🤷 Opinions Katya Michaels

Crypto Invest Summit Pulls a Huge Crowd in LA: Blockchain’s Future Looking Good

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Speakers like Steve Wozniak and Tim Draper bring over 6,000 attendees to the second Crypto Invest Summit even in the midst of a bear market
Crypto Invest Summit Pulls a Huge Crowd in LA: Blockchain’s Future Looking Good
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When the first Crypto Invest Summit was announced in the spring of 2018, the organizers did not mince words, positioning the conference as the biggest crypto and Blockchain event on the West Coast. As it came to pass, even they may have been surprised by the turnout of about 4500 attendees: a laudable feat that also manifested some organizational problems. Extremely long lines for registration, a pre-party that very few were able to get into, and the lack of capacity in the main stage hall prompted some attendees to quip about the “Blockchain scaling problem as demonstrated at Crypto Invest.”

Valuable lessons were learned, and this year the organization was significantly improved, despite the number of participants rising to an astounding 6,100. If crypto conferences could be compared to colleges–some that specialize in one subject, some that offer a nice atmosphere or an incredible location, some that are known as party schools–then Crypto Invest Summit is surely a big university with a large variety of offerings, impressing with the sheer numbers. An expo floor with over 80 booths, 3 stages, 5 tracks, and thousands of attendees seem like solid evidence that Crypto Invest was able to defy the bear market.

Attendee registration at the Summit
Attendee registration at the Summit

From ICOs to sustainable investment

In May, many panels addressed ICO investment and the differences between security and utility tokens. This time, in the aftermath of a dissipating ICO hype and a crashed market, the focus was on sustainable investment in Blockchain technologies. In the context of this summit, “sustainable” meant long term investment in real products that reduce friction in the token economy and give users an easy interface with transparent incentives.

A second stage featured 5 additional tracks, or sub-conferences, that discussed specific topics including: Women of Crypto, Security Tokens, Crypto Trading, the Builder Track, and Healthcare on the Blockchain. During these tracks, participants could delve into the specifics of their particular field of interest, be it understanding crypto market movements, redesigning healthcare, listing tokens on exchanges, or bootstrapping network effects. A pitch stage in the concourse hall gave companies an opportunity to present their project to media, potential partners, and investors.

One of the expert panels at the Summit
One of the expert panels at the Summit

Main attractions

One of the great attractions of the Crypto Invest Summit is the lineup of prominent speakers. Venture capitalists Tim Draper and Adam Draper, always favored by crypto enthusiasts eager for investment advice, returned to the summit, having also appeared at the May event. Adam Draper predicted a significant jump in adoption, stating that in one year everyone at the conference will have 3 applications on their phone that will use Blockchain and cryptocurrency without the user having to think about it.

Tim Draper, who calls fiat “political currency”, reframed Bitcoin volatility for the audience: “1 Bitcoin is still 1 Bitcoin, it’s all the other currencies that are very volatile against it as they disappear from our earth.” He encouraged entrepreneurs to take risks with crypto and not give into the scaremongering of the incumbents of the global financial system. He also referred to institutions as “sheep” that are hesitant to enter the space, looking to other institutions for guidance. For Draper, it’s “much better to be the wolf and go in first!”

Billionaire Tim Draper speaking at the Summit
Billionaire Tim Draper speaking at the Summit

While not necessarily an expert in the space, Steve Wozniak understandably drew a big crowd. He clarified his position on Bitcoin, saying that he invested at one point for the purposes of experimenting with it, and has since sold most of his crypto. Nevertheless, he is excited to see how this technology develops and has become a co-founder of a Blockchain-focused venture capital fund EQUI Global. Wozniak reminded everyone that the human is always more important than technology since the user experience trumps any other engineering considerations. When asked what he meant by calling Bitcoin a bubble, he explained:

“The Internet was a bubble, but the thinking behind it was correct, it ended up being integral to our lives. Maybe with Blockchain it will be the same: it is a bubble, but in 10-15 years its value will show.”

Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak during his talk at the Summit

The live taping of Ran Neu-Ner’s CNBC Crypto Trader show was a big hit in the spring, and this summit’s show turned out to be even more exciting. Besides featuring Steve Wozniak, the Drapers, and Dan Morehead of Pantera Capital, NeuNer created a sensation by hinting at the details of Coinbase’s upcoming IPO, referencing a source close to the company. In a conversation with the CNBC host, Adam Draper revealed that despite Coinbase’s $8 billion valuation, he believes that the company is still undervalued and will be “the largest company on the planet.”

Save the date

While 2019 may become the year of the STO, most speakers seemed to agree that the bear market is the best time to get work done, i.e. start projects, build frameworks, and gather communities. The investors echoed this sentiment, encouraging entrepreneurs to focus on completing products that provide valuable solutions and reduce friction in Blockchain applications.

The Summit’s after-party
The Summit’s after-party

At the conference, it was clear that the crypto community is coming to a realization: if we are to see widespread crypto and Blockchain adoption, the technology must be running invisibly in the background, leaving an easy and engaging experience for the user. When Crypto Invest Summit returns in April 2019, there will be a chance to evaluate how well those goals are being accomplished. Judging by the first two events, the conference will continue to attract crowds of crypto experts, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts no matter what the industry holds in store for us in the meantime.

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Despite the Criticism, Ripple Arguably More Decentralised Than Bitcoin

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Many won’t even class XRP as crypto because of Ripple’s control, but they could also argue that the XRP token is more decentralised than BTC
Despite the Criticism, Ripple Arguably More Decentralised Than Bitcoin
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Ripple, and its token, XRP, have faced a constant barrage of criticism relating to their decentralization of the token over the years. Many cryptocurrency purists have criticised their inner workings with Ripple, the company, clearly in charge of the XRP token and its distribution.

However, this allegation has been as equally denied by the those at the head of Ripple; in fact, it has even seen the CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, state that the XRP ledger is in fact more decentralized than both Bitcoin and Ethereum.

This statement alone will get many raring for a fight, but a closer inspection and interpretation of what it means to be decentralised could indicate that Ripple has a point. They could indeed argue that they are more decentralized than the other two major cryptocurrencies, based on the mining pools.

It is well known that controlling the majority of the mining of traditional proof-of-work coins, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, can lead to a 51% attack, which destroys the decentralisation of the blockchain and hands full control to one person, or group, or pool.

Bitcoin has been flirting with the 51% attack recently, and previously, but for Ripple, it is a different story, as they only have seven percent control of the validators. Looking at the interpretation of decentralisation, there technically have been more chances for Bitcoin to be controlled by one group than there has Ripple – so is it less decentralised?

Making claims

To be honest, the idea of decentralisation is really up for debate, and it is also dependant on interpretation, thus the claims being made on their side of these fence are debatable, but it is interesting to hear the thoughts of Garlinghouse.

“It is very clear that the XRP ledger is decentralized,” said the CEO of Ripple. “Ripple runs seven validators, which is about four percent of all public validators.”

He added:

“By almost any measures now, the XRP Ledger is more decentralized than the Bitcoin ledger or Ethereum ledger, where you have a very small number of miners controlling you know well past 50% of mining power.”

It is true that Bitcoin’s mining has almost been monopolised in the past by the likes of Antpool, BTC.com, and ViaBTC, with Bitmain at times having the power to launch a 51 percent attack, but never acting on this. However, it shows just how much the mining has been centralised in Bitcoin.

Ripple’s argument

If one was to base the mining and validation of cryptocurrencies as the key determining factor of their centralisation, then it would be preposterous to say that Bitcoin is decentralized.

Ripple, the company, despite having control in different areas of the XRP token, only controls seven percent of its validation. Thus, on this basis, they have very little control and it should be argued that XRP is decentralised.

cryptocurrency

 

A lot of this argument is also predicated on the algorithms that these two coins use, however.

Bitcoin and Ethereum use proof-of-work algorithms. This system rewards miners for validating transactions by paying a fee for their work. This was a great starting point for a decentralized system that incentivizes complete strangers to contribute to the greater good of a network and make forward progress.

But as time has gone on, clear limitations have manifested. Blockchains that use proof-of-work can be subject to centralized control, where a few miners have significant control over the system.

The XRP Ledger uses a consensus protocol that relies on a majority of validators to record and verify transactions without incentivizing any one party. Validators are different from miners because they aren’t paid when they order and validate transactions.

Today, these validators operate at locations across the globe and are run by a broad range of individuals, institutions, asset exchanges and more.

More to it

As mentioned, this form of argument in regards to decentralisation only takes into consideration one aspect. But in this aspect, indeed, Ripple is superior. However, when it comes to purists and believers in how blockchains should operate, many have an issue with a company having discretion over tokens.

Ripple has been a coin that differs substantially from most of the top 20 coins by market cap – that does not necessarily mean it is wrong, nor right, but it is certainly showing that things can be done in different ways in the blockchain space.

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Ripple Believes XRP Should Be Viewed Just Like Bitcoin

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Most cryptocurrencies are in a legal classification grey area, especially in the US, but Ripple believes XRP should be viewed like Bitcoin.
Ripple Believes XRP Should Be Viewed Just Like Bitcoin
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Regulatory uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrencies has become one of the biggest bugbears of cryptocurrency businesses and users alike. There are very few hard and fast rules or legal frameworks around the digital assets, leaving anyone who operates them in a grey area.

It has led to many lawmakers and regulators to start to try and delve into how these cryptocurrencies can fit into the current legal framework, and in the case of the United States, it has seen the SEC declare Bitcoin at least as not a security.

However, the SEC has more jurisdiction over other cryptocurrencies, declaring a huge swath of ICOs as securities, but leaving the rest of the more established coins, such as Ripple, for example, in the dark.

This has led Ripple to implore the SEC to make a decision on XRP and treat it just as they would Bitcoin. It is a decision that surely needs to be made, but will be more difficult for the SEC in comparison to Bitcoin, as the XRP token differs significantly from the major cryptocurrency.

However, the argument from Ripple is that the XRP token is more suited to not being classified as a security due to its regulatory adherence and US-base.

A policy of uncertainty

The relationship between the cryptocurrency ecosystem and regulators has been a complex and dynamic one. The original face of Bitcoin was one of defiance of the governmental rules and regulation, covering itself in a ‘cypherpunk’ cloak and being used predominantly on the dark web.

However, as it has entered the mainstream, and regulators have found it legitimate enough to put levels of control over it, the cryptocurrency community has understood that in order for digital assets to advance and become accepted, they need to adhere to the rules.

This has now led to many seeking legal classification and clarification, including Ripple.

“The challenge for adoption comes back to policy. The policy uncertainty around some of the assets has limited adoption, particularly here in the US,” said Ryan Zagone, director of regulatory relations.

“And I’m speaking from Ripple and XRP, because we use that asset because it’s a half a cent per payment. It’s basically free. It scales. And it’s efficient, with 1,500 transactions per second and nearly no energy burn. So we’re at a point today where there are real solutions to all of these challenges that already exist.”

According to Zagone, US regulators should treat XRP the way same way they view Bitcoin and Ethereum.

“Today, the policy certainty in the US exists for Bitcoin and Ethereum, despite the fact that those are China-controlled platforms. So activity goes to those platforms. What we need to do from a policy perspective in the US is look at places where there are uncertainty.”

“And one place I’m speaking directly for me here is XRP, where it looks like Bitcoin. It’s decentralized. It’s open-source. We have a small 7% of the validation power on that. Rather small on there. Giving clarity to those ones that are very similar to Bitcoin and Ethereum that have the same characteristics and should be classified the same way. And then we’re creating a level playing field across all the cryptos.”

Difficulty in classification

It is not an easy task for the SEC, and other regulatory bodies across the globe, to determine which cryptocurrencies are securities, or other such entities, and which are not. However, the the process thus far has been slow and bureaucratic.

This is not only hindering the growth and potential of cryptocurrencies, but also making it unattractive for the companies and businesses to adopt and utilize the powerful technologies. For Ripple, this includes major banks which have seen the potential but are unsure of the regulatory standpoint. 

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Big Bitcoin Mining Pools Losing Control as “Unknown” Miners Take Profit

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Bitcoin mining is slowly moving away from the big mining pools, like Bitmain, and ‘unknown’ miners are starting to come in to grab profits
Big Bitcoin Mining Pools Losing Control as “Unknown” Miners Take Profit
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Part of the appeal of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is that their design allows for a decentralised network based on a large network of miners. But in recent times, major mining pools have taken control of the mining arena, limiting the decentralised nature of the cryptocurrency, and making mining unfavourable and unprofitable for the everyday miner.

But there is a change in the air as the major pools, like Bitmain and others, are starting to lose their grip with a surge of “unknown miners” now helping decentralise the cryptocurrency further in what could be a return to profitability for individual miners.

Research has shown that the likes Antpool, BTC.com, and ViaBTC are now validating far less Bitcoin blocks than this time last year. Rather, there is an emerging group of “unknown” or untied miners that are currently validating more blocks than any individual pool.

This group of “unknown miners” could well be individuals flexing their own muscle as they look to profit from the fall in difficulty that has been seen over the past few months in the Bitcoin mining algorithm.

Who is in charge?

Blockchain research unit Diar has published new data that shows the control once held by major mining pools is waning, and is likely being overtaken by the more casual miner. Anonymous, and unknown miners, not tied to any pools, are now finding profit in mining the major cryptocurrency.

Who is in charge?

“Unknown miners closed December having solved a whopping 22 percent of the total blocks, up from 6 [percent] at the start of last year,” reported Diar. “The Bitcoin network is currently less likely to experience an attack given the fact the BTC.com controlled pools have lost dominance over the network.”

Protecting against attack

Not only is it that the casual miner could be profiting from Bitcoin mining again, it is helping accentuate the decentralisation of Bitcoin by diluting the power held by a single mining pool.

It is well known that if a blockchain is controlled by more than 51 percent by one miner or mining pool, that blockchain becomes the target of a 51% attack, which can have devastating outcomes for the cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin has been under threat of a 51 percent attack in the past because of the mining monopoly of Bitmain, but it has never come to fruition, and now, it cannot currently.

Diar reports that in early 2018, Bitmain’s mining pools accounted for 53 percent of Bitcoin’s hash power. Theoretically, this would have allowed them to collude to take control of Bitcoin with a 51 percent attack.

This reduction in their influence is positive for those wary of such an attack. Recently, Ethereum Classic suffered such an attack that led to $1.1 million being stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges.

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Ripple Focusing on Where the Money Is – the MENA Region

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Ripple has seen significant uptake in the MENA region of the Middle East and North Africa, so it is taking its focus there
Ripple Focusing on Where the Money Is – the MENA Region
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The Middle East, despite the strife and conflict, has grown to be a place of vast wealth with the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi shining bright in that region as places of immense wealth. This region, along with North Africa, known as the MENA region, is thus a very important place, especially for Ripple.

Ripple has stated that it is focusing a lot of its attention on the MENA region, and it is a two-part approach as it is aware of the potential there, but it has also seen significant interest from the region already.

Not only is the MENA region one of the fastest adopters of Ripple’s product, but they are also friendly to digital assets in terms of a regulatory standpoint. Since October, Ripple has been trying to expand there in a move which is quite smart.

The banking-focused cryptocurrency XRP and its parent company Ripple have been seeking partnerships in the MENA region, and it is starting to show, as they are starting to see traction.

The place to be

Ripple’s Head of Infrastructure Innovation Dilip Rao has spoken on the importance of the MENA region, recently mentioning that it is adopting the distributed ledger technology solutions from Ripple at a rapid rate.

They have been signing up banks in Saudi Arabia and UAE and other countries like Oman and Kuwait.

Rao said:

“The enthusiasm of the regulator, the central banks to also encourage the use of Ripple technology to build new infrastructure for payment rails.”

It makes sense that Ripple has decided to focus its efforts into the Middle East, especially with the interest it has there, and also because of the potential in its expanding and impressive banking system.

Banks showing their interest

For Ripple, it is mostly about partnering with banks so they utilize the blockchain assets of their XRP token in order to make the intra-banking payments easier, cheaper and more efficient.

So far, they have seen strong interest from the banks in the MENA region, and are thus driving deeper in. The banking system in the MENA region, especially in the developing middle eastern countries are far less attached to their legacy banking systems, something that has been a handbrake for the general adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

Banks in the MENA region are thus far happier to use the XRP token and xRapid product to solve visibility and liquidity problems in global remittances.

There are also far more lenient and open minded regulators in the Middle East which are willing to look into the new and forward-thinking options that are out there. It is because of this that Ripple has decided to pursue this region, and should it be a success, it would be the perfect platform to launch a more global offensive in terms of adoption.

Regulation inclined

Ripple has always been a cryptocurrency which has taken a different path from most others. Its intention is to work with traditional financial structures and help upgrade them rather than replace them, and to this end, it relies heavily on a welcoming regulatory standpoint.

In the MENA region, Ripple has found an open minded general approach to these financial tech rules, and to that end it has seen adoption start taking hold. It remains to be seen if Ripple can totally colonize the MENA region with its solutions, but it is positive that it is focusing in on an area which has an open pathway.

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Ethereum Will Overtake Bitcoin But Competition Will Come From Ripple

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Bitcoin has always seemed untouchable, but that will, in time, change with Ethereum, the likely successor and Ripple the chaser
Ethereum Will Overtake Bitcoin But Competition Will Come From Ripple
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Ever since the genesis block, which was just over 10 years ago now, Bitcoin has stood firm at the top of the cryptocurrency tree with challengers never really getting close to its fame, or market cap.

However, the days of a handful of cryptocurrencies are well and truly over thanks in part to the ICO boom of 2016/17, as well as the development of other major cryptos in the past five or so years.

Ethereum was a breakaway development in blockchain and cryptos as the team behind it looked to create a “World Computer” rather than a simple distributed ledger. In terms of functionality, Ethereum opened the doors wide open.

This has led to a number of key projects trying to advance upon what Ethereum has done, such as NEO, EOS, and Cardano, just to name a few, but there have also been advancements in other uses for Blockchain.

The likes of Ripple have gone in their own, quite separate direction, but their mandate is starting to make more and more sense as it is realised that institutions and companies want to integrate blockchain, rather than be replaced by it.

True, Bitcoin evangelists will never admit that it can be replaced as the major cryptocurrency, but that is short sighted. The world is looking for a functional blockchain that can offer a lot, and that is why Ethereum will overtake Bitcoin, but don’t write off Ripple just yet.

Ripple is the one cryptocurrency that has from day one tried to distance itself from the “Cypherpunk” ways and rather offer itselves up to the “Big Evil” of banks and other institutions.

What we have seen is for cryptocurrencies and blockchains to be a success, they need to integrate and play along with the established order of regulators, institutions and governments.

Ethereum’s superior offerings

Bitcoin of course is revolutionary and quite ahead of its time, even 10 years from its creation. However, time moves fast in technology and really, it is starting to show that it is fairly outdated as well.

Bitcoin’s success is predicated largely on its size, popularity, and age, whereas its offering is quite straightforward. That is not necessarily a bad thing; if it does one simple thing perfectly, it is still perfectly good.

Bitcoin is a blockchain that facilitates the movement of tokens across a distributed ledger, and that is great from a financial standpoint, but the potential that blockchain offers is underutilized by the biggest blockchain there is.

Ethereum is a blockchain that recognised this early on, with Vitalik Buterin helping create Ethereum when he realised Bitcoin’s inefficiencies. The smart contract system and its design as a platform makes it far more accessible and applicable in today's modern world.

Companies, institutions, even start ups and other blockchain developers, are looking to Ethereum for its usefulness, and because of this, once the blockchain reaches a level of functionality and stability that only comes from time and experience, one should see it start to encroach on Bitcoin's market cap.

Ripple’s roaring success

So, while Ethereum is broad and open to a multitude of projects and applications, it is also dogged by other competitors that could sink it as a better offering. However, when it comes to Ripple, one can see it is fairly unique and quite desirable for banks looking to break into blockchain.

It is developed to be an intra-bank payment system that utilizes the blockchain, and it is arguably a centralised blockchain, meaning that it has a face and an organisation that people can do business with in the traditional sense.

This makes it much more attractive to banks who the blockchain is aimed at, and the reason why the market it is chasing is so important is because, like it or not, banks hold a lot of sway around the globe.

If Ripple can reach critical mass with banking institutions and become a staple for their digital needs, that traditional power behind them will see them catapult up the market cap and could overtake Bitcoin and Ethereum quite quickly.

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