If you are interested in learning more about cryptocurrencies, crypto networks, and blockchain technology, here’s a short collection of some of our pieces. Be sure to also check out the a16z Crypto Canon, where we previously compiled resources from around the web across various categories and levels of interest.
In a space that evolves as rapidly as crypto, no one really is an expert. But knowing where to start can help make the subject more approachable to anyone. To that end, this glossary of terminology and key concepts in the space covers the basics of cryptography and blockchain, smart contracts and applications, security/privacy, and other useful definitions. We hope it serves as both an introduction and as a reference for newcomers and crypto veterans alike.
Blockchains are computers that can make commitments. Traditional computers are ultimately controlled by people, either directly or indirectly; blockchains invert this power relationship, putting the code in charge. A properly designed blockchain provides strong guarantees that the code it runs will continue to operate as designed. For the first time, a computer system can be truly autonomous: self-governed, by its own code, instead of by people.
Here are three common myths people have when first hearing about crypto: that cryptocurrencies are anonymous (and therefore more likely to be used by criminals); that there’s no real use case (aside from speculation); and that crypto is just about currency. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.
Millions of users have had their private data misused or stolen. Creators and businesses that rely on internet platforms are subject to sudden rule changes that take away their audiences and profits. But there is a growing movement — emerging from the blockchain and cryptocurrency world — to build new internet services that combine the power of modern, centralized services with the community-led ethos of the original internet. We should embrace it.
The combination of cloud, social, and mobile took gaming beyond a small base of just console- and PC-gamers to a massive player base. But the underlying business model — the concept of “free-to-play”, built on top of games-as-a-service — may have been the real innovation that led us to the global gaming phenomena we have today. Unfortunately, balancing the gamers who aren’t paying with those who are becomes incredibly challenging over time because incentives between game publishers and players are not aligned. What if we could realign those incentives with blockchain technology and cryptoeconomic business models, leading to thriving gaming economies with better monetization and deeper engagement, as well as new forms of collaboration, community, and creativity?
Software is simply the encoding of human thought, and as such has an almost unbounded design space. We find ourselves consistently surprised and excited by the wide variety of creative crypto ideas we encounter. For those of us who have been involved in software for a long time, it feels like the early days of the internet, web 2.0, or smartphones all over again.
The internet is still early in its evolution: the core internet services will likely be almost entirely rearchitected in the coming decades. This will be enabled by crypto-economic networks, a generalization of the ideas first introduced in Bitcoin and further developed in Ethereum. Cryptonetworks combine the best features of the first two internet eras: community-governed, decentralized networks with capabilities that will eventually exceed those of the most advanced centralized services.
Crypto founders have a unique challenge in front of them. In addition to building a product that people want, they also need to consider how that product can successfully run in a decentralized manner — that is, as a protocol owned and operated by a community of users. This is a difficult challenge because much of what it takes to build a successful product at the outset — product leadership, rapid iteration, a managed go-to-market — complicates the path to community ownership and regulatory compliance, which guarantee long-term health. Here’s a three-step process that may serve as a guide for how to do it, by way of progressive decentralization, a process in which founding teams relinquish control by degrees, over time.
Since much of the existing regulatory framework was written before the advent of such decentralized networks, it’s useful to consider both how these networks evolve over their lifetimes, as well as the history and evolution of the classic “Howey test” that determines whether or not they’re also investment contracts for regulatory and compliance purposes. Because that, in turn, affects their effective use and scalability as software systems and services.
Given how little accessible and accurate information is out there about how regulatory agencies actually work, we share some thoughts on how SEC investigations happen (across all industries, not just crypto); how network usage may impact whether a cryptocurrency is deemed a security; and what the industry might expect next. The arguments of recent cases are interesting, because they are representative of how the entire industry is dealing with an emerging technology where it’s still unclear which regulations will apply and how.