Coffee Break: Let’s get creative with blockchain

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 4, 2018 - June 10, 2018.
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Do you know what terms like “decentralised”, “digital ecosystem”, “ICO” and “smart contracts” mean? If you don’t, do read on. If you do know them, hopefully this may still get you thinking.

Although the cryptocurrency market has been in a sort of slump since the start of the year, I am still closely following the developments. Perhaps I am the only person obsessed with digital assets in this office, based on all the blockchain invites that my colleagues keep forwarding to me.

(One day, they may find out that they have missed out on the next big thing...ha ha! By then they would look at me in a different light as I would be the expert on blockchain…)

From my observation of the blockchain scene (it hasn’t even been a year actually), there seems to be a shift in the industry from solely serving the fantasies of anarchists in the form of anonymous transactions, to more solid projects backed by established institutions like Goldman Sachs, IBM and JP Morgan.

In Malaysia, most of the blockchain events are either basic informative sessions explaining what Bitcoin and blockchain are, thinly veiled multilevel marketing schemes or pseudo-pitching sessions by some “fintech” outfit promoting their up-and-coming digital asset before their initial coin offering (ICO) exercise.

An ICO is like an initial public offering (IPO) in the crypto world. A company launches its digital tokens for the first time to raise funds for its project.

I have attended a couple of these pseudo-pitching sessions. They are usually done by the CEO, often a charismatic young salesman-type person spewing buzzwords like “decentralisation” and “smart contracts” and other cryptic jargon during his presentation.

This is usually followed by a short video illustrating its “digital ecosystem”, typically involving an animation of a bunch of arrows traveling across a semi-transparent globe, which probably symbolises “interconnectivity in the new decentralised economy”, whatever that means.

Judging from the lack of applause and questions from the crowd at most of these events, my guess is that nobody understands any of this (which is probably part of the allure of this so-called new breed of investment, I reckon... there’s always something new to learn by venturing into the unknown ).

At times, even the presenter would seem a bit clueless when surprised with an occasional technical question on things like smart contracts, which often ends up with him fumbling at coming up with a reply. Sometimes, I feel like I could have come up with a better answer.

It’s surprising how so many of these events are being held despite Bank Negara and Securities Commission stating that there should be no ICO-related activities without their knowledge.

In Malaysia, however, there has been a lack of interesting projects. The recent projects here — besides those like HelloGold — are mostly Bitcoin clones making generic promises like faster and cheaper transactions, which have been rather boring.

Malaysian crypto investors in general are also more interested in the price rather than looking at the function and potential of these new technologies.

There are many interesting projects in the crypto space. One of them is Steemit, a social media platform similar to Reddit, which rewards contributors with Steem Dollars (worth US$1.79 per coin at the time of writing) whenever someone clicks or “likes” the content you have posted, be it a selfie, a picture of your pet, your most recent meal or a deep analysis of recent geopolitical developments.

There could be more interesting projects on the horizon though, as the local corporates seem to be warming up to the idea of cryptocurrency. AirAsia Bhd, for example, has plans for a potential ICO of BigCoin, which will complement their BigPay operations as mentioned by group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes a few months back. (Please follow through, Tan Sri!)

Here’s to a more vibrant Malaysian blockchain scene ahead!

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