How to Explain Blockchain So Newbies Really Get It

How do you explain blockchains and decentralization to someone so that their eyes don't glaze over? How can you get someone to actually understand blockchain technology, and why it matters? How can you help your friends understand what this "complicated overhyped techie gibberish" you're so excited about is?

As a writer, this is a question I've wrestled with. Especially when covering it in the mainstream media.


This is where I'm at now with a general-public, accessible-to-anyone explanation of the history, the technology, and the significance. Had a little help from James Glasscock at DNA (thanks James - you need to bring your brain over to Steemit).

(Note that this is the full version. Often, for a quick explanation, I'll just use the two paragraphs that specifically explain blockchain.)

If you like it, feel free to take it and use it or parts of it. It's yours.

The other reason I'm posting this is that I'd love your feedback. You have corrections or notes, please let me know in the comments so that I can continue to refine - with the goal of further simplifying, clarifying, and accuracy:

I'm sure many of you have your own newbie explanation for this. I'd love to read it below as well. In fact, it would be kind of cool to make a documentary (or Dtube video) of different thought and industry leaders giving their own version of a blockchain explanation.



There’s a revolution brewing that has the potential to advance the Internet era from adolescence to maturity, and in the process, alter nearly every major industry and government.

The engine behind this change is blockchain—or, more broadly, distributed ledger technology. Some futurists are already calling this the fourth industrial revolution (as significant as the steam engine, electricity, and the microchip before it).

But what is blockchain?

Knowing how the blockchain works is about as elucidating as explaining TCP/IP protocols to someone who’s never used the Internet—or even someone who has. A better way to understand it is to learn its history, which some advocates liken to immaculate conception.

In 2008, a person (or more likely, group of people) using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto began contributing out of the blue to a cryptography mailing list. “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party,” Nakamoto wrote.

The digital currency he was developing, called Bitcoin, offered a way to make direct payments over the Internet anonymously. And it was independent of not just intermediaries like banks and credit card companies, but also governments and their monetary policies.

The programming challenge, though, was how to make sure no single entity controlled Bitcoin, users couldn’t double-spend the same coin, and hackers couldn’t infiltrate the system. The solution was to not trust people, but to trust an open network of independent computers around the world instead. And so Nakamoto started a peer-to-peer network, where transactions had to be verified on multiple computers (or nodes) before being approved. This is known as consensus.

These transactions are organized into blocks of data that are complexly encrypted and permanently linked together in chronological order. Each block contains a snapshot of all the blocks that have come before it, and this growing chain is then stored on the entire network, making it likely impossible to alter anything without getting caught. Think of it as the computer equivalent of DNA.

This is the blockchain: a public database of cryptographically secured permanent records stored on thousands of computers, which prevents them from being controlled, manipulated, or vulnerable to a single point of failure (or a single point of trust). And so far, it’s worked: Bitcoin has never been hacked.

Thus, in this plan for Bitcoin, which Nakamoto launched a year later, were the seeds of not just a currency but a movement: it was accessible, replicable, secure, anonymous, decentralized, transparent, and consensus-driven. It is poised to change nearly everything that requires a record being kept of it, whether real estate, banking, stocks, marriages, contracts, or personal identification -- as well as most types of if/then agreements (called a smart contract when on a blockchain) . But beyond this, advocates believe this technology can help solve not just online problems like privacy, cybersecurity and the concentration of power into the hands of half a dozen big tech companies, but global problems like poverty, corruption and financial exclusion.

“Just as we progressed in the past to expect a separation of church and state, we are now moving towards the possibility of a separation of bank and state.,” explains Galia Benartzi, co-founder of Bancor. “Money, how we make it and use it, may return to the domain of the people and the discretion of the individual, just like religion once did."

Brock Pierce, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, describes it thusly: “When the Internet was first being developed in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we didn’t have the computer processing capability to actually secure the Internet. By the time we got the processing ability to implement the necessary cryptography to secure it, the foundation had already been laid. So we just kept building for, like, 30 years. But it's been fundamentally broken the whole time. The blockchain brings the most secure system the world's ever seen, immutability in terms of recordkeeping, and the ability to be transparent. And with this new technology, we can do ten times more than we could ever do with the Internet.”

Most people want the world to become safer, more free, more open, and more equal—and would prefer anonymity to be a choice rather than a Sisyphean struggle. The blockchain is arguably the best and quickest way to build this world. That’s why decentralized blockchain not only matters, but your understanding of it and advocacy for the future you'd like to see is essential.

Pass it on.




(Slightly off-topic, but not, don’t know how to contact you otherwise)...

Revisiting a journal and came across an idea - been doing no good collecting dust, but might be worth sharing with you as you might actually be in a position to pitch it to someone at Rolling Stone, given your connections there:

A Rolling Stone token built on SMTs.

  • Would provide incentive for online engagement / app use:

  • i.e. users earn tokens for commenting on articles, participating in contests, etc

  • would provide Rolling Stone customer feedback and performance stats for their online strategy

  • create community engagement = increased value for the company, translatable to greater profitability selling digital real estate to advertisers

  • tokens could be redeemable for exclusive concert tickets & backstage passes, artist pre-releases, memorabilia, special events, unique bonuses, etc

Win for Rolling Stone.
Win for their readers/community.
Win for the crypto community with increased exposure.
Win for Steem investors, given the caliber of the SMT use-case.

One of the best ways for people to understand blockchain: getting their feet wet.

Such an idea, executed well, could serve that education excellently.

The idea’s now out for you to run with it, should you choose... 😉💖

As much as it's hard to explain complex topics, I think you've touched on the most important and easiest to explain aspect of the blockchain.

The fact that it's a distributed ledger insures that no third party controls it and protects it from corruption, plus we all know that power corrupts and the blockchain system removes the incentive from that.

Luckily, many people are tired of the old system of finance and politics and at the same time, several aspects of blockchain tech can be used as a tangible solution to many problems that society identifies as such.

Maybe compelling communication is a missing key aspect so far.

I explain it as it is: "Its a data structure. Like a list. Everything else you hear is bullshit"

It is also a P2P network.

"Car is a highway network"

No its not.

Bitcoin is not possible without the bitcoin p2p network.

Yes. So what?

The Blockchain is an open ledger system with full transparency and makes trust-less transactions possible using cryptography.

It's a good explanation, some people could wonder why there's even need for such system and that's something you could explain also in another section for those who are interested to learn.

Like history of currency and how fiat is no more backed by gold and how it comes to existence and by whom.
People don't know this stuff, the money just works for them so they never had to think about it either.

Also: A very simple analogy could be "Blockchain is like an accounting book, every transaction is recorded in it by the system and every participant keeps a copy of it, making manipulation impossible. The book itself is something users have access to but can't control over. No one can erase from it or block someone from adding to it. It's that simple, yet very powerful. "

Hello igster, it is a white screen in steemgar. Can you please fix it?

Thank you igster :B

Hello igster, it is a white screen in steemgar. Can you please fix it?

Thank you igster :D

Thanks for sharing ; )
My mum already knows how the Steem works and Steems are created and distributed among the users but it takes me near 6 months x)
It's will help us, sure!
Re steemed and upvoted

The most significant rule of receiving kindness or education should always be to pass it on.. Thanks!

Blockchain is the next "big thing". A technological innovation capable of changing the world as we know it, just like internet, but with money. Short and sweet. Worked for me and countless others. There are more levels to understanding it, but that comes with time. You can't become a blockchain expert in one day, takes time and that is perfectly fine.

Pretty well said. Reading such articles is like a journey for me, still learning and discovering blockchain technology every day anew and as a miner I´m interessted in blockchain anyway.

Like the stated vision of those futurists in this article, calling the blockchain the fourth industrial revolution ❕

As a Newbie Steemian, I totally understand that perspective and outlook. I'd like to do the Spock Mind Meld on some of y'all. I'm totally open to Steem- and everything that goes with -it. My only fear, and maybe it's where I live and crap I've heard--but what if the power goes out, or the the phone service goes out on the individual's end? They're cut off from their money and the community. I know that's probably 20th Century thinking, but I've lived the majority of my life in the 20th Century, so maybe I need some help here. I'm trying to be a sponge, be low key and also try and create some content of the things that interest me and what I want to learn about here on Steemit. This most certainly is a great start! Many Thanks. Peace.

Simplicity to explain a complex system

This is the only reason panic sellers exists create FOMO and drag the prices down.

not everyone really know about what blockchain relative to our lives, they just hyped by the price

Great article, there needs to be more articles like this to allow more adoption from people who do not know about crypto.

I tend to simplify to "a blockchain is a public opensource database" Those are words most people can understand.

I've read many blogs and watched a few YouTube videos and one docuseries on the blockchain. It never fails that each and every source teaches me something more; something vital.

In it's simplicity, the blockchain translation is rather complex. Interesting.

I very much enjoyed this read and more so, loved the comics. I have deducted that having recognized humor in the comics informs me that I certainly understand and respect the blockchain.... I cannot imagine that outsiders would have snickered as I did.


Pretty good explanation. The fact that bitcoin is the most immutable makes the difference for me. Other blockchains will also succeed but I can't see bitcoin dying off one blockchain spreads worldwide.

Most people do not need to be explained the technicalities of blochain technology.
After all very few people know how data is made available to them through their browser or other app.

People need to know if blochain based applications can make a difference in their day to day use of their applications.


Brilliant! I'll pass it on! 🙌🏼

I'M trying to convice my friends to join blokchain and especcisli Steemit but i'm short words I call blokchain "future of money system" and thanks to this article I know more about what's blokchain is because I come here from 0 without knowing too much a about Bitcoin.

I'm 2010 when I was in school I wanted to start diging in Bitcoin but i had shitty computer in that time and also because I hadn't option to Ask somebody about Bitcoin it was hard to me to join in blokchain world then

Like every lengthy comment I make, it turned into it's own post. But please check it out: How to explain what is a blockchain to the average person


Anything techy makes the non-techy run away like no tomorrow. Most of the people are non-techies. In my opinion, a tech-less explanation would be the best option. I turn every long comment I type into a new post, so here it comes.

To listen to the audio version of this article click on the play image.

Brought to you by @tts. If you find it useful please consider upvoting this reply.

This is definitely THE post of the day for me, as a Newbie Steemian. I don't even know what that's called, but I've heard of dolphins and whales. I guess I'm plankton, then? No matter, we can always grow. Thank you and Peace!

Thanks for your article

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Thank you!! 💖

@neilstrauss, I'm interested in the same topic as you, let's spin it together. I signed on to you, I hope you'll sign up for me. Always glad to meet new people!

Yes. I ran into trying to explain it alot at my real estate meetups as crypto always seems to come up. Eventually I wrote a short e-book called ScaredyCatGuide to Knowing What the Heck Bitcoin Is that I give away to whoever wants it.

Defining the blockchain and bitcoin separately was the biggest thing for it to click for people I've found.

Good to see you on here Neil. Read the game way back when it came out, awesome book!

I have found people generally don't care unless they are interested in how the tech works, most traders certainly dont know how this stuff works even, just as most people today using the web dont know how that works. What I would describe is the importance of distributed ledger technology to the world today, unmatched security and scalaibility is the way forward. Thanks for this piece I will make sure to follow your work, I write about projects myself if you would like to check out my work and follow me.

Even if you use charts or illustrations, it's really hard to understand blockchain. It really takes time and effort to fully understand it.

I'm new here and still don't understand how this works, nor where the money comes from, if it really does.

El 2018 se plantea como un año crucial para todo el ecosistema de ‘blockchain’ y las tecnologías de registros distribuidos (DLT). Más allá del furor especulativo que han provocado las criptomoneda, se prevé que este año traiga cierta madurez al mercado. Estas son las siete previsiones de tres expertos de BBVA frente a los retos de la nueva economía descentralizada.

i agree really well done

"Blockchains allow me to send something of value to you over the web without any third party being involved".

Thats my explanation of Blockchain. Then I go on to use the "Cash" example (No banks, No Paypal) and people then get the concept.

Finish up with telling people as the law catches up with Blockchain technology and you can get other things of value onto Blockchains other than just cash we could sell houses or used cars directly to each other, instantly, with no lawyers or notaty's and see the past history of that property or car over it's entire life from the day it was first sold.

No need to explain the tech, just explain the "WOW" factor.

for my opinion i will explain as a secured public database, its transparency records :) i think this is the most easiest way to understand

blockchain: records of data, data cant be change once recorded, cannot be copy, nor destroy. no one have control over it yet everyone can have take a look what is it.

crypto currency: byproduct of blockchain, values determine by everyone that put there stake in to it.

Hi, Neil, you've written a clear explanation on the blockchain, and it's very helpful for a short talk that I'm preparing to give tomorrow afternoon. I read your book, "The Game", one day when shopping in a bookstore. I read it cover to cover in that bookstore! You're a great writer and I look forward to reading more of your writings. It's great that you're covering blockchain, too. If you ever want to seek the views of a diverse, international team of blockchain-focused lawyers, feel free to get in touch.

What baffles me is, all the explanations I hear seem very simple. Why is it a thing that is famously difficult to explain?

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