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Arizona Lawmakers Pass Blockchain Records Bill

Arizona Lawmakers Pass Blockchain Records Bill

  

Arizona's legislature has cleared a bill that would recognize blockchain signatures and smart contracts under state law, sending it to the governor's desk for final approval.The measure, as previously reported by CoinDesk, would make data tied to a blockchain "considered to be in an electronic format and to be an electronic record" in Arizona. It also notably featured language specifically related to smart contracts, signifying an effort to capture new kinds of delivering information – in this case, via blockchain – under existing rules.

The bill's authors wrote:

"'Smart contract' means an event-driven program, with state, that runs on a distributed, decentralized, shared and replicated ledger and that can take custody over and instruct transfer of assets on that ledger."

Public records show that the bill was sent to sent to Gov. Doug Ducey's office on 27th March after clearing the Senate by a 28-1 vote on the 23rd. While it's not immediately clear if or when the governor will sign the bill, the broad support the bill saw in the legislature – members of the legislature's lower chamber approved it unanimously late last month – suggests the measure could ultimately get the green light. The bill is akin to legislation passed and signed into law last year in Vermont. Lawmakers in the state proposed allowing data embedded on a blockchain to be used in a court of law.

IBM Unveils Blockchain Platform for Oil Trade Finance

A group of companies including IBM has spearheaded the development of a new blockchain-based crude oil trade finance platform.Along with IBM, commodities trading group Trafigura and corporate investment bank Natixis took part in the creation of the platform, built using code from the Linux Foundation-led Hyperledger project. IBM’s BlueMix cloud hosting service is also being utilized.

Within the system, parties can view transaction data as it is published on the blockchain. The platform also hosts documentation and updates on shipments, deliveries, and payments. Natixis, a member of the R3 distributed ledger consortium, is no stranger to trade finance applications of blockchain, having joined with the "Digital Trade Chain" project last year. According to Arnaud Stevens, Natixis’ head of global energy and commodities in New York, the bank sees the tech as potentially bringing down costs while also boosting procedural transparency.

Stevens said in a statement:

"We want to use blockchain to optimize the antiquated arena of commodity trade finance. The current process is paper and labor intensive, we have multiple friction points with high processing costs and limited automation. Distributed ledger technology brings some much-needed innovation into our industry."

The platform’s introduction marks the latest bridging of the blockchain and trade finance worlds. It’s an application that has attracted significant interest from a range of companies and governments worldwide, including Dubai. Many of the world’s banks also continue to push ahead with related projects focused on the commodities trade.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

How to Use Social Media for Your Lead Generation Marketing

How to Use Social Media for Your Lead Generation Marketing

  

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Elements of a Strong Inbound Marketing Strategy

Elements of a Strong Inbound Marketing Strategy

Are you a huge fan of cold calls? What about the marketing emails – that you never signed up for – invading your inbox? TV commercials in the middle of your favorite show? Unless it’s the Super Bowl, these marketing messages tend to be frowned upon or ignored rather than delightfully consumed.

 Most people that I know record TV programs solely so they can fast forward through the commercials. My TV capabilities are less sophisticated, but I typically use commercials to brush my teeth or clean the kitchen. I’m already on a “do not cold call list” with Verizon, and marketing emails are unsubscribed from more often than read. Non-remarketing display ads (i.e. the banner or sidebar ads we see when scanning websites) are clicked on an average of only 0.2%, according to Double Click. All of these methods fall under the family of “outbound marketing.” Shockingly enough, these disruptive outbound techniques convert at a much lower rate than inbound marketing strategies, where someone chooses to engage with your brand and actively seeks you out.

 

Inbound Marketing Strategies

Inbound strategies are all about being found naturally rather than aggressively pursuing leads through in-your-face tactics. Which person do you think would be more likely to buy a house? A. The person who received a message saying “Buy this house!” or B. The person who searched for and found the perfect house on their own? We both know the clear winner, which is inbound.

“Imagine a popup ad (outbound) vs. a funny infographic you chose to look at (inbound),” says Marketo’s Johnny Cheng. “Data clearly shows that people who choose to interact with your brand naturally convert higher.” Take a look at this conversion rate data by acquisition channel – inbound strategies have one of the highest rates, at almost 4%. Convinced that inbound marketing strategies kick ass for driving targeted leads and sales? Here are the 5 elements of a strong inbound marketing strategy, which you should be using!

SEO

SEO (search engine optimization) is a hard-to-control, waste-of-time tactic, right? Wrong: SEO is the process of optimizing your website’s content and structure for search in order to receive organic placements on the search engine results pages or SERPS. Having a quality website and content optimized for SEO ensures that Google’s web-crawling technology is able to identify and index your site’s content to have it appear for free to people searching. SEO is a critical part of your inbound strategy because if you can’t be found, then you’re not going to get business.

When SEO comes to mind I think keywords, code, website structure, link-building, and then my head starts spinning. SEO can actually get very complicated, quickly, so what should you be focusing on to get started? Start by identifying and utilizing the most important keywords to your leads. Of course, you want to ensure these keywords have high enough search volume and user intent to attract the most relevant audience. “There are many aspects of SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply the matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand,” explains Moz. I’m not an SEO guru by any means. Luckily, there is a plethora of free resources online so I’d recommend hopping over to Moz and our own SEO basics guide to get started.

PPC

Now we’re speaking my language! You might be thinking, wait – PPC is a paid tactic and aren’t paid strategies against the inbound methodology? Wrong! Paid search is technically still part of the inbound marketing family since search ads appear when a user is actively searching for something, therefore PPC ads are not interrupting another activity. Not all aspects of PPC will quality as inbound (like display ads), but ads on the search network are certainly one of the strongest elements of a strong inbound strategy, because search queries show so much intent.  So, how is PPC different then SEO? With paid ads, you’re paying for the placements on the SERPs rather than appearing organically. Why pay when you can appear organically? For multiple reasons…

With SEO:

  • You have far less control over when and how you appear on the search results page
  • A tweak in the algorithms can ruin your organic visibility
  • Seeing results often takes a long time (and isn’t guaranteed!)

With paid search, you’re able to pay for the top placements where people are more likely to see your ads and bid on specific keywords to attract qualified visitors. You have the control to adjust your budget, pause your ads during irrelevant times, target mobile searchers, easily measure your ROI, and the list goes on. Moral of the story is that you should be doing both SEO and PPC to get the highest volume and quality of leads.

Content Marketing

You wouldn’t have guests over and not serve a cocktail, right? The same goes for leads! Now that you’ve warmly welcomed them in the door through PPC and/or SEO you need to provide them something to drink, aka content. Oftentimes marketers think of content as the sole component to inbound marketing strategy, and while it’s certainly not the only aspect, it is a very critical one. Without fresh and useful content there is no chance of keeping and converting your leads. Your content should come in multiple forms with the goal of helping your audience answer a question or solve a problem.

The key to content marketing is that your content needs to stand out. “Your content must be remarkable enough to break through the clutter. It’s not enough to just produce content,” says Entrepreneur’s Murray Newlands. “Your content must educate, inspire or entertain your audience.”

So, where to start?

  • Create a blog:
    You should already know this, but a quality blog is one of the most effective ways to market a business. Blogging will help you attract new visitors, gain returning visitors, and convince warmer leads. A blog is a hub to keep your audience informed and prove that you’re a thought-leader in your industry. Here at WordStream, our blog accounts for more than half our total traffic!
  • Create guides, e-books, and other downloadable content:
    This will help your nurture your leads with longer-form content where you can sell how your products or services will help them.
  • Gather customer testimonials and create case studies:
    Case studies and customer testimonials will help convince leads that are further down the funnel. Hearing from someone like them will instill trust and up the chances of conversion.

     
  • Create a content :
    To ensure you stay on top of publishing fresh content regularly.
    calendar

Social Media

So you’ve created phenomenal content, published it on your site, and now you’re lounging on your beach chair enjoying a glass of wine? Well, you’re certainly not going to get profitable results with that attitude. You NEED to be attracting new and returning readers by sharing and promoting your content on social media. Creating the content is only a small piece of the puzzle. Ensuring the content reaches relevant people is where social comes in. This is inbound marketing because only people who want to see your content will follow your brand, and it's a great way to "subsidize" your organic traffic if you don't have great rankings yet.

Nowadays, anyone who’s anyone is on social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, or Periscope; your audience is likely on multiple of these channels. Determining which platforms are most relevant to your buyer personas in a task in itself, but I can guarantee that several of your leads are spending a significant chunk of their time-consuming content through their personal social channels. 

Spend time creating a social media promotion plan to distribute your content to the right people, analyzing your top performing content, and paying to promote and gain even more traffic to the content that’s resonating with your audience.

Landing Pages

Your landing page is where your leads land after clicking on your call-to-action (another important element of your inbound marketing strategy). Whether it be a product page, a form fill-out to download a whitepaper, or a subscription service page, you need to ensure your landing page is top-notch unless you’d like to jeopardize potential conversions from coming in. Some important elements to keep in mind…

  • Relevancy:
    You need to make sure that the landing page is relevant to the call-to-action. For example, if your visitor lands on your page from a paid search ad advertising birthday cakes, you wouldn’t send them to a landing page selling Christmas cookies, right?
  • Focus:
    What is the goal of your landing page? Is it to “Sign Up for this E-Newsletter!” or “Download this Guide Today”? Make your landing page’s purpose singular. Ensure the CTA is big, prevalent, and above the fold. Also, make sure to restrict the navigation to other pages and keep forms short.
  • Design:
    This is a major component of keeping visitors engaged. Using videos or images, testimonials, and trust signals are all design elements that can help improve the conversion rates of your landing pages. Run A/B tests to decide on the best designs for your landing pages.

Bonus Inbound Marketing Tip: Remarketing

Once a lead has visited your site, expressed interest in your content, products or offerings, you need a strategy in place to keep them engaged. One of the most effective tactics? Remarketing. These tactic cookies your site visitors and follows them around the web with ads reminding them to come back. Remarketing can be set in a variety of ways. For instance, you can remarket to anyone who visited your site, show a specific ad to visitors who went to a certain page (or a set of pages), or even an ad to someone who has placed items in a shopping cart but hasn’t converted.

My older sister called me the other day blown away when she saw an ad on Facebook of the exact dress she was just looking at on Nordstrom’s website. Yes, she is a stay-at-home mom who’s a bit disconnected from the marketing world, but it just proves that this tactic resonates with shoppers. Remarketing says “Hey there, remember us? Are you still interested? ” which is why the tactic is considered a member of the inbound family since the shopper has already expressed interest. Covering these elements will provide a solid infrastructure for a killer inbound marketing strategy.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

How to Develop a Business Growth Strategy

 

How to Develop a Business Growth Strategy
There are many ways to guide a business through a period of expansion.

  

Turning a small business into a big one is never easy.
The statistics are grim. Research suggests that only one-tenth of 1 percent of companies will ever reach $250 million in annual revenue. An even more microscopic group, just 0.036 percent, will reach $1 billion in annual sales.

In other words, most businesses start small and stay there.

But if that's not good enough for you—or if you recognize that staying small doesn't necessarily guarantee your business's survival— there are examples of companies out there that have successfully made the transition from start-up to small business to fully thriving large business.

That's the premise behind the search Keith McFarland, an entrepreneur and former Inc. 500 CEO, undertook in writing his book, The Breakthrough Company. "There have always been lots of books out there on how to run a big company," says McFarland, who now runs his own consulting business, McFarland Partners based in Salt Lake City. "But I couldn't find one about how to maintain fast growth over the long-term. So I studied the companies who had done it to learn their lessons." What follows are some of the lessons McFarland learned from his study of the breakthrough companies and how they can help you create a growth strategy of your own.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Intensive Growth

Part of getting from A to B, then, is to put together a growth strategy that, McFarland says, "brings you the most results from the least amount of risk and effort." Growth strategies resemble a kind of ladder, where lower-level rungs present less risk but maybe less quick-growth impact. The bottom line for small businesses, especially start-ups, is to focus on those strategies that are at the lowest rungs of the ladder and then gradually move your way up as needed. As you go about developing your growth strategy, you should first consider the lower rungs of what are known as Intensive Growth Strategies. Each new rung brings more opportunities for fast growth, but also more risk. They are:

Market Penetration.
The least risky growth strategy for any business is to simply sell more of its current product to its current customers—a strategy perfected by large consumer goods companies, says McFarland. Think of how you might buy a six-pack of beverages, then a 12-pack, and then a case. "You can't even buy toilet paper in anything less that a 24-roll pack these days," McFarland jokes. Finding new ways for your customers to use your product—like turning baking soda into a deodorizer for your refrigerator—is another form of market penetration.

Market Development.
The next rung up the ladder is to devise a way to sell more of your current product to an adjacent market—offering your product or service to customers in another city or state, for example. McFarland points out that many of the great fast-growing companies of the past few decades relied on Market Development as their main growth strategy. For example, Express Personnel (now called Express Employment Professionals), a staffing business that began in Oklahoma City quickly opened offices around the country via a franchising model. Eventually, the company offered employment staffing services in some 588 different locations, and the company became the fifth-largest staffing business in the U.S.

Alternative Channels.
This growth strategy involves pursuing customers in a different way such as, for example, selling your products online. When Apple added its retail division, it was also adopting an Alternative Channel strategy. Using the Internet as a means for your customers to access your products or services in a new way, such as by adopting a rental model or software as a service, is another Alternative Channel strategy.

Product Development.
A classic strategy, it involves developing new products to sell to your existing customers as well as to new ones. If you have a choice, you would ideally like to sell your new products to existing customers. That's because selling products to your existing customers is far less risky than "having to learn a new product and market at the same time," McFarland says.

New Products for New Customers. 
Sometimes, market conditions dictate that you must create new products for new customers, as Polaris, the recreational vehicle manufacturer in Minneapolis found out. For years, the company produced only snowmobiles. Then, after several mild winters, the company was in dire straits. Fortunately, it developed a wildly successful series of four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, opening up an entirely new market. Similarly, Apple pulled off this strategy when it introduced the iPod. What made the iPod such a breakthrough product was that it could be sold alone, independent of an Apple computer, but, at the same time, it also helped expose more new customers to the computers Apple offered. McFarland says the iPhone has had a similar impact; once customers began to enjoy the look and feel of the product's interface, they opened themselves up to buying other Apple products.

If you choose to follow one of the Intensive Growth Strategies, you should ideally take only one step up the ladder at a time, since each step brings risk, uncertainty, and effort. The rub is that sometimes, the market forces you to take action as a means of self-preservation, as it did with Polaris. Sometimes, you have no choice but to take more risk, says McFarland.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Integrative Growth Strategies

If you've exhausted all steps along the Intensive Growth Strategy path, you can then consider growth through acquisition or Integrative Growth Strategies. The problem is that some 75 percent of all acquisitions fail to deliver on the value or efficiencies that were predicted for them. In some cases, a merger can end in total disaster, as in the case of the AOL-Time Warner deal. Nevertheless, there are three viable alternatives when it comes to an implementing an Integrative Growth Strategy. They are:

Horizontal.
This growth strategy would involve buying a competing business or businesses. Employing such a strategy not only adds to your company's growth, it also eliminates another barrier standing in your way of future growth—namely, a real or potential competitor. McFarland says that many of breakthrough companies such as Paychex, the payroll processing company, and Intuit, the maker of personal and small business tax and accounting software, acquired key competitors over the years as both a shortcut to product development and as a way to increase their share of the market.

Backward.
A backward integrative growth strategy would involve buying one of your suppliers as a way to better control your supply chain. Doing so could help you to develop new products faster and potentially more cheaply. For instance, Fastenal, a company based in Winona, Minnesota that sells nuts and bolts (among other things), made the decision to acquire several tools and die makers as a way to introduce custom part manufacturing capabilities to its larger clients.

 Forward.
Acquisitions can also be focused on buying component companies that are part of your distribution chain. For instance, if you were a garment manufacturer like Chicos, which is based in Fort Myers, Florida, you could begin buying up retail stores as a means to pushing your product at the expense of your competition.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Diversification

Another category of growth strategies that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s and is used far less often today is something called diversification where you grow your company by buying another company that is completely unrelated to your business. Massive conglomerates such as General Electric are essentially holding companies for a diverse range of businesses based solely on their financial performance. That's how GE could have a nuclear power division, a railcar manufacturing division and a financial services division all under the letterhead of a single company. This kind of growth strategy tends to be fraught with risk and problems, says McFarland, and is rarely considered viable these days.

Developing a Growth Strategy: How Will You Grow?

Growth strategies are never pursued in a vacuum, and being willing to change course in response to feedback from the market is as important as implementing a strategy in a single-minded way. Too often, companies take a year to develop a strategy and, by the time they're ready to implement it, the market has changed on them, says McFarland. That's why, when putting together a growth strategy, he advises companies to think in just 90 chunks, a process he calls Rapid Enterprise Design. Sometimes the best approach is to take it one rung at a time.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

What is The Future of Cryptocurrency?

What is The Future of Cryptocurrency?

  

Bitcoin is experiencing high volatility

Currently, Bitcoin is experiencing high volatility that it maybe caused by the recent SEC impediment to create the first bitcoin ETF, or exchange traded fund.Some people in the crypto community were confident about the U.S. Securities and exchange commission positive decision that this hope drove the price, allowing bitcoin to reach its new all time highs.

Then, the SEC announcement about its decision to reject the Winklevoss’ proposal affected the bitcoin and other digital currencies market, but – after a first drop – the greatest part of the digital currencies are currently experiencing new highs.Right now, Ether, or the cryptocurrency that fuels the Ethereum blockchain, reached its new all time high with a price of $40 at present time.

That said, leaving aside the price-related matters, the SEC decision opened another important question: can bitcoin and other digital currencies survive without any approval by institutions? Is it true – as said by Bank of Canada – that it cannot reach a massive diffusion without any formal regulation?

Where will crypto be in the future?

Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, but for me Bitcoin – with capital B, or the technology behind it: the blockchain – will have a prosperous future.Its importance goes far beyond bitcoin and payment transactions as this is just one – and the most banal – of its application.

Davide Menegaldo, COO at Helperbit, said:

I would imagine this scenario: in the future financial instruments linked to bitcoin will be finally approved. High finance will invest into the cryptocurrency (more than the 300M expected for the bitcoin ETF approval). I’m thinking about 5-10 times the current price. Bitcoin will not necessarily be used as a method of payment (it depends also on how the size block / Segregated witness / LN matter will proceed or will not), but primarily it will be used as a store of value. However, there will be much more competition as a payment method because some banks could issue their own crypto currency, while the current ones will remain a handful. Ethereum will consolidate as the second most important infrastructure, and 99% of ICO tokens will have any value”

Ethereum future

The same thing happens with the Ethereum blockchain. Ether is only one of its possible applications, so people could not use ether as a method of direct payment, but the main important revolution brought by Ethereum are the so-called smart contracts and we will hear a lot about them in the next future.Smart contracts, in fact, allow a huge possibility of applications. They are computer protocols that have the main purpose of executing the terms of a contract in order to satisfy common contractual conditions without the need of trusted intermediaries.

This way, smart contracts can be used as the deepest layer of any kind of application development and not just to set payment-related transactions.According to Leonardo Pedretti (Ethereum Italia and Etherevolution), in five years from now, Ethereum will be the undiscussed leader as the main platform to be used for development and smart contract execution:

Users will use Ethereum even without knowing it. The same thing happens today when you download an app, without knowing deeply the technology used behind it,” explained us Pedretti.

Dash and Zcash

Everyday we experience the birth of a new digital currency, but only a few will survive in the next future, as said by our friends above.Two of those crypto might be Dash and Zcash (ZEC) that recently experienced new higher prices.At present time, Dash and Zcash have respectively a value of $100 and $70. Of course, their monetary values mean nothing in terms of what will happen in future, but we can say that they are showing a high interest.

Also, Zcash provides a revolutionary cryptocurrency that is fully anonymous, so the data showed on the blockchain doesn’t provide any info about the amount or the people involved in the transaction. This feature may could be vital for Zcash future because no other digital currency – together with Monero (XMR) – allows this kind of complete anonymity and privacy.

Today Monero ($123) reached the fourth place according to its market capitalization ($255.773.115), right after bitcoin, ether and dash. Created back in 2014, it soon doubled – and then quadrupled – its price. This renewed interested in the Monero currency might be caused by the low bitcoin scalability. In fact, it is faster and with lower fees than bitcoin.

This means that if the scalability-related issue of bitcoin won’t be solved soon (Hard-fork scenario), altcoins will increase their value, popularity and market cap, so they will be more used to as a payment gateway, while bitcoin will be more and more exploited as a store of value. But this only if the block size debate won’t be solved soon…Of course, as I said, we can only do speculations and predictions as we don’t really know what can happen next, but according to me Bitcoin and blockchains will be never forgotten and will be more and more used in the next five years.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Some of the Largest Cryptocurrency Premines in History

Some of the Largest Cryptocurrency Premines in History

Premining CryptoCurrencies

There have been several dozen premined cryptocurrencies throughout the past few years. Not all of these projects amounted to much, although some of them successfully gained some traction in one way or another. Below are some currencies with significant premines, although not all of them used this concept for nefarious purposes.

 Gulden

                                                 

It has to be said, the Gulden project had a 10% premine reserved for development, marketing, and other miscellaneous expenses. With a premine of 10% – 170 million coins out of a total 1.68 billion – there is some reason for concern. Despite the premine, however, Gulden – ticker NLG – has managed to gain some traction in the real world, although its success is limited to The Netherlands. Gulden is still under active development to this very day, according to their bitcoin talk thread. Gulden has a US$8.655m market cap with 342,46 million NLG in circulation

FuelCoin

                                                       

FuelCoin is a fully premined coin for redistribution. The bitcoin talk thread mentions how the 50 million coins were held by a trusted third-party for a fair distribution. 10 million of those coins were used for charity donations, the remaining 40 million coins were to be used for marketing efforts. Fullcoin also maintains a 2% annual inflation through its proof-of-stake system. It appears Fuelcoin is no longer actively developed, even though the currency still has a US$272,000 market cap with over 100 million coins in circulation.

Startcoin

                                                        

Startcoin is the second project to be linked to Max Keiser, who is quite a popular figure among cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Unfortunately, Startcoin also came with a 50% premine, which immediately raised a red flag. Despite developing the StartJOIN platform – which uses StartCoin – the currency never amounted to much. It is anything but surprising to see Startcoin’s market cap drop to US$164,488 with over 45 million START in circulation.

Auroracoin

                                                 

When Auroracoin was first introduced, a lot of people seemed to be on board with the idea. The cryptocurrency is designed to serve as a new currency for anyone living in Iceland. Its 50% premine was distributed through an airdrop in 2014, which put AUR into the hands of every Iceland resident. Even though most recipients decided to sell their Auroroacoin right away, the currency still holds some value today. Its market cap sits at US$1.244 million, with 8,658,439 AUR in circulation.

Curecoin

                                                  curecoin logo

Curecoin is a very different project from the rest, as it is an effective reward for protein-folding. This process is used to aid scientists in researching cures for diseases and other illnesses. A total of 28,692,524.32 coins will be in circulation, of which 23,226,284.65 were premined. These coins are distributed to all participants, regardless of the mining hardware used. Close to 95% of all coins are issued to folders, whereas the rest of the funds are used for project development donations and developers. Curecoin has a market cap of US$1,485,223 with 26,431,310 CURE in circulation.

 Paycoin

                                                  

Perhaps the biggest scam coin of all time is Paycoin. It is not surprising to find out Paycoin also had a significant premine, as 12 million coins were kept in control of the developers. Considering there were only 12.5 million XPY to be issued at it speak, it was evident this project would not get very far. Paycoin was involved in many different controversies and eventually turned into a complete scam. Despite this rocky history, the currency still has a US$28,176 market cap with 11,671,263 XPY in circulation, quite surprising to say the least.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Bill Gates: Bitcoin Is ‘Better Than Currency’

Bill Gates:
Bitcoin Is 'Better Than Currency'

After long remaining mostly mum on Bitcoin, Microsoft’s legendary co-founder Bill Gates has spoken. At the Sibos 2014 financial-services industry conference in Boston, America's richest man just threw his weight behind the controversial crypto cash. Well, at least as a low-cost payments solution. At the event, when asked about Bitcoin’s potential to ease the cost of payment transactions for moving money from one place to another Gates waxed mostly positively about the virtual money.

“Bitcoin is exciting because it shows how cheap it can be,” he told Erik Schatzker during a Bloomberg TV’s Smart Street show interview yesterday. “Bitcoin is better than a currency in that you don’t have to be physically in the same place and, of course, for large transactions, currency can get pretty inconvenient.”

Gates again reiterated his stance on cryptocurrencies when he delivered the event’s closing keynote address, in which he stated that, in the future, financial transactions will eventually “be digital, universal and almost free.” While he seems relatively bullish on how inexpensive transacting in Bitcoin can be, Gates isn’t singing the praises of its anonymity. The billionaire alluded in an oblique, somewhat rambling fashion to some of the more nefarious anonymous users associated with Bitcoin.

“The customers we’re talking about aren’t trying to be anonymous,” he told Schatzker. “They’re willing to be known, so Bitcoin technology is key and you can add to it or you could build a similar technology where there’s enough attribution where people feel comfortable that this is nothing to do with terrorism or any type of money laundering.” The last time Gates publicly commented on Bitcoin was last February, the day Bitcoin currency conversions debuted on Microsoft’s Bing search engine when he skirted questions about Microsoft’s stance on the cryptocurrency and subsequent others during a lively Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session.

Instead of answering Bitcoin-related queries head on, Gates shifted the focus to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-backed Vodaphone M-pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer and microfinancing service in Kenya. Gates said that his organization is “involved in digital money, but unlike Bitcoin, it would not be anonymous digital money.” He went on to predict that “digital money will catch on in India and parts of Africa and help the poorest a lot” over the next five years. Now that Gates is officially Microsoft’s technical advisor, perhaps he’ll make a push for Microsoft to accept Bitcoin (or another virtual money) as a form of payment and/or weave cryptocurrency into the company’s nascent “Zero-Effort” mobile payments initiative. Only time will tell.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Blockchain Without Bitcoin: Big Banking Babble

Blockchain Without Bitcoin:
Big Banking Babble

  If the blockchain were made of keychains, it would look like this.

Blockchain Without Bitcoin?

There has been a recent change in the mainstream narrative surrounding bitcoin. The message is shifting; what was once a story about get-rich-quick imaginary gold or hacker criminals is turning into a story about banks and regulations. The new story is more widespread and more positive. Bitcoin is slowly becoming part of everyday conversation, although bitcoin itself is often downplayed.

dollar-726884_1920

Bitcoin has found new support in the mainstream media, mostly couched in praise for its underlying blockchain technology. From Nasdaq and Blythe Masters to The Economist, finance giants are realizing the value of what bitcoin’s blockchain accomplishes in terms of network security and trustless record-keeping. As a result, bitcoin coverage in the mainstream press is normalizing.

The Talking Points

There are three main themes to the new mainstream message around bitcoin:

  1. Blockchain is important; forget about bitcoin.
  2. Banks must harness blockchain technology.
  3. Blockchain technology is far too dangerous for regular people.

One recent example that hits all these points comes from this IBM advertorial piece in Forbes. In this article, IBM researcher Arvind Krishna presents his argument for the importance of blockchain technology and its transformative power. The piece hits the first talking point very overtly, giving bitcoin a cursory mention before saying that the “blockchain is the more interesting phenomenon.” It differentiates the blockchain from bitcoin and then disparages bitcoin.

For the second talking point, the piece offers a few examples for the use of blockchain technology — such as smart contracts and document verification. These are use cases that bitcoin currently serves, but all the examples take place between companies or banks. Not once in the IBM article are individuals using blockchain technology by or for themselves. Talking point number three is found in what was cut from the original version of the article, posted to IBM’s Smarter Planet blog, which was two paragraphs longer. These words from Krishna’s original blog post did not make it into the paid Forbes piece:

“To understand the potential of blockchain, consider how global business is typically transacted today. Say a sheep farm in rural Sweden wants to pay a supplier of sheering equipment in New Zealand. The two businesses use different banks, logistics companies, and currencies, and they might also be subject to different government and industry regulators. So their seemingly simple transaction is actually a lengthy chain of interactions between a number of banks, intermediaries, and auditors. Each party maintains its own systems of record. The result is a complex, inefficient process that’s costly and time consuming.

But what if all the parties from the farmer to the supplier to their respective banks participated in a system using blockchain technology? The entire process could be handled within a single, transparent system shared among all parties, minimizing the potential for human error or malfeasance. And the entire process could probably be completed in minutes rather than days.”

These two paragraphs tell a story of slow, inefficient financial transactions and institutions, and how the blockchain can do a better job than those institutions. In terms of narrative, there’s not a big leap between sheep farm and sheep farmer, and by the end of the example, you wonder why they need a bank at all.

Pay no Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Banks and other financial institutions do recognize the value of the bitcoin blockchain, as evidenced by the bitcoin projects backed by three major credit card networks, not to mention Nasdaq. Banks also know that they desperately need to improve their electronic security. But once some understanding of Bitcoin’s potential begins to come into view, banks want to divert attention from it. On one hand, it’s embarrassing that the blockchain innovation did not come from them. On the other hand, they want to be the ones at center stage, and that’s difficult since they spent a long time saying how stupid bitcoin was.

The banks see what bitcoin’s blockchain accomplishes in terms of network security and trusted record-keeping. But they are in the uncomfortable position of having mocked this thing they now find useful. They want to keep it for themselves; at the very least, they don’t want to be left behind. Banks want to know how Bitcoin can cut their costs, but they are not interested in actually becoming faster or cheaper or more open. They want to charge high fees. They want a 2-day float. They want to be in possession of your money.

The message is all about banks doing damage control. It is not about disintermediation or disruption; it is about services you can be charged for. The open secret, the fact that the message tries to obscure, is that people don’t need banks to use bitcoin. Bitcoin’s primary advantage is not to do some things faster or more reliable than a centralized trusted third party, it is to do those things without a third party. Bitcoin empowers individuals to take their finances into their own hands. The revolution will not be centralized.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Bitcoin holds above $1,000 as traders fret about the cryptocurrency’s potential ‘fork’

Bitcoin holds above $1,000 as traders fret about the cryptocurrency’s potential ‘fork’

 

Technology behind the CyrptoCurrency

Bitcoin has had a rough ride in the past few days after hitting record highs, then dipping below $1,000 and now just holding steady, as traders ponder the future of the underlying technology behind the CyrptoCurrency. On March 10, bitcoin hit a high of $1,325.81, but dipped to around $944 on Saturday. The price has recovered somewhat and was trading at around $1,049.20 at the time of publication. The recent volatility is due to a number of factors:

  • The rejection by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) proposed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
  • Chinese authorities forcing bitcoin exchanges to halt withdrawals of the virtual currency
  • Concern of the future of the underlying technology of bitcoin

This last point refers to a potential bitcoin "fork" which would result in the emergence of two cryptocurrencies – one known as Bitcoin and one known as Bitcoin Unlimited.

   Mock physical bitcoins arranged on a table.

Is bitcoin in a bubble right now?

In the last seven days, 54.7 percent of trades on one major exchange called Bitfinex have been to sell bitcoin. The other 45.3 percent have been to buy. At the same time, from bitcoin's all-time high on March 10 to midday on March 23, the number of short positions on the Bitfinex exchange were up 18.9 percent, hitting levels not seen since February 17. Short positions refer to people betting against a price rise in bitcoin.

Jason Hamilton, a bitcoin trader in the U.S., told CNBC that the long-term supporting trend line for bitcoin is around $735, and that bitcoin is in a bubble right now. He said that a potential upcoming fork, as well as the rejection of the ETF and tighter regulation in China, is the reason he is shorting the digital currency. "All these reasons are the catalysts it needs for the bubble to burst and the long term trend line to be revisited," Hamilton told CNBC by a private Twitter message.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

 

What’s True Today and Tomorrow

As far back as the 1880s, people stood on the curb outside the New York Stock Exchange taking bets on political elections, and newspapers would report the odds as a way of predicting the results at the polls. In the years since economists refined the concept, and more recently, prediction markets have tapped into the wisdom of the crowds via the internet, forecasting everything from presidential races to sporting events to stock prices. The concept took a hit in 2012 when a major site shut down amid financial irregularities and pressure from US regulators. But Silicon Valley hasn’t given up on the idea. It now sees a new way of building markets that predict the future: the blockchain.

The blockchain is the global ledger that securely records transactions for the bitcoin digital currency, operating outside the control of any central authority. But so many startups and online communities are now applying the same concept to all sorts of other applications. For Joey Krug, the openness of a blockchain could deliver far more powerful prediction markets than ever before, spreading them to a much larger number of people, while keeping regulators at bay. Krug is one of the young technologists behind Augur, a San Francisco nonprofit working to build a service atop the Ethereum blockchain where anyone can launch or join these markets. “It doesn’t care where you’re from,” says Krug, a 21-year-old Thiel Fellow. “All kinds of people can trade together that weren’t able to trade before.”

Thanks to the counterintuitive dynamics that drive prediction markets, this could eventually create more specific and accurate predictions—an antidote to media pundits and pollsters who bear a little cost for getting their forecasts wrong. “You put your money where your mouth is,” says Andrew Miller, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in cryptocurrencies. But like so many other technologists, financial traders, and other freethinkers working to create strangely fascinating new services atop the blockchain idea, Krug is looking even further ahead. He believes Augur, which is still under beta test, can eventually feed real-world truths into any other online application.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form.

“It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

A prediction market is like the stock market, except that you’re not buying stock in companies. You’re buying stock in outcomes. Let’s say Donald Trump is running for president. A prediction market lets you buy “stock” in a Trump win or loss. If your prediction comes true, you get paid. If your prediction proves wrong, you get nothing.

As in the stock market, you can also sell your shares. You aim to buy low and sell high. If enough people participate, the trading price of the stock should indicate the likelihood of an outcome. If a prediction pays out at $1 and Trump’s “stock” is trading at 51 cents, that market predicts a 51 percent chance of a Trump victory. This odds-making reflects the efficient market hypothesis, an idea that won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2013. “Prices capture information,” says Erik Snowberg, an economist and political scientist at the California Institute of Technology. “If you have information that says the price is too low, you buy and the price goes up. If you have information that the price is too high, you sell.”

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form. “It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth. ‘It’s not just about predicting what is in the future. It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.’ Richard Craib

There’s always the risk that the majority will deny the facts, somehow overriding the monetary incentive. Enormous bribes could be a problem, for instance. “There may be cases where you benefit by cheating,” says Miller. “If everyone goes toward the truth, you have an incentive to go along with the truth. But if everyone deviates from the truth, there is an incentive to deviate.” Still, many people seem to have faith in the idea. The Rep now enjoys a $89 million market cap, up from $50 million at the end of February.

Ultimately, Krug hopes to create a service that feeds more than just prediction markets. Augur’s reporting engine, he believes, could serve as the foundation for other applications that rely on real-world data. As he explains, it could help automate any financial contract, from options and derivatives to insurance contracts and credit default swaps. Should you be paid because a company defaulted on its debt? Check the Augur blockchain to see if the company really did.

If Augur gains a true scale, other possibilities arise. If, say, Trump’s national security adviser steps down and Augur’s Rep-funded “reporters” verify his resignation, that fact gets burned into a blockchain. Any application can then make use of this digital fact, from Wikipedia to Facebook to Google search results. In an age when fake news bounces around Facebook’s echo chambers and presidential tweets see no difference between online hoaxes and the careful reporting of the New York Times, the possibility of creating a digital market for facts becomes a powerful idea.

Like so many ideas that bubble up from the world of bitcoin, the concepts behind Augur are both strange and perhaps overly optimistic. The instability of the Ethereum tokens that people use to make bets on these markets could undermine their accuracy, says David Rothchild, a researcher at Microsoft. And the Augur reporting engine, lacking a critical mass of participants, remains unproven. But in an age when so many people feel so unsure about not just the future but the facts in the present, such big ideas are at least worth a try.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member