When is a blockchain startup not a blockchain startup?

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It’s awkward when you set up a business around a technology that you reckon is going to disrupt global finance so you name your business after said technology, send your CEO on speaking tours to evangelise about said technology, but then decide that said technology isn’t going to do anything useful for you, isn’t it?

Digital Asset was one of the pioneers of blockchain-in-finance, with the idea that it could make clearing and trade settlement sexy again (well OK maybe not but at least make it faster and more efficient). Its erstwhile CEO Blythe Masters, a glamorous former JP Executive who was credited with/blamed for pioneering credit-default swaps, trotted around the globe telling people that blockchain was “email for money”.

So significant a role did DA play in the early blockchain mythos that artist Simon Denny immortalised Masters and the firm in a special edition of the board game Risk, as part of a 2016 art exhibition in New York.

And even though Masters stepped down as CEO a year ago, Digital Asset is still seen as a big player — crypto news site Coindesk last week called the firm a “seminal enterprise blockchain startup”. But one might have thought if the company was so seminal, it might still be actively involved in blockchain.

Not so much.

As Izzy and the FT’s Phil Stafford wrote back in the summer, the firm has been steadily shifting away from the distributed technicolour dream-ledger that is blockchain, and towards DAML, its programming language for creating smart contracts (i.e. contracts that self-execute when certain pre-determined criteria are met).

But until now, the idea seemed to be that the smart contracts would run on top of some sort of a blockchain platform. As DAML is just a programming language, and therefore cannot be used on its own, the idea would be that you would use it to run your own DAML-based applications, on a blockchain or distributed ledger-based system (the difference between…

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