Facebook interested in cryptocurrency

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If you think about it, the news that Mark Zuckerburg is looking at cryptocurrency with a view to decentralising Facebook should come as no surprise. In fact, he seems to have been rather slow at getting ahead of the blockchain curve, but he may have been taking a ‘wait and see’ approach up until the end of 2017. By that time, he really couldn’t escape the growing momentum around the blockchain in the mainstream media, of which Facebook is now a part. And, with such a massive global network that is also one of the prime platforms for ICO announcements, there is something of the ‘no brainer’ about Zuckerburg’s announcement.

He said on 4th January 2018 that he “plans to study cryptocurrencies and other decentralizing technologies as part of a larger bid to improve the social networking service he co-founded.” In fact, he called it a “personal challenge” to understand all aspects of cryptocurrency and encryption. He also, rather ambitiously, plans to “fix important issues” in the media, technology and government, and is bringing together a group of experts to help him.

Naturally, the moment his announcement about his interest in cryptocurrencies and decentralisation, there was a buzz in the blockchain community that spread faster than wildfire, such is the impact of the social media mogul. He also said that cryptocurrencies were one of the most interesting questions in technology today and appeared to lament the fact that many had lost faith in “technology as a decentralising force.”

He added: “There are important counter-trends to this – like encryption and cryptocurrency – that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands…I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.”

It will be interesting to see how long it is before he makes some further announcements about the blockchain. He can call on the best advisors anywhere in the world, and it seems unimaginable that he will ponder on it for any great length of time before taking some kind of action. He will surely want to leverage some ‘first mover’ advantage for his social media empire. And, as we have seen before; where Zuckerburg goes, plenty will follow.

 

 

Gibraltar GSX is excited about Crypto

One of the prominent guests at BlockShow Asia 2017 was Nick Cowan, the managing director and founder of GSX, Gibraltar’s first regulated stock exchange. Cowan is an fervent supporter of the Fintech market so I was interested to discover what he said in the numerous interviews he gave following the show about his personal position and what this might mean for a financial centre like Gibraltar.

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It is important to note that Cowan loves networking the crypto communities and admires their dynamism. As far as he can see there are two very important dynamics operating in the crypto market at the moment: the first is distributed ledger usage and the ways in which blockchain platforms can transform a range of businesses and second, the trade in cryptocurrencies. He told Cointelegraph that during one trip to one Asian country, he met about 500 people with an average age of 60 who were all cryptocurrency traders. Considering the perception is that the cryptocurrency market targets those in the 25-45 age range, it would seem that the traders are somewhat older, at least in Asia.

However, Cowan also pointed out that there are significant differences between jurisdictions. For example, in the next country he visited (he didn’t say which one) the focus was more on crypto fund management and institutional engagement with this emerging market. He also answered some questions about what are the drivers behind the interest in crypto. He said: “A lot of it is driven by regulation, in terms of the acceptance of the technology and cryptocurrencies in general.” But what impressed him most was the level of knowledge in each country he has visited.

As he said, and it is evident to anyone who is curious about this market, the interest in everything crypto is snowballing and the perception that it is going to go mainstream is growing. Cowan said: “You are seeing more and more companies, Fintechs that are looking to start their business or grow their business tapping into token sale space as a way of raising money.” He described the sector as being “on fire.”

Gibraltar GSX got involved in crypto about two years ago and the fact that it is a small jurisdiction enables it to be a bit more flexible than other stock exchanges. It got involved by launching a Bitcoin asset-backed security approved by the European Union. As Cowan, explained, when they started on the project Bitcoin was $300, but they knew little about it and the whole team had to dive in and find out everything possible about this whole new world.

The Gibraltar government is also interested in blockchain and has been talking to various communities globally about whether or not there should regulations for operators of blockchain-based financial services. As a result, Gibraltar is introducing regulations in January 2018. Cowan sees this as an opportunity and GSX is applying for a license so that it is in a position to explore the ICO token space to its fullest and use all the knowledge its team has acquired. In fact, watch this space because GSX is launching its own security token next year on its main exchange.

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning up ICOs

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This year has been the year of the ICO and whilst these have brought a breath of fresh air into the marketplace of funding startups and other ventures, the speed at which ICOs have gathered momentum has raised some eyebrows and some questions about just how ‘clean’ this new Fintech mechanism is.

There are two sides to the ICO debate: one the one hand it is positive for the innovators who can raise funds through fairly simple token sales and reach a global market. The popularity is clear for all to see, because the funds raised by ICOs grew from $200 million in 2016 to $2 billion in 2017.

On the negative side, there are those who are concerned about the lack of regulatory controls over these ICOs. That is one reason the mainstream financial authorities are reluctant to accept them as a legitimate method of capitalisation. Add some shady ICOs into the mix and their concerns are understandable.

There are some other issues around ICOs that need to be resolved as well and these involve the technology, which is still in its infancy. Some argue that there are insufficient reporting standards, no exchange regulation and little or no regulation in a number of countries. The result is a clash of standards when those entities using conventional financial systems start adopting the blockchain.

Resolving ICO problems

How can these issues be resolved? There are several ways to solve the transparency problem. One is to define standards of reporting for companies using ICOs and it easy for participants to view the internal workings of the ICO via the exchange interface. This will provide investors with more detailed information about the company behind the ICO.

Second, more due diligence by investors is needed. There needs to be a proper assessment of the proposed business models to ensure they are viable. Investors should also be provided with more information about the company’s legal status.

Greater understanding of the financial markets will also help. It is widely agreed that most financial instruments will migrate to the blockchain in the not too distant future and preference should be given to projects that are using time-tested instruments and are understood by conventional investors, over experimental utility token economy models.

A clean up of the ICO marketplace is needed, because they are not going to disappear. Governments may try to ban or restrict them, but decentralisation is the way forward and rather than ignore ICOs and pretend they are some kind of digital bubble, what is required is a “clean investment system.”

However, this cannot come from central authorities, because that would betray the whole basis of the blockchain, which is decentralisation. What is required is that the companies and investors involved in the ICO market “embrace systems that will promote credibility within the ecosystem,” as CoinTelegraph suggests. Transparency and openness from the company side, and more in-depth research by investors will greatly contribute to a more legitimate and trustworthy ICO marketplace.

 

 

 

 

The latest Ethereum roadmap

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I’ve been heavily invested in Ethereum since it appeared, so I was very interested in Vitalik Buterin’s recent talk at Devcon (he’s the creator of Ethereum), which he called “a modest proposal.” He told his audience that he has been “quietly working on a new long-term plan for the future of the blockchain network.” It is a essentially a three to four year roadmap outlining his vision of the potential technical developments that Ethereum can achieve, and as anyone who owns ETH will have noted, the value of the coins showed some upwards movement after his speech.

Enter ‘sharding’

What does his vision include? At the heart of it is something called ‘sharding’.  Without getting too technical, this is defined as: “A database shard is a horizontal partition of data in a database or search engine. Each individual partition is referred to as a shard or database shard. Each shard is held on a separate database server instance, to spread load.” This was something that Ethereum watchers had expected to happen, but Bueterin finally solidified his strategy for using the shard technique.

Expanding Ethereum’s scalability

His roadmap points to problems with the platform and solutions for fixing them. His focus in the talk was on scalability, as Ethereum nodes need to store everything that ever happened on the network. Buterin emphasised the need for solutions that mitigate expensive storage costs that could escalate exponentially as the system expands.

It was clear from his presentation that he wanted to encourage Ethereum developers to think about this aspect when he said: “The amount of activity on the blockchain is orders of magnitude larger than it was just a couple of years ago,” and pointed to daily transaction rates and the 20,000 nodes plus that are now part of the network.

Buterin’s view of sharding

Buterin seems to see ‘sharding’ as the most probable solution to the problem. This way of partitioning data into subsets means that each node would only have to store a small amount of data from the entire network. But, Buterin wants a system where “the underlying math would hold the system accountable, and if they need it, nodes could rely on other nodes for data.” How to execute this in practice and ensure security, i.e. no nodes sending other nodes false information, is something that researchers have been looking into.

From the talk we now know that Buterin has a less conventional approach to using sharding. He is proposing to split Ethereum into different types of shards- there will be a main shard comprising the current Ethereum network, and there would be other shards, which Buterin calls other “universes.”

Most importantly, Buterin believes the partitioning would allow for more aggressive changes on the smaller shards, and more cautious changes on the main blockchain. This will ensure Ethereum’s platform maintains stability while developers can test new changes.

Other announcements included upgrading the smart contract technology and progress on eWASM, his project for running Ethereum on a web browser. He also hinted that a lot of the work in progress is much more advanced than anyone guessed when he finished hi stalk by saying, “Basically we’re just inches away from a proof of concept in python.”