Qatar Blockchain Experiments Can Help Rescue Country From Sudden Isolation

    

Blockchain could come to Qatar’s rescue after four Middle Eastern countries cut ties

with the country over its alleged support of terrorism. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced they had severed diplomatic and transport ties on Monday while neighboring Pakistan said it currently had “no intention” of following them. The Financial Times quotes a Saudi news agency stating the government enacted the policy for the “protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”

Qatari sources reacted saying the collective move “was founded on allegations that have no basis in fact.” While the government added it would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents,” Qatar’s isolation could provide a timely opportunity for disruptive innovation to take hold. The country has been an active participant in Blockchain experimentation, specifically in its banking sector, with pilot schemes being successfully completed for money transfers in April.

“We have just started blockchain, a cutting-edge technology that will be used for remittances. We are the first bank in Qatar to actually pilot this approach,” Joseph Abraham, CEO of the Commercial Bank of Qatar, told local news resource The Peninsula last month. Of the four states pressuring Qatar, the UAE and increasingly Bahrain are also becoming major players in Blockchain.

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Some of the world's biggest central securities depositories (CSDs)

are uniting to build their own blockchain consortium. Informally called the CSD Working Group on DLT, and comprised of institutions tasked with holding vast amounts of the world's financial instruments, the fledgling consortium is emerging from talks that have been ongoing since last year. While the formal membership of the group has yet to be revealed, CoinDesk has learned that early participants of the exploratory effort met last month in London and that the work is ongoing.

Hosted by 'Big Four' consulting firm EY, the meeting was designed to give the companies, including the DTCC, Canada’s CDS, the Moscow Exchange Group and South Africa's Strate, a better understanding of how blockchain technology might change their roles in the future. In interview, the director of Moscow Exchange Group’s National Settlement Depository, Artem Duvanov, explained to CoinDesk the origins of the idea for the consortium and its mission going forward.

He told CoinDesk:

"We realized there are lots of consortia, but mostly they are for banks. If we talk about CSDs, we don't have our own consortium aimed to our needs. The idea was to create one."

What started as informal conversations last October have since evolved into the more formal working group, with members including Russia’s National Securities Depository, Switzerland’s SIX Securities Services, the Nordic subsidiary of Nasdaq and Chile's DCV. Last week, members of the group published the first results of its partnership: a document describing the product requirements for a proxy voting solution for general meetings, built using distributed ledger technology and 'synchronized' with Swift's messaging standard.

Using an unspecified technology, the proposal requires that the platform should accommodate up to 100,000 voting parties and conduct at least 50 transactions per second. While the official stated objective of the working group is to demonstrate the business value of the technology, Duvanov and Strate CEO Monica Singer revealed to CoinDesk that that is only part of the minimum viable product being tested. And, though not every member of the working group appears to have been involved in the London meeting, a second objective of the group is to show the value of collaboration in its own right. "Basically, we proved that both hypothesis are true," said Duvanov.

Network effects

As intermediators, CSDs might at first glance seem ripe to be cut out of the transaction flow by a shared, distributed ledger. But according to Singer, who 20 years ago helped digitize South Africa's paper-based settlement process, the distributed nature of CSDs actually makes them perfect adopters of the technology. Global central securities depositories are broken up into six regions, including the Americas' Central Securities Depositories Association (ACSDA), the European Central Securities Depositories Association (ECSDA) and the Africa & Middle East Depositories Association (AMEDA).

To fully capitalize on that distribution the goal of the consortium, according to Singer, who is also the vice president of AMEDA, is to gather leading CSDs from each of the regions, and then grow from there. Singer echoed a sentiment also expressed by Duvanov that each depository on its own is already largely optimized to provide the best possible service to banks, brokers and other financial institutions, but that efficiencies can be achieved in the overarching network. By working together to ensure that CSDs from each region are represented, Singer said the consortium could potentially unleash network effects previously unimagined by any single member.

Singer said:

"I have a mandate from my region that whatever we discover in the blockchain space I will bring it to the region, and I will bring it with me. So you want to uplift everybody."

Focus on standards

Still, even as the members are expected to share knowledge about how to optimize their services for blockchain, Duvanov emphasized they are not currently building a single solution. Rather, each group is building its own platform designed to interoperate with the others. For example, in May, CoinDesk reported on the Moscow Exchange Group's e-proxy voting solution built using Hyperledger Fabric, and in February we reported on Strate’s early experiments using Chain, Hyperledger, Corda and ethereum.

To help ensure each consortium member’s technology interoperates, Duvanov said he met early on with Swift's head of standards, Stephen Lindsay, in an effort to align the various efforts with the ISO20022 messaging standard. "We don’t have the ambition yet to create a new standard," said Duvanov. "We are just trying to ensure that we are all moving in the same direction." Swift's head of research and development, Damien Vanderveken, confirmed with CoinDesk in a statement that his company was providing support to the working group to help them leverage existing business standards for the distributed ledger technology application.

"ISO 20022 will provide a great foundation, in terms of both existing business content and approach," said Vanderveken. "That can accelerate the implementation and acceptance of DLT technology for industrial solutions." As for Singer, she expects the founding membership to consist of the DTCC, Canada’s CDS, The Moscow Exchange Group and Strate, while Duvanov predicted the group could include as many as six depositories. Not all CSDs belonging to the working group are actively participating in the development of proxy voting case. However, Duvanov expects more members will eventually take part. "When we start moving this working group closer to  standardization, I think the everyone will participate more closely," he said.

Expanded applications

Currently, the potential founding members of the CSD consortium are in discussions to help define the parameters of the collaborative effort, according to Duvanov – a process he expects to end in the coming months. In addition to seeking more efficient ways of voting using blockchain tech, Singer says a proof-of-concept is currently being tested for an undisclosed application that, if successful, could eventually help connect the US and Canada. Further, Duvanov reported early work conducted by Russia's NSD to move commercial papers to a blockchain is also being considered for possible integration.

Duvanov concluded:

"The next step will be to create the consortium, which will be an official legal entity and it will not be limited to one use case, it will have many use cases."

 

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Why Your Sales Team Needs Inbound Marketing Strategy
    

Real time is a new mindset in marketing,

and that is what inbound marketing is all about. Interruptive sales approaches include telemarketing calls, direct mail, email spam, print advertising, television and radio ads, interstitial and transitional online and pre-rolls ads. And you know what? Your customers are fed up with these outdated and traditional approaches. In the digital era, outbound sales practices such as the ones mentioned above are losing their effectiveness rapidly.

Inbound marketing strategy is the new kid on the block!

Rather than pushing your product/service to consumers, an inbound approach focuses on educating them about a particular offering. Inbound marketing is a type of permission-based marketing which concentrates on presenting offers and related information to people who are actively looking for the same product/service. There are several ways to increase your leads, but the most effective way is to increase your lead capture rate. An inbound marketing approach could also help your sales team in maximizing this rate. So how does this methodology help your sales team in boosting their work productivity? Let’s find out…

Why your sales team needs an inbound marketing strategy ASAP!

Saves Time and Money (and a lot of it)

A primary advantage of the inbound methodology is that you can easily identify your customer’s behavior and develop a precise buyer persona. This approach saves a lot of money and time for your sales team as they can quickly eliminate all the leads which don’t match the persona. Your sales team can easily identify the ideal prospect which enables them to focus more on the leads that require more attention, in terms of calls or in-person meetings.

Helps you get more Qualified Leads

Sales teams wind up losing tremendous time and effort on low quality leads. With inbound marketing, you can improve your lead quality by running more relevant and effective campaigns. Let’s say your sales team is using a CRM to track conversions. With inbound marketing, your sales rep can record all their activities in the CRM and send it to the marketing team to review. Your marketing team can then check all the logs and collaborate easily with the sales team for better feedback. This invaluable data enables marketing department to learn more about the effectiveness of each campaign and improve the buyer persona in the future. These small improvements can generate high quality leads for your sales team in the future.

Inbound methodology attracts a customer base that is truly interested in your product or service. By offering the most valuable and relevant content to visitors, the entire process not only assists your sales team in getting better leads but also provides a huge amount of relevant content to share during the sales process. As a result, you can build your own loyal customer base. This method also helps amplify  the reach of your content which boosts your chances of getting more qualified leads.

Enables Collaboration Between Sales & Marketing teams! (smarketing!)

In most companies, sales and marketing teams tend to have a troubled relationship.There is no alignment between both teams and blame games are quite common. Inbound marketing strategy plays cupid between both teams! Inbound methodology increases collaboration between ales and marketing teams through a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This agreement:

  • Holds both teams accountable to each other
  • Measures outcomes of respective teams
  • Helps in determining exactly what is going wrong if enough leads aren’t being generated.

The whole process creates a unified sales and marketing alignment or as we like to call it – Smarketing

Facilitates meaningful Sales Conversations:

Gone are the days when a sales rep closes a deal by blabbering a few persuasive words. Due to information explosion on the digital platform, people refuse to accept traditional sales gimmicks. In inbound marketing, the role of a sales rep is more of an educator than a hardcore seller. By understanding the buyer persona and buyer journey of a customer, a sales rep can have a much more meaningful communication with the prospect. By determining interest levels of a customer and establishing a plan beforehand, your sales team can close deals armed with relevant knowledge about the prospect. Has your sales team considered going inbound? Or have you already adopted the inbound route? How well did it work out for you?

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OneGram Sharia Compliant, Gold-Backed Cryptocurrency Announces ICO

OneGram, the first ever Sharia-compliant gold-backed cryptocurrency announces the launch of its ICO.

    

Dubai holds the distinction of being the financial capital of the Islamic world.

Now, a firm based out of the Emirate has decided to redefine the digital “gold standard” with OneGram, while factoring in the 1.6 billion followers of the Islamic faith. The gold-backed cryptocurrency has announced its ICO at the recently concluded Consensus 2017.

OneGram calls itself the world’s first Sharia-compliant cryptocurrency whose value is backed by actual gold reserves. Hailed as a Bitcoin alternative for the Islamic world, the ICO was announced to coincide with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. The OneGram platform is aiming to raise a total of $500 million against 12 million OneGram tokens (OGC).

In the recent press release, the CEO of OneGram, Ibrahim Mohammed is quoted saying,

“We are very pleased with early support for the OGC token crowdsale from the cryptocurrency and Islamic finance communities. More than 1,000 people have registered for GoldGuard accounts to participate, and the number is growing each day as we prepare to launch our crowdsale in alignment with Ramadan.”

The ICO will go on for 120 days, and the purchase of OGC tokens during the crowdsale will also include a 10% fee which will be utilized by the platform for business development, marketing costs, operational costs, and salaries. In the release, the company also states that each OGC will have a 1% transaction fee associated with it, of which 70% will be reinvested to buy more gold reserves.

Those buying OGC tokens will have to create an account on GoldGuard and purchase gold at live spot rates. The platform has announced that a portion of the proceeds from collected purchase fees will be used for charity donations and PoS mining rewards. This is not the first time someone has created a gold-backed cryptocurrency. There are various initiatives which revolve around the same core concept. However, unlike the rest, OneGram will have a much greater appeal to devout Muslims who prefer to follow the Islamic laws. With a huge target population, OGC has a huge potential in front of it, which could be realized in due time.

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Startup Raises $35 Million in 30 Seconds With Crypto-Currency Offering

 

    

 

In the world of crypto-currencies—the most famous of which is bitcoin—

the hottest trend is what's called an "initial coin offering," in which companies sell crypto-currency tokens to their supporters as a method of crowdfunding. How hot is it? On Wednesday, a startup called Brave launched a coin offering to fund a new web browser and raised the equivalent of $35 million in about 30 seconds, according to CoinDesk. Brave is the brainchild of Brendan Eich, the co-founder of the Mozilla Foundation, maker of the original Mozilla browser. Eich's new web browser is designed so that users can make micropayments to web publishers they like using crypto-currency, based on how many articles they read.

"We are pleased with the sale, and we're looking forward to disrupting digital advertising and building a user-centric platform for supporting the Web," Eich told CoinDesk. The Brave browser's payment system uses what are called Basic Attention Tokens, whose value is based on the crypto-currency known as Ethereum, a popular alternative to bitcoin. Eich has said his company plans to release the code behind the tokens as open source so that anyone can build publishing systems or services that use them for payment.

Although the use of crypto-currencies puts a new spin on it, the history of micropayments for content is littered with failures, including a litany of strange-sounding digital would-be payment systems such as Beenz and Flooz. That said, however, some appear to be extremely interested in Brave's tokens. The coin offering was so popular that some would-be investors complained they had no chance to even make a bid. A single investor bought almost $5 million worth in a single trade, CoinDesk said.

Only about 130 people were able to buy tokens in the offering, and five buyers got close to half of all the available supply, according to a Bitcoin exchange that analyzed the sale. Initial coin offerings are seen by some as an alternative to traditional share offerings. Instead of equity, backers get tokens that can be converted into units of a crypto-currency like bitcoin or Ethereum. Crypto-currencies generate value through a process called "mining," which involves the computation of complex mathematical formulas. Regulators have said they are looking into initial coin offerings to see if they should be treated the same as equity offerings, but for now they are largely unregulated.

Investor Balaji Srinivasan said in a recent essay that he believes crypto-currency tokens could eventually generate more money for the technology industry than all of the Internet-related equity offerings that have taken place to date. He called the token economy "a Kickstarter on steroids," referring to the popular crowdfunding platform. Kik, a Canadian company that makes a popular messaging app, said recently that it would launch its own crypto-currency called Kin with an initial coin offering within the next few months. Like the tokens that Brave sold, Kik's currency will be based on Ethereum.

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Amid Bitcoin Trading Resurgence,
Chinese Miners Shut Down Without Warning

    

A strange phenomenon is unfolding in China

as Bitcoin miners mysteriously close down or relocate their operations. Mines in the country’s Sichuan province were “reluctant” to discuss the reasons for withdrawal, major news resource People.cn reports. Bitcoin has recently continued its expanding price as Chinese exchanges get the green light to allow Bitcoin withdrawals. As traders delight in the new possibilities for sanctioned exchange use, however, a lack of corresponding regulation for miners is causing problems.

“A local official said the closure of the Bajiaoxi Mining Company aims at cracking down on illegal cash operations and on controlling systemic risks,” People reports, while no party was directly cited giving an explanation for the upset. Sichuan’s hydroelectric power is among the world’s cheapest, but the departure of miners is set to cost one power station $147,000 per month in lost billing. At a time when Bitcoin fees are higher than ever, the effect on miners themselves is also significant. “The southwestern region has abundant hydropower resources,” an “insider” source told fellow publication YiCai Global. “So electricity costs about half the price during the wet season. It’s hard to imagine why any mine would want to relocate now.”

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What if the bitcoin bubble bursts?

Is the latest frenzy like tulip-mania, a gold rush or the dotcom boom?

MARKETS frequently froth and bubble, but the boom in bitcoin, a digital currency, is extraordinary. Although its price is down from an all-time high of $2,420 on May 24th, it has more than doubled in just two months. Anyone clever or lucky enough to have bought $1,000 of bitcoins in July 2010, when the price stood at $0.05, would now have a stash worth $46m. Other cryptocurrencies have soared, too, giving them a collective market value of about $80bn.

   

Ascents this steep are rarely sustainable.

More often than not, the word “bitcoin” now comes attached to the word “bubble”. But the question of what has driven up the price is important. Is this just a speculative mania, or is it evidence that bitcoin is taking on a more substantial role as a medium of exchange or a store of value? Put another way, is bitcoin like a tulip, gold or the dollar—or is it something else entirely?

Start with the case that this is nothing more than a virtual tulipmania, a speculative hysteria in which a rising price encourages ever more buyers, no matter what the asset is. Bitcoin’s recent trajectory certainly seems manic. Retail investors have piled in. Many already familiar with bitcoin investing have moved on to bet on alternatives, such as Ethereum, and “initial coin offerings” (ICOs), in which firms issue digital tokens of their own.

It looks like a scammers’ paradise, yet unlike tulips, bitcoins have real uses. They now buy everything from pizzas to computers. So if a tulip isn’t the right analogue, how about gold? Bitcoins certainly seem to bear more than a passing resemblance. Goldbugs mistrust governments and their money-printing tendencies; so too do bitcoinesseurs: no central bank is in charge of bitcoin. But a store of value should not bounce around as much as this one does: bitcoin swung from more than $1,100 in late 2013 to less than $200 a year later, before climbing, in fits and starts, to its current dizzying heights.

Rather than being just a form of digital gold, bitcoin aspires to loftier goals: to be a means of exchange like the euro, yen or the dollar. Regulators are starting to take bitcoin seriously. Some of the price surge can be explained by Japan’s decision to treat bitcoin more like any other currency. Yet the bitcoin system is operating at its limits and its developers cannot agree on how to increase the number of exchanges the system is able to handle. As a result, a transaction now costs nearly $4 in fees on average and takes many tedious hours to confirm. For convenience, a dollar bill beats it hands down.

Not so dotty

If bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are unlike anything else, what are they? The best comparison may be with the internet and the dotcom boom it created in the late 1990s. Like the internet, cryptocurrencies both embody innovation and give rise to more of it. They are experiments in themselves of how to maintain a public database (the “blockchain”) without anybody in particular, a bank, say, being in charge. Georgia, for instance, is using the technology to secure government records (see article). And blockchains are platforms for further experiments. Take Ethereum, for example. It allows all kinds of projects, from video games to online markets, to raise funds by issuing tokens—essentially private money that can be traded and used within these projects. Although such ICOs need to be handled with care, they could also generate intriguing inventions. Fans hope that they will give rise to decentralised upstarts taking aim at today’s oligopolistic technology giants, such as Amazon and Facebook.

This may seem like a dangerous way to generate innovation. Investors could lose their shirts; a crash in one asset class could spread to others, creating wobbles in the financial system. But in the case of cryptocurrencies such risks seem limited. It is hard to argue that those buying cryptocurrencies are unaware of the risks. And since they are still a fairly self-contained system, contagion is unlikely.

If there is such a thing as a healthy bubble, this is it. To be sure, regulators should watch out that cryptocurrencies do not become even more of a conduit for criminal activity, such as drug dealing. But they should think twice before coming down hard, particularly on ICOs. Being too spiky would not just prick a bubble, but also prevent a lot of the useful innovation that is likely to come about at the same time. This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Virtual vertigo"

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Walmart Wants to Track Delivery Drones With Blockchain Tech

  

Retail giant Walmart is seeking to patent a system

that uses blockchain technology to track packages delivered by unmanned drones. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published the application, innocuously titled "Unmanned Aerial Delivery to Secure Location", on 25th May, and while that title may not give away much of Walmart's plans, the application itself reveals further details. As outlined, the retailer is looking at blockchain tech as a way to track shipments that involve flying drones.

The patent application explains:

"In some embodiments, the delivery box may also include a delivery encryption system comprising a blockchain for package tracking and authentication. Package tracking by blockchain may include elements including but not limited to location, supply chain transition, authentication of the courier and customer, ambient temperature of the container, temperature of the product if available, acceptable thresholds for ambient temperature of the product, package contents placed in the container system (products & goods), or a combination thereof."

It's a notable release from the global retailer, which has revealed some of its work with blockchain in the past. For example, last October, Walmart announced that it was working with IBM to develop a supply chain solution focused on China’s pork market, the largest in the world.

At the time, the retailer indicated that it was looking to apply the tech to other supply chains. And while it provided no hint that it was looking at blockchain as an underlying mechanism for aerial drones, Walmart told CoinDesk that it wanted to leverage blockchain to facilitate "fresher and faster deliveries". The application also details how the tech could be used to establish identity within the package system. "Authentication and access may be restricted to specific blockchain keys to access the contents of a parcel's payload, and may include specific times and locations," the authors write. "Access to the contents may be determined at the scheduling and purchase of a delivery or products."

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Governments may be big backers of
the blockchain

An anti-establishment technology faces an ironic turn of fortune

  

Nondescript building housing rows of humming computer servers

IN THE hills overlooking Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital sits nondescript building housing rows of humming computer servers. The data centre, operated by the BitFury Group, a technology company, was built to “mine” (cryptographically generate) bitcoin, the digital currency. But now it also uses the technology underlying Bitcoin, called the “blockchain”, to help secure Georgian government records. Experts are eyeing the experiment for proof of whether blockchain technology could alter the infrastructure of government everywhere. While the blockchain originally sought a foothold in financial services, and digital currencies attracted early attention from investors, now interest in using the technology in the public sector is growing. Brian Forde, a blockchain expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that governments will drive its adoption—an ironic twist for something that began as a libertarian counter model to centralized authority. Backers say it can be used for land registries, identity-management systems, health-care records and even elections.

The blockchain and similarly distributed ledgers are databases that are not maintained by a single entity, such as a bank or government agency, but collectively by a number of their users. All changes are encrypted in such a way that they cannot be altered or deleted without leaving a record of the data’s earlier state. In theory, all sorts of information, from birth records to business transactions, can be baked into a blockchain, creating permanent and secure records which cannot be tampered with, for instance by corrupt officials. Fans argue that, if properly implemented, distributed ledgers can bring improvements in transparency, efficiency, and trust. Naysayers respond that wider adoption may reveal security flaws. It is certainly early days for the blockchain: some compare it to the internet in the early 1990s, so growing pains are sure to follow. And blockchains can always be only part of the solution: no technology can turn crooked leaders straight and keep them, for instance, from feeding in spurious data.

Creating robust standards will also take time. And integrating databases across vast and complex bureaucracies will need huge investment. Yet governments do not seem fazed. According to a recent IBM survey of government leaders (conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company), nine in ten government organizations say they plan to invest in blockchain technology to help manage financial transactions, assets, contracts and regulatory compliance by next year. Valery Vavilov, BitFury’s head, says blockchains are not merely a business opportunity, but a way to change how governments serve their citizens. Born in Latvia, Mr. Vavilov watched as his parents “lost everything” after the Soviet Union collapsed. He then spent his early professional life writing software for the new Latvian government. He came to believe that blockchains could become the “foundation to build a trusted, transparent and auditable system”.

Elsewhere, Sweden is testing a blockchain-based land registry and Dubai wants distributed ledgers to power its entire government by 2020. The most active early adopters, however, have been former Soviet republics. Estonia, recognized as a pioneer in e-government, has long used blockchain-like technologies to secure health records and undergird its shared government database system, X-Road. Being a young country has its advantages. “It can be much easier to build a digital society if there are no legacy systems and you can start from scratch,” says Kaspar Korjus, head of Estonia’s e-residency program.

With BitFury’s help, Georgia’s National Agency of Public Registry has recently moved its land registry onto the blockchain. Some 160,000 registrations have already been processed. Thea Tsulukiani, the country’s Minister of Justice, believes that the blockchain will mean Georgian citizens can “sleep quietly” when it comes to property rights. The main barrier to an introduction, officials say, has not been technical, but educational. Even Ms. Tsulukiani did not know what the blockchain was when her deputies first proposed to use the technology. “We want to move slowly in terms of explaining to society, and quickly in terms of implementation,” she says.

BitFury has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Ukraine, which wants to become “one of the world’s leading blockchain nations”. The country’s e-governance agency sees the technology as a way to address “historic distrust of government,” says Aleksey Vyskub, its deputy's head. The agency has plans for all kinds of blockchain-based registries, including of land and businesses. As with most reforms in Ukraine, efforts to launch these projects have faced resistance from the entrenched bureaucracy. Yet, explains Mr. Vyskub, the technology’s novelty and complexity have provided some cover: “Most officials don’t understand what we’re doing, so they don’t sense the threat.”

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