With its complex concepts (hash functions, merkle trees…..yawn) you can be forgiven for thinking blockchain is as relevant to your life as the Large Hadron Collider. But what if blockchain could solve real world problems, like cleaning our streets of chewing gum, cigarette butts and believe or not... human shit!
To make people care about blockchain we need something that connects that virtual world with something that can impact our daily lives, and what could be more physical and human than shit? So whilst holding our noses lets look at the Poop Token.
Ironically “a literal sh*tcoin” (sh*tcoin is slang for a useless cryptocurrency) Poop Token was created by Hart Lambur. Previously a Goldman Sachs trader, turned crypto entrepreneur, Lambur developed the idea using his own company’s (UMA) ‘Synthetic Token Builder’.
Bear with me now, all that means is that Poop Token is a digital asset with value. In this case, the token’s value is tied to the number of reported human waste sightings on San Francisco’s streets.
Live in or have ever visited San Francisco? You’ll know that the city has a massive population of homeless people.
Given the year-round warm climate, many homeless people flock to the Golden Gate City and end up staying there. If you’re on the streets either way, much better to have winter in California than winter in Chicago.
With such a high homeless population, San Francisco has a big problem keeping their streets clean and poop-free. Records from last year show that reported sightings reached 3,000 per month, up from 1000 per month from 2014. The real number is in reality much bigger, as the minority of sightings will actually be reported.
This tweet from April 10, 2021 captures San Francisco's poop problem.
Poop Token was created to address this, not by demonising homelessnes, but to incentivise both reporting sightings of said poop, the and in turn push the city to clean it up.
The more sightings reported, the higher the value of the Poop Token. The idea is that governments could put their money where their mouth is by selling the token and pocketing the profits if the City gets cleaner.
Residents who buy the token have a hedge against the problem getting worse, i.e. they will profit as the token increases in value. It is Blockchain technology that enables something like Poop Token to be created relatively quickly, without the bureaucracy normally associated with local government initiatives.
To get technical - just for one sentence - blockchain a reliably secure decentralised ledger that applications such as tokens or currency can be built on top of and traded. Jump to our Knowledge Base if you feel ready to learn more about how they work.
At this point you might have realised the idea has obvious flaws. It would incentivise token holders to make the problem worse and to profit off more waste on the streets? True.
Who would buy an asset, in the hope it loses value, to give them something their taxes should already be funding? No one.
. In reality, the Poop Token - in the proposed form - won’t solve the problem and was mostly a joke, which Lambur fully admitted when launching the idea. But the isn’t just a huge waste (no pun intended) of time then.
Something valuable can be gleaned from this mess if we look a little closer (last one I promise).
Whilst it may not work in this particular instance, Lambur has suggested areas where the incentives align in a much cleaner way . How about a token issued by London’s TFL, to users as part of a season-ticket purchase, that increases in value if tube delays get worse?
It would be pretty tricky for holders of the token to purposefully delay tube lines. Same goes for airlines who could issue tokens - as part of loyalty/reward schemes - that increase in value whenever flights get cancelled.
In this way, users of these services can hedge against delays, and providers are increasingly incentivised to provide a good service.
But what about waste clean up? One project called Littercoin in partnership with Open Litter Map is incentivising the production of a global record of litter in much a similar way to PoopToken. This has the advantage of not being easily faked as it is generally substantial collections of litter that are being reported.
Most of what blockchain can offer the world boils down to incentives and transparency. Blockchain technology enables such apps such as Poop Token and Littercoin to provide a reliable source of truth,- at low cost - and align incentives in a way previously unachievable.
Poop Token may not have succeeded in clearing the streets of San Francisco of unwanted human waste, but it has achieved something more important. It has connected blockchain technology to the real world, for people who would otherwise zone out, and could well inspire other blockchain-based projects to solve real world problems.
it’s a shame we have to use human waste as the example to do it, but this is just one of many real-world problems that blockchain can potentially help solve.