Alex Morris

Hybrid Cryptocurrency Exchange Amplify to Open Office in Tennessee

Amplify sees Knoxville as a perfect place for building “Vol Valley” since this small city in the state of Tennessee has plenty of talented tech-savvy workers
Hybrid Cryptocurrency Exchange Amplify to Open Office in Tennessee
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Amplify, a new hybrid exchange developed by Substratum, is expanding its global reach with a recent expansion into the US state of Tennessee. The exchange is set to open operations in Knoxville.

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A strategic move

With its recent expansion, Amplify wants to spearhead the creation process of the so-called ‘Vol Valley’ (an analogy of the famed ‘Crypto Valley’), the company COO David Weil revealed in an interview to local news outlet Knox News. According to Weil, the 25-strong company is expected to significantly expand the number of its employees to 60 in a year or so.

Many are skeptical about Weil’s chances to turn this area (Knoxville’s population barely exceeds 187,000 people) into a full-fledged crypto hub. However, he is certain that it’s a perfect springboard for Amplify’s foray into the US market because of the city’s penchant for business innovations. Knoxville, in his opinion, has become a magnet for talent in the tech niche.

Taking a sneak peek inside Amplify  

Amplify is marketed as a new type of cryptocurrency exchange since it combines the features of centralized and decentralized ones (that’s why it’s called a ‘hybrid’ exchange). This fiat-to-crypto exchange is also particularly remarkable because it offers more altcoins — up to 100 — than other entry-level cryptocurrency trading platforms in the likes of Coinbase. On top of that, the exchange also allows buying services from merchants and provides advice on crypto investment for its users. Amplify is expected to be fully launched in about six months with 20 locally recruited people on board.

The company is set to occupy a cozy 6,000-square-foot office with football tables and even an Xbox. The whole space, which is soon to become a working area for about 60 employees, will also feature a full kitchen.  

Are they staying home?     

Earlier, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington urged the SEC to take swift actions in order to streamline the development of the cryptocurrency niche in the US. He expressed his concern that many startups are fleeing to markets with a more welcoming environment. However, Amplify sets an example of building crypto tech hubs even in provincial towns. Weil hopes that the rest of America will follow suit.

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Darryn Pollock

Regulatory Trepidation is Hampering Cryptocurrency Adoption as Calls For Direction Get Louder

They say the cryptocurrency space is the Wild West, but when it comes to regulations, they are so vague that it is hard to know how to stay on the straight and narrow
Regulatory Trepidation is Hampering Cryptocurrency Adoption as Calls For Direction Get Louder
Contents

There have been two obvious waves in the cryptocurrency space. First, it was the incredible growth, adoption and mainstream adoption that permeated the last six months of 2017, then, following that, regulators have been forced to step up and decide how to govern this new financial technology.

At first, the two sides of this battle fought hard against one another as the idea behind cryptocurrencies is that they were free from centralized control. However, as that ideal has slowly been quashed, and a realization has emerged that cryptocurrencies need to fit into everyday regulation, the sentiment has changed.

Regulators have, inadvertently, become major shapers and movers of the cryptocurrency markets with announcements- either positive or negative- visibly shaking up the price of things like Bitcoin.

However, it would appear that they are not actually doing enough. The mandate for regulators is to set out clear and defined guidelines for this new technology, but this is not the case as many either try and squash them into existing rules or sit back and wait until there is a step that crosses a line before cracking down.

In reality, those companies that are actively engaging in viable and applicable Blockchain and cryptocurrency projects are baying for clear and transparent guidelines, because without them, adoption is being slowed right down.

Finding a direction

Part of the problem is the broad and vast application that Blockchain and cryptocurrencies endure. They are seen as money, a security, property or a commodity, and many blame this opacity for confounding the adoption of the asset class.

It is also not helpful that, in the US for example, multiple offices are trying to oversee different facets of one financial technology. These include the SEC, the CFTC, the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the IRS.

So, with the space so widely spread, it is understandable that regulation is taking time to find its direction. However, it is occurring, just at a rate that those involved in this fast-moving space are not accustomed to.

Angela Walch, associate professor at St. Mary's University School of Law in Texas and a Research Fellow at the Center for Blockchain Technologies at University College London, explains that clarification in regulation is happening, but it is under pressure.

“Each new enforcement action by the SEC and CFTC seems to be focusing on a slightly different behavior, with the goal of slowly clarifying which activities are problematic. Overall, US regulators still are attempting to walk the line of protecting consumers while not stifling innovation, but we are definitely seeing more industry pushes for greater clarity, with some new industry lobbying organizations forming in 2018,” Walch said.

She goes on to add:

“My fear is we may be heading towards a race to the bottom with global crypto regulation. US regulators are facing increasing pressure from industry to be more industry-friendly, with the threat of losing jobs and investment capital to foreign jurisdictions."

An unprecedented space

The issue for regulators is that with Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which are decentralized and totally global, they have come up against something they have never seen before.

It has caused regulators across the globe to tackle the technology very differently; from China and its out-right bans to Malta and its friendly and welcoming regulation. But, these contrasting ideas are also leaving Blockchain companies confused as to what the global take on this technology is.

While the two ends of the spectrum at least offer clarity, the majority of countries sit in the grey area in between acceptance and rejection. It is in these countries, where a wait-and-see approach is prevalent that innovators of this technology are calling for a direction, calling for transparency, and clear and direct guidelines.

There is no doubt these will come, but will it all be too late as the innovators lose faith and abandon hope? Or, will this careful process weed out the time-wasters and poor projects, leaving only the strongest to form a Blockchain base?

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Alexander Goborov

The Biggest Crypto Owners in the World by Nation

Millions Own Cryptocurrency in America
The Biggest Crypto Owners in the World by Nation

Cryptocurrency is a hot commodity nowadays: it’s in the media, it’s on trading platforms, it’s in the minds of many who have made fortunes through it and those who are still at work to achieve financial stardom. But how many people, in fact, own cryptocurrency the world over? Based on the data gathered throughout the year, we’re bringing you the ten crypto ownership world leaders by the percentage ratio of their respective populations:

Turkey is first with 18%, then Romania with 12%, Poland with 11%, Spain with 10%, Czech Republic with 9%, USA / Austria / Germany / Italy are all with 8%, followed by Australia with 7%. In spite of Turkey’s apparent superiority, the winner by the actual number of people is the United States: given that its population is around 327 million people, 8% of it is roughly 26 million people (three New York Cities put together!), which is way ahead of other countries. This is, however, not that unusual since the US is also leading the planet in terms of its crypto-computational power, i.e. it has the most miners and nodes verifying individual blocks in the global Blockchain.        

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🎤 Interviews Katya Michaels

Tech Has Sat on Its Hands Long Enough: Digital Asset Trade Association Speaks Up for Blockchain

🎤 Interviews
Perhaps it’s time for the tech community to stop waiting for Blockchain technology to speak for itself and take more definitive action.
Tech Has Sat on Its Hands Long Enough: Digital Asset Trade Association Speaks Up for Blockchain

As regulators step up their vigilance and take stringent measures against crypto companies that fail to comply with securities standards, many in the crypto community agree that regulation clarity is the most urgently needed ingredient for bringing stability and growth to the crypto market.

Recently, decentralized exchanges are taking their turn under fire, and while the amount of regulatory action is intensifying, regulatory confusion has not been resolved – if anything, it’s increasing.

Given how essential the resolution of this impasse is becoming for the crypto space, perhaps it’s time for the tech community to stop waiting for Blockchain to speak for itself and take more definitive action. But what forms can such action take?

Brent Cohen, Head of Product at Element Group and co-Founder of the Digital Asset Trade Association (DATA), is one member of the community taking concrete steps to shape the legal discourse around Blockchain and its applications. Having already achieved significant success with crypto legislation in Wyoming, DATA is bringing together enthusiasts, experts and legislators to come up with a common language and best practices that will facilitate the adoption of this technology.

U.Today (Katya Michaels): Advocating for supportive Blockchain and crypto legislation is not your day job. Why did you think this was important, but also feasible, to do?

Brent Cohen: There is a long tradition, both in the United States and elsewhere, of citizen lobbyists who take important issues to their representatives. Uber and Airbnb came to market, disrupted everything and then when the regulators came and shut them down, they went to the users and said – go lobby city hall. So, there are good recent case studies of technology innovators calling on their enthusiasts to lobby for change.

It's also very clear that the crypto world is up against major forces in the banking industry, which is legitimately concerned about a threat to its cash flow. Banks are investing in Blockchain and hedging their bets, but they also like the status quo, and the status quo is set up traditionally to help incumbents.

The Blockchain world is a disruptive force, and we just couldn't let this big of an opportunity go by without engaging directly in the political sphere. It was a business imperative drawn on recent history and a recognition that tech has sat on its hands for a very long time and let government push it around a little bit. Or perhaps, we think that we're outside of the realm of government influence, or that we're on the right side of history.

How does blockchain work?

All of those may be true, but it's not a good way to operate, especially when you're dealing with money, which is very regulated. So, we had to jump in and create something. An opportunity was presented to us in Wyoming, we got some laws passed there and we've just been carrying the ball forward wherever we can all around the world.

UT: Clearly, financial institutions have a lot of lobbying power and endless funding. How can an association like DATA compete?

BC: The key message is always going to be jobs and revenue. It's always going to be about being an innovator, because that attracts business and creates a climate that leads to more innovation and investment. At the grassroots level, you can get governors and state legislators to put money into accelerators, into tax breaks, incentives to energy companies. There are lots of ways you can create a conducive environment at the local level without having to rely on a federal government or an international body.

Having said that, it doesn’t stop at a state line or a country border. The global regulators, and there are more than we care to think about, have no consensus on how to handle this emerging field. That is one place where DATA can clearly play a convener role to bring regulators, legislators and the industry together in conversation, not just in the United States, but around the globe.

UT: California recently passed a bill that redefined electronic signing and electronic transactions to include Blockchain. What is the average policymaker’s level of education and awareness about this technology, in your experience?

BC: There is an old phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” – well, it’s a mile wide and maybe a millimeter deep. It's just general principles and hearsay and a lot of bad information. When I hear US senators, mayors, congressmen talking about how crypto was used by global terrorists and drug runners, I’m thinking – yes, so is the US dollar and in a much bigger way.

California State Capitol

It's up to us as an industry to counter some of that misinformation, just by showing what we're doing. Let's talk about the best practices, the fact that we are KYC and AML, that we are trying to follow all the relevant guidelines from whatever regulatory body we're working with.

What DATA wants to do is create a framework for understanding the space, for fostering dialogue and consensus among all the parties involved. It's not going to be controlled by any one entity or any one fund. It’s a democratized grassroots organization, which we think will have wide support.

KM: Does advocating at the state level turn out to be a good entry point into wider legislation? As states lead the way, perhaps their decisions will form the groundwork for the federal policy?

BC: Absolutely. Here in the United States there have been three forces shaping the industry: The first is regulators who, as we've just described, don't necessarily have a deep understanding of the space. The second is legislators who are called into action by constituents or by business. The third is courts, specifically plaintiffs’ attorneys and others that may come to bear as the industry goes through its continued corrections.

All of those are out of our control. The only thing that we can do is mobilize our supporters. And the best pressure point is at the state and local level, because you can bring in local business leaders and talk to local legislators who are directly accountable to those.

It's a little harder on the national level – not to say that we're not trying there, and we certainly haven't abandoned talking to all the relevant regulatory agencies, but the states are where the action is right now. We have other players in the industry – Digital Chamber, Coin Center and others – that are working very heavily at the national level, doing a great job of educating and informing.

UT: Are there significant geographic differences among the states in the level of openness and acceptance of Blockchain technology?

BC: Oh, sure. Some states are more technologically progressive, like California, Washington State, New York State. Wyoming is one of the best states in the country to do business right now. There are lots of good reasons why Wyoming wanted to be in front, not the least of which is the small population. How can they generate revenue in that state?

They can bring in this sort of growing business – as a result of their passing Blockchain legislation, company registrations are way up. The University of Wyoming has a big Blockchain lab. I mean, they're all in.

There are other states that need a little encouragement. Perhaps there are just no native players in the Blockchain ecosystem in their states. So, we're being strategic on where we deploy our resources.

UT: What is the best way to deal with getting resistance or a blank stare in response to lobbying efforts?

BC: People tend to glaze over unless they are deeply engaged in our space, so we need to find things to talk about that are relevant and commonly understood: privacy, business, jobs, whatever is of interest to the audience. Once you've reached common ground, you work towards resolving areas of disagreement. I think everybody agrees that there are bad actors in this space. How do we as an industry police ourselves?

UT: You and some of the other board members of DATA come from a background of PR and marketing. Do you feel that a lot of this work is about the proper presentation of the subject?

BC: Without question, it's all how you frame the issues. If I go into a deep dive on Blockchain technology, forget about it, you lost them. It's like me going into a deep dive on how email works or how your credit card works. You whip out your credit card, you pay somebody, you don't think about how the money gets pulled from your account.

So, we have to abstract the technology from the use case. When we're talking about utility tokens, for instance, I explain that a utility token is like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s and buying a bunch of tokens. You can only use those tokens at Chuck E. Cheese’s. You've paid cash or used a credit card to buy those tokens.

Chuck E. Cheese's

Now, if you take those tokens away and you have them in your pocket at home, they're of no use to you unless you have a friend who is going to Chuck E. Cheese’s. That friend may want those tokens, so you can give them to him, or you could sell them to him, and that’s the secondary market. But the primary use is at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

It’s really about explanation. We have too many words that mean the same thing. Every time I see somebody pitch a crypto business, they spend the first three to five minutes defining terms. Just to have a common vocabulary would be progress.

UT: Some terms, like ICO, have acquired a bad reputation.

BC: ICO, crypto – these are words that have loaded meaning to them. Blockchain is definitely preferable because it's benign. It doesn't have any value associated with it, good or bad. A digital ledger technology is another way to describe it. I'd rather just get past all of this and call it digital assets. We're dealing with digital assets in a tokenized universe.

And what does that mean? What are the technologies, what are the processes, what are the regulations that need to be enforced? From the consumer point of view, they don't care – they just want it to work and they want to be protected. If there's a problem, they want to know that they can go to somebody and complain. That's a challenge in a decentralized world, because there's nobody to hold accountable. How do you handle governance and maintain a set of rules in a decentralized space? It's complicated.

UT: This is a relatively new initiative – DATA has been around for about a year. How has the community responded? What are you hopes for the near future?

BC: The immediate support for Wyoming by the crypto community was overwhelming. A call went out and it was answered – people flew to Wyoming and testified. We've managed to keep a good chunk of those people engaged over the period of time it's taken us to set up the nonprofit, to file documentation with the IRS, to get a bank account, lose that bank account because we're a crypto company, and then get that bank account reinstated because we explained – no, we're really a trade association and we're accepting all of our dues legitimately, we've got a paper trail.

We have a board – the founders of DATA that are scattered around the globe. The industry is very supportive, and the regulators are very supportive, surprisingly. They want a conversation, they do want people to come in and not just say “we've got a problem,” but come up with solutions.

UT: Maybe they're relieved to have an intermediary that speaks both languages.

BC: They would be very happy. There is a need for an industry body to speak on behalf of the industry to regulators, to set good standards, determine best practices. The greatest support we've gotten is from the attorneys, the lawyers that are actively working around the globe in this nascent space. Bringing the legal profession into this is critical. The fact that we were able to tap into some of the best minds in the industry around the world, have them donate their time just by asking them – it’s very gratifying. It also showed that they feel the need to convene. People out there in the space are raising their hand saying – pick me, because I want to be involved in this conversation.

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🤷 Opinions Alexander Goborov

USA: Biannual History of Weekly LocalBitcoins Volume

Opinions
The latest figures show that the United States is currently trading at around 7 million USD per week on LocalBitcoins
USA: Biannual History of Weekly LocalBitcoins Volume

LocalBitcoins is a Bitcoin trading platform that was established back in 2012. It is headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, and remains one of the most popular virtual places among those who wish to trade Bitcoin on a peer-to-peer basis. We have recently brought you Struggling Economies in South America Forcing LocalBitcoins Boom which examined how Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Chile heavily contributed to the increased trading volumes on the website. Now, it’s time to look at the United States.

As was previously shown, the United States is the global leader by the number of Bitcoin nodes, the number of people who own cryptocurrencies, as well as the number of crypto billionaires/millionaires. We thought it would be interesting to also see how the US is doing on LocalBitcoins, so here it is, the history of weekly LocalBitcoins volume, organized biannually (i.e. six month averages or two quarters combined):

image

2013: A modest start with around 100K USD per week, followed by a sharp climb in the second half of that year to over 1 million USD per week.

2014: Around 2 million USD per week in the first six months, close to 3.5 million USD per week in the second half of the year.

2015: A continued climb, around 4 million USD per week in the first half, followed by a further increase and the figure growing to almost 5.5 million USD per week in the second.

2016: Both biannual averages show weekly volumes between roughly 6.5 and 7 million USD.

2017: A reach for the figure of 8 million USD per week in the first two quarters and a further leap to 9.5 million USD per week in the second half of the year, during the last Bitcoin bubble.

2018: An expected drop to around 8.5 million USD per week in the first half (note: unlike Latin America, the US is not a struggling economy), followed by a further decrease to the current figure of around 7 million USD per week in the second half of this year.

We hope you found this list useful. Stay tuned for more to come and be sure to also check out these:

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Katya Michaels

Women of Crypto at the Crypto Invest Summit: Separate but Hopeful

Crypto events are beginning to invite more women speakers, but tend to feature them in separate Women in Crypto panels
Women of Crypto at the Crypto Invest Summit: Separate but Hopeful
Contents

In the early days of crypto community conferences, the number of women attending and especially speaking was notoriously low, but in the last couple of years, every major crypto and Blockchain event diligently features a Women in Crypto panel. The second Crypto Invest Summit, which took place this week at LA’s Convention Center, was no exception; indeed, the conference went all out for a full Women of Crypto track.

Women of Crypto as opening act

It’s worth noting, however, that the Women’s track took place on the day before the actual conference began. To avoid confusion, the event’s agenda page ran the following missive in red capitals: “No conference and expo on Monday. Conference and expo days are Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday is Women of Crypto pre-conference track and kickoff party.”

As one would expect under such circumstances, the audience for the track was a fraction of that which was expected to attend the summit proper. On the upside, just about half of the crowd comprised men, something the organizers noted as being a very encouraging sign of support from across the aisle.

Ladies only

Speaking of the aisle, another statistic of interest: all 17 panelists in the Women of Crypto track were female, while on the Main Stage over the next two days women made up roughly 20 percent of the speakers. In an earlier interview with U.Today, Crystal Rose–who was featured both in the Women’s track and on the Main Stage–mentioned her disappointment with the way conference organizers tend to structure panels:

“[Often], there are several panels with only men and one panel with only women. I think it would be interesting if we included men on a Women in Blockchain panel to get their perspective, to understand the challenges from their side, to empower them to bring more women into this space. Events created specifically for women in the industry are helpful for us to make connections, but we also have to take the next step, which is integrate.”

Scaling community and activism

While the exclusion of men from the Women of Crypto track was a missed opportunity to foster integrated and inclusive discourse, it did give the panelists freedom to delve deep into subjects that may not have commanded the full attention of the “usual” conference crowd.

Many panelists felt that the possibilities and opportunities promised by Blockchain technologies are especially urgent for women, people of color and residents of developing countries who are left outside the global financial system. During the Blockchain for Good panel, speakers discussed how Blockchain and cryptocurrency can help the unbanked millions directly, but can also provide much-needed transparency to non-profit initiatives that serve domestic and international relief causes.

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The Interactive Marketing panel advised the audience not to underestimate the value of grassroots networking and to keep in mind the vital importance of community not only for the spirit, but the very functionality of Blockchain. Unless the community is informed and involved in network maintenance, unless cryptographic technologies become accessible to any demographic and level of understanding, unless diversity exists not only among users but also among developers, Blockchain cannot become a truly scalable, global phenomenon.

Reclaiming sovereignty

Opening the Full Spectrum Blockchain discussion, Crystal Rose recalled that the Internet began as a space where users could interact anonymously, and only the introduction of social networks and online shopping began tying an enormous amount of personal data to our digital profiles. Today, Internet usage had come full spectrum to focus on the importance of privacy, sovereignty, and data ownership. However, sovereignty can’t be reclaimed unless there is wide-scale adoption, and adoption won’t happen until simple, easily manageable tools are available to the public.

The Blockchain ecosystem is evolving: the next stage will prioritize developing decentralized applications, improving usability and building community. According to the panelists of both the Women’s track and the Main Stage, the bear market is the best time to focus on building real, working, sustainable products and launch new projects.

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Invisible adoption

One of the main recurring themes of discussion during the Women of Crypto track, echoed over the next two days by the panels on the Main Stage, was the role of effortless user experience in driving Blockchain adoption. When crypto technology will run in the background of applications without requiring the user to understand the intricacies of the technology, the barrier to entry into the space will be removed.

The Internet is moving from the age of information to the age of experiences, and human beings are geared for gamification: hitting targets, checking off boxes, and collecting rewards. An intuitive user experience on the surface and the right incentive structure in the framework will help applications reach a greater audience.

Adding value despite challenges

At the conclusion of the event, a gentleman from the audience addressed the final panel with a question: “Why isn’t this part of the Main Stage program? I’m taking notes here and more people should see this. I hope it’s being recorded?” He was reassured that it was, in fact, recorded and would be available online. The panelists and organizers thanked everyone for coming out a day early, encouraged the men in the audience to continue supporting women in the space, and treated the question of the track’s placement outside the main Crypto Summit program as rhetorical, for now.

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