2016 was another year of blockchain hype with not much tangible progress to say for it. Sure there were some advancements with companies continue to experiment with distributed ledger technology, but not much that can be implemented in the near future.
From hacks to cotton traded over the blockchain, here’s what happened in blockchain during 2016.
Betting big on blockchain
We all know blockchain is at an early stage in terms of development. Though institutions have been testing distributed ledger technology (more on that in a bit), it’s been the sweet spot for angel and venture capital investment. There was a total of $290 million in VC investment into blockchain companies in the first half of 2016. Though total investment petered off in the second half of the year, the amount invested showed VC companies are betting on blockchain to be a big factor down the road.
You couldn’t go a few days in 2016 without seeing another name brand company announcing it’s testing blockchain. JP Morgan and Wells Fargo. Visa and MasterCard. IBM and Google. The list goes on and on. Banks, and even countries, have discussed coining their own cryptocurrency, while skeptics are still unsure how blockchain changes anything in banking.
Trade finance and tracking
The easiest way to test a blockchain deal is through a trade finance agreement. Just get a few parties together, create a blockchain, and voila, you have a blockchain transaction. Commonwealth Bank and Wells Fargo showed how easy trade finance over blockchain could be, as they coordinated payment on a blockchain for a shipment of cotton on its voyage from the U.S. to China on a blockchain. Other companies, like Walmart, have experimented using blockchain to track the origin of food to certify the source and keep high quality control standards.
Bitcoin price movement
Bitcoin started the year $434.46 a BTC and is currently almost at $800 a coin, giving eCoin prospectors a pretty, pretty, pretty good ROI. But bitcoin’s price movement this year has been volatile to say the least. Bitcoin stayed in the mid $400s until May, when it jumped up to $768 in less than a month. Six days later it was down to $602, eventually bottoming out at $552 in early August. Since then, Bitcoin has been on a steady growth surge to where it is today.
Hacks and hacks and hacks!
One big reason for big dips in Bitcoin price are hacks, and this year had its fair share of bitcoins getting stolen. Most notably was the Bitfinix hack in August when $65 million worth of Bitcoin was stolen from online wallets. Ethereum was also subject to a massive DDoS attack, slowing down servers and forcing a second hard fork in as many months (more on that in a bit). Hackers also stole two types of cryptocurrencies from Fenbushi Capital founder Bo Shen in early December.
Though cryptocurrencies have come a long way, security concerns still limit scalability for the mainstream market.
You didn’t think we were going to talk about cryptocurrency hacks without addressing the DAO, did you? The month long rise and fall of the utopian investment fund run showed the world that there are always wolves looking to exploit loopholes. After finding a crack in the smart contracts controlling the funds of the DAO, a hacker siphoned off $50 million in ether, the cryptocurrency on the Ethereum blockchain, leading to a hard fork.
Though the DAO was pretty much a disaster, it should be seen as growing pains for future organizations built off the Ethereum blockchain, and don’t be surprised if we see more DAOs crash and burn before the first successful DAO is created.
Since blockchain technology is so young, you get some ridiculous stories about blockchain. The legal standing of blockchain is in a state of flux, as there’s still disagreement if Bitcoin is technically money. A judge in Florida ruled that Bitcoin isn’t money, while a federal judge thinks it is. Glad we cleared that up.
Accenture expressed interest in creating an editable distributed ledger this year, undermining the historical accuracy of blockchain transactions. There are now Bitcoin ATMs available all over the world.
But no story made me chuckle more than a company buying space on a satellite in space for secure bitcoin wallets. You know things are a little in trouble when companies send technology to space on a satellite to increase security.
Speaking of crazy, the first day of new cryptocurrency Zcash trading was absolutely bonkers as the stock traded from $2 to a high of over $2 million a coin. Usually the debut of cryptocurrencies aren’t notable, but Zcash is special since governmental ministers were calling for its ban before it was even released. Zcash is special in that the transaction is fully encrypted, thereby hiding the buyer, seller, and amount transferred. There are concerns that a fully encrypted cryptocurrency that can’t be traced can, theoretically, fund terrorism. Sounds like a normal day at the office for cryptocurrencies to me.
R3 in flux
Speaking of trouble, the highly touted R3 blockchain consortium took a few hits in December. After asking member banks to pony up $200 million to be a part of the consortium, incumbents have been steadily leaving. Three institutions have already left, with a reported four more opting out.
Though a consortium model may be the best for real changes in blockchain, the problems R3 is facing show how hard it is to get big players to work together and put significant funds into a consortium-led product.
Most people who aren’t chugging the blockchain kool-aid knew that not much tangible progress would be made in 2016. Though testing of the technology has increased, we’re a ways off from banks adopting blockchain, and even further from it becoming a retail product. In 2017, look for more of the same regarding testing — lots of smoke without much fire. Security growing pains will continue, and don’t be shocked if there aren’t more major hacks this year. We’ll also (hopefully) see more DAOs and innovation with regard to Ethereum.
The Fed should start to get more involved with regulation of cryptocurrencies, and we should get a better understanding of how cryptocurrencies should be regulated. Don’t be surprised if this leads to some currency exchanges getting shut down though.