As far as the general public is concerned, the world of the blockchain is still fairly obscure, but France has nothing to be ashamed of vis-à-vis its English-speaking counterparts when it comes to facilitating and encouraging its use.
Clément Jeanneau has published, together with co-authors Antoine Yeretzian, Alexandre Stachtchenko and Claire Balva, a book entitled La Blockchain décryptée, les clés d'une révolution (The Blockchain demystified, the keys to a revolution). Written (in French only) in partnership with Netexplo, an international observatory on Internet and digital technology, the book provides a layman’s explanation of this new phenomenon, with the same basic objective as Blockchain France, the startup founded by the authors – i.e. to help business and industry to understand and deploy blockchain solutions.
Your aim is to raise awareness of the blockchain and its various applications among French companies. Do you think we’re at a pivotal moment?
Well, we created Blockchain France in early September, after we came to realise that if you do a Google search on the term ‘blockchain’, very few results come up in French. This reveals a real lack of information in this country with regard to the blockchain ecosystem and highlights the huge difference from the English-speaking world, which has already been getting ready for this revolution.
We didn’t want France to fall behind in such an important field. So we set ourselves the goal of spreading the word on the subject, starting by writing informative articles.
We hear a lot about Bitcoin but of course the blockchain isn’t limited to the financial sector. What are the other applications?
That’s right. We can distinguish three basic ways of using the blockchain. First of all, to transfer assets, Bitcoin being one of those applications. But there may also be others, based on what is known as metadata. You could for example transfer votes, shares or bonds.
The second usage is as a register. Basically I should just point out that a blockchain is nothing more or less than a distributed, secure database. This means that a register can be set up for example in the luxury goods sector or for land surveys. In the luxury goods sector, you have a startup called Everledger, which graduated from the Allianz Accelerator in Nice. This company offers a registration service on the blockchain for diamonds as a means of verifying their authenticity and combating diamond counterfeiting and theft. But going forward Everledger also intends to expand to other areas of the luxury goods market, then handbags and later on watches.
The third way of using the blockchain is for what are known as smart contracts. These are autonomous programmes that automatically execute conditions defined in advance. This way of using the blockchain is still very tentative, but it could prove to be very powerful.
Can we also find any applications in the health sector?
Currently there are very few names in this field in France which stand out. However, a Hackathon was held recently at ‘Ecole 42’, the private French computer programming university, and we should also mention the BlockPharma initiative, which provides a blockchain-based prescription-checking service. But there are other possibilities: we might for example envisage using the blockchain to manage personal medical data so that patients can take back and keep control of their own medical files.
What are the current obstacles to the development of the blockchain in France?
They’re exactly the same ones we find all over the world at the moment. There are two types of limitations. Firstly, technical limitations mean that for example at the moment you can’t execute more than seven transactions per second on the Bitcoin blockchain, compared with an average of 2,000 per second on the Visa network.
See our article on TheDAO smart contract hack
Secondly, there are cultural obstacles and user experience obstacles because using crypto-data doesn’t come easy to everyone. We often make the comparison with the invention of the Internet before the Web. For the moment, people’s relationship with the blockchain is a bit like that of Internet users in the 90s: some application layers still remain to be developed before anyone and everyone is able to use the blockchain. One might even go so far as to say that the blockchain will only be accounted a success when when we all use it without even knowing we’re doing so.
On 24 March France’s legislature, the National Assembly, held a symposium on the blockchain. Do you think that this ‘buy-in’ by politicians indicates that the blockchain is now set to become more widely used?
Well, France certainly isn’t lagging behind. There have been a number of amendments submitted, one by the government very recently and two by a representative of the ‘Républicains’ party. And outside of politics, companies are beginning to show interest. Some are now looking to draw up the first Proofs of Concept (PoCs).
See our article on the blockchain as a means of promoting renewable energies
But of course France is not yet leading the way by comparison with the English-speaking world. However, it’s interesting to see that momentum is steadily building in this field. But I believe it’s important that the authorities recognise the importance of the blockchain and not hold back. This official recognition will then send a strong message to entrepreneurs, developers and above all researchers, who ought to be getting involved in this technology as a matter of urgency.