If you’ve been in crypto for more than a few months, you’re probably already sick of hearing about Tronix: the up-and-comingest new fad money in a market already bloated with Fidget Spinners and Harlem Shakes. In the six months since its ICO, Tronix somehow elbowed its way to the top ten by market cap, despite lacking a blockchain, a network or anything that can be called a product.
In the meantime Tron has raised more hype than a new season of Game of Thrones, and even the strongest hands had trouble resisting the FOMO as the price spiked upwards. With excellent government and business connections and a bright young CEO, TRX was an irresistible investment as it soared past five cents….then ten cents….and then eighteen. For those who did buy, it was easy to ignore the warning signs and focus on the lambo at the end of the tunnel. For those of us who missed out, the only consolation was to insist that Tron’s grapes must be very sour indeed.
Here’s what we found when we put Tron under the microscope.
Deep dive into Tron
The trouble with Tron is that it’s impossible to pin down exactly what problem it’s trying to solve. Is it supposed to be a social network, like Facebook? A giant media platform, like Netflix? Some sort of crypto-Bittorrent? All of those and more are alluded to in various parts of the Tron website and white paper, with bike rentals shoehorned in for good measure.
The website clears up any confusion with a mishmash of disjointed buzzwords:
“Data liberation of TRON(TRX), with it’s intention of healing the internet. TRON team is constructing a worldwide free content entertainment based on the concept that creative industries should be mainly driven by the pursuit of quality. Tron allows users to freely publish, store and own data. With Tron, content is owned by content creators, artists, and scriptwriters rather than the capitalists who consume them.”
Poor English aside, this sounds like nothing so much as someone trying to impress an interviewer with as many computer-y words as possible. Remember this scene from Arrested Development?
“George Michael: Well, thanks, yeah. It’s a, well, it’s just a Boolean… driven aggregation, really, of what programmers call “hacker-traps”…
Narrator: And he found himself suddenly and effortlessly tapping into a long-inbred instinct for lying.
George Michael: …which uses false meta-data on top of false rate authentication and a fake profile…
Narrator: A Bluth taking his first steps in deceit.
George Michael: …that would misdirect, completely copy those users away from anyone’s personal information and… so, you know, in other words…
Narrator: But, the more he talked, the more he actually started to like the idea.
George Michael: …when you, when you have friends over, you know, you’re listening to music and they want to steal your music and copy your movies, or, or just look at your photos. You know, this prevents that. It just neutralizes that so it’s not even a threat anymore. It’s called Fakeblock.
Michael: Great name. Right?
Which is pretty hard to distinguish from from the pitch on Tronix’s website. It’s like a mad lib of crypto-speak: there’s going to be an entertainment system with free content and storage(but you pay for it) that also allows content creators to protect their content from pirates and middlemen. It’s got decentralized apps and high efficiency, allowing users to hold their own, personal ICOs–and you can rent bikes from it too.
It’s also a “world leading blockchain technology,” which is pretty big claim for a blockchain which hasn’t even launched yet.
It’s hard to overstate how much Tron sounds like Fakeblock, and after a while I found it impossible not to read the website in George Michael’s voice. The founders even look alike. Take a look at the following pictures, and see if you can tell which one is George-Michael Bluth and which is Justin Sun:
You can’t even tell them apart, can you? Here’s a hint: One of them inadvertently found himself at the head of a billion-dollar software company with no software, and the other plays wood block.
Meet George Michael
Let’s move on to the founder of Fakeblock—I mean Tron. This is a cornerstone of the Tron sales pitch: you know it’s a safe investment, because the founder is a bright young business prodigy with a resume full of high-tech achievements and a remarkable internal clock. Tron’s marketing department sells Justin Sun harder than Scientologists peddling Dianetics.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably already know three things about the Tron founder:
- He’s been listed on the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
- He’s a “protege of Jack Ma,” the godfather of modern Chinese capitalism,
- He founded Peiwo, “the Snapchat of China.”
These facts are faithfully replicated on every article, interview and press release covering the Tron ecosystem. Some of them are even true.
Justin Sun has received many well-deserved plaudits, including several places on Forbes’ lists. There’s nothing wrong with him inflating one’s resume, but as an investor, I’d like to know when I’m buying a bag of air.
Now let’s handle the rest: Justin Sun is not a “protegé” of Jack Ma, except in the same sense that starring on the Apprentice makes you a “protegé” of Donald Trump. It’s true that Sun was one of several dozen students at Hupan University, of which Jack Ma is the headmaster. Students at Hupan are “required to show up at the campus for 4 days every 2 months, attending the school’s 3-year, part-time based academic program.” That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it hardly sounds like the kind of personal discipleship Tron is trying to sell you on.
Next there’s Sun’s experience creating “China’s Snapchat,” a fact that sounds impressive if you’ve never been to China. (For a bit of light entertainment, try listening to YouTubers attempting to pronounce Peiwo correctly). It’s “one of the largest” social media apps in China, in the same sense that I have “one of the largest” penises in the world. If you set the bar low enough, it’s technically true.
Peiwo isn’t so much “the Snapchat of China” as it is the Google Plus of China. In fact, it’s worse than Google Plus. Google+ has 27 million unique users per month, versus Peiwo’s (alleged) ten million–totall. That’s in a market of one and a third billion people. I lived in China for half a decade, and the only times I’ve ever heard about Peiwo were in Tron press releases.
Here’s a ranked listing of China’s top social media apps, with a prize of 10 Tronix to the first reader who can find Peiwo. Go on. I’ll wait.
Exploring the Cosmos: Tron’s (Aspirational) Roadmap
Let’s move on to Tron’s whitepaper, which demonstrates the heavy thinking behind this project. Considering that white papers are the theoretical backbone of any cryptocurrency, it’s usually placed at the front and center.
Tron’s white paper is not easy to find. In fact, it’s not even on the Tron website—it’s hidden away, almost as if they were ashamed of it–which they should be, because it’s an embarrassment to anyone who reads it.
There are two kinds of white papers out there: those that set out a structured approach to solving a set of problems, and those that describe their business plan with space words like “Apollo” and “Exodus.” You can probably guess which group Tron belongs to.
Here is their original, no-kidding roadmap:
Schedule: [errors in original]
- Exudos, August 2017 to December 2018
- Odyssey, January 2019 to June 2020
- Great Voyage, July 2020 to July 2021
- Apollo, August 2021 to March 2023
- Star Trek, April 2023 to September 2025
- Eternity, September 2025 to September 2027
Remember when I compared Sun to L. Ron Hubbard earlier? That’s another thing they have in common: they both sold get-rich-quick schemes cloaked in science fiction. This is a multi-billion dollar businessplan, presumably written by grownups, describing their company the way a kid talks about becoming an astronaut.
The Skidmarked White Paper
That said, the technical sections of the white paper do lend serious credibility to their project. And by their project, we mean other projects.
Tron has been accused of plagiarism before, with large sections of the white paper borrowed from Filecoin and the InterPlanetary File System. Twitterer Juan Benet, who is involved in IPFS, found that eight pages of the Tron white paper borrowed code or text heavily from other projects, with the rest mostly perfunctory descriptions of already-existent tech and boilerplate.
Tron’s not the first platform to offer decentralized storage and filesharing, but it’s certainly the only one to mystify those goals in obscure tech speak and inexplicable jargon. It’s like reading a postmodernist textbook: even if you’re 99% certain it’s all nonsense, it’s still arcane and bewildering enough to make you wonder if you’re the idiot for not understanding. Better keep quiet, just in case.
There are plenty of other cryptocurrency projects trying to fill the same niche, and they actually work. Want to decentralize YouTube? Check out D.tube, powered by the Steem blockchain. Need a place to store files? Siacoin already offers decentralized cloud storage, with no mystification required. Not to mention IFPS, which managed to build a working decentralized file storage without borrowing anyone else’s work.
Last week I gave Skycoin a hard time for being an overextended hobby project: it’s full of (probably) very clever engineering and coding, none of which will ever go anywhere without a marketing plan.
Tron seems to be taking the opposite tack–they’re selling the product first, and leaving the pesky details of design, construction and troubleshooting for later on. As a fundraising strategy, it did the trick, giving them time to raise hype and buzz–not to mention money–for serious development. It was a good act that fooled the market for a few months, until people started taking a closer look.
With the “Exudos” phase wrapping up and a much-publicized testnet expected in a few days, the safest bet seems to be to reserve judgement and see what happens next. However, this column is not called “Hedge of the Week,” and we are not in the business of safe bets. With everything visible in the Tron system wildly inflated, there’s not much reason to believe the interior is any more solid.
We could be wrong, and Justin Sun might pull out a functioning platform like a rabbit from a hat. But we’re not counting on it. The fundamental problem is that Tron isn’t intended to make cryptocurrency so much as it’s intended to make money–and that it does very well.
On a scale of one to BitConnect, we give Tronix five Carloses.
Bother the author: @cryptosexuality
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