SEO Manager for Consensys and Edinburgh Festival stand-up, Olsina took to the Benchmark stage in 2019 for her second appearance. While blockchain may be familiar to most, it is a technology with applications extending far beyond crypto-currency, as Olsina described
Olsina began her talk by emphasising the difference between blockchain and cryptocurrency – which she says are terms often and incorrectly used interchangeably. In fact, while crypto currencies all use blockchain, blockchain – which allows for the decentralisation of information and is often used as a kind of chain of custody for information – can be used to create a host of things from decentralised applications to games.
There follows a brief description of the nature of blockchain – with the terms ‘distributed leger’ and ‘nodes’ used to explain it. Olsina uses the metaphor of a communally controlled spreadsheet, with each user a ‘node’ in a completely flat power structure. No one node is more powerful than any other and each node updates its own version of the spreadsheet until there is a consensus on the contents of specific cells (decided by a ‘consensus algorithm’) which becomes the true state of that cell in all sheets.
Olsina’s talk continued with four predictions about how blockchain may influence the future of search engines and, therefore, search marketing:
- Ad fraud prevention: – costs are high, technology is fragmented and tracking consumers across the three main advertising platforms (Microsoft, Google and Amazon) is virtually impossible – and this makes fraud detection more difficult still. For that reason, the distributed leger approach holds fantastic opportunities for blockchain validation of clicks.
- Data sovereignty: – if personal data is not on your radar at the moment, there’s a fair chance that you have been, or are still, living under a rock. Big data is big money and the story over the last few years has been around who owns the data and who should profit from it (as well as its use in manipulation). This is where one of the uses of blockchain that most interests me lies (and the one which most closely mirrors its use in cryptocurrency). Blockchain in this instance, as Olsina explains, could offer you the chance to have explicit control over which specific data points you are prepared to share or sell, democratising data-control and even, perhaps, the value of data.
- New monetisation models focused on the user: – probably the most ‘out there’ of the predictions for me, was the predictions on monetisation. While linked intrinsically with the previous point, the fourth prediction takes this a step further, suggesting that the same user focused blockchain implementation could look to incentivise users to watch ads or carry out desired actions. While I think it’s a fantastic concept, if this were to be adopted it would require the monetisation models of the entire web to be reorganised. Again, this is not impossible, but with size comes inertia and the business of search is now among the largest in the world, and such change is likely to be slow at best – if not actually fought by the large tech companies that would need to drive it.
- Decrease in censorship: – another tricky proposition, the fifth of the predictions was that blockchain’s decentralised nature could make government control much more difficult and therefore create the free web we imagined back in the 90s. However, as much as this appeals to my anarchist sensibilities, again the implementation of such an endeavour would require the support of the exact organisations that are most likely to fight against it. While I’d like to be proved wrong, the core shift that this would require seems a step too far.
An enjoyable talk, with some really interesting ideas at its core, Olsina’s talk will have no doubt left attendees with a lot to think about. While blockchain is seemingly ubiquitous on various social platforms, it tends to seldom be accompanied by any logical or analytical approach to its possible implementation, so it was especially interesting to see some predictions backed with some thought and analysis.