As a favour to an old colleague, I agreed to proofread a start-up proposal to be aimed at venture-capital types. I knew it had something to do with blockchain. I thought it was just a couple of pages and would take 10 minutes. It’s actually over 20 pages, and will take hours. By ‘hours’, I mean ‘weeks until completion’, because I can’t be bothered to do more than five minutes a day.
Best be oblique. The proposal is for online provision of a service or function we will call ‘widgeting’*. While mundane, widgeting can be fairly important. But: a) most of us need to use such a process only rarely; and b) existing online or real-life methods mostly work fine.
The proposal offers improvements that sound desirable, like ‘greater convenience’. But it insists that they be delivered by (decentralized, verifiable, secured, ‘immutable’ etc) blockchain, when simple procedural changes (like a more user-friendly system) would suffice. The proposal also assumes that untrustworthy or malicious actors are a major problem with current methods of widgeting. This is not usually the case – but where it is, the problem is organizational or institutional, and shouldn’t be swept under the carpet by a superficial technical fix.
To complicate things, the proposal relies on at least some parties paying for use of this platform – or ‘remunerating nodes for their work’. The proposal allows for crowdfunding, though that makes sense for only a narrow range of widgeting-related activities. (Widgeting can be one-off and for-profit, but it is often a small part of a larger non-commercial activity. It does involve admin and other costs, but these are usually bundled into other much bigger budgets or payments. There could be some potential for value-creating through data-gathering.)
As if this weren’t masochistic enough, the business model does not rely on real money, but will have its own cryptocurrency. This will, it seems, acquire some sort of value of its own as ‘the ecosystem grows’.
Talking of masochistic: did I mention that, for a laugh, I agreed to be paid for what I thought would be a 10-minute proofread in these ‘tokens’?
There are several people – fairly smart, I always thought – spending months on this obsessive attempt to find a problem for the visionary anarcho-glam fantasy tech solution.
*Don’t waste time being intrigued about what ‘widgeting’ is. Trust me – it’s boring.