South by Southwest (abbreviated as SXSW, and commonly called South By) unifies multiple conferences and events into one mega conference with a total of 24 tracks. Some of these tracks include a film festival, an interactive media festival, a gaming expo, and thousands of showcased musicians. Additionally, the Convergence conference focuses on upcoming industry trends, sharing new and cutting edge technology.
SXSW takes place in Austin, the Capital City of Texas. It began 32 years ago in 1987 with just 700 attendees and has continued to grow every year with over 300,000 combined attendees in 2018. They have a saying that “Everything is bigger in Texas” and in this case they might be right. This was one of the biggest events that LiskUSA has ever attended.
South By had so many attendees that it could not be contained within a single building. So, they used the largest convention center in town as well as several attached hotels. Large conferences often have some roads closed due to the masses of people, but just a few city blocks couldn’t contain this beast. SXSW sprawled out into the streets for what seemed like miles in every direction and thousands of bicycles and scooters were used to allow attendees to get around town.
While there was a lot going on across the city, our real interest was in a conference known as Convergence. The conference only lasted a few days but had over 75,000 attendees in 2018 and was projected to have even more this year.
Some of the most popular industries at this years Convergence include: A Cannibusiness track that focused on the business aspects of the Cannabis and Marijuana industries that are quickly growing in the US, Canada, and Globally. Game Design and Development Track that had a broad range of topics that were for designing games such as tabletop, board, and card games, to video game development, E-sports was also a very hot topic with many panels on this emerging industry, and of course, this year had a fairly new and very popular Blockchain Technology track.
Enter, Lisk USA.
There were so many panels, talks, and presentations that you had to spend some time picking which ones to go to and which ones to miss. There were just too many to go to them all.
Luckily, LiskUSA attended some of what we thought were the most relevant for our own knowledge and to our fellow Liskers. Even then, there was still so much information. So, we narrowed it down to a few of the best panels and discussions for our readers.
Panel discussions and presentations are usually meant to be informative or educational. Additionally, they are fantastic times for networking and outreach. Every chance we get, we try and have someone ask a question at the end of any discussion. This gives us a great opportunity to mention that we work with Lisk and it helps to get the name out to sometimes hundreds of people. This makes for a great opportunity for people interested in Lisk to find us.
Asking good, or relevant, questions also allows for opening up dialogue with panelists or keynote speakers that you normally wouldn’t be able to approach. As we will see in the next section.
“Made In China: Exchanges, Trust, and More”
There was an excellent presentation by Edith Yeung who is a partner of 500 startups as well as Jason Lau the COO of OKCoin and CoinEX. They discussed the state of cryptocurrency in China, and a basic timeline of events in china from the early blockchain days until now. They also gave us insights into the future of where China and Cryptocurrency are headed.
Some interesting points were that China did indeed ban the trade of cryptocurrencies and China’s RMB at the end of 2017. These actions were likely part of China’s incredibly strict currency regulation. In china, individuals are only allowed to take the equivalent of 50,000 USD out of the country. Obviously, cryptocurrency causes regulations like that to be futile, so crypto trading had to be banned. However, China does recognize cryptocurrency as private property, so there may be hope for lighter regulation in the future.
Jason then gave us some details about the life of an exchange in the cryptocurrency market. He then went into details about OKCoin. Due to the recent controversy in China, they expanded into the US to try and cater to a nation us market and soon, a global market.
Afterwards, we were able to talk to Jason about Lisk. When I asked if he had heard of Lisk, I was thrilled when we responded “Of course we know about Lisk!”
He doesn’t like to list just any coin, they are very conservative with their listings. He even mentioned that it may have been something that set them back as far as income is concerned. But nevertheless they stick to their morals.
They don’t believe in being paid for listings but instead prefer to do beneficial things for their users like special promotions, provide airdrops, educational information, etc.
After some discussion he mentioned that their team had looked into listing the Lisk Token in the past, and he still seemed quite interested in pursuing this. It was apparently some time since anyone from Lisk had contacted them and then they last looked into it, there were issues with wallet compatibility or usability that kept them away.
This was also before the 1.0 core release as well as many other HUB and wallet releases from Lisk. So, we exchanged information to set up a quick link on communication for trying to fast track Lisk onto OkCoin.
“Marijuana on the blockchain”
It’s always exciting to hear first hand experiences with businesses using block-chain technology with real use cases. We were fortunate enough to attend a great presentation by Sherree DeCouny who is the research principle of Chain Business Insights. She gave a great presentation that explained the need for incorporating blockchain technology into business better then anyone I have ever heard. Her technical understanding of old systems and supply chains as well as blockchain-tech was amazing and really gave us some perspective on how to improve your communications with trying to onboard businesses with blockchain technology.
Jess Jossop, the SEO of Cali Cannabis Market, came on to give us his first hand experience with incorporating blockchain technology into his business. Jess operates a Business to Business (B2B) service that put the entire supply chain from farm to shelf onto the blockchain.
When asked what system he used, we were not surprised to hear he was using Hyper Ledger Fabric. Jess then emphasized that he did not have any interest in cryptocurrency as far as B2B operations were concerned. He made a great case for only needing the distributed ledger and that the money aspect was not important to him.
His company ran on a smart contract with Fabric that tracked everything that happened to the marijuana plant, from seed to shelf and everything in between. The smart contract itself would be loaded up with the payments for the shipment and would pay each of the participants in the supply chain the moment their services were rendered. When the last person in the supply chain received their product, the smart contract would be drained 0 and everyone would have been paid.
Jess sees that incorporating cryptocurrency into this scheme would only cause issues like vast price fluctuations and other market manipulation that was unneeded for his business model.
Indeed, this was a great example of someone who needs and is currently using a private permission based blockchain. Not every blockchain will be able to meet everyone’s needs and use case. This is why the ability to create blockchains at the push of a few buttons will be an amazing achievement by Lisk.
People may not see it now, but having a stable, underlying currency layer, along with second layer side chains will likely be the most robust model. By having a blockchain created on a main currency layer will eliminate the need for even using fiat currency which is still a huge bottle neck when attempting to conduct business in any country.
“Blockchain the Vote: Mobile Voting on the Blockchain”
This was a very informative panel discussion on how blockchain technology is now being used in the real world for solving use cases like voting in elections. The primary voting in New York had a turnout of only 5% in 2017. Numerous issues that all boil down to a terrible user experience is seen as leaving us with such low voter turnout. This discussion focused on how to change that, and how to give more power to voters so we can have fair elections.
The story of this panel begins with Mac Warner, Secretary of the State of Virginia. Recently he discovered there was only a 13% voter turnout for active military members due to inaccessibility and delayed mailing times. This was considered “abominable” and that money could not solve this problem and instead technology needed to be used. He had his people begin to look into solutions without any preconceived notion to what would be the best solution. The best solution just happened to be blockchain technology.
Bradly Tusk delivered this solution with Mobilevoting.org. He then gave us details into the system. Currently, their solution is a permission based blockchain that runs on Hyper Ledger Fabric. This is pretty good, but Tusk admits that the final product must end up as an open source, public blockchain. However, he sees the current solution as better than what we have today.
Andre Mcgregor worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was an agent that specialized with terrorism. In the discussion he focused on the security. He went into details about the voting system to contain multiple forms of bio-metrics among other checks and balances. This included facial recognition form a video and not a still picture, thumbprint, GPS location, and other basic details. He admitted this system was not perfect but was much better than anything we have now. He also included that simple functions like being able to re-vote up-until the last second of the deadline of an election. Not only added to the user experience but also limited issues such as duress voting, which is when someone forces you to vote under threat of violence.
Since implementing the new system, they have successfully launched a test pilot that had a voter turnout of 95%. However, Warner stressed that for something as important as voting, it must be proved to work. So, after 4 independent audits, he hopes to get the technology rolled out to not just active military members abroad, but also absentee, and disabled voters, and one day even homeless voting as well.
This was a great discussion and it was interesting to hear about important blockchain use cases, such as voting, finally getting implemented. The future of blockchain is not at war with governments, but rather, has governments using this technology just to keep up.
“The Blockchain House”
It was exciting when we stumbled a house with a large sign in the front that said “blockchain house.” They didn’t have just one, but two houses devoted completely to blockchain technology, networking, and education. The houses were sponsored by Consensys, an Ethereum based company.
They had many interesting talks and presentations being conducted all around the houses. The houses provided for a unique take on presentations. They provided intimate spaces where the presenters and audience were drawn in very close, and also provided small outside garden spaces that had a very relaxing feel.
The Blockchain house seemed to have people related to a vast array of businesses and projects on the Ethereum network. such as a presentation called the “Future of Digital Identity” by the Uport team.
Another was titled “Tokenized Future.” This was a very interesting talk that included a lot of philosophy and critical thinking about the future of banking solutions and decentralized finance. One of the more interesting facts I learned is that over 67% of all news companies use WordPress. They saw a future including decentralized news rooms to go with the banks, insurance firms, and all other manner of traditional financial tech – but all decentralized.
“Pegasys Discusses Ethereum 2.0”
One of the most exciting, and informative, presentations was with 2 developers of Pegasys. This company was developing a full node implementation for operating on the what is known as a beacon chain, or the second layer solution for Ethereum.
In this presentation we got a first hand look into the plans for Ethereum 2.0 which was packed with information. Some of the most interesting points involve their creation and use of sidechains, shards, and the consensus and economic incentives behind the whole thing.
Here is a brief look into Ethereum 2.0:
You have a main, base layer, that is still secured by miners and proof-of-work. There was a lot of talk about them moving into a pure POS chain but it doesn’t seem like they have found a way to replace the security mechanism that POW provides – at least not yet.
Then the second layer, known as the Beacon Chain, is the proof-of-stake layer. This layer can have one, or many users combine up to 32 lisk to begin a staking delegation. The members of this staking delegation will process the blocks of the side chains and apps and receive fees as a reward. However, in inability to run a node, validate the blocks, or creating forks may incur penalties known as “slashing” and see the 32 staked Ethereum take as a penalty. If the staked Ethereum is reduced below a certain level, the node is automatically rejected and can no longer validate.
So what data are these beacon chain nodes verifying? They are running what are known as shards. Shards are the actual blockchain data of the sidechains that are validated by the beacon chain nodes.
There were a lot of interesting takeaways from what Ethereum has planned that gives us great insight into the possibilities of what is to come from our blockchain 2.0s of tomorrow. Something that stood out the most was how many questions remained unanswered with a final roll out projected as far back as 2021 or later. I feel that a lot of current projects such as Lisk are in the same position. However, I see this as a good sign because it shows us that there is still a lot of room for growth and it can still be “anyone’s game.”
“Guerrilla marketing at its finest”
The city was prepared for guerrilla marketing. They put plastic wrappings on just about every surface in the downtown district around the convention center. From light poles to bike racks and even statues. Apparently, the city did this because guerrilla marketing was encouraged. Walking through the city, you will be unable to escape the thousands of posters and stickers that would go up on every street around the convention.
Marketing teams put up poster on top of poster in a mad dash for visibility. Some groups would spend a lot of time setting up hundreds posters, just to have Detective Pikachu replace them moments later. Considering the event has over 300,000 participants and even more people there just to hang out, it’s no wonder that groups fight over valuable advertising spaces in front of the convention center streets.
Inside the convention center it was equally covered. Every pillar and rail had signs on them. Of course, LiskUSA has its own style of guerrilla marketing. We like to find a table to periodically load of stacks of swag while we hang around and answer questions.
Something notably different about this event from many conferences we have done in the past was the number of people who came up to us already knowing who we were, and wanting to know more. This time last year, most people had never heard of Lisk. Now the sentiment seems to have changed where they knew about Lisk and wanted to learn more…and a lot of them also wanted to pick up some stylish Lisk swag why they were at it.
In conclusion, I believe that Roland Swenson, Managing Director of SXSW describes it perfectly “The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn, and share ideas. (And maybe have a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences.)”
Indeed, this statement resonates with us. With the unity of business conferences about cannabis, game development, and cryptocurrency, video game expos, art exhibits, and movie festivals by day. To hundreds of live music shows perfect for winding down and networking by night. SXSW can only be described as a one of a kind experience.
LiskUSA was successful at spreading Lisk awareness as we got the Lisk name out there from newbies, to industry leaders, and everyone in between. We also learned a lot from listening to very informative panels and speakers, as well as many interesting conversations we had with other attendees. One of the most important things was gaining new perspectives on a space we are fairly familiar with. Seeing what big players such as state government, institutional investors, corporations, and startups are doing and the thought process they have behind entering the blockchain space.
SXSW left a positive impression on LiskUSA. We indent to be back next year with a larger team ready for Lisk to leave an even bigger impression on SXSW!