Telling stories with data at the London Blockchain Conference 2023
Implicit in the core message of the London Blockchain Conference 2023 is the idea that data is now everywhere, being collected at scales never before seen by an incalculable number of connected devices.
You could practically sense this invisible process taking place as you sat in a cavernous conference room that houses LBC’s Business stage, waiting for the next item on the event’s packed agenda: ‘Telling Stories With Data’. The room contained hundreds of people, from sharply dressed businesswomen to scantily clad technicians, all with devices in their hands or on their wrists, taking in enough data to fill a bookshelf on any given day.
This applies wherever you go, and these devices are not limited to the phone in your pocket or the desktop computer in your living room. By 2023, just about everything you can think of will be collecting data: the lampposts you pass on your way to work every day, the automatic doors that let you into the supermarket and the microwave in the kitchen.
But more than the sheer scale of what is collected, what really matters is the sense you get out of it. In other words, the most important thing is the story you can tell with that data.
This was the central theme of one of LBC 2023’s earliest panels, whose full name is “Telling Stories With Data – Leveraging Blockchain for Improved Data Integrity and Demonstrating Accountability and Trust to Your Customers/Users.” Hosted by developer and consultant Joshua Henslee, the room welcomed Stephan Nilsson, CEO and co-founder of UNISOT AS; Chris Light, CEO and Founder of E-Livestock Global LLC; and Shem Booth-Spain, co-founder and CEO of Blarecast Systems.
This set-up made for quite a practical session. All three guests use the blockchain to deliver value to their respective industries right nowand as a result is well placed to comment on the benefits and challenges of incorporating blockchain into business.
Take Nilsson, for example. UNISOT takes its name from the concept one universal source of truth, and leverages the blockchain to store and track data about products as they move through the supply chain, so that every link in the chain has a complete – and accurate – picture of each product’s history.
“The reason is simple: my experience is that I realized that you have a lot of data, but it is all locked up in data silos in each individual company. There must be integration between them to exchange information, he said. “We can prove the quality of the products . We can prove that the products are sustainable, prove where they come from.”
He added that the lack of this data can be a problem in an era where businesses are moving quickly.
“In today’s changing world, where a company changes suppliers and distributors more regularly, it is not possible to build new interfaces every time it happens. I realized that we need a global database, said Nilsson.
As a result, UNISOT has been able to collect this data and use it to tell a story – particularly a story of evidence and provenance.
“We can prove the quality of the products. We can prove that the products are sustainable, prove where they come from,” he said.
Or how about Chris Light’s E-Livestock, a company that uses the blockchain to manage livestock welfare data. The livestock industry is probably not at the top of the list of those to be revolutionized by immutable ledgers, but running a farm involves a huge amount of information – information that is often paper-based, but doesn’t have to be. And capturing this data is just the beginning, says Light.
“You collect the data and store it on the blockchain, but we’re discovering that the possibilities from there are unexpected and almost endless,” he noted.
For example, Light tells of a farmer in the United States who discovered, after checking their livestock, that he actually had thousands fewer cows than they thought.
Or what about livestock businesses in developing countries, where the benefits of blockchain for farmers go far beyond mere information gathering. Many farmers in countries with financial instability or unstable currencies often store their wealth in their business rather than keeping it in a bank or stuffing a mattress with cash. This means that it can be difficult to use that wealth – which can put farmers in a corner when negotiating prices.
“When school fees are due, the person carrying out the transaction knows this and the price of the animal falls. But with our system, they can escrow assets,” Light said.
So being able to turn this data into a story can bring huge benefits to businesses and entire industries. But as important as one narrative is to data, another narrative stands in the way of true blockchain adoption and was referenced by all the guests on stage: the idea that blockchain is the same as “crypto.”
“One of the reasons we differentiate between Bitcoin and blockchain is sometimes you sit down with someone and realize they think you’re talking about crypto,” said Booth-Spain of Blarecast, a next-generation music distribution platform built on the blockchain.
This was echoed by Nilsson from UNISOT: “There is a great need out there for these solutions, but we still have problems. We need to re-educate customers and when we talk about it, we have the blockchain technology and not crypto-mania or NFT-mania. We have a system that works and scales.”
“Often customers misunderstand that the company must know the blockchain themselves. Many competitors in the blockchain space try to educate customers in using the blockchain themselves, but my view is that just as every company today uses the internet, very few companies actually know HTML or TCIP. They just use the public internet… They just need solutions to their problems,” he said.
But if blockchain is to be the silent fixer, how should blockchain-based businesses communicate their offering to customers? Is it possible without a weighty technical discussion about block sizes and data integrity?
Blarecast’s Booth-Spain gave his perspective: “It’s about consumer needs. We try to create products that solve genuine consumer or business needs. Each current blockchain use case has its own unique situations and events.”
“The question we often get from customers is: why blockchain when we can just store data in a database?” joined Nilsson.
“But there’s a big difference: what you have in a blockchain is also the payment functionality. You can now start monetizing information. You can put a price on very small pieces of information – often a 10th or 100th of a cent.”
Part of why this shift from “crypto” thinking to “utility” thinking is so exciting is because when people start focusing on use cases, the true potential of blockchain starts to be revealed. Henslee pointed out: “To say ‘this is useful for X’ is wrong because we don’t know what people are going to do when the transaction fees are so low.”
It is a view that was well subscribed to among the panellists. Booth-Spain highlighted “these new use cases where we understand – at a higher level – what Bitcoin and the blockchain can do. It is going to lead to a renewed understanding of what Bitcoin and blockchain are. How can we start using the open ledger as a data store?”
One use case that was addressed by Light in the context of livestock was to help maintain the appeal of farm work among young people.
“There is concern worldwide about how to keep young people on farms. We are looking at future iterations, where we can look at games or scoring in the form of whoever cares for the animal best gets a high score.”
“That’s how unlocking the blockchain brings wealth: it’s a mental wealth. Often the crypto market is, I think, a test case for the real Bitcoin blockchain. Remember that Bitcoin SV is the restored original protocol of Bitcoin: it is the original, the real one. It performs 100,000 transactions per second. BTC makes 5, if we’re lucky. Ethereum makes 7, Booth-Spain continues.
“If you’re able to do 100,000 transactions a second, it’s the fastest blockchain on Earth right now. There’s no other technology that matches this pedigree. It’s the forefront of blockchain technology.”
Any one of these panelists could have given a 45-minute keynote on how they are using blockchain to improve their industry. Packed as the LBC agenda is, Henslee’s panel could only scratch the surface of how data can be used to tell stories, and how those stories can be hugely beneficial. But that’s the point all the panelists seemed eager to make: worldwide is only now scratching the surface of what can be achieved with scalable, interoperable blockchains. It is the work of people like Booth-Spain, Nilsson and Light that will show us what further value lies beneath the surface.
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