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Book Review: The Business Blockchain by William Mougayar

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Throughout the world, advancements in blockchain innovation continue to garner a bevy of attention. As the structural underpinning of bitcoin, the blockchain has proven its worth and practical value for cryptocurrency transactions. Now a new book called The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology offers an in-depth look at this burgeoning technology and its potential application to a broader swath of the business world.

Written by noted investor and strategic advisor William Mougayar, the book was influenced in part by a chance encounter between Ethereum Inventor and Chief Scientist Vitalik Buterin in the stairway of a building in Toronto, Canada. Throughout its 208 pages, Mougayar lays out a compelling case for the future of blockchain to business leaders who may find themselves having just been introduced to it for the first time.  Says Mougayar in the book’s preface:

 

“The blockchain is part of the history of the Internet. It is at the same level as the “World Wide Web in terms of importance, and arguably might give us back the Internet, in the way that it was supposed to be: more decentralized, more open, more secure, more private, more equitable, and more accessible. Ironically, many blockchain applications also have a shot at replacing legacy Web applications, at the same time they will replace legacy businesses that cannot loosen their grips on heavy-handed centrally enforced trust functions.”

 

Through his work, Mougayar’s seeks to expand the minds of business leaders, enterprises, and entrepreneurs – sparking them to action with their newly acquired understanding of blockchain as a platform for innovation. He begins the book by providing a three-pronged look at what the blockchain is.

First, there’s the technical perspective which explores blockchain functionality as a backend database with distributed ledger qualities. Then there’s the business element in terms of its value as an exchange network for peer-to-peer exchange. Finally, from a legal perspective, the case is made for blockchain serving as a trusted validator of transactions without the need of a third-party intermediary.

 

Disruption and the Blockchain

The opening chapter offers a well-informed overview of the shift taking place in our world today towards decentralized models where third-party entities no longer hold the reigns of control. He provides historical examples of how similar tech movements played out, most notably the Internet and Web and their ties to landmark achievements like the advent of HTML (1993) and Java (1995). The author also references the legacy world of banking, noting that the mere act of downloading a Bitcoin wallet and scanning a QR code to instantly receive money can alter one’s perspective about the need for traditional financial institutions.

Another major theme covered in the book is the concept of trust. Mougayar examines how consensus system allows for the “outsourcing of trust” to decentralized bodies.  Airbnb’s peer-based reputation system he says offers just one example of this emerging trend. Recent speculation, in fact, has it that this online travel hosting company has now reached out to a team of engineers to take a closer look at the potential alignment between existing reputation systems and new advancements in blockchain consensus.

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The book also looks at ‘smart property’ which can link digital assets to the blockchain in a way that prevents them from being double owned or double spent. Imagine being able as the creator or owner of a digital asset like art or music to codify your ownership rights in a manner which prevents the asset from being undone unless you elect to transfer or sell them. In other words, you would maintain control versus being subjected to the auspices of a third-party.

Mougayer then goes on to address the term “smart contracts” which he says is a bit of misnomer. He adamantly argues that contrary to the often used terminologies of “smart” and “contract”, what is being referred to here, in essence, are just simple applications running on top of blockchain. Mougayar contends that these applications will have an impact reminiscent  of the HTML markup language advancements which ushered in the opportunity for information to be openly published and connected to the web. He points to the vast potential associated with how these applications run on Ethereum, fueled computationally by ether, the network’s native currency. This, he says, opens up an ocean of business use cases, particularly when the blockchain can be unbundled from  native currencies.

Digital identity is another key area that the book dives into. According to Mougayar blockchain-identity based applications will offer a new means of personal sovereignty and control of one’s identity. Along this front, new self-directed identity options like the NYC-based Ethereum studio ConsenSys’ uPort system are quickly gaining attention as part of a newly emerging “Internet of People” movement.

 

A Guide for Corporate Leaders

Amid blockchain’s meteoric rise, Mougayar believes that legacy industries like those found in banking and financial services, healthcare and energy are under threat as this new technology finds new uses which boost process efficiency and expand business opportunities. It is for this reason that many corporate leaders are now on an accelerated learning curve, fearful that the blockchain will render their current practices obsolete. This according to Mougayer is who this book is ideally suited for.

As The Business Blockchain continues to gain readership, reviews are trickling in bringing, often light to the perilous paths facing this nascent technology. One Amazon reviewer wrote: “With so much riding on it (The Blockchain), there has to be 100 percent assurance of secure data. This is one reason I am skeptical of blockchain and it was not addressed (in the book as to) HOW it would remain secure. Seems to me like an interesting technology that hackers will have a field day with and eventually destroy.”

Another wrote: “Luckily, before buying this book I already knew a lot about blockchain technology. This book doesn’t explain blockchain technology in simple terms. If you already understand, it will grow your knowledge, but otherwise, it will probably just irritate you.”

As blockchain continues to make a rapid climb from infancy, it’s not uncommon for pioneering thought leaders like Mougayar to endure some harsh assessments. Nevertheless, blockchains massive impact on the future of business cannot be discounted. His word to business leaders; quickly build on your understanding of the myriad potential applications of blockchain versus viewing it exclusively as a currency, digital ledger or transaction platform. It is at that point that practical application towards the development of new innovations can take place. As Mougayar says in his book:

 

“No matter how it unfolds, the blockchain’s history will continue to be written well after you’ve finished this book., just as the history of the Web continued to be written well after its initial invention. But here’s what will make the blockchain’s future even more interesting: you are a part of it.”