What is David Marcus playing at with blockchain technology?

David Marcus
Image credit: tomertu / Shutterstock.com

When David Marcus left PayPal to join Facebook, we wondered what on earth he was thinking. PayPal was obviously on a trajectory of success. He not only joined Facebook, but also joined to head up a tiny part of Facebook called Messenger. At the time Messenger was, well, about sending messages, in a burgeoning world of message sending apps. No one saw the point, except, obviously, David Marcus.

In the time that Marcus has been leading Messenger, it has grown by a billion users, opened up to 200,000 developers and become the platform that people use to run their social lives.

About a year after he joined Messenger, a conversation about what 20-somethings use to communicate and manage their lives almost came to a standstill. Messenger was the obvious answer to the point that the question seemed really dumb.

So when Marcus is the pivot in the latest Facebook restructure and he is off to lead a small team to do ‘something from scratch’ with blockchain, you have to pay attention.

This could be Marcus’ Achilles Heel, given the recent backlash against Facebook. The company could just be jumping on the buzzword bandwagon to keep us interested and believing that Facebook is finally maturing.

Or … it could be something really different and big.

The problem with the ‘something really different and big’ speculation is that blockchain is not in the ascendency. Not right now. On the contrary, a recent CIO survey that Gartner carried out says that only 1% of CIOs have done anything significant with blockchain at all, while 77% have no plans whatsoever to so much as sneeze at it. In fact, the feeling is generally that, once again, we have found a solution for things that don’t need answers yet.

Of course, it’s early days – there are applications for blockchain out there, and there are a number of high-profile trials. But it is about to hit the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ because people can’t get their heads around it.

“Can we use blockchain for [insert process]?” people will ask.

“Sure, it’s distributed ledger tech, for goodness sake,” will be the reply.

And then someone will point out that “we can do it with what we have, but cheaper” and suddenly everyone is wondering what the fuss is about.

But, as The Man from Gartner points out, “How quickly different industry players navigate the Trough of Disillusionment will be as much about the psychological acceptance of the innovations that blockchain brings as the technology itself.”

While the industry tries to second guess what Marcus has in mind (and, boy, are there a lot of second guesses), it is safe to say that Marcus is definitely someone who will get through the Trough of Disillusionment in about a nanosecond and will be thinking two, three or four years ahead.

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