I've been cerebrum-deep in blockchain concepts for the past two years. During that time I have been fascinated-to-distraction by the implications of a technology that mutes the need to trust a network's participants — flawed, unreliable, charmingly crude creatures that we are — by replacing it with trust in software and math.

"Blockchain," of course, is a genus under which multiple species have mutated and emerged, featuring varying levels of openness but always holding consensus, immutability and security at their very center. I tend to refer to it as "shared version of digital truth," since it describes the technology in a way that communications professionals and executives can grok easily. Blockchain-for-banks consortium R3 puts it another way: "I see what you see… and I know that what I see is what you see."

What was once the sole domain of a truly unique breed of enthusiasts has become a high-interest topic among influencers. And, most certainly, the World Economic Forum at Davos has noticed, hosting presentations this week with such titles as "Employing the Blockchain to Serve Society" and "The Blockchain Revolutionizes Global Transactions."

Trust in Blockchain Companies

Now, you might have missed this within the broad release of the 2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER (NEW Updated version here) but amid the outtakes, b-sides, and deep cuts you find that we asked the following question: "Thinking about specific sectors within the technology industry, please indicate how much you trust businesses in each of the following sectors to do what is right."

Those sectors not only included blockchain technology companies, but those in mobile, VR/AR, autonomous vehicles, cloud, sharing/collaboration and Internet-of-Things (IoT) as well. Respondents were asked to rate their level of trust in these tech-sector participants on a sliding scale. The graphs below reflect the degree to which the Informed Public in those countries trusted the companies described.

Today, we'll focus on the Informed Public in the 28 markets that the Edelman Trust Barometer surveys.

An Early Look: Informed Publics by Country

First, let's look at the Informed Public's confidence in blockchain companies' ability to "to do what is right."

I'm intrigued by the fact that the top four countries happen to be major manufacturing hubs in Asia. In fact, along with powerhouse China, the other three (India, Indonesia and Malaysia) are components of Deloitte's MITI-V ("Mighty Five") from its 2016 Manufacturing Competitiveness Index. The MITI-V are countries that stand to become competitive manufacturing centers in the next five years as Chinese manufacturing moves toward higher-value segments.

This high level of trust may signal that these countries may see blockchain technology, and the companies that provide it, as a means to gain more control over (and more trust in) their supply chains. It may also serve as a great equalizer, bridging gaps between developed and developing countries. After all, supply chain applications are absolutely a killer app for blockchain technology and one that communicators ought to study very closely.

Granted, this chart doesn't (yet) normalize for countries that may have a very high trust in technology anyway. Even then, blockchain technology generally held its own against the other six fairly well, considering the latter sectors each have the advantage of an easily attainable consumer experience that the former does not. (Consumers back up smartphone pictures to “the cloud.” VR has a rich history in science fiction, which has incrementally moved toward science fact. Self-driving cars are a mainstream news item thanks to Uber and Google. Even some bitcoin users might not know the blockchain technology that supports the system.)

Blockchain Compared to Cloud

Of the basket of seven technologies listed, the cloud is perhaps the most interesting point of comparison and a means to lend some context to the above. Here we find that more than a third (10) of the Informed Public in the countries surveyed (28) trust blockchain companies equally or more than cloud companies.

Here are the ten:

A quick look at some of the countries represented gives little wonder why some Informed Public might esteem companies who build a technology centered on trust a bit higher than one that makes surveillance somewhat easier.

What's Next?

We will likely be examining these results for some time. The signals are faint, more time is needed for analysis, and this format's compression level is high. But there is most certainly enough to stoke curiosity now and merit further study. Most immediately, it would be interesting to pour these data over overall trust trends in the various countries surveyed, particularly in those where trust in business and government took a serious hit.

Phil Gomes is a senior vice president, B2B Digital, Edelman Chicago. He keeps most of his blockchain-related writings on LinkedIn.

Image by Haya Benitez.