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The WIRED Guide to Cyberwar

The WIRED Guide to Cyberwar

Hacking didn’t need to be confined to some tactic on the periphery of war: Cyberattacks could themselves be a weapon of war. It was perhaps that definition of cyberwar that President Bill Clinton had in mind in 2001 when he warned in a speech that “today, our critical systems, from power structures to air traffic control, are connected and run by computers” and that someone can sit at the same computer, hack into a computer system, and potentially paralyze a company, a city, or a government.”

Since then, that definition for cyberwar has been honed into one that was perhaps most clearly laid out in the 2010 book Cyber War, cowritten by Richard Clarke, a national security advisor to Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush, and Robert Knake, who would later serve as a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama. Clarke and Knake defined cyberwar as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purpose of causing damage or disruption.” Put more simply, that definition roughly encompasses the same things we’ve always identified as “acts of war,” only now carried out by digital means. But as the world was learning by the time Clarke and Knake wrote that definition, digital attacks have the potential to reach out beyond mere computers to have real, physical consequences.

Proto-Cyberwars

The first major historical event that could credibly fit Clarke and Knake’s definition—what some have dubbed “Web War I”—had arrived just a few years earlier. It hit one of the world’s most wired countries: Estonia.

In the the spring of 2007, an unprecedented series of so-called distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks slammed more than a hundred Estonian websites, taking down the country’s online banking, digital news media, government sites, and practically anything else that had a web presence. The attacks were a response to the Estonian government’s decision to move a Soviet-era statue out of a central location in the capital city of Tallinn, angering the country’s Russian-speaking minority and triggering protests on the city’s streets and the web.

As the sustained cyberattacks wore on for weeks, however, it became clear that they were no mere cyberriots: The attacks were coming from botnets—collections of PCs around the world hijacked with malware—that belonged to organized Russian cybercriminal groups. Some of the attacks’ sources even overlapped with earlier DDoS attacks that had a clear political focus, including attacks that hit the website of Gary Kasparov, the Russian chess champion and opposition political leader. Today security analysts widely believe that the attacks were condoned by the Kremlin, if not actively coordinated by its leaders.

By the next year, that Russian government link to politically motivated cyberattacks was becoming more apparent. Another, very similar series of DDoS attacks struck dozens of websites in another Russian neighbor, Georgia. This time they accompanied an actual physical invasion—a Russian intervention to “protect” Russia-friendly separatists within Georgia’s borders—complete with tanks rolling toward the Georgian capital and a Russian fleet blockading the country’s coastline on the Black Sea. In some cases, digital attacks would hit web targets associated with specific towns just ahead of military forces’ arrival, another suggestion of coordination.

The 2008 Georgian war was perhaps the first real hybrid war in which conventional military and hacker forces were combined. But given Georgia’s low rate of internet adoption—about 7 percent of Georgians used the internet at the time—and Russia’s relatively simplistic cyberattacks, which merely tore down and defaced websites, it stands as more of a historic harbinger of cyberwar than the real thing.

First Shots

The world’s conception of cyberwar changed forever in 2010. It started when VirusBlokAda, a security firm in Belarus, found a mysterious piece of malware that crashed the computers running its antivirus software. By September of that year, the security research community had come to the shocking conclusion that the specimen of malware, dubbed Stuxnet, was in fact the most sophisticated piece of code ever engineered for a cyberattack, and that it was specifically designed to destroy the centrifuges used in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. (That detective work is best captured in Kim Zetter’s definitive book Countdown to Zero Day.) It would be nearly two more years before The New York Times confirmed that Stuxnet was a creation of the NSA and Israeli intelligence, intended to hamstring Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear bomb.

Over the course of 2009 and 2010, Stuxnet had destroyed more than a thousand of the six-and-a-half-foot-tall aluminum centrifuges installed in Iran’s underground nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, throwing the facility into confusion and chaos. After spreading through the Iranians’ network, it had injected commands into the so-called programmable logic controllers, or PLCs, that governed the centrifuges, speeding them up or manipulating the pressure inside them until they tore themselves apart. Stuxnet would come to be recognized as the first cyberattack ever designed to directly damage physical equipment, and an act of cyberwar that has yet to be replicated in its virtuosic destructive effects. It would also serve as the starting pistol shot for the global cyber arms race that followed.

Iran soon entered that arms race, this time as aggressor rather than target. In August of 2012, the Saudi Arabian firm Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil producers, was hit with a piece of malware known as Shamoon that wiped 35,000 of the company’s computers—about three-quarters of them—leaving its operations essentially paralyzed. On the screens of the crippled machines, the malware left an image of a burning American flag. A group calling itself “Cutting Sword of Justice” claimed credit for the attack as an activist statement, but cybersecurity analysts quickly suspected that Iran was ultimately responsible, and had used the Saudis as a proxy target in retaliation for Stuxnet.

How To Use Rank Tracking To Optimize Merch by Amazon Listings

How To Use Rank Tracking To Optimize Merch by Amazon Listings

How To Use Rank Tracking To Optimize Merch by Amazon Listings

This post is also available in: German

The vast majority of Merchers use a spray and pray approach when it comes to uploading shirts. You upload your limit of shirts, and hope something sells.

This CAN work, but over the years it has gotten hard and harder, making research even that more important.

But…

Let’s say that you went through all the research steps, found a good subniche where there are buyers for your shirt designs, and you know what makes up a good design! All that is left is to list it right?

Yes and no!

The first step is listing it, using keywords in your title, bullet points and description to make a great listing for a customer. However, if you want to have a design catalog with thousands of designs that are selling monthly (and not just hoping someone buys it), then you NEED to keep an eye on your listings to optimize keywords in order to push your shirt up the rankings. The higher ranked your shirt is for specific keywords, the more sales you will make and the more royalties will flow into your account.

This works great for new listings, but also is important and something to keep in mind with sellers that you think you can grab some more volume from.

If you want to follow along in this guide and do NOT have Merch Informer, make sure to grab the 7 day free trial here: https://members.merchinformer.com/trial (no credit card required) so that we can start optimizing your shirts.

Optimizing a Merch T-Shirt Design

Keywords are what make this business go round! The better placed your keywords are, the more visibility they will have with the audience that will buy your shirts.

If you have a great design but do not take the time to optimize anything, you might be stuck at the back of 50,000 other designs with no way to get seen. The best thing for you to do if you are in this position is actually go watch the video in this post which lays out how to get started:

How to Keyword Merch Listings

Once you have a good understanding of how this all works, we can start actually optimizing the listings.

Step 1: Adding Designs

The first thing you want to do is make sure you have a Merch Informer account, so go ahead and log into that.

From the left hand corner menu, select the Merch Tracker. This handy little module will let you track your designs and keywords across Amazon. This will allow us to figure out where we are ranking so that we can make the appropriate changes in order to boost our position.

Go ahead and add the ASIN of one of your designs to the ASIN box. If you do not know where to find this, you can open up any Merch by Amazon t-shirt, scroll down to the product details, and then copy and paste the ASIN inside of Merch Informer:

I have selected a trump design to illustrate how this works for example purposes. We are using this design because the seller is missing out on a lot of opportunity here. Enter in the ASIN into Merch Informer:

Go ahead and click save and you will get a notice that it has successfully been added:

Step 2: Adding Keywords

The second step to this is adding some keywords. First though, lets break down all the functionality to get you used to using the tool.

When you first add a design to the tool you will see the design itself, a little clock, a trashcan, and the title, ASIN and keywords slot.

The little clock icon will track this design over time to show you sales rank and pricing. The trashcan will remove it from the list. The longer you keep tracking your designs, the more data you will have to actually optimize your listings!

What is really important here are the keywords.

Here is the listing of the design that we added:

You can tell it has some decent keywords in there, and it looks like the design in question has 10 customer reviews (ASIN screenshot above). However, this seller is leaving a LOT of money on the table by not actually optimizing this listing.

Head on over to the product search inside of Merch Informer and look up the keyword “Trump” and you will see what I mean.

You can get to this screenshot by clicking on the little “i” icon under the product.

You will see that this shirt not only is priced higher, but it is selling a LOT.

Take a look at their listing:

What you should be doing is figuring out WHAT keywords in these other listings are doing well for these designs, and we will try and incorporate them into our listing after we track them to figure out what is going on.

So now, let’s add some keywords to the original listing that we put into the tracker.

The first thing I like to do is actually look at any reviews and see if there are any keywords THERE that we could possibly add to the listing.

It looks like there is:

Right there in plain site we see the keyword “president trump”, yet somehow this is NOT included in the listing for the shirt we are going to track. I also notice in these other listings the following keywords:

  • donald trump shirt
  • president trump
  • trump 2020
  • trump is my president
  • trump supporter

So start by adding these to the keywords inside of Merch Informer.

When you first add them, they will look like this:

If a keyword has not been tracked, you will want to click on the “not tracked yet” button which will give you a rank for the design on Amazon.

After adding all the keywords, we have this:

Only a single keyword out of the ones we are tracking is ranking (and not very good ranking at that). The rest are not even in the top 100 results! This means that this seller is leaving probably a good $1000+ a month on the table, because they are not taking the time to optimize the listing.

So, lets optimize!

Step 3: Optimizing the Merch by Amazon Listing

Here are the two bullet points in the design we are tracking:

  • Haters gonna hate! This funny trump tee is the perfect shirt for any conservative or republican who loves seeing liberals get up in arms about the president. Support Donald and the cause by rocking out this political gift tee today!
  • Funny Haters Gonna Hate Donald Trump T-Shirt President Tee makes a great gift for friends and family.

These are “okay” but the goal here is to actually get some of the keywords that we are tracking into these bullet points AND the title where it makes sense. If Amazon sees these keywords in the right spots (where it makes sense of course) then they will slowly move the shirt up the rankings.

Here is the title of the design:

  • Funny Haters Gonna Hate Donald Trump T-Shirt President Tee

First, let’s tackle the title.

The title by itself is good, but I want to put 1 keyword in there.

From our list of tracking, we see that we have the keyword “president trump” but that is actually not together in any of the listing.

So, if I was this seller, I would make this small change to the title:

  • Funny Haters Gonna Hate Donald Trump T-Shirt President Trump Tee

As you can see, all we did was add “trump” to the title, to make the full keyword president trump show up.

Now that the title is taken care of, lets move on to the bullet points. We have 4 more keywords to POSSIBLY use (there is no need to always use all of them. Using too many could make your listing look spammy).

  • donald trump shirt
  • trump 2020
  • trump is my president
  • trump supporter

Lets see if we can fit these into the bullet points. Look for the bolded text to see what was added:

  • Haters gonna hate! This funny trump tee is the perfect donald trump shirt for any conservative or republican who loves seeing liberals get up in arms about the president. Show that you are a trump supporter and the cause by rocking out this political gift tee today!
  • Funny Haters Gonna Hate Donald Trump T-Shirt President Tee makes a great gift for friends and family. Show your activism for trump 2020 by wearing this design so that you can proudly say trump is my president!

and there you have it! With just a single sentence and a few slight changes, we have optimized the bullet points to include some extra keywords that other designs are pulling in the sales with.

The next step would be to change these on Merch by Amazon and then watch your ranks inside of the Merch Tracker every day. I would personally give them about a month or so to see some movement. After 30 days, you may wish to revisit your design, or start looking at putting some ad spend behind your shirt!

Wrapping It Up

This method DOES require a little bit more effort – about 5 minutes more.

However, if merchers actually took the time to optimize their account and keep tabs on their designs, they would easily grow with the platform and see increased sales.

All it takes is a few minutes a day or one big day of optimizing to start seeing some returns. After all, it takes a while to get ranked, but even if you are ranked, you could STILL be missing out on some of that Merch Money.

Let me know if you have any questions or how we can help you to optimize your designs even easier in the comments below!

To your success!

Evergreen Versus Trending and Seasonal Merch by Amazon Designs – Understanding The Difference

Evergreen Versus Trending and Seasonal Merch by Amazon Designs – Understanding The Difference

Evergreen Versus Trending and Seasonal Merch by Amazon Designs – Understanding The Difference

This post is also available in: German

When it comes to any print on demand business out there, and especially Merch by Amazon, there are 3 core areas on how to build your business: Evergreen, Trending, and Seasonal designs.

While this seems pretty straight forward on the surface, there seems to be some confusion on each of these areas, where they overlap, and how Amazon works with each. Today we are going to go over each of these in detail, and why you might think you are going into a trending niche but really, you are no where to be found and finding it impossible to rank.

Lets jump into it!

Evergreen Merch Designs

Evergreen at its core just means that something has enduring popularity. Put in simple terms, evergreen merch designs are going to be those designs who appeal to an audience that buys YEAR round! They will buy these shirts in January. They will buy them in August, and they will purchase the shirts for Christmas.

Just because they buy a shirt during Christmas season does NOT mean that it is not an evergreen design (more on that further down).

Most of the largest Merch by Amazon sellers build the base of their account on evergreen designs. This acts as a hedge for slower months. If you have shirts that sell year in and year out, you guarantee yourself a base level of income even when it seems that the majority of the buyer pool is drying up in the dog days of summer.

Think of evergreen designs as those BIG niches you hear about every day in life and in Facebook groups: dogs, unicorns, jobs… these are all evergreen broad niches.

Looking at this design, one might automatically think about the 4th of July and think it is seasonal or trending, but in reality, this is simply an American flag patriotic shirt, which will sell YEAR round. This is an evergreen shirt.

The sales data backs it up!

As you can see, the sales are consistent over longer periods of time making this design evergreen.

So many people think that seasonal niches are trending designs when they see something like this.

In reality, these are evergreen shirts with seasonal sales.

Let me say that again….evergreen designs with seasonal sales! This is why when you find something you think is trending and put up a bunch of shirts thinking you will easily rank and make money, you are left wondering why no one can find your designs!

Evergreen niches with seasonal sales are very hard to rank for. The reason is that people have been uploading in these niches for years and Amazon gives priority to shirts with reviews, sales rank (the shirts have sales velocity and click through rate data) and have been optimized to be sellers. When you come along in a sea of 10,000 other shirts in an evergreen niche that just has some seasonal sales, you stand very little chance.

This is where keyword research comes into play. If you find a niche like this, you CAN break through with the proper research and optimization. That being said, if you make a mediocre design in the “dog” niche, and do not dive down on new phrases and long tail keywords, you will still be stuck.

The idea is that even though these niches are getting crowded, find a way to stick out. Find a way to use keywords that are still being searched for on Amazon but not by thousands of people. This gives you a chance to start ranking for the main keywords if you can squeeze out some sales on lesser used keywords.

The video below is a long one, but this goes over exactly how you can easily come up with phrases that people will buy that are not saturated on Amazon:

[embedded content]

Seasonal Merch Designs

Seasonal merch designs are NOT trending designs. Just because you see a shirt taking off does not mean it is a trend. In fact, almost all seasonal merch designs are part of an evergreen base that just has seasonal sales. For example, Christmas designs. Christmas occurs every single year and because of that, people have been uploading Christmas related shirts since the beginning of the internet.

There are all types of “seasons” that can be considered seasonal. There are holidays every year that are part of a season: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween. There are seasons for specific hobbies such as mushrooms, and then there are seasonal niches that occur at a specific time but are not necessarily a holiday or a hobby: 100 days of school, groundhog day, pi day.

Seasonal niches are something that occur every single year meaning that every year they will see a spike in buyers. This does not mean that they are trending designs, but that certain designs can trend DURING that season (I hope that makes sense).

An example I always like to go back to is Mushrooms. There is a specific time window where people go out and harvest mushrooms.

Here you can see the keywords in the Merch Informer keyword tool. If you click on the far right information icon, you will see exactly what I was describing above.

See that graph at the very bottom of the screenshot? That is a Google Trends graph and shows you when the keyword gets popular and starts spiking in the amount of searches people are making.

This graph CLEARLY shows when the season occurs for morel mushroom hunting. Every single year it happens at the same time (just like all the niches mentioned above).

The key to sticking out in seasonal niches is three fold:

  • Be Unique
  • Get designs up early
  • Niche Down

When you find a seasonal niche you want to go into, you first want to do your research. You can use the video above to figure out how to be unique by coming up with your own phrases (that people still want to buy!), but you also want to get your designs up early to make sure you have a chance to rank. Your chance to rank will have a lot to do with optimization as well as niching down within the overarching seasonal niche that you are going into.

For more info about seasonal niches, make sure to check out this article we did:

A Definitive Guide On Seasonal Niches – How To Find, Rank, And Manage Your Listings

Trending Merch Designs

Trending designs are a great thing to get into when you are first jumping into Merch by Amazon as these have the possibility to rank quickly and get you tiered up in record time if you land on something that hits!

Trending designs are something that is trending because of a specific event that does not always happen every year. Since these are one off events, there are almost always no other long standing shirts on Amazon. This means that there is no competition that has been selling for years previous, there are not thousands of designs before you, and there are no shirts with reviews if you catch it early enough!

The perfect example of this that is current as of this article is: Storm Area 51.

If you are not familiar with this, there was a Facebook group set up about storming area 51 and figuring out what was really there. This movement has become HUGE!

Now, there have been lots of “Area 51” shirts up on Merch. These would be considered evergreen shirts. However, the phrases and sayings being used to promote this “storm area 51” are trending because it is a one off event that has seemingly come out of nowhere and exploded. If you were to catch this trend early, there was ZERO shirts for a while on Merch. The ones that got in early are seeing massive success and sales by getting in early.

As you can see from this example, they even included some different terms in their shirt (such as 5k fun run), but also used the saying that is being spread everywhere “They can’t stop all of us”.

Getting in early had its advantages for this seller!

They managed to make hundreds of dollars from one simple design because they decided to put in the work and do the research.

Not only that, but if this was a new seller at a lower tier, this would ensure that they tiered up and got more slots to increase their earnings potential going forward in their Merch by Amazon Journey!

Wrapping It Up

No matter if you are a long time Merch by Amazon seller or someone just starting, it is important to understand the difference between these three areas. This alone could save you a bunch of headache as you fill out your account.

When you are starting off, focusing on just evergreen could be a slow journey to get out of those initial tiers. The most important thing early on is sales volume so that you can open up more slots for evergreen designs. You should be looking into niching down, seasonal and trending designs. Once you have the space, build the foundation for your business on evergreen designs but never completely ignore one of these 3 categories.

And most of all, don’t get fooled into thinking you have found the perfect trend when really you found an evergreen niches with seasonal sales!

Good luck building your Merch business!

What Is Blockchain? The Complete WIRED Guide

What Is Blockchain? The Complete WIRED Guide

Depending on who you ask, blockchains are either the most important technological innovation since the internet or a solution looking for a problem.

The original blockchain is the decentralized ledger behind the digital currency bitcoin. The ledger consists of linked batches of transactions known as blocks (hence the term blockchain), and an identical copy is stored on each of the roughly 60,000 computers that make up the bitcoin network. Each change to the ledger is cryptographically signed to prove that the person transferring virtual coins is the actual owner of those coins. But no one can spend their coins twice, because once a transaction is recorded in the ledger, every node in the network will know about it.

The idea is to both keep track of how each unit of the virtual currency is spent and prevent unauthorized changes to the ledger. The upshot: No bitcoin user has to trust anyone else, because no one can cheat the system.

Other digital currencies have imitated this basic idea, often trying to solve perceived problems with bitcoin by building new cryptocurrencies on new blockchains. But advocates have seized on the idea of a decentralized, cryptographically secure database for uses beyond currency. Its biggest boosters believe blockchains can not only replace central banks but usher in a new era of online services that would be impossible to censor. These new-age apps, advocates say, would be more answerable to users and outside the control of internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Unless, of course, Facebook runs away with the idea itself. In June, Facebook announced Libra, a new blockchain that will support a digital currency. Unlike the thousands of anybodys who run Bitcoin nodes, it will be controlled by an association comprised of just 100 companies and NGOs. Libra is certainly a challenge to central banks, not least because it’s a privately controlled monetary system that will span the globe. But replacing government with corporations is not exactly the revolution that enthusiasts imagined blockchain would bring. So far, the crypto community is divided on whether Libra is a good thing. Some see Facebook’s effort as a corruption of a technology designed to ensure that you don’t need to trust your fellow users—or any central authority. Others are celebrating it as the moment that blockchain goes mainstream.

Other so-called “private” blockchains, like Libra, are growing in popularity. Big financial services companies, including JP Morgan and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, are experimenting with blockchains and blockchain-like technologies to improve the efficiency of trading stocks and other assets. Traders buy and sell stocks rapidly using current technology, of course, but the behind-the-scenes process of transferring ownership of those assets can take days. Some technologists believe blockchains could help with that.

Blockchains also have potential applications in the seemingly boring world of corporate compliance. After all, storing records in an immutable ledger is a pretty good way to assure auditors that those records haven’t been tampered with. This might be good for more than just catching embezzlers or tax cheats. Walmart, for example, is using an IBM-developed blockchain to track its supply chain, which could help it trace the source of food contaminants. Many other experiments have emerged: Voting on the blockchain. Land records. Used cars. Real estate. Streaming content. Hence the phrase “xxx on the blockchain” as a catch-all for the enduring hype cycle. The question is, if one organization (say, Walmart) has control of the data, did it really need blockchain at all?

It’s too early to say which experiments will stick. But the idea of creating tamper-proof databases has captured the attention of everyone from anarchist techies to staid bankers.

What Is Blockchain The Complete WIRED Guide

The First Blockchain

The original bitcoin software was released to the public in January 2009. It was open source software, meaning anyone could examine the code and reuse it. And many have. At first, blockchain enthusiasts sought to simply improve on bitcoin. Litecoin, another virtual currency based on the bitcoin software, seeks to offer faster transactions.

One of the first projects to repurpose the bitcoin code to use it for more than currency was Namecoin, a system for registering “.bit” domain names. The traditional domain-name management system—the one that helps your computer find our website when you type wired.com—depends on a central database, essentially an address book for the internet. Internet-freedom activists have long worried that this traditional approach makes censorship too easy, because governments can seize a domain name by forcing the company responsible for registering it to change the central database. The US government has done this several times to shut sites accused of violating gambling or intellectual-property laws.

Namecoin tries to solve this problem by storing .bit domain registrations in a blockchain, which theoretically makes it impossible for anyone without the encryption key to change the registration information. To seize a .bit domain name, a government would have to find the person responsible for the site and force them to hand over the key.

In 2013, a startup called Ethereum published a paper outlining an idea that promised to make it easier for coders to create their own blockchain-based software without having to start from scratch, without relying on the original bitcoin software. In 2015 the company released its platform for building “smart contracts,” software applications that can enforce an agreement without human intervention. For example, you could create a smart contract to bet on tomorrow’s weather. You and your gambling partner would upload the contract to the Ethereum network and then send a little digital currency, which the software would essentially hold in escrow. The next day, the software would check the weather and then send the winner their earnings. A number of “prediction markets” have been built on the platform, enabling people to bet on more interesting outcomes, such as which political party will win an election.

So long as the software is written correctly, there’s no need to trust anyone in these transactions. But that turns out to be a big catch. In 2016, a hacker made off with about $50 million worth of Ethereum’s custom currency intended for a democratized investment scheme where investors would pool their money and vote on how to invest it. A coding error allowed a still unknown person to make off with the virtual cash. Lesson: It’s hard to remove humans from transactions, with or without a blockchain.

The WIRED Guide to the Blockchain

The WIRED Guide to the Blockchain

Depending on who you ask, blockchains are either the most important technological innovation since the internet or a solution looking for a problem.

The original blockchain is the decentralized ledger behind the digital currency bitcoin. The ledger consists of linked batches of transactions known as blocks (hence the term blockchain), and an identical copy is stored on each of the roughly 60,000 computers that make up the bitcoin network. Each change to the ledger is cryptographically signed to prove that the person transferring virtual coins is the actual owner of those coins. But no one can spend their coins twice, because once a transaction is recorded in the ledger, every node in the network will know about it.

The idea is to both keep track of how each unit of the virtual currency is spent and prevent unauthorized changes to the ledger. The upshot: No bitcoin user has to trust anyone else, because no one can cheat the system.

Other digital currencies have imitated this basic idea, often trying to solve perceived problems with bitcoin by building new cryptocurrencies on new blockchains. But advocates have seized on the idea of a decentralized, cryptographically secure database for uses beyond currency. Its biggest boosters believe blockchains can not only replace central banks but usher in a new era of online services that would be impossible to censor. These new-age apps, advocates say, would be more answerable to users and outside the control of internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Unless, of course, Facebook runs away with the idea itself. In June, Facebook announced Libra, a new blockchain that will support a digital currency. Unlike the thousands of anybodys who run Bitcoin nodes, it will be controlled by an association comprised of just 100 companies and NGOs. Libra is certainly a challenge to central banks, not least because it’s a privately controlled monetary system that will span the globe. But replacing government with corporations is not exactly the revolution that enthusiasts imagined blockchain would bring. So far, the crypto community is divided on whether Libra is a good thing. Some see Facebook’s effort as a corruption of a technology designed to ensure that you don’t need to trust your fellow users—or any central authority. Others are celebrating it as the moment that blockchain goes mainstream.

Other so-called “private” blockchains, like Libra, are growing in popularity. Big financial services companies, including JP Morgan and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, are experimenting with blockchains and blockchain-like technologies to improve the efficiency of trading stocks and other assets. Traders buy and sell stocks rapidly using current technology, of course, but the behind-the-scenes process of transferring ownership of those assets can take days. Some technologists believe blockchains could help with that.

Blockchains also have potential applications in the seemingly boring world of corporate compliance. After all, storing records in an immutable ledger is a pretty good way to assure auditors that those records haven’t been tampered with. This might be good for more than just catching embezzlers or tax cheats. Walmart, for example, is using an IBM-developed blockchain to track its supply chain, which could help it trace the source of food contaminants. Many other experiments have emerged: Voting on the blockchain. Land records. Used cars. Real estate. Streaming content. Hence the phrase “xxx on the blockchain” as a catch-all for the enduring hype cycle. The question is, if one organization (say, Walmart) has control of the data, did it really need blockchain at all?

It’s too early to say which experiments will stick. But the idea of creating tamper-proof databases has captured the attention of everyone from anarchist techies to staid bankers.

What Is Blockchain The Complete WIRED Guide

The First Blockchain

The original bitcoin software was released to the public in January 2009. It was open source software, meaning anyone could examine the code and reuse it. And many have. At first, blockchain enthusiasts sought to simply improve on bitcoin. Litecoin, another virtual currency based on the bitcoin software, seeks to offer faster transactions.

One of the first projects to repurpose the bitcoin code to use it for more than currency was Namecoin, a system for registering “.bit” domain names. The traditional domain-name management system—the one that helps your computer find our website when you type wired.com—depends on a central database, essentially an address book for the internet. Internet-freedom activists have long worried that this traditional approach makes censorship too easy, because governments can seize a domain name by forcing the company responsible for registering it to change the central database. The US government has done this several times to shut sites accused of violating gambling or intellectual-property laws.