(This is somewhat off topic, but it has no “news peg,” so it’s not appropriate for my column in Forbes, and after trying some experiments on Medium, I’ve decided not to support their advertisers anymore. So I’m writing it here.)
Several days ago, at the Digital Book World conference in Nashville, I was on a panel about blockchain applications in book publishing. I was trying to explain to the audience why blockchain is not merely yet another buzzword, yet another shiny new thing in the corner that will dry up and blow away if the publishing industry just waits long enough.
My argument was, and has been, that so much energy, money, talent, and (yes) hype are going into blockchain applications for the media industry that something worthwhile is bound to come of it, even if that something isn’t necessarily apparent right now. For example, with me on the Digital Book World panel were two CEOs of startups that are using blockchains to support e-book “ownership” and distribution. I worked with another startup that was building a blockchain-based solution for tracking and tracing pirated print books. And in the music industry, startups and standards initiatives are looking into using blockchains for rights management and royalty processing.
During the Digital Book World panel, I hit on a sort of litmus test to determine whether a technological phenomenon has staying power. I called it the Tapscott Effect.
Don Tapscott is a Canadian management guru who styles himself “one of the world’s leading authorities on the impact of technology on business and society.” He has written 18 books; is an adjunct faculty member at INSEAD in Switzerland, one of the world’s top business schools; and consults regularly to the world’s biggest companies.
What Tapscott really does is take technologies that have been around for a few years, package them in books and consulting services, and generally explain them to business managers in ways they can understand and apply. In other words, he provides an imprimatur on technologies that makes it safe for the business world to embrace them.
It’s debatable whether the success of the technologies Tapscott chooses to focus on is a matter of correlation or causation; but either way, when Don Tapscott writes a book about a technology, it’s a very safe bet that it’s going to be big. And his latest book, which came out in 2016, is Blockchain Revolution.
Here’s a list of Tapscott’s main books — all business best-sellers — along with their years of publication and the technologies they describe:
- Paradigm Shift (1992): client-server computing
- The Digital Economy (1997): digital networks and the Internet
- Growing Up Digital (1999): kids as digital natives
- Digital Capital (2000): Internet-based supply chains and e-commerce
- Wikinomics (2006): user-generated content and collaboration
- Blockchain Revolution (2016): blockchain
In all of these cases, the technology in question had been around for a little while. For example, companies like Sun and Oracle commercialized client-server computing in the late 1980s; the Internet’s first big commercial year was 1995 (the year of Netscape’s “big bang” IPO); and Wikipedia was launched in 2001. And Bitcoin, the first killer app of blockchain technology, was created in 2009 and achieved public notoriety around 2012.
Timing aside, that’s quite a track record: 100 percent of the technologies he describes in his books went mainstream. Conversely, I can only think of two major recent tech trends he hasn’t written about: mobile apps and AI/machine learning.
But otherwise, if Don Tapscott writes a book about a technology, it’s a very safe bet that it’s going mainstream. So, the Tapscott Effect dictates that blockchain technology isn’t going anywhere. We’ll all see how it develops for media and copyright.