Comstock's magazine 0419 - April 2019 - Page 49

ly described in future tense. And if a blockchain revolution is on the way, a generation of startups likely will have to fail first, much as happened with the dotcom bubble. A 2017 Deloitte analysis of more than 86,000 blockchain projects launched on the software collaboration platform GitHub concluded that only 8 percent were still going, with an average lifespan of just over a year. For example, in early 2015, the blockchain peer-to-peer lending platform BTCJam was listed by Business Insider as one of the 25 most exciting Bitcoin startups. Two years later it shut down, citing regulatory challenges. Even the bullish Shtofman says that in real es- tate, intermediaries are going to be needed for the foreseeable future: attorneys for legal agreements, real estate agents for local knowledge, and title in- surers to check a property’s provenance until a big group of proven-clean titles are loaded onto the blockchain. It’s hard to see how, in the short term, the scenario of a six-hour real estate sale could come to pass without eliminating time-consuming, in-person intermediary steps like a home inspec- tion and attorney review of closing documents. And many in the title insurance industry are skeptical that the new technology will ever sig- nificantly change the need for their services. The American Land Title Association argues that the number of quirky and obscure errors that can creep into a property’s title mean blockchain will never replace the need for human oversight. That “garbage-in” issue is known in the blockchain world as the “oracle problem,” says McBain, and there’s no easy solution. Mass adoption also depends on familiarity and trust, and on that score, Beadles says there’s a long way to go. Monarch Wallet has 200,000 users, which seems like a lot until you consider that pop- ular payment app Venmo has 18 million and PayPal 10 million. Most companies too are paying little at- tention, according to one study: In a 2017 survey of more than 3,000 chief information officers around the world by research and advisory company Gart- ner, 43 percent said blockchain was on the radar but that they had no plans to test it, and 34 percent said they had no interest. Beadles himself advises caution. Though Splash Factory helps firms build custom blockchain apps, he advises companies not to get into blockchain “just because it sounds cool. Unless you have a part of your business that requires immutability and transparency, you don’t need blockchain.” Yet last May, a Gartner vice president warned Wall Street Journal readers that “if business leaders wait for the hype cycle to run its course they may no longer have a business to operate in — at least nothing like they have previously experienced and profited from.” If he’s right, companies have some options for educating themselves. Lots of books out there offer good blockchain overviews. XYO cofounder Markus Levin suggests attending one of the area’s several blockchain Meetup groups, buying a few shares of a blockchain company, or putting a few dollars into a cryptocurrency, which will force you to learn more about how it all works. And McBain has some inexpensive advice: “Get the smartest son or daughter of someone at your company who is 18 or 19, have them research the blockchain, and have them tell you how it applies to your company.” n Steven Yoder writes about business, real estate and criminal justice. His work has appeared in The Fiscal Times, Salon, The American Prospect and elsewhere. On Twitter @syodertweet and at April 2019 | 49