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    Blockchain @ SXSW 2016: An Overview

    Kevin Cruz July 19, 2016 - Posted by Kevin Cruz on Coverage

    South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual set of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. The interactive portion of the conference generally covers tech. CoinGecko attended SXSW to see what’s going on in the blockchain world.

    Capital One hosted an event titled Three Fintech Startups Reimagining Commercial Banking. Attending the event was a Startup called Fluent.

    Fluent is an enterprise blockchain network for financial institutions and global enterprises. Solutions and applications on the network are designed to increase efficiency, provide flexibility, and enhance collaboration across global supply chains.

    We caught up with Dave Sutter,  Fluent COO after his event. Upon being asked about his experience in Austin, David said:

    “Fluent had a fun and exciting time at SXSW 2016. We attended a dinner party hosted by BBVA, met with Capital One's Commercial Banking executive team, and spoke at Capital One's "Reinventing Commercial Banking" event. During these events were able to spread the word about the power of blockchain in b2b payments and the financial supply chain and met a ton of great people while doing so. We also ate way too much BBQ, enjoyed the beautiful city of Austin, and did a lot of dancing.”

    Upon attending different blockchain-related events, it became very clear that the anticipated uses of the blockchain transcend financial applications. SXSW hosts a yearly Music Hackathon, where people race the clock to create the next best music-related product for a monetary prize. A few of the participants of the hackathon were building products that use blockchain tech.

    Ujo is a new shared infrastructure for the creative industries that returns more value to content creators and their customers. Our open platform uses blockchain technology to create a transparent and decentralised database of rights and rights owners and automates royalty payments using smart contracts and cryptocurrency. We hope that it will be the foundation upon which a new more transparent, more efficient and more profitable music ecosystem can be built.

    No blockchain-related competitors took the prize, however.

    We spoke to Jesse Grushak, who was representing Ujo about the results of the hackathon. He said:

    “Participating in the SXSW music hackathon was a lot of fun. The participants were all super eager to build but unfortunately blockchain technology is not quite as easy to use as an API. On behalf of Ujo, ConsenSys developers provided the Truffle framework which allows seamless integration and testing of ethereum blockchain d(ecentralized)Apps. Many developers are used to building on their system of choice and in a time crunch, it is hard to learn another system.  The hackathon was a great learning experience for us and we hope that we were able to share or at the very least, expose more developers to blockchain technology. When building on Ethereum the possibilities are endless and we at Ujo are inspired by other developers everyday. Looking forward to following some of the incubated projects and as for the Ujo team, we hope to be invited back next year.”

    There was another panel titled “Writer’s Blockchain: Full Stack Storytelling”. As a writer who has written extensively about Bitcoin and the Blockchain, the title interested me. The panelists were professionals with impressive track records in their own realms of expertise. Within 5 minutes of arriving, however,  it became very clear that the speakers on the panel didn’t really understand the blockchain. In fact, they admitted it.  

    Although the panel fumbled with providing an informative talk while wrapping their heads around the subject, some kind members in the audience helped clear up some of the fuzzy concepts being spoken about by the panel. Among them was Chris Mountford, a senior software developer who has been actively researching, publishing, speaking and consulting on Bitcoin and Blockchain.

    He had his own talk at SXSW that served as a  comprehensive intro to what the blockchain really is. You can see it below:

    The occurrences at “Writer’s Blockchain: Full Stack Storytelling” reflect a facet of the current state of Blockchain technology: a buzzword that few truly understand, many want to understand, and even more pretend to understand.

    CoinGecko reached out to Chris Mountford after SXSW. He said:

    “I've been thinking a lot about my experiences in Austin. It's hard to admit but I think I was a bit disappointed by SXSW, at least on the Bitcoin/Blockchain side. There was a real lack of technical stuff going on there but perhaps that reflects more on the fact that the kinds of conferences I usually attend are more technical.”

    They essentially had no clue what they were speaking about. “Yeah no clue indeed,” said Chris Mountford. Interesting comments about "reintroducing friction" and the misappropriation of the idea of "digital scarcity". It's not supposed to be a supply restriction lever to inflate prices of products! It's a shame that panel didn't hit some of the interesting possibilities that I am most excited by. It's the same mistake the MPAA is making by focusing on DRM and legacy geo-locked distributor business models rather than learn from iTunes and focus on removing friction and matching customers to what they want faster and cheaper.

    Overall, It was a productive conversation. Everyone in the room, including the panelists, got a better understanding of the blockchain.

    I ran into some interesting characters while at SXSW. Among them was Felix Weiss from Luxembourg. He’s the self-proclaimed Bitcoin Traveler. For the past few years, he has been travelling around the world using just bitcoin. Bitcoin currency is not accepted in many places at all when compared to places that accept Visa and Mastercard.

    Bitcoin, the digital currency, has been characterized by negative associations with ponzi schemes, drug deals, and terrorists, it is in the process of being rebranded to the mainstream. In fact there was a presentation titled: Bitcoin and Blockchain: from Anarchy to Establishment at SXSW.

    The talk was presented by Lisa Ellis, VP/Director and Senior Research Analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. The presentation emphasized the blockchain is in its early days; and gave a comprehensive rundown of how the tech works.

    The description on the website reads:

    “Bitcoin, Blockchain, and open ledger technologies, will transform finance, payments, and property rights in much the same way that the Internet protocol (IP) has transformed content distribution and commerce. And, like IP, the Blockchain and other open ledger systems will likely spawn some new “winning” companies, while at the same time helping a lot of the old winners keep right on winning. We look forward to seeing the technology and its applications evolve – and hopefully identifying a few good investment theses while we’re at it. No need to panic, however, we’re still in the early days: Bitcoin currently processes 7 transactions per second, while Visa and MasterCard handle about 10,000.”

    Overall, Bitcoin and Blockchain presence at SXSW was very informative; even in situations where there was a lack of accurate information. One may assume that since then, those that were unclear about the blockchain now have a better understanding of it.

    Chris Mountford, while speaking about SXSW as a whole concluded,

    “I was also a little concerned by the non-technical people's common rallying cry of "Bitcoin vs Ethereum" and the whole dichotomy of Ethereum is the new shiny thing and Bitcoin is the old stinky one. To my mind they are sufficiently distinct that they coexist and many previous altcoins were not and haven't survived. Also the Ethereum hype is getting pretty crazy right now. I'm bullish and really excited by Ethereum but there is no significant build-out to warrant the idea that Ethereum replaces Bitcoin (few exchanges, no point of sale, few wallets etc.) Ethereum still has many challenges ahead of it, some of them fundamental technical ones. They may succeed but I won't be surprised if the hype bubble pops and the price takes a big hit as people recognise the enormity of the work required to get a system like this to production quality and every-day popularity. Their funding is not going to last forever. Having said that, I am messing around with smart contracts on Ethereum in my spare time though and it's pretty impressive.”

    The experience at the festival was unforgettable. My recommendation is that for SXSW 2017, as far as blockchain technology is concerned,  the organizers get people thorough understanding of the tech to hold panels and discussions. Also, have more events related to this exciting field next year!

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