The Whitepaper Revolution ~ the good, the bad and the sickening by@zinc_ship

The Whitepaper Revolution ~ the good, the bad and the sickening

Luke Shipley HackerNoon profile picture

Luke Shipley

Top Whitepapers ~ R_Block’s Whitepaper Release

Six months ago, I set about writing a Whitepaper for our project ~ R_Block (results here). I confess I’d only written business plans and decks before, no whitepapers. Being in crypto, I’d read my fair share. From this excessive reading, I shared a lot of the communities pre-conceptions. Hailing Satoshi’s original whitepaper as the template for all to follow. Writing our paper changed a lot of these pre-conceptions. I’ll try and share my learnings with you.

According to Coinschedule we’ve had over 200 ICO’s so far in 2017. So we can assume we’ve seen at least as many Whitepapers. Since that is the benchmark we’ve arrived at in crypto. I’m convinced that most whitepapers will look like short, stylish startup pitch decks by 2019. Anything longer than 20 pages enters the skimming zone, even the most committed crypto-maniac’s won’t take in every word. By then we’ll have worked out the celebrity endorsement + retired advisor = 8 figures in funding. This equation doesn’t add up either.

A whitepaper definition: “an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.”

You see a few different breeds of whitepaper. I put them in 3 categories; Technical, Business Q&A and Marketing. I’ve compiled a list of some favourites…

Top Technical:

  1. A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System ~ Satoshi Nakamoto. The original, clear and concise. Satoshi was able to explain a new concept better than most pushing old ideas in Whitepapers today. The fact this was more digestible than your morning Yakult is probably the reason we have to plough through so many less palatable papers today. The ideas in the paper stay with you for some time.
  2. Digital Assets on Public Blockchains ~Bitfury. This paper brought ideas about disintermediation and digital asset management to the table. A crucial development in the exponential growth of non financial blockchain applications. I have soft a spot due to it’s influence on R_Block.
  3. A Next Generation Smart Contract & Decentralized Application Platform ~ Vitalik Buterin. This is regarded by some as the second most important paper in crypto. Buterin raises the bar in cryptography concepts used by so many today. The DApp was born.
  4. Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond blockchain ~ UK Government. This paper is fascinating not because it’s an 88 page document (skimming zone). But because it’s written by UKGov in January 2016. It’s about the benefits of blockchain ledgers for tax & passports. It fills me with hope for UKGov adoption.
  5. Plasma: Scalable Autonomous Smart Contract ~ Vitalik Buterin & Jo Poon. Vitalik features again. He has a knack for explaining exceptionally complex ideas in a way even your cat could understand. My favourite technical paper of 2017.


Top Business Q&A:

A good chunk of ICO whitepapers fall into this category. My views have changed here. For projects using semi-established technologies, there isn’t a need for the technical depth of the papers above. Yet some do this and go one step further. Going over the basics of Blockchain and throwing in a history lesson of the last 200 years of their respective industries. If you’re catering to every audience, it’s not relevant to any audience. This satire highlights the irony.

For example, the R_Block project isn’t developing a ground breaking new Blockchain or protocol. We’re bringing new (Ethereum) and old technologies together to create something unique. For some, what’s groundbreaking is the business application which justifies the extra business detail.

  1. Transparency in supply chains ~ Provenance. This paper straddles technical and business Q&A. With some credible research but talking about business. One of the early whitepapers to adopt this style (2015).
  2. Monetha Whitepaper ~ Monetha. Monetha provides a globally trusted commerce solution powered by the Ethereum blockchain. Great project but nothing technologically groundbreaking. Hence an effective business Q&A, that helped raise $37 million in 18 minutes (August 2017).
  3. Decentralized networks for smart contracts ~ Bancor. One of the top 5 biggest ICO’s this year, having raised $153 million. The team released a paper in March, then produced this updated version in October. I hope we see more projects doing this. This is the R_Block approach (detailed below).
  4. Aventus Whitepaper ~ Alan Vey & Annika Monari. Too colourful for a lot of paper purists. However this paper has some great detail, such as consensus and voting equations. It suggests a good deal of thought has gone into some of the finer details. They raised £20 million in 8 minutes.

Top Marketing Papers:

Many will turn their nose up at the idea of such marketing material being considered a whitepaper. As did I. However true to the whitepaper definition, these papers are still authoritative guides to a what complex issues.

  1. Civic Whitepaper ~ Civic Technologies. A huge success having raised $33m with this marketing piece. The difference is the substance the document compared to most similarly styled pieces.
  2. Paragon, revolutionising all things Cannabis ~ Paragon Technologies. I’m not an advocate, however, they had the 4th largest ICO this year, raising $183m. It’s clearly a marketing paper and some say a controversial campaign. But the paper served a purpose. How many of the contributors read this document — I dread to think.
  3. Monaco Whitepaper ~ Monaco. This paper is easy to read but comprehensive. Conservative/Optimistic scenarios that give you some confidence in the ambitious profits projected. Few projects give as much detail on their financials which make it feel very real and business-like.

Disclaimer: These projects are alleged scams.

The Sickening:

  1. ReCOIN ~ ReCION makes bold statements that seem unbelievable_._ Ethan Vanderbuilt gives more detail on this alleged scam. The founder has been charged by the US securities fraud agency.
  2. Sebeum ~ With claims like… “We will make sure that the price is going to go up time by time, and we, as a company, are going to buy thousands/millions of tokens every year, so there is no way that the token will not be going up.” Be wary, there are more sophisticated examples out there.

Everyone says, read the whitepaper. But these are very good case studies for reasons to ACTUALLY read the whitepaper. Then reflect, then read it again, if you’re seriously interested in contributing to a project.


The pattern is clear, the technical papers tend to be new protocols or new blockchains. These papers are most highly regarded by the community. Since the crypto community is mainly made up of technical people. However, we’re seeing a wider adoption so the demographics are changing. The increasing level of marketing/Q&A papers reflects the type of projects we’re seeing. As Blockchains become established, we’re seeing more application layer projects. These projects should cater to their respective audiences and complexities. Hence my earlier statement, application layer projects will use traditional pitch decks as ‘whitepapers’.

Contrary to the above and spending many months refining the R_Block whitepaper. I do appreciate Rob May’s f*** the whitepaper approach. Most companies publishing whitepapers are early stage projects. Version one projects with small or no customer bases. The chances of these projects following this plan are nil. If they are to succeed, they will need to iterate and react to the landscape. We know the cryptosphere will evolve dramatically over the coming years. The best tech may not prevail. The best teams and business’s that listen to their users and execute likely will.

Hence R_Block are taking a CPR approach ~ Continuous Paper Release. With the more commonly known form of CPR if necessary. We’re committing to keeping an up to date whitepaper live. Like a product is never finished, a whitepaper shouldn’t be either. We’re not following the PDF path. We’re releasing a whitepaper in Google Docs, which is open for comments. We see the R_Block whitepaper as a opportunity for feedback from potential users. See the R_Block Whitepaper . Your feedback would be appreciated, positive or negative. We’re committed to listening.

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