curation) to virtual reality (for empathy-building, full immersion into experiences and of course gaming). Blockchain is one of many innovations that you need to understand right now, but you don’t need to understand the way the technology works per se. Instead, you need to be prepared to strengthen the networks built on blockchain technology. Be prepared when the wave hits.