In early March, 2000 the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s reached its peak and began to burst. The craze that had fueled this bubble was not entirely natural. Major investment banks used the opportunity to play the IPO game and were subsequently investigated by the SEC. The 2002 documentary, Dot Con, tells this part of the dot-com story:
This clip from 1983 allows us a glimpse into the history of computer crime. Much of what is being said still sounds familar today, doesn’t it?
This is Peak Blockchain. You can watch it in the rear-view mirror as it lies behind us, shrinking smaller and smaller until it will disappear on the horizon. I am using Google Trends as my rear-view mirror, which allows some easy and superficial yet striking visual argument.
Peak Blockchain took place in December, 2017. Up to that time, starting ca. 2013, search interest grew seemingly exponentially, whereas interest has almost halved in the three months from Christmas, 2017 to Easter, 2018.
Peak Blockchain is the all-time high of attention and perceived importance of the blockchain topic. Some confound Peak Blockchain with the Peak of Inflated Expectations in Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which is followed by the Through of Disillusionment, a Slope of Enlightenment, and eventually the Plateau of Productivity. But make no mistake. Neither is the Hype Cycle a law of nature – some technologies just drop off the graph and die, while others are never discovered by the hypecyclists before they become productive – nor is blockchain a real and viable technology trend.
Inflated expectations or rather, exaggerated claims were there many, this much is true in the hype cycle mapping. The blockchain narrative emerged out of the cryptocurrency bubble. When the likes of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and IOTA reached the mainstream, it became simultaneously obvious they had little to do with actual currencies and the nominal value of their tokens was not backed by any economic reality other than that of a speculative bubble.
Everyone saw that so-called cryptocurrencies were bullshit and the speculative bubble was about to burst, yet everyone also wanted to talk about it without looking like an idiot. Out of this dilemma was the narrative born that the first and most notorious of the artificial assets, Bitcoin, might collapse but the technology behind it, blockchain, was there to stay. Not only would the “blockchain technology” thus invented – it had been a mere design pattern until then – survive, it would disrupt everything from the financial industry and digital advertising to crybersecurity (sic!) and photography. For none of this claimed disruptive potential existed the slightest example or explanation, but everyone was keen to ride the mounting wave without being seen as just one of those Bitcoin dorks, and so everyone kept inventing what might happen, somehow, in the future.
Blockchain is only one of several related concepts – others being Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – that peaked at about the same time:
In all cases we see the same steep rise followed by an equally steep decline. This observation alone should suffice to convince everyone that nothing is to be expected from blockchains, regardless of what the IBMs and SAPs of this world are claiming after having fallen for the ploy. We saw peaks like this before. Little more than a decade ago, Second Life was the blockchain of its time:
At that time everyone, including a number of otherwise reputable companies, rushed to stake their claims in the virtual toy world that Second Life really was and is. The gullible and superstitious believed that companies would benefit from possessing real estate in this toy world and that 3D avatars sitting around virtual tables would be the future of business meetings. This was bullshit not only in hindsight. Everyone with the slightest understanding of human-computer interaction and collaborative technology could easily see how Second Life missed just about any point. This did not prevent IBM from betting a few bucks on the future of Second Life and even trying to create an enterprise version of it where company secrets would stay behind a firewall.
Second Life is long forgotten, and rightly so. There never was any real promise in it, there was only a popular (in certain circles) delusion and the fear of missing out that also drives our contemporary bullshit business fad.
Let us look at real technology trends for comparison. They do not peak and then collapse, but rather grow organically. Take cloud computing, for example:
We see no steep peak here, but rather a mostly linear growth over the course of four years from 2007 to 2011. After climbing to its all-time high, interest decreases slowly and remains at a high level for a long time. Other than Second Life, cloud computing is here to stay.
Another real trend is REST APIs, a way of designing web services that are meant to be accessed by programs rather than users:
We see a mostly steady increase over more than a decade that at some point gained a bit of speed. Again, there is no sudden peak here. As a third example, NoSQL databases started a bit later but otherwise exhibit a similar trend graph:
Even topics that had some hype to them and were being discussed by the general public exhibit slower increases and declines if there is substance behind the hype. Take, for example, “big data” and some related terms:
Real technology trends and topics take time to develop and then they persist or even continue to grow for quite a while. A real technology trend is an evolutionary process. Something gets discovered or invented and turns out useful. People apply the idea and develop it further, which makes it more attractive.
Genuine technology does not suddenly appear like a Marian apparition and disrupt everything within months, nor does interest in it fade as quickly as it would for anything lacking substance after its hollowness became obvious even to its advocates. Peak Blockchain is not the result of a genuine technology trend, but rather the consequence of everyone in a crowd assuring one other of the beauty of the emperor’s clothes when in fact there never even was an empire.
Blockchain is over. Time to ridicule those who jumped on the bandwagon ignoring all obvious warning signs, determined to boost their careers. They will soon exercise their right to be forgotten.