Opinion: Deja Vu All Over Again

FinTech, Innovation | April 21, 2017 By:

The blockchain and cryptocurrency are brave new frontiers. They’re filled with exciting concepts, brilliant business plans, world-changing innovations that will disrupt established business, and exciting new minds that make the people who have come before look like they were beating on a log to communicate.

But philosopher, essayist, and poet and novelist George Santayana once noted that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Thus, it’s worth noting that a lot of similar circumstances marked the birth of the commercial World Wide Web in the early 1990s. Or as that other noted philosopher Yogi Berra said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

In that early edition of a brave new world, everything was suddenly changed by that new form of communication. You could talk with strangers a world away without picking up a phone, buy and sell things without leaving your home, and discover information you never knew existed simply by digging deeply with your mouse.

It was a glorious moment in time, and even though the financial bubble burst a few times along the way, the Internet become such a ubiquitous part of life that the time before it existed seems sad and dreary.

Given that we’re living in remarkable times and another form of disruption seems to be gaining traction, it’s worth noting the similarities that the blockchain and cryptocurrency has with the earlier online experience. As Bill Shakespeare reminds us, what’s past is prologue.

Here are five things that might turn the blockchain and cryptocurrency worlds upside down if not carefully policed. As they said on Battlestar Galactica, “All this has happened before and will happen again.”

Black Swan Effects – Remember AltaVista?  It was the leading search engine among digital cognoscenti, a remarkably accurate way to find the things you needed on the growing Net. Yet a couple of Stanford kids came up with Google, and soon hardly anyone was searching any other way. Keep that in mind in the current landscape. Just when you think you have it figured out, there’s someone in a garage or basement who is coming up with a better way.

Format Battles – Similarly, history is littered with devices that couldn’t talk to each other, incompatible browsers that couldn’t render certain web sites, and Internet operations that promised to be THE ultimate source for whatever, but soon became a digital ghost town. Today, bitcoin owns 70 percent of the market. Maybe it will always be that way. Or maybe ethereum, Dash, tokens or other forms of monetization yet to be invented will usurp that position. Some people like putting all their eggs in one basket. Of course, we all do that at the supermarket, and it works there.

Changing the World – Sometimes, someone comes up with a game-changer and things are never the same. More often, things go wrong, and the promised land is never reached. There are many press releases that tout what was once known as “vapor ware,” i.e., concepts that have yet to be proven. Many characters talk a good game. But as Mike Tyson once noted, “Everyone’s got a plan until they are hit in the mouth.”

Charismatic Leaders – What qualifies someone to lead a company?  There are many virtues, including technical expertise, actual business skills, personal charisma and the ability to sell a vision. The third item works if you’re Steve Jobs. Most of us are not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. It may sound good that a person can talk a good game and looks good in the corporate report.  It would be wise to remember Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, who one year was named one of technology’s most promising leaders, and the next year was named one of the most disappointing leaders when it was discovered that her company’s promised technology was mostly hot air and blonde hair.

Cute Names – People spend real money coming up with a name that will resonate with customers. Sometimes it makes sense – Google is named for the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros, googol. Of course, the engine was once named BackRub by founder Sergey Brin and Larry Page before they came to their senses. What you don’t want is to pigeonhole a developing company by calling it “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” leaving you exposed on two fronts – Jerry’s presence and pinning yourself to old technology. Fortunately, Jerry Yang and David Filo quickly realized that danger and renamed their search engine Yahoo!