It has been much hyped, but could blockchain really be as significant and disruptive as the internet?
The Long Island Iced Tea Company, as its name suggests, was in the business of selling beverages. And not as many as it might have liked: it lost nearly $4m (£3.2m) in the third quarter of 2017.
Then the company announced that it would henceforth be known as the Long Blockchain Corporation. Would it stop selling beverages? No. Would it sell beverages using blockchain? Maybe. It would do something to do with blockchain. Maybe. Probably.
What is blockchain? And what does it have to do with Long Island Iced Tea?
Blockchain is the technology which underpins Bitcoin and other digital currencies. It is a database of financial transactions which is saved on multiple computers and which constantly grows as new transactions or “blocks” are added to it, forming a continuous and public chain of data.
Blockchain may still be in its infancy, but venture capitalists are already pouring billions into start-ups with more clearly defined plans than the Long Island Iced Tea Company’s. Even Facebook is getting involved.
And billions more are being raised in the regulatory grey area of initial coin offerings, where companies raise money by selling digital currency to investors.
Enthusiasts say blockchain could become as disruptive as the internet, comparing the technology to the World Wide Web in the 1990s. At that time, many people were clear it would become important – but few really understood it, or foresaw its potential and limitations.
So what problem is blockchain trying to solve, and should we believe the hype?