Like other people in the tech industry, I have wondered what it would have been like to attend a Homebrew Computer Club meeting in the years between 1975 and 1986 when the PC revolution was starting.
Last Friday I gathered with a surprisingly large crowd at the Ethereum MeetUp in London to hear Vitalik Buterin talk about:
“Cryptoeconomic Protocols In the Context of Wider Society”
That is right. This was about as interesting to 99.999% of the population as the discussions at the Homebrew Computer Club. Decades from now, Ethereum and other Blockchain 2.0 re-decentralization MeetUps may have become forgotten footnotes in history or they may become the subject of books, movies and magazine covers.
Who knows what will happen, but it was an intellectually stimulating evening. That is a tribute to Vitalik Buterin. He is clearly an intellectual force, but he is also very articulate and approachable in a young professorial kind of way. You can see the sort of intensity that people have described in Bill Gates at that age.
We can stretch the Homebrew Computer Club analogy too far. I simply mean that the re-decentralization of the Internet and the creation of distributed automated business services may be as game-changing as the invention of PCs c 1975.
History may or may not repeat, but history certainly speeds up.
Ethereum raised about $15m in August 2014, having been founded in January of the same year. That is a lot of money in an incredibly short amount of time. (Ethereum raised money in Bitcoins, so the amount raised depends on what the famously volatile currency is doing at the time of writing). Ethereum raised money in what was once described as an IPO, but more accurately should be described as an ICO (Initial Currency Offering). Avoiding the kind of hair-splitting that is essential for lawyers and regulators, I have treated Ethereum’s August 2014 capital raising as something analogous to an IPO in order to do some historical comparisons; the money was certainly not raised from institutional funds.
This of course leads to talk about bubbles and even scams that I think are wrong:
- Ethereum is a non-profit foundation building open source software that anybody can take without paying the founders a dime. Indeed IBM has already taken Ethereum to make it work on your fridges and light-bulbs for the Internet of Things. As Stephan Tual of Ethereum told me on Friday, “take” implies a one-way street; which is not what IBM is doing. Anything that IBM adds to Ethereum gets added back to the Ethereum open source community for any developer in any garage or corporation to use for free. The $15m that Ethereum raised ensures that Ethereum is properly funded and that developers get paid, but the big money will be made by the commercial ventures that use Ethereum. If Ethereum takes off, those early developers will get highly paid gigs in the commercial ventures that use Ethereum.
- Each tech cycle speeds up by an order of magnitude for good reasons. The Internet accelerated quicker than the PC cycle because we already had PCs when the web browser took the Internet to the mainstream. The re-decentralization cycle that is enabled by Ethereum and other technologies will happen even faster because we all now have high speed and mobile connections to the Internet.
That is what I decided to track in my History of Tech Cycles chart:
|Years from Breakthrough||4||26||20||6||14|
|Years From Founding||0||14||4||1||8|
|Months Founding to IPO||8||168||48||16||96|
|$ per month Founding||1.88||0.36||2.08||8.75||166.67|
|$ per Year Breakthrough||3.75||2.35||5.00||23.33||1142.86|
For those who love to pick this apart, my notes follow. For those who love to see intense young techies, here are Bill Gates and Vitalik Buterin at approximately the same age:
There are many companies competing with Ethereum in the re-decentralization space. The same was true for PCs in 1975. The trend – towards re-decentralization or to a PC on every desk – is more important historically than which specific technology wins out. I know I will annoy all those who prefer other re-decentralization technologies. I am not able to say which one is better or which one will win out in the end, although my gut tells me Ethereum has a good shot and I have been fascinated by Ethereum since I wrote this post in July.
Notes to Tech Cycle History:
- Tech Breakthrough.
- Ethereum. Bitcoin in 2009.
- Microsoft and Apple. Integrated Circuit in 1960
- Netscape and Facebook. Browser at CERN in 1989 (debatable, could be TCP/IP at DARPA in 1982)
- I normalized to months to get $ per month from Founding to IPO for ones like Ethereum and Netscape that did it so fast.