Are We in a Blockchain Winter?

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Three years ago, blockchain was the buzzword of the moment. But startups are now more circumspect about their use of the technology. Is it a true slump or are startup just trying to avoid blockchain fatigue?

Ben Dickson

A while back, a PR rep offered me an interview with the CEO of a blockchain company about how decentralized social-media platforms could halt and reverse the
前段时间,公关代表向我提出了一个区块链公司首席执行官的采访,内容是关于分散的社交媒体平台如何能够阻止和扭转"echo chamber" effect.

What made the pitch intriguing was that it made no mention of
令人感兴趣的是,它没有提及blockchain, even though the company was clearly a blockchain startup. Instead, the rep presented the company's product simply as an "unstoppable network."

Although blockchain is a key component of its platform, according to a whitepaper, the company also made scant mention of it on its website. Instead, there were plenty of choice keywords that pointed to a connection with blockchain technology, such as "decentralized," "unstoppable," "censorship-resistant," and "surveillance-resistant."

This is not an isolated case. I receive a steady stream of pitches from blockchain companies, but in contrast to the 2016--2017 era, when everyone was doing "x on blockchain," organizations are now more circumspect about their use of the technology.

To a degree, blockchain resembles the AI industry in the 1980s. At the time, many researchers in the field overpromised and underdelivered, which led to a general sense of disappointment with the industry and a slump in government and VC funding --- an era that became known as the "
在某种程度上,区块链在20世纪80年代类似于AI行业。当时,该领域的许多研究人员过度承诺和未充分投入,这导致了对该行业的普遍失望以及政府和风险投资资金的萎缩 - 这个时代被称为"AI winter." Companies and organizations refrained from attributing their work to "artificial intelligence" for fear of disenchanting their audience and associating themselves with an industry that hadn't delivered on its promises.

A prominent example was IBM's Deep Blue, the supercomputer that defeated world chess champion
一个突出的例子是IBM的Deep Blue,它击败了世界象棋冠军的超级计算机Garry Kasparov in 1997. At the time, IBM explicitly stated that Deep Blue
在1997年。当时,IBM明确表示Deep Bluedid not use artificial intelligence.

To be fair, blockchain isn't yet in the state that AI was in the thick of its winter. Plenty of publications cover blockchain developments, and several blockchain summits and conferences occur each year.
公平地说,区块链尚未处于人工智能处于冬季的厚重状态。大量出版物涉及区块链发展,每年都会举行几次区块链峰会和会议。Initial coin offerings are still raising funds, if not as much as they did before. But signs of a "blockchain winter" are looming, as many are observing the industry with increasing skepticism.

The Skepticism Surrounding Blockchain and ICOs

I reached out to several companies that sent me "non-blockchain" pitches. Only one replied.

Mark Devlin, CEO and founder of Newblocks, a platform that wants to establish trust in online journalism by registering facts on the blockchain, tells me that the reason he omitted mentioning blockchain in his pitch was that he wanted to focus on the functionality of his application. But he acknowledged that reporters, on whom startups rely to spread the word about their projects, are increasingly negative about blockchain startups.
Newblocks的首席执行官兼创始人马克·德夫林(Mark Devlin)是一个希望通过在区块链上注册事实来建立对在线新闻业的信任的平台,他告诉我,他在他的讲话中省略了提及区块链的原因是他希望专注于他的应用程序的功能。但他承认,创业公司依赖于传播有关其项目的消息的记者对区块链初创公司越来越不满。

"When you have a valid case for using the blockchain, and you see journalists cutting themselves off from any contact, then it just makes your heart sink," Devlin said.

But there's more than enough reason to be skeptical of blockchain startups. During the 2017 ICO boom, blockchain projects raised insane amounts of money by providing little more than a flashy website and a whitepaper. Predictably, many of those projects failed to deliver on their promises, while others turned out to be exit scams. And with little regulatory oversight, the industry has become the subject of many questionable practices, like
但是有足够的理由对区块链初创公司持怀疑态度。在2017年ICO热潮期间,区块链项目通过提供一个华而不实的网站和白皮书来筹集大量金钱。可以预见的是,其中许多项目未能兑现承诺,而其他项目则是退出骗局。由于监管很少,该行业已成为许多可疑实践的主题,如onboarding celebrities to create hype and manipulating prices through
并通过操纵价格artificial pump-and-dump schemes.

All of this has contributed to a general sense of suspicion around blockchain and cryptocurrency, including among journalists and investors.

"Right now, we're in a stage that draws parallels to the aftermath of the dot-com bubble," said Antoni Trenchev, cofounder of Nexo, a crypto-lending platform. "We had some irrational exuberance and saw all sorts of unrealistic ICO ideas, propositions, and valuations. The popping of this bubble led to mistrust."
"现在,我们处于一个与网络泡沫的后果相似的阶段,"密码借贷平台Nexo的联合创始人安东尼·特伦切夫说。 "我们有一些非理性的繁荣,看到了各种不切实际的ICO想法,主张和估值。这种泡沫的爆发导致了不信任。"

Devlin said that on several occasions, he has been told he is running a scam just because he mentioned the words "ICO" and "blockchain" while discussing news integrity in online forums. "These are technology people. They should understand the opportunity with this new technology," he said.
Devlin说,有几次,他被告知他正在经营一个骗局只是因为他在网上论坛讨论新闻诚信时提到了"ICO"和"区块链"这两个词。 "这些都是技术人员。他们应该了解这项新技术的机会,"他说。

The Cryptocurrency Price Drop

Most sectors of the tech industry rely on angel investors, VCs, and government money to fund their projects. In contrast, blockchain projects have received most of their funding from holders of cryptocurrencies themselves.

"In crypto, the technology and the funding are related," Devlin said. "The funding is particularly tied to the success of bitcoin at the moment."
"在加密中,技术和资金是相关的,"Devlin说。 "资金与目前比特币的成功息息相关。"

Since the beginning of 2018, Bitcoin has shed more than 80 percent of its peak value and has dipped below $4,000. Most of the people who jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon in the past couple of years have suffered massive losses, and there's very little incentive to invest in an industry that has been steadily been on the decline.

This has made it hard for new blockchain startups to find funding. But a lot of the companies that raised hefty amounts during the ICO boom are still flush with cash, so some legitimate projects will get a chance to develop their applications and maybe restore some of the damaged reputation of the industry.

"It is now up to those companies that have secured funding to deliver [on] the promises they made so that the trust of investors can be regained," Trenchev said.

After the Blockchain Winter

In spite of the current downturn, blockchain technology continues to plod forward at a steady pace, and a lot of innovation is still happening in the field.

"The technology is moving at an amazing pace, and it's inevitable that the funding will catch up," Devlin said.

The AI winter came to an end with breakthroughs in deep learning, the flavor of AI that has become the bread-and-butter of many online services and companies in the past few years. From self-driving cars to facial recognition and medicine, the many practical applications of deep learning revived interest in artificial intelligence and poured billions of dollars into the industry. If history is any guide, the fortunes of blockchain will eventually take a positive turn.

Before that happens, however, blockchain has to find its killer app. The past few years have shown that replicating existing online applications on the blockchain is not the most popular use for the technology. But we've seen some unique paradigms emerge, such as
然而,在此之前,区块链必须找到它的杀手级应用程序。过去几年已经表明,在区块链上复制现有的在线应用程序并不是该技术最常用的用途。但是我们已经看到了一些独特的范例,例如crypto-collectibles and
and decentralized prediction markets. Social-media networks have also shown interest in integrating some
。社交媒体网络也表示有兴趣整合一些aspects of blockchain or cryptocurrencies. This is especially the case as they struggle to redefine their businesses in response to the increasing wave of contempt toward the collection and mining of user data.

What's for sure is that a lot of blockchain projects will fail. But those that survive might eventually achieve mass adoption and become the new tech giants of the future.

Originally published at


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