New concepts in technology are difficult, and it doesn’t help when their adherents are smug about the thing they know about and you don’t.
That’s how “blockchain” has felt to me. It’s a conceptually complicated, technically touchy topic that keeps popping up, making those on the outs feel dumb.
I’m here today not so much to explain blockchain to you as to offer two ways of increasingly your fluency in this increasingly important trend. The first is a new cover story by Fortune’s Robert Hackett, called “Why Big Business Is Racing to Build Blockchains.” In it you’ll find some very good de-mystifying prose that will help you understand why a certain segment of the finance and technology worlds won’t shut up about blockchain.
You may have heard a blockchain described as an electronic “ledger,” and that’s because it is a new way of keeping track of digital assets—and not just currencies like Bitcoin. Before now, an asset typically required some entity to sit between buyers and sellers to validate its value. A central bank or a stock exchange played this role. As Hackett writes in his article, “a blockchain can get rivals to cooperate in creating a common record that is accessible to everyone and controlled by no one.”
Descriptions like that make me start to understand this thing. What’s more, Hackett paints a compelling picture of well-established financial mechanisms that could be made more efficient by blockchains. “Trade finance, security clearance and settlements, cross-border payments, and insurance are all areas that could be overhauled and made more seamless,” he writes.
This is a very good start. The better news here is that Fortune isn’t confining its blockchain aspirations to its magazine. Starting today, Hackett is part of a three-person editorial curation team that includes Jen Wieczner and Jeff John Roberts that will oversee all Fortune coverage of blockchain developments as well as broader fintech issues. It is called, appropriately, The Ledger, and its founders expect it to be an authoritative record of all blockchain news.
Congratulations to them for launching a new news product, and congratulations to you for being in the know.
When is it a bubble? Just how high will the price of bitcoin go? After falling back a bit from an all-time high of $4,477 last week, the future value of the leading cryptocurrency is now a major parlor game on Wall Street. One heady prediction from Ronnie Moas at Standpoint Research sees bitcoin hitting $7,500 next year and $50,000 by 2027.
Don’t dunk it in milk. Google officially announced the name of the next version of its mobile operating system: Android Oreo. Owners of a few Google-branded phones like the Pixel will get the software soon, while new or upgraded devices from partners including Samsung, HTC, and Sony should hit by year-end. Top features include a new security scanner, picture-in-picture mode, and, of course, new emojis. On the hardware front, rumor has it that Google will launch two new phones, a smaller version of its Home digital assistant and a new Chromebook laptop this fall.
Consolation prize. An appeals court ruled that Yahoo will have to pay prize promoter SCA Promotions $5.5 million for canceling a contract on the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament. SCA would have had to cover a $1 billion prize to anyone who guessed every game outcome correctly—a perfect bracket—but Yahoo went with Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway instead. (P.S. No one has ever won the $1 billion prize.)
Don’t need the money. The biggest streaming music service on the planet wants to go public and list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange without going through the big Wall Street firms. Spotify is discussing with regulators its unusual plan to list directly, forgoing raising more money by selling new shares via investment banks, Bloomberg reported.
Less money. It’s getting a little cheaper to buy your own virtual reality rig. HTC cut the price of its Vive headset by $200 to $600, following a recent price cut on Facebook’s competing Oculus Rift VR set. Neither company’s reported sales of the seemingly slow selling hardware sets.
Smoking. The acceleration of electric cars is something to behold. Last week, a Tesla Model X SUV raced a Lamborghini Aventador SV and beat its Italian rival over a quarter mile by a few tenths of a second. YouTube has the video proof.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Excited enough about the future of digital currency to buy some for yourself? Then you’ll face the challenge of how to store securely what is essentially just a long string of digits. San Francisco-based Coinbase is one of the leading cryptocurrency exchanges, with 9 million customers stashing some $3 billion worth of digital coinage in its server vaults.
But even Coinbase customers have been hacked, with losses reaching up to $5 million a year in total, Fortune’s Jen Wieczner reports. And there’s no government insurance fund or other backing to pay back victims like Cody Brown, who lost $8,000 in the span of just 15 minutes in May. He complains:
Coinbase looks like a bank, talks like a bank, and takes millions of dollars in cash like a bank, but, in practice, it functions like a dimly lit underground casino. You don’t realize that the balanced fonts, smooth blue gradients, and endless copy about trust mean absolutely nothing—until you are robbed blind.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This AI Startup Just Nailed $140 Million in Fresh Funding by Barb Darrow
Snapchat Could Overtake Facebook, Instagram Among Young U.S. Users for First Time by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
How Elon Musk Watched the Solar Eclipse in His Tesla by Kirsten Korosec
Apple Accepting Donations for Southern Poverty Law Center by Don Reisinger
3 Cybersecurity Stocks to Buy Now by Ryan Derousseau
Microsoft’s Project Scorpio Xbox One X Now Available for Pre-Order by Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
I’m no twitch-happy, shoot-’em-up gamer, but I used to dabble in the occasional strategy game, particularly Sid Meier’s Civilization. But Microsoft wants to tempt me back, with its first update to the Age of Empires franchise in more than 10 years. Game studio Relic Entertainment released a trailer on Monday for Age of Empire IV that doesn’t give away much of anything. More details will be shared “in the months to come.” So stay tuned.