Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg is highly adept at addressing Facebook’s greatest threats.

He spent $1 billion on Instagram because that’s where young people were posting photos. After getting rebuffed by Snapchat, he shelled out a whopping $19 billion for WhatsApp to make sure Facebook had a leading messaging platform. And to address Facebook’s weakness in consumer devices, he plopped down $2 billion for Oculus.

Now there’s blockchain, a technology that, by its very nature, poses a threat to Facebook.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger with data stored across a network of computers and rules that are enforced by its many participants. It’s the opposite of Facebook, which is a massive centralized organization that controls all the infrastructure underlying the 2 billion global users on its proprietary social network.

Imagine a vast online network in the future where we all hang out, chat and buy things, but that’s not owned by Facebook or Google or Amazon. That’s the promise some people see in blockchain.

“I certainly don’t think blockchain is an existential threat to Facebook today,” said Spencer Bogart, a partner at Blockchain Capital, a San Francisco-based venture firm that invests in blockchain companies and cryptocurrencies. “Could it be? Yes, longer term. That’s why they want to be smart and stay engaged.”

On Tuesday, Facebook offered its most significant acknowledgment to date that blockchain is real and not just an overfunded science experiment bolstered by the hype around bitcoin.

David Marcus, one of the company’s top executives, the head of its Messenger platform and a former CEO of PayPal, said he’s leaving Messenger and “setting up a small group to explore how to best leverage blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch.” Marcus is also a board member at cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase.

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