Yes, but what’s new with distributed ledgers?

This short post is inspired by a conversation I had recently with a couple of finance professors from top business schools who had some questions about blockchains.

Prof A explained that he had heard all the fuss about blockchains but was unsure whether it was revolutionary or evolutionary (I think the word disruptive was also used). I have written about disruption in Fintech and the Evolutionary vs Revolutionary aspects of distributed ledgers before (hint: it depends, it’s both, and yes, perhaps).

Then he asked, “Yes, but is there anything new?”

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Distributed Ledgers: Shared control, not shared data

In the context of distributed ledgers, I have noticed that many commentators and consultants confuse shared control of data with the sharing of data itself. The difference is crucial, and this common simplification misses the most important aspect of distributed ledgers.

In this post I discuss three ideas:

  1. Sharing of data vs shared control of data
  2. Control of data by rules vs by power
  3. Enforcement of rules by participants

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A gentle introduction to The Hyperledger Project

I have noticed a great deal of confusion when people talk about “Hyperledger”.  I recently gave a talk about this at a meetup hosted in Paypal’s offices in Singapore.  This article summarises the talk.

Hyperledger is a project, not a technology, and you don’t build stuff on Hyperledger.

When people ask, “What is Hyperledger?”, the answer I give is usually “Do you mean the project called Hyperledger run by The Linux Foundation, or do you mean one of the ledger technologies incubated by that project which used to be confusingly called Hyperledger Fabric?”. The first is a group of people, the second other is a bunch of code.

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In a nutshell: Ian Grigg’s Ricardian contracts and digital assets prehistory

I enjoyed listening to Episode 151 of the podcast “Epicenter” (previously “Epicenter Bitcoin”) featuring Ian Grigg, inventor of Ricardian Contracts and blogger at Financial Cryptography. Here are my notes – part transcription, with some edits. This one is a goldmine and covers many topics: bonds, contracts, cash, Chaumian e-cash, DigiCash, financial cryptography, Ricardian contracts, digital signatures, smart contracts, dispute resolution, Ethereum, triple entry book-keeping, oh my!

Misunderstandings and paraphrasing errors are entirely mine.

This gets fairly technical; if this is hard to follow, it may be helpful to read my introduction to smart contracts first.  Hmm, if it’s still hard to follow, also read about blockchains and bitcoin and Ethereum, and digital tokens.

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A gentle introduction to Ethereum

Introduction

Ethereum builds on blockchain and cryptocurrency concepts, so if you are not familiar with these, it’s worth reading a gentle introduction to bitcoin and a gentle introduction to blockchain technology first. This article assumes the reader has a basic familiarity with how Bitcoin works.

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The emergence of blockchains as Activity Registers

This post tries to describe two very different uses for blockchain technology: Digital Token Ledgers that record ownership changes of digital tokens, and Activity Registers that record timestamped proofs of existence of data or agreements about data.  Bitcoin is used for both.

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So you want to use a blockchain for that?

There are good reasons and bad reasons to use blockchains. In conversations with people thinking about blockchain use cases, I have noticed common confusions and conflations arising from words initially used in a narrow context (usually to describe bitcoin’s blockchain) being understood more generically for blockchains. In this post I hope to untangle some of these common misconceptions.

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KPMG Report on Consensus: Interview with co-author George Samman

Q&A with George Samman, co-author of KPMG’s report: “Consensus: Immutable agreement for the Internet of value”

This interview is posted on both www.sammantics.com and www.bitsonblocks.net. Interviewer is Antony Lewis (AL) and interviewee is George Samman (GS).

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No, “Blockchain” is not a solution looking for a problem

I have heard this comment many times:

“Blockchain” is a solution looking for a problem.

 

That is incorrect – here’s the problem statement, originally articulated in 2008:
Bitcoin whitepaper

The problem statement, to paraphrase, is

“How do people pay each other electronically without being at the behest of Financial Institutions?”

The proposed solution is:

“Bitcoin”

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Interview on Brett King’s Breaking Banks

I was honoured to be invited to Brett King’s Breaking Banks podcast to talk about Bitcoins and blockchains with an Asia angle in the “BITCOIN & BLOCKCHAIN IN ASEAN” episode.

Rob Findlay, CEO and founder of Next Money (formerly Next Bank) hosted the conversation, and Marcus Swanepoel, CEO of BitX also shared his insights.

The full audio episode is here and I recommend subscribing to the podcast if you are in to FinTech.  A transcript of the relevant section is below, edited for clarity:

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