Throughout this article, I used the data coming from Google web searches to try to understand the phenomenon of cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin in particular – and how it is evolving together with the technology behind it, the Blockchain. I find this data useful as it is data of billions of users across the globe have been inputting into Google search box in the last year. Thus, I believe that data tells us a quite interesting story.
If you look at the graph above which takes into account the Bitcoin (web search) vs. the Blockchain (web search); that tells us – I believe – that although the Blockchain is the technology behind the Bitcoin, most people are interested about the former. Therefore, even though the Bitcoin arose awareness about the Blockchain, most interest is still around the Bitcoin rather than the Blockchain – which I think is the real deal.
Also, On November 19th the interest in the Blockchain spiked.
In just a few weeks, by December 8th, 2017 the price reached an all-time high at $16.224.
Another exciting aspect is the interest in Bitcoin vs. Blockchain worldwide.
In most countries Bitcoin interest over Blockchain prevails:
- The US
- and most of the European nations
In just in a few countries instead, Blockchain seems to be more of interest than the Bitcoin:
The top five countries – in order of magnitude – most interested in Bitcoin in 2017 were:
- South Africa
- The Netherlands
The top five cities – in order of magnitude – most interested in Bitcoin in 2017 were:
- San Jose
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
The top five related queries related to Bitcoin were:
- bitcoin price
- bitcoin usd
- bitcoin to usd
- buy bitcoin
- bitcoin cash
The top five countries – in order of magnitude – most interested in Blockchain in 2017 were:
The top five cities – in order of magnitude – most interested in Blockchain in 2017 were:
- San Francisco
The top five related queries related to Blockchain were:
- hive blockchain
- riot blockchain
- hive blockchain stock
- riot blockchain stock
- neo blockchain
You can find a summary of all the data used in this report here.
An assumption of the report: here the search queries “bitcoin” and “blockchain” is meant as an implied interest of the searcher into the topic.
What does this data tell us?
A few things.
New technologies have been accepted with great skepticism since the dawn of time
For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory.
We look at technology today, and we think how it is impacting humanity, for better or for worse. Many of us are scared and consider all the possible negative consequences of that. The passage above is from a wise man that talks about a technology that disrupted humanity.
Can you guess who is this person and what technology is he talking about? Is he Kevin Kelly? Moreover, is he talking about your smartphone, your computer, or the internet? None of them. That is a comment from Plato – more than 2,400 years ago – about a new technology: writing!
Today, none would argue how writing has been good for humanity. Human history itself has been the fruit of writing. Without that there wouldn’t have been any history at all. Yet writing itself was at the time a disruptive technology which consequence none could have predicted. Therefore, also a smart person, like Plato felt uncomfortable with that – even though he has become immortal thanks to it!
Old centralized systems are losing trust in favor of new decentralized systems
Throughout human history, there is no system which is a hundred percent centralized. For as much as we like to think of kings and queens as the primary protagonist of human history. In reality, those centralized systems also relied on decentralized, informal systems that in some way concurred or reinforced those central systems. Niall Ferguson makes this point very clear in his book, The Square, and the Tower.
The exciting findings by looking at Bitcoin web searches I believe is that beside places like Singapore and Luxemburg where Bitcoin is a clear sign of it being used for financial purposes. In other areas, like Ghana, China, and Nigeria, the digital currency might be used – besides illegal transactions – as a way to escape injustices coming from centralized and authoritarian regimes.
In addition, after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, hundreds of millions of people around the world lost trust towards capitalism. In fact, if in the past, people disliked states and banks. The situation was relatively stable because people trusted capitalism. In short, capitalism for better of for worse allowed anyone to move up the economic ladder. Since the financial crisis that feeling has been threatened too.
Beware of speculation: The Bitcoin seems now like the tulip bubble
Besides the buzz, speculation or bubble behind Bitcoin – many fear Bitcoin is like the Tulip mania, a financial bubble that exploded during 1636 – 1637 in the Netherlands when the price some Tulip bulbs would be worth more than a home!
Predicting whether Bitcoin is a bubble or not I think is impossible. We can argue and give it a valuation. Yet the success of this currency overtime will highly depend upon its ability to be used as a valid alternative to other payment systems.
However, whether or not Bitcoin itself will be a huge success (many argue it’s already), a significant failure (many others claim it’s only a bubble), or just another cryptocurrency; there is one thing we can’t deny. Bitcoin made for the first time possible to have financial transactions without the need of a central authority (a bank or government) to secure those transactions. It managed to do that thanks to the Blockchain!
The Blockchain is the real deal
Today we give for granted simple systems, like the double-entry accounting.
Yet also a simple system like that had significant consequences for businesspeople. In fact, think of a merchant that keeps only one column – the one related to what he is owed. What effect would that have?
In short, if you only take into account what others owe you rather then what you owe them; sooner or later your business will fail. Why? None will trust you enough to do business together. Although we take that for granted now, it was not back in the days.
In fact, in 1458, in Italy, a merchant, Benedetto Cotrugli put together what would become a masterpiece for any businessman, “The Book of the Art of Trade.” He’s the first – even before Luca Pacioli – to introduce the concept of “double-entry.” However, more than introducing it like a system, Cotrugli proposed that as a best practice any businessman should attend to.
In his words:
“Those that keep only one column of accounts, that is how much is owing to themselves and not how much others are expecting from them” are “the worst type of merchant, the basest and most iniquitous”
Would business and the economic system be possible without this simple yet so effective rule of thumb?
Going back to the Blockchain, this system which explained extensively here – even though has some bugs to figure out – it allows decentralized systems to work without the need of a central institution that acts as middlemen for those transactions. If on the one hand many like the idea behind Blockchain, it also poses a significant threat. In fact, many see the Blockchain as a sort of weapon in the hands of ordinary people against evil central organizations, like States and Banks. For how much we love to hear this story that must not be necessarily the case. In fact, technology is neutral. Like atomic energy which can be used to give electricity to the world, or to produce the nuclear bomb that can destroy the globe so is the Blockchain. What does it mean for the future?
Imagine you manage a large organization. You look for practical ways to make your business grow. As business commands, you don’t have preconceived ideas about what’s wrong. Instead, your primary compass is how efficient is that technology to grow your business. Imagine that the Blockchain becomes the most efficient way to manage transactions at the global level. That means the same technology – freely developed – can be used now by anyone who has a business interest. As a businessperson wouldn’t you take advantage of that? I guess you would. And I argue that a large corporation might be better equipped to take advantage of that technology.
Therefore, large corporations may eventually monopolize the markets thanks to this powerful weapon. In other words, the Blockchain rather than act as an equalizer would instead create even more economic disequalities.
What to expect for the future? The Ripple Effect
When you say “cryptocurrency,” most people think about the Bitcoin. However, the market for cryptocurrencies has expanded so much just in the last year that digital currencies are springing like mushrooms after the rain. As of now the list of cryptocurrencies count 1374 for a total market cap: $613,837,033,849 according to coinmarketcap. To put things in context just a few years back this market didn’t even exist. Now it has a market cap as big as of major Amerian corporations if not bigger. In fact, the total market cap of all the cryptocurrencies is bigger than Amazon market cap (563.54B for Dec. 29, 2017).
Putting it all together
The Bitcoin is the biggest thing happened in the last few years. Yet as any phenomenon that spreads quickly it brought with it a lot of noise and speculation. It is not surprising then that many like to compare the Bitcoin to the Tulip Mania. However, the Bitcoin also brought to light an exciting technology that can have multiple applications: the Blockchain.
Will the Blockchain be a propeller to democratize the worldwide economy or as a weapon in the hands of few large corporations that an become even more wealthy and powerful? The interrogative stays open.
Also, even though most people relate digital currency to Bitcoin, the market has exploded. It now has a market capitalization larger than Amazon, and it counts more than a thousand cryptocurrencies. Which ones will be the dominating currency that will shape the world economy in the next decade? I wish I knew!
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