You should never laugh at people from the past, unless you’re comfortable with future generations mocking you. But it’s still funny to think that in the early days of radio, families used to gather in front of their giant, sideboard-sized sets and stare at them while they listened.
New technologies always come with a steep learning curve; it takes time to learn how to use them effectively and understand how profoundly they will change our lives. Bitcoin is no different. But I’m incredibly excited that this year we’re starting to see the full flowering of its potential. Zion is the perfect example.
If you haven’t caught it yet, Zion is a new decentralized social network built on the Bitcoin blockchain and the Lightning Network. In the company’s own words, it’s designed “to facilitate the free and open flow of content and payments between creative people and their audiences.” Its unique selling point is that it puts content providers directly in touch with their audiences; with no middleman or ads, creatives can earn satoshis directly from viewers, while every user benefits from “full sovereignty over their digital experience, absolute freedom of expression, and irrevocable custody over their personal information.”
Zion has come along at exactly the right moment. It takes advantage of the latest developments in layer-two technologies to enable fast, reliable bitcoin transactions. As tech titans intensify their censorship of the public square, it provides a radical new way for any creative person to take advantage of the long, slow decline of traditional broadcasting.
The future of decentralization in entertainment — especially television — has been apparent since “Me at the Zoo” became the first video on YouTube. It might not be groundbreaking television, but this video was every bit as revolutionary as the Lumière Brothers’ films that made the first cinema-goers (supposedly) stampede because they thought the train on the screen would run them over.
Thanks in large part to YouTube, fewer and fewer people today limit themselves to what’s served up on television. They’re watching gaming videos from the likes of JuegaGerman (44 million subscribers); and some of the biggest names on the planet interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience (11 million). You can even watch the ultimate in “slow TV”: two Shropshire mechanics who have spent seven years (and counting) rebuilding a BMC Mini and refitting it with a 2-litre, turbocharged engine.
In other words, there’s something for everyone. Yet YouTube itself is the opposite of decentralization. It’s a megalith, a monopoly where anyone can be a content creator as long as they accept ads, give a large cut of their revenue to YouTube, and abide by its strict rules.
What makes Zion so exciting is that it represents an extremely low-cost, censorship-resistant and truly decentralized TV channel. You own your own content and community. It’s fully private, but easy to use and fully scalable. It's decentralization done right, and the first glimpse of what Web 3.0 — the decentralized web — will look like.
And this speaks to one of the biggest and most consistent misunderstandings in the crypto community regarding decentralization: that a new coin or "smart" blockchain is the optimal way of achieving it or is even required. The simple truth is that, more often than not, a blockchain is a suboptimal solution.
There are only a few use cases that have been proven to be best solved with a blockchain. Storing value for a zero inflation hard money and providing a base layer for a high-speed, privacy-preserving payment network are two of the most prominent examples. It's no coincidence that Bitcoin was, is, and continues to be the best crypto for these use cases.
What Zion demonstrates is that Bitcoin and Lightning can be the building blocks for a range of highly functional decentralized services. As more of these services appear that are better in every important way over their alt-blockchain brethren, this fact will become ever more clear.
When I grew up, there were just three television channels in the UK (four when Channel 4 launched in 1982). The idea that one day there would be a channel for every conceivable interest would have sounded, like any sufficiently advanced technology, absolutely magical. That’s what Bitcoin’s detractors seem incapable of understanding: they are not dealing with a digital currency, but a philosophy of decentralization that will transform everything it touches. Thanks to Bitcoin, decentralization is coming to a screen near you, and it will make using traditional centralized social networks as ridiculous as staring at the radio.