I still remember this amazing moment. When I was 6 years old (in 1993), my father got his first computer from work. A device that took half the desk, but soon won my heart because of the 3D racing game “Stunts”. Four years later, I was introduced to the Worldwide Web by a friend, who had the Veronica website open and at the age of 14, I started managing the first community pages of one of the first websites in the Netherlands; Startpagina.nl. I can hardly imagine how much effort I had to make at that time, to connect to the internet and surf on it. The sounds of clicking floppies and creaking 56k dial-up modems are still well engraved on my memory.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

How different it is today, where we are constantly connected to the internet with our mobile phones and where I already hear people sigh if they happen to have a 3G instead of 4G connection. Although technological developments are going very fast at the moment, the run-up to the development of the internet has taken quite a long time. The precursor, ARPAnet, was developed already in the 1960s by the US-military as a means to allow computers from a few researchers to communicate with each other and to exchange documents. The development of technology took a long time; only in 1991 did the first website come online and in 1994 the first web store. Although Amsterdam was the first European junction to be connected in 1982, Dutch users could only surf the Internet publicly from 1991 onwards.

What started as a mere exchange of information between a handful of research institutes has now become an integral part of our lives. Who could have realized at the time that we became so dependent on the internet? From communicating, banking and listening to music to shopping. It is very funny to hear all skeptics talk about things like encyclopedias, CDs and route maps that the internet could never replace. Wikipedia, Spotify and Google Maps have proven the opposite, not to mention the many other everyday items.

By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has no greater than the fax machines. ”
 — Paul Krugman

The current rise of blockchain technology is often compared to that of the internet. Not only its long duration but also the first anxious and rejecting attitude of consumers, companies, and governments, the cracked “bubble” and predictions about the insane impact on our society in the long term. According to the Gartner Hypecyle, blockchain technology is currently in the “trough of disillusionment”; experiments fail and companies see investments being burned. Developers within the industry exit rapidly and the press eagerly writes about the negative experiences. Why would we do so much effort for a Bitcoin payment within an online store, if it is also easy and safe with Paypal? Why would we spend so much time sending a tip via the Lightning network, if this can also be done quickly via a Tikkie (Dutch Whatsapp payment solution)? Convincing the crowd for adoption is clearly not successful yet.

Bubbles are, in my opinion, great for separating the wheat from the chaff, removing the hype from something and focusing on real problems that technology can tackle. Last year I was, at the height of the cryptocurrency hype, in New York at a large congress, where a startup came to talk about how they would reward housewives with their own cryptocurrency for creating content. For me, this sheer start-up was the confirmation that we were in a bubble and that it had to burst really fast, to take the press out of the sails and to get serious investors interested. The internet had the same bubble development, in which many silly internet companies with millions of investments were set up between 1995–2000, resulting in the big ‘dot-com crash’ of 2000. The American Nasdaq fell 83%, shares of companies such as Apple and Amazon even 90% and the entire internet industry was put away as a big ‘Ponzi-scheme’.

What happened afterward in different areas has laid the foundation for the internet as we know it today. The technology developed rapidly, problems with scalability, speed, and security were tackled rapidly and the “mainstream” use followed quickly and grew exponentially for a long time. Blockchain technology is currently going through the same phase, where hard work is being done on a number of dilemmas raised by the use of first versions; safety, speed, and scalability. In addition, issues such as conflicting regulations and standardization. Where, according to various founders of the internet, governments are late with certain laws and regulations concerning the internet, people are already very pro-active about blockchain technology. Consortia, such as R3 (financial institutions), B3i (Insurers) and Hyperledger (under the leadership of the Linux Foundation) are working on much-needed standards and issues such as certificates and education for the industry. There are hundreds of cool applications, but many are made in their own scripting language, working with one of the no less than 55 available consensus protocols, which makes working together complex.

Where ARPAnet introduced the underlying technology (TCP / IP), Bitcoin now does this with the underlying blockchain technology. In the beginning, ARPAnet was intended purely for communication, Bitcoin purely for transactions. ARPAnet provided freedom of information, Bitcoin freedom of value and transactions. Both also cross borders. With both technology emergencies, you saw the existing and endangered industries struggle against in the beginning and governments tried to curb the emergence with laws and regulations. As with any technology, the use of criminals was initially regarded as the reason why it should be banned, and both were initially a technology, not an entire industry.

As I wrote in a previous blog, we now have to wait for the big “Killer App”, which will make blockchain known, familiar and usable for the general public. Just like Netscape did with its browser for the internet. The development of technology under the internet; TCP / IP lasted no less than 30 years before it became known, loved and used worldwide. In the years that followed, it ensured that our society was completely transformed, billions of people came online and that new things were still being built every day that could not exist before. Where would Instagram be without the iPhone? Amazon without the internet? All technology that is further developed on previous technology. Often when I give keynotes or training about blockchain, I can’t answer “where we are going” with this technology. It is impossible to predict because I do not know what developments we can expect after the developments that are currently taking place. It is certain that in the coming years we will soon see products and services that will be simplified and accelerated by blockchain technology. Not only in the financial sector, but in many sectors worldwide. As long as companies focus on solving problems, possibly with blockchain, instead of looking for problems that they can solve with blockchain, support will be broader and investments will be more effective. Just like with great interest I followed all developments in the field of the development of computers and the internet, I will also do this in the field of blockchain in the coming years. we have only just begun!

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.