Novel Charts Dark Side of ICO Mania

Novel Charts Dark Side of ICO Mania

(Sebastian Herrmann/Unsplash)

The initial coin offering boom of 2017 and 2018 was the closest crypto came to mass adoption.

It was a period of market and media exuberance. The Gray Lady, aka the New York Times, perhaps looking to court the new taste-makers and the , published think pieces about the and the . 

About 1,000 different token projects raised over two years, according to CoinDesk Research. To put it in perspective, that’s approximately half the gross domestic product of , the country with the smallest GDP at that time. Unlike the natural resources and this tiny Pacific island nation cashes in on, the majority of token projects turned out to be vaporware. 

Many petered out . Some were . A few became , (for the wrong reasons). 

Haydn Wilks, a Welsh author, has memorialized the era in his second novel, “,” published this month by Dead Bird Press. It’s a story of grift and determination, about the revolutionary potentials of distributed technology and how fortunes were made and lost in an instant.

We caught up with the to discuss his work, his experiences during the ICO boom and the latest in crypto. 

In the novel, you walk the line between celebrating the potential technological benefits of crypto and also showing how some ICOs were get-rich schemes. Where do you find your own thoughts on the matter: Is crypto revolutionary, or is it a story people are trying to sell?

I think that there are elements of both sides that are true. A lot of the tech was and is truly ground-breaking, cutting-edge stuff. But there were also a lot of ICOs launched purely with the intention of making as much [money] as possible as quickly as possible. And it was often very hard to distinguish between them.

OysterPearl is one project that’s mentioned briefly in the novel – that was based on a unique idea that many saw real potential in, using visitors to a website’s computing power for storage as an alternative to serving advertising to generate money for the website. But the founder of Oyster Pearl was completely anonymous and even those working for the project didn’t know his real identity. The guy behind it built a vulnerability into the that allowed him to produce a load of new coins, sell them and disappear into anonymity while the project collapsed.

When did you come into crypto or become aware of it? If you’re still following the developments, does anything strike you for its artistic potential? 

I was aware of Bitcoin for years before I really got into it. I’m not sure of the exact date, but maybe in 2012 or 2013 I tried to get into it, but it was a lot more difficult to get started in those days. I remember trying to download a copy of the blockchain to my PC, thinking that was the only way to set up a Bitcoin wallet! By 2017, you had much more user-friendly ways of buying cryptocurrency with fiat currency.

Freelance writing work around the crypto space became more difficult to find as the 2017 hype died away. By 2019, most of the sites I’d worked for had become unprofitable and were no longer commissioning new articles, so I’ve not been keeping up with new developments in the space as closely as I was in the past. But I think the big projects like Ethereum have continued becoming more and more integrated into the tech and so I’m sure that there are a lot of interesting new stories to be told.

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