How to tackle blockchain’s major PR problem

29 May 2019

Blockchain panel discussion at Inspirefest 2019. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The main problem faced by blockchain today is an image one. At Inspirefest 2019, professionals working in this space sat down to pick apart the key misconceptions about the technology.

One of the biggest challenges facing blockchain is something that actually has very little to do with its tricky technical aspects.

It suffers an image problem more so than anything else. You can hit snags with deployment and scalability, sure, but those pale in comparison to the issues arising from pervasive myths surrounding blockchain and the various ways its public image has suffered due to how it has been applied.

This was the core thesis of the Inspirefest 2019 panel on the topic entitled ‘Blockchain: Beyond the Hype’. Emma Walker, co-founder of BlockW, a company that hopes to drive conversation on the possibilities for women in Ireland in the blockchain space, chaired the discussion.

She was joined by three panellists, each bringing their unique perspective on the technology’s burgeoning ecosystem. Diving straight in, Walker immediately put it to the panel that one common misconception about blockchain is that it is inextricably linked to bitcoin.

The pseudonymous figure who devised bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, put forward blockchain as a way to enable it. This figure can’t be said to have necessarily invented blockchain, but they certainly popularised it, meaning the misconception is understandable.

All the panellists spoke of the need to go through an “education” process when growing their businesses from whatever angle they were approaching it from. Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior fintech adviser at Enterprise Ireland, explained that in order to get the Government to a point where it was happy to invest in blockchain, much had to be done to untangle it from bitcoin’s chequered legacy.

Kevin Bluer, head of development and training at blockchain start-up Truffle, also agreed that much had to be done to get people to move past bitcoin. Bitcoin, he explained, was the “first generation” of blockchain. He told the audience that there are many other blockchain players, such as Ethereum, with various applications that reach well beyond the world of finance.

Niall Dennehy, co-founder of blockchain start-up Aid:Tech, echoed those sentiments. His company first started with the international aid market, a market he argued was “difficult”, and one that the company has since branched out from.

Touring around the world to meet prospective collaborators and investors, the spectre of bitcoin’s dark underbelly consistently trailed behind, particularly with regard to notorious ‘dark web’ marketplace Silk Road. Even the association with Silk Road risked casting negative aspersions on what Aid:Tech was trying to do, which was to bring transparency to international aid donations.

Another point that all the panellists agreed was of detriment to the technology was the rather all-or-nothing perception of its application. There had been a consistent failure to reach a middle ground between it being a technology siloed from all other industries and only applicable to esoteric elements of finance, and it being a panacea that can be applied to any and all business problems.

Neither are true, and the latter has led it to be what Bluer called “a victim of its own success”. So, how do we move forward?

To hear more from the Inspirefest 2019 panel, check out the video above.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2020 are available now.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic