China’s first ever blockathon shows blockchain is a global endeavor

As a technology, blockchain is a global endeavor. Capital no longer flows through banks. Developers are scarce so teams are often remote. And even the hype is not contained to any one geography.

In the People Squared co-working space in Zhongguancun this past weekend a joint Australian-Chinese “blockathon” (blockchain hackathon) was held in Beijing.

This was the first “blockathon” in China. Sydney’s open source blockchain community bitfwd went on tour after launching the hackathon in Sydney last year.

A global community endeavor

While there is a strong flow of Chinese people, capital, and projects in the blockchain space, there is also a unique global collaborative approach.

The blockchain itself is a database of transactions distributed among multiple computers. This solves two key problems in the online world: Transacting without a trusted intermediary and ensuring transactions cannot be altered, removed or reversed.

There is no middleman taking a cut.

This libertarian endeavor has meant global blockchain startup teams are famously approachable. In China, this is certainly true. Hitters Xu, “the Jack Ma of blockchain” and founder of Neo and Nebulas in China attended the blockathon and gave out business cards like candy to gleeful young programmers. There is a community building element to this technology.

Bob Jiang, a very soft-spoken man committed to blockchain and the founder of Beijing blockchain community group HiBlock and the Chinese organizer of this event exclaimed: “The blockathon is an open world to promote the spirit of blockchain. HiBlock and bitfwd came together to build community and help people to better understand blockchain applications.”

Forget 996, “the crypto world never sleeps”

There are reasons why Beijing is a crypto center according to prominent global blockchain investor Sonic Zhang: “The sheer amount of lines of code written here” by the deep pools of developer talent.

And forget 996, “the crypto world never sleeps.” 996 is the now well-known phrase that Chinese startups work 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. Zhang quipped that your crypto workday is only regulated by when the sun comes up.

Daniel Bar, creator of the blockathon series and founder of Sydney’s bitfwd community and open source project Tenzorum agrees. “We’re putting together a global open source project as a collaboration between academics, developers, and entrepreneurs. To grow Tenzorum into a strong and healthy project, we’re nurturing the developer community to attract the best talent. It’s for a reason we made our first blockathon stop in China, the sheer developer mass, speed, and creativity you get working with Chinese developers is unparalleled.”

Tenzorum is building a decentralized key management system to make blockchains available to everyone.

Having globalized teams also helps teams to keep working in shifts. Blockchain evangelists are keen for the technology’s landscape to reach critical mass. The money is flowing with the hype but things need to be built. 

Pitches attempt to solve global problems

There were 11 teams and female participation was high, about 30% of the 100 participants. Ages varied and developer participation was high. Some produced a working demo on Github.

Some teams began with a thunderous use of the microphone, others plugged their pedigrees extensively.  But there was a noticeable focus on blockchain solutions for existing problems rather than cryptocurrency products. Refreshingly, ICOs were not mentioned once.

Trust in monetary and housing transactions was also a theme. One pitcher topically explained the problems with China’s credit history systems. Another pitched blockchain for reputation management. “Reptheruem” seeks to solve the problems facing of transparency for Google recommendations and others caused by clickbots.

Education was another theme. One team pitched a global blockchain school and another focused on gamified ideas for primary school kids to understand the economics of blockchains. That pitch attracted much criticism from judges over concerns with teaching kids about the banking system. But I thought it was forward thinking. Kids should learn about personal finances.

A dapp (decentralized app) app store attempting to provide a centralized marketplace for the blockchain world won. They wrote 10,000 lines of code over the weekend. The education school came second. Third focused on the blockchain-open AI nexus.

Still a dream

Kai Chen of Olympus Labs, a sponsor of this event said this only the beginning. “This blockathon is a great start. It’s a bigger turn out than I thought. We learned a lot from Daniel and bitfwd in Sydney. We are building a community. We want to enable others to do similar things. This is the first steps. This is a community-based revolution. So it’s global from day one. The main thing is perseverance.”

Another sponsor of the event, Robin Zhong Co-Founder of Nebulas said: “So far so good. Next time we need more developers, more teams.”

Solomon Soh, a hacker from Singapore came to this hackathon to “see the level of development in China. As governments are all looking at these issues.” He felt “the scene is vibrant in Beijing” and was glad to see from the pitches that “blockchain need not be tokenized. This was truly a grassroots event.”

“The ethos of Tenzorum project is to make decentralized technologies truly accessible to everyone. We need really accessible products for everyone. That’s why we sponsored this hack in Beijing”, said Moritz Neto, Tenzorum Co-Founder. “Education is the key. There’s hype but there’s no way for people to really easily access this technology”.

Indeed, why blockchain was needed to solve a particular problem was a constant refrain from the judges. Maybe the blockchain education teams should start up after this Blockathon.

Full disclosure: I am a member of bitfwd and the Tenzorum community.