Crypto and blockchain are not synonymous

Crypto — like any speculative asset — experienced its fair share of volatility this year. After plummeting to lows of $16,000 following the collapse of FTX in November 2022, bitcoin surpassed $43,000 in December 2023 as part of a rally that some say is just beginning.

But my hope is that crypto’s persistent reputation for volatility doesn’t tarnish the perceived value of blockchain’s underlying technology. 

As we go into 2024, I’m optimistic that the inherent capabilities of distributed ledger technology will extend beyond mere market action. Assessing blockchain’s worth solely through the lens of profit performance overlooks the broader utility and transformative potential of Web3.

In other words, one should not judge the merits of an entire technology based on how much BONK they lost.

In September, blockchain data company Chainalysis released its 2023 Global Adoption Index. The purpose of this report was to recognize “leaders of grassroots crypto adoption,” and to identify the countries where average, everyday people are putting the greatest share of their wealth into cryptocurrency. The results were promising.

Of the 20 countries listed, many belong to emerging market economies transitioning from lower incomes and rates of development toward rapid expansion of trade and investment flows.

Personally, I’d like to believe that the growing adoption of digital currencies reinforces the technology that underlies it. What’s all the hype about? You lean into it. 

You go from having a MetaMask wallet and visiting a Bitcoin ATM to reading a few articles and understanding the properties of blockchain that afford secure, public transactions of data and information. You learn about Satoshi’s motivations behind digital assets not as a way to make the rich richer, but to disrupt power-hungry institutions standing in the way of autonomy and democratic financial access.

Yes, blockchain is typically associated with its range of financial use cases. But the decentralized, permissionless and non-sovereign technology has, at its core, a social and reformist potential. My hypothesis is that greater grassroots adoption and understanding of crypto assets generates room for uses that capitalize on blockchain to effect change beyond the strictly financial realm. 

In looking beyond bitcoin rallies and new exchange offerings, other dynamic applications of blockchain come to life. Chainalysis’ 2023 index signals the presence of audiences keen to engage and capture the broader social value that blockchain offers — highlighting Web3 projects that are exceeding blockchain’s financial boundaries to drive cultural and socioeconomic transformations around the world. 

Nigeria: Akowe, meaning “clerk” in Yoruba, is a one-man Lagos-based startup using blockchain to issue and verify academic records. Almost all certificates issued by Nigerian tertiary institutions are physical hard copies. Coupled with high unemployment rates, certificate forgeries have become increasingly commonplace. Employers and HR firms bear the brunt of high verification costs needed to ensure the credibility of academic records, resulting in verification processes taking anywhere between two weeks to six months.

Akowe’s mission is to introduce digital certificates to educators and Nigerian learning institutions, using blockchain to facilitate a tamper-proof and easily verifiable system of digital academic records. 

While Akowe previously operated using permissioned blockchain Hyperledger, Agboola is now exploring Amazon’s new ledger database solution QLDB, which allows organizations to create centrally managed records. The startup has piloted its project with two institutions and is actively engaged in discussions with 15 other universities, indicating a growing interest in the blockchain-based verification solution to reduce complexities within the current education sector.

India: Web3 middleware SaaS start-up Airchains is partnering with West Bengal’s New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA) to digitize land ownership using NFTs. 

The presumption of land ownership in India is complicated by different jurisdictional processes. Conflicting title investigations and lost paperwork creates glaring inconsistencies in the maintenance of land records, impeding the Indian real estate market and often making land the subject of long and tedious litigation. 

Airchains uses blockchain to develop unique NFTs that serve as land ownership proofs under NKDA’s jurisdiction. This system allows property registration certificates and land records to be digitally recorded and traced, eliminating tedious paperwork and promising to facilitate the lifetime tracking of ownership. Physical copies of NFTs are available in card format, while digital QR code certificates are used to ensure quick access after relevant authentication processes. Digitizing proof of land records in this way is also crucial to counteract ownership often made on the basis of customary claims.

Airchains’ agenda is testament to the blockchain revolution to “steadily penetrat[e] and disrupt a plethora of traditional sectors.” Crucially, the project remains uninvolved with crypto transactions, choosing easier, gasless methods to interact with users. 

Airchains’ user base has soared by 150% in the past two quarters, alluding to a widespread consensus about replacing traditional bureaucracy with a transparent and secure digital system of land ownership. The team plans to introduce 500,000 NFTs deployed on Polygon Supernets to expand the land mutation process across 27,000 acres, as reported by Forbes. 

These examples illustrate why blockchain and crypto cannot be conflated — and why people shouldn’t be quick to point to market volatility as a reason to dismiss both. Once you distinguish a technology from its dominant applications, its uses quickly multiply. 

Blockchain is a new frontier in the world of finance, sure. But it is irresponsible and inaccurate to correlate an asset’s volatility to its legitimacy, especially as bitcoin’s price now exceeds $40,000 and promises to continue being influenced by market dynamics, investor sentiments and new regulation. 

The path to Web3 mass adoption will be long and tedious. But keeping crypto in the spotlight distracts from blockchain’s most disruptive use cases, most of which haven’t even been dreamt up yet. 

It is the responsibility of advocates to explore how we can co-opt this technology to transform the long-standing institutional idea of “that’s just how things have been done” because we got too complacent to challenge it.

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