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By Aaron Hankin

Published: June 2, 2018 1:00 p.m. ET


Jimmy Wales, outspoken ICO critic, questions entire ‘crypto world’


This article was originally published on Tuesday.

The co-founder of the largest free-content reference website has slammed bitcoin and the digital currency industry, saying that it is in a bubble that will eventually pop.

Speaking at the Blockshow conference in Berlin — Europe’s version of New York’s blockchain-focused Consensus conference — Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales said the crypto industry is in for a rude awakening. In fact, he said, the sector is in need of some “real journalism,” according to Cointelegraph, which is hosting Blockshow.

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It is not the first time Wales has piled on the industry. In an October interview, he warned investors of the risks around the popular, unregulated crowdfunding tools that raise money for cryptocurrencies.

“There are a lot of these initial coin offerings, which are in my opinion absolute scams and people should be very wary of things that are going on in that area,” Wales said in an October 4 interview with CNBC .


Read: The SEC created a fake ICO website to show just how easy it is to scam investors

The internet entrepreneur’s comments come as the No. 1 digital currency is in the midst of a dire stretch, coming off three consecutive weekly losses for the first time since September 2017, pushing bitcoin BTCUSD, -1.34% to a six-week low.

Despite his negative outlook for the industry, there is a reason Wales may hope he is wrong — in 2014, Wikipedia announced it had started accepting bitcoin as a form of donation, which it still does today .

More from MarketWatch


Aaron Hankin is a MarketWatch reporter in New York who covers cryptocurrency and financial markets.

For some drivers, that is precisely the effect. Scott Weber said he drove full time most weeks last year, picking up passengers in the Tampa area for both Uber and Lyft, yet made less than $20,000 before expenses like gas and maintenance. “I was a business that had a loss,” said Mr. Weber, who is looking for another job. “I’m using payday loans.”

Still, when asked about the badges he earns while driving for Uber, Mr. Weber practically gushed. “I’ve got currently 12 excellent-service and nine great-conversation badges,” he said in an interview in early March. “It tells me where I’m at.”

When asked whether Uber’s product managers and data scientists were akin to developers at a social gaming company like Zynga, Jonathan Hall, Uber’s head of economic and policy research, accepted the analogy but rejected the implication.

“I think there’s something to that, but ultimately Zynga should worry mostly about how fun its games are rather than trying to get you to play a little bit more by some trick,” he said. He argued that exploiting people’s psychological tics was unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on how long they played Zynga’s games or drove for Uber. It is “icing on the cake,” he said.

Mr. Hall is clearly right about the effects of certain techniques, like those pitched at drivers’ tendency to set income targets or to focus more on losses than gains. On the other hand, even features that produce relatively small changes in driving patterns can become quite important to a company like Uber.

According to Mr. Parker, the former Uber manager in Dallas, increasing the number of drivers on the road by 20 percent at certain hours of the day, or in a busy part of town, can rein in a large fare surge.

More important, some of the psychological levers that Uber pulls to increase the supply of drivers have quite powerful effects.

Consider an algorithm called forward dispatch — Lyft has a similar one — that dispatches a new ride to a driver before the current one ends. Forward dispatch shortens waiting times for passengers, who may no longer have to wait for a driver 10 minutes away when a second driver is dropping off a passenger two minutes away.

Perhaps no less important, forward dispatch causes drivers to stay on the road substantially longer during busy periods — a key goal for both companies.

Uber and Lyft explain this in essentially the same way. “Drivers keep telling us the worst thing is when they’re idle for a long time,” said Kevin Fan, the director of product at Lyft. “If it’s slow, they’re going to go sign off. We want to make sure they’re constantly busy.”

While this is unquestionably true, there is another way to think of the logic of forward dispatch: It overrides self-control.

Perhaps the most prominent example is that such automatic queuing appears to have fostered the rise of binge-watching on Netflix. “When one program is nearing the end of its running time, Netflix will automatically cue up the next episode in that series for you,” wrote the scholars Matthew Pittman and Kim Sheehan in a 2015 study of the phenomenon. “It requires very little effort to binge on Netflix; in fact, it takes more effort to stop than to keep going.”

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