Blockchain is the new Bluetooth

Disclaimer: This is not a “what is Blockchain” article and can get slightly technical at certain points.

TL;DR: Blockchain and Bluetooth both start with “Bl”, but this is not why they are similar…

Remember how you first heard about Bluetooth and remember thinking how it was a condition associated with eating too many Jelly Beans? Then you slowly went through the motion of learning that it was actually just another new wireless standard (yes wireless earpieces and computer mouses/mice did exist back then). You also noticed that any wireless device using Bluetooth was more expensive and usually slower (or had shorter battery life) than its peer with a no-name wireless standard.

After that, we went through a phase of trying to put Bluetooth in everything and trying to find a noble cause rather than let the requirement dictate the necessity of Bluetooth in the first place.

Remember the phrase “everything is cooler with Bluetooth”?

Fast forward many years…finally, and I mean like only last week: Bluetooth became a mature technology and now everything that uses Bluetooth probably needs it and tends to be a really good product.

After a customer told me recently that he thinks a proposed IT project would be cooler if we could include Blockchain, this got me thinking…Blockchain is the new Bluetooth.

This phenomenon that occurred with Bluetooth is known as “Technology Maturity” or the “Technology Life-cycle”. It has been researched and documented extensively by scholars such as Clayton M. Christensen, companies such as Gartner (Gartner Hype cycle) and there are even a few good books on the subject such as “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore. Most new technologies are subject to the same story, but we experience it most intimately in those technologies that touch our daily lives or business dealings.

And yes, we are at the stage where we think everything would be cooler with Blockchain.

Now you can say, it’s been 10 years since Satoshi invented Blockchain and published his paper on Bitcoin, but it only became mainstream recently and we are very much still in the first seconds or minutes of the Blockchain day.

At the same time, whilst we need early adopters to take this technology into proper commercial use-cases, I sense a level of overuse or at least over-proposing of the use of Blockchain in most IT projects or new technologies.

The Consulting and IT industry (me included) tend to latch onto cool words/technologies (such as Synergy or Blockchain) and tend to use it to inflate the usefulness or sexiness of a new project/venture/technology when we are selling to stakeholders/clients/investors.

Often, we try to transplant irrelevant features from the (cool) technology onto the proposed project such as it having unbreakable security because of the use of Blockchain. This, despite the fact that the hash keys end up getting stored on an unencrypted file server with a password like “Password12345”.

Shocking, I know, but you have done the exact same thing when you explained to your boss the value of each session at that conference in Vegas you begged to go to and then you ended up getting stuck at the hotel bar as soon as you arrived.

The reality is, Blockchain is the best at being an immutable ledger, but it’s nothing more than that. It is very poor at being a general-purpose database or general-purpose coding platform. We should only be considering the Blockchain as a proposed technology when we really require an immutable ledger and not try to make it into a secure distributed general database (those exist already) or general coding platform (those too).

The price of Blockchain’s immutability also comes with a heavy cost in terms of overheads. By design, each new block in the Blockchain has to drag along its predecessor blocks into the future and this becomes heavy lifting when the ledger grows quickly like in the case of Bitcoin or Ethereum. Imagine having to drag all your previous romantic partners along to your anniversary dinner just to prove to your spouse that he/she is the latest and most relevant in that sequence!

This has resulted in recent estimates of anywhere between $3,000-$10,000 in electricity cost to mine (solve) a single Bitcoin (block); and the Ethereum Blockchain ledger is quickly heading for the 1Tb size! This is 1Tb of ex-girlfriends that poor Ethereum has to drag along to romantic dinners. These scalability issues are real problems, that we must face, figure out and eventually solve.

My prediction is that we will take some time to settle on the good and useful use-cases for Blockchain technology (there are some great ones already). And when that happens, those apps/services will be amazing and probably can’t do without Blockchain. However, in the meantime, we will likely see a lot of over-proposing (me included) of Blockchain, to make pedestrian business cases seem sexier.

Don’t get me wrong, I salute the pioneers and pirates that test and play with these technologies that will shape the future; my only request being…don’t shoot it down because it doesn’t come with Blockchain (yet).

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