Blockchain: Frontiers of a Writing Genre

Blockchain: Frontier of a Writing Genre

Blockchain is an experimental and developing frontier in every sense: thought, concept, technology, education, genre - you name it. Spellcheckers don't even recognize the term as a valid word. It's categorically defined as a "technology", but it's much more than that.

I began writing about Bitcoin and blockchain technology only a few months ago, after visiting a Seoul Bitcoin meetup. I was fascinated, asking question after question until I showed enough interest to where the organizer of the meetup told me that the best way to understand how it works is to jump in. So I did. I published my first blog post about Bitcoin on December 2, 2017, called "Unmasking The Bitcoin Frenzy". I also have become a contributor to the Seoul Bitcoin meetup by giving beginner presentations to answer questions about what it is and how it works.

I was captivated by the innovation of how it works, and I was challenged when trying to understand the details. But this blog is not going to be an explanation of how it works. Instead, it will be an analysis of how it has created a new Genre of writing. 

The concept of a blockchain is only as old as Bitcoin, which was publicly introduced in a paper that was written in 2007. However, 2017 was a breakout year for blockchain technology in terms of public and mainstream exposure. For example, CNBC's Fast Money didn't really even begin covering cryptocurrency (the name for systems that use blockchain technology) until 2017. An insignificant number of Universities provide any courses at all on blockchain technology, save an elite few. 

The Demand for Writers to Understand Blockchain

This is an emerging genre. Blockchain is difficult to understand, difficult to keep up with, and difficult to learn about because it has not been written about in a formal, organized, and educational way as other topics have. It simply has not been around long enough.

I suffered this reality first hand when I set out to understand Bitcoin well enough to write my first blog post, explaining it to others. It was a great undertaking. When Gunther Kress writes about Genre, he broaches the topic of what defines one from another, and what does that say about new genres? "Theories of meaning will have to be rethought and remade," (Kress, 53). He states that it may take a newer way of thinking to consider a spectrum of genres that overlap or intertwine, and that new genres may form. Indeed, blockchain is a fitting example. I once asked a blockchain developer what I might study if I wanted to become a developer. I asked him to assume I'm starting from ground zero. Here are the subjects he listed: basics of coputer architecture, C and C++ programming languages as well as STL and BOOST, computer networks and TCP/IP in stack, abstract algebra, combinatorics and probability theory, cryptography such as hash functions and asymmetrical cryptography in digital signatures.
A diagram showing how Bitcoin's blockchain works, to demonstrate some low level technical aspects of blockchain.

Most don't want to become developers, perhaps. However, being a successful writer about blockchain still requires a good depth of knowledge about several of those concepts (as well as others not mentioned such as game theory) in order to have the ability to explain it. Being able to explain it is to develop a new genre identity.

"Each person through genred communication learns more of his or her personal possibilities, develops communicative skills, and learns more of the world he or she is communicating with. Each learns to participate successfully and make individual contributions within the relevant discursive spaces," (Bazerman, 17).

Blockchain: A Genre & A Discourse Community

James Porter wrote, "The creative writer is the creative borrower," (Porter, 227). He was talking about traces of different writings being sewn together to create a new writing. This is called intertextuality, the concept of which is one way to view how a new genre such as blockchain writing can be created. Pieces of other topics are all conceptually linked to form something new. This means that it's important to know the different foundations of the Genre in order for the writing to be part of the discourse community.

"A discourse community shares assumptions about what objects are appropriate for examination and discussion, what operating functions are performed on those objects, what constitutes 'evidence' and 'validity' and what formal conventions are followed," (Porter, 228). So a writer of a developing genre must be a part of the discourse community in order to be effective. There may not be a strong sense for what topics have been or are becoming defined, and which are being rejected by the community. This can be investigated and discovered through extensive reading and some active participation. Regarding blockchain, those platforms of discovery can be very informal. The ones that I'm involved in range from SMS chat apps such as Kakao and Telegram; to social media such as Twitter and more recently, Facebook; as well as discussion sites such as Reddit; or news and blog sources such as Steemit and Medium. Understanding this developing Genre in connection with the discourse community is as foundational as understanding the technology itself and how it works. This is due to its experimental nature.

Blockchain Writing & Audience Identification

Another difficulty about writing for a frontier Genre is defining the audience. Those interest in blockchain range from investors, who generally have a very low capacity for understanding the technical aspects of blockchain technology, to marketers, the general public (potential cryptocurrency users), to developers and software engineers. For the general public, a blockchain writer is best taking the 'explain it like I'm 5" approach. But for people such as the organizers of the Seoul Bitcoin meetup, this sort of surface level explanation is empty. They want the mathematics and programming behind it, or it's not worth reading.

This aspect makes it sometimes difficult to know how much or how little to include when talking about different projects or aspects of blockchain. Without a clear sense for who the audience is, the writer is likely to disappoint. What makes this especially interesting is that, among the mediums listed above, which I use to participate in the discourse community, each can be used to gather a bit more information about the target audience just by understanding the kind of audience that is generally attracted to that medium. For example, Facebook is a newer medium for discussing blockchain because it tends to attract the average person - not necessarily anyone with a specific knowledge about technology. However, a platform like Reddit tends to be frequented by the tech savvy, and has become a primary hub for Bitcoin developers and others in to community.

Therefore, where a person chooses to write can directly correlate to the content, how technical it is or how surface level it is, and who the audience should be. Details such as these go a long way in creating a successful composition in the emerging genre of blockchain technology.

Bazerman, Charles. "Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of the Internet and the Age of Global Capitalism." 


  1. Hi Chris,

    I’m terribly uninformed about Bitcoin, and your post was actually the first time I had seen the word blockchain. However, I enjoyed reading this discussion of genre and writing in reference to Bitcoin because you clearly demonstrate your interest, personality, and knowledge on the subject. I like that you introduce us to the concept through your own history with it, and I visited some of the places you linked which helped out too.

    One thing I feel like could be useful to do would be adding a more detailed discussion of the writing done around blockchain. We get to see a little detail on it in the final section, but there’s more allusion to the types of writing and the practices based on audience than direct discussion of specifics. It seems like a lot of my comments to people ask for examples, and I’m not about to break a trend. It could be interesting and useful to show us some specific language from discussions on Blockchain from different places online with different audiences.

    I’ll check out the rest of your posts and whatever comes next!


  2. Chris,

    Like Hunter, I'm also unfamiliar with the concept of Blockchain, though I am somewhat familiar with Bitcoin. Your choice of images helped illuminate my understanding of Blockchain a bit, though! I especially like the "4 Key Concepts of Blockchain" graphic. I think what would make it even better is if you added a caption breaking down each of the concepts a little further. Consensus among whom? What are smart contracts? And so on and so forth.

    In the following paragraph, I also noticed you pointed out how the "Explain it like I'm 5" approach might be the best way to discuss Blockchain with the public. I would love to see an example of this in your post! Perhaps you could offer an "Explain it like I'm 5" example with Blockchain at the beginning of your post, so all readers have a better understanding before going deeper into your writing, and then you can reference back to it when discussing why this may be an effective method for the general public.

    Until next time!

    Carly Blodgett


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