What the hell is a blockchain

This week Ives seen NFTs for physical postcards and virtual Olive Garden restaurants. Can some explain to me what the hell this blockchain does and why Kickstarter want a to be part of it?

That’s the easy bit: because it’s hype.

At a 20,000ft level: it verifies information without a centralized trust/authority.

What is actually does is: waste terawatt-hours of electricity

What it’s supposed to do: decentralized, quasi-anonymous alternative to money (or… any information… but since it costs real money to process the blockchain blocks, “cryptocurrency” is really the only viable application… well, NFTs… but those are still “investments” and people wouldn’t buy them if they weren’t worth money)


The canonical information source from someone who doesn’t want to sell you blockchain products: Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: The Book – Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain (some free excerpts are linked from that page).


If you replace every instance of “blockchain” with “Giant rabbits from Mars” (adjust wording as required by the syntax of the replacement), you will be pretty close to understanding the point of cryptocurrencies. You will also have written a screenplay you could have sold to Ed Wood.

Also, there are four categories of people involved: Scammers, money launderers, gamblers, and fools. (there’s lots of overlap, of course.)

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The poker rule applies: when you sit down at the table, look around for the sucker. If you can’t spot them, leave.


Of course there is complication because of competing incentives. If, like Kickstarter, you want stupid-VC money, you take your existing Merkle-tree-like approach (as used for example by the git version-control system) and say “it’s a blockchain!” Which is technically true - that’s just one of many data-storage structures which have uses in the right contexts (and it has no intrinsic connection to the energy waste of proof-of-work decentralisation). If you want non-stupid-VC people not to hate you, you go to a lot of trouble not to say the B word anywhere near your project.

The weirdest part is they announced it in the middle of a huge backlash against the technology, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve successfully sabotaged their own business with this move.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if they make crazy money on account of it, though, because none of it makes any sense to me in the first place.