This story serves to function both as a real blog post of mine, but also as an example of data storytelling for my university Data Storytelling Course.
BIG IDEA: Crypto to you probably means, “risky but intriguing investment opportunity”, but crypto should at least mean to all of us, “a precursor to a more decentralized Internet.”
According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, many people in the US started to save money more than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, but of course there was a great divide.
For those that were saving and investing, it was hard to dismiss charts that looked like this.
Of course when we hear the word “Bitcoin”, we all think of some kind of risky but intriguing investment opportunity, or at least that’s what I thought of before 2020.
But after diving into the crypto realm in 2020, I realize that Bitcoin represents an evolution, not just of currency, but the Internet as a whole.
You see, I grew up as a techie and literally played around with technologies that were the precursor to the Internet as we know it. In fact, I still remember being an administrator (sysop) of a fairly popular early Internet chat program (IRC:#Korea) in which the members found out with shock that I was actually a middle schooler when they tried to have a region-wide physical drinking hangout. In those days, we only knew each other by our aliases (Ehgie) as those were the days before any sort of social media sites where we published all our personal details for the world to see. The Internet was being created by all of us back then, but obviously the Internet has changed.
Now, Internet technologies are obviously created, owned, and operated by large companies. Some examples would be social media platforms (e.g., Facebook), gaming platforms (e.g., Sony), banking platforms (e.g., JP Morgan Chase), and insurance (e.g., State Farm). We may create content, but even that is a bit of a joint ownership with the companies that give us access to their platforms. But the realm of crypto is challenging this centrally owned and operated concept through concepts such as “decentralized platforms” and “decentralized apps (dApps)”. Many of these newer technologies run on a platform called Ethereum (see graph for the rise of ETH price).
Okay yes, if you invested in BTC (Bitcoin) really early (like in 2011), you would have made a LOT of money.
With this said, Bitcoin is focused on being primarily a form of currency whereas Ethereum is focused on being a new type of platform for the Internet (that also has a token called Ether that is rising in value like Bitcoin).
Jumping back to my childhood, when I helped create this Internet chat room that was popular amongst Korean Americans, a few of us put in a ton of work to make the chat room run, and thus we became the administrators of the room. No one owned the room though, but we just had more weight in the decision making processes; we would also frequently hold votes on decisions for the room community with people that were regular members of the room. No company owned what we were doing, although I actually think the room was running on a server at MIT. The magic of it was not just the fact that we had built a piece of the precursor to group chat, but rather we were doing it together and moving the project along together.
Now imagine a grass-roots bank that works something like this. The people that put the most work into creating the project would have more votes (usually signified by owning tokens that represent more votes towards the project direction), but everyone participating in the banking project could earn voting rights (tokens). The technological fabric that allows this project to run without a central server/company/board of directors would be Ethereum (or another decentralized platform software). You now have a basic and general understanding of what is labeled as DeFi (decentralized finance).
Yes, the crypto realm has been associated with illicit drug and arms trade, which has created much distrust in people. With this said, technologies can most definitely be used for good or evil (or some shade in between). I entitled this blog post, “Crypto for all,” because at some point it seems inevitable that we will all experience what Bitcoin has started. We will all experience the new frontiers of a more decentralized Internet.
Need some proof? Here is the growth of dApp volume as documented by State of the dApps.
And a snapshot of some dApp stats from 1/05/2020.
Will you join in to build the decentralized future?