All posts in “Distributed Ledger”

Facebook’s Libra code chugs along ignoring regulatory deadlock

“5 months and growing strong” the Libra Association announced today in an post about its technical infrastructure that completely omits the fierce regulatory backlash to its cryptocurrency.

40 wallets, tools, and block explorers plus 1,700 Github commits have how now been built on its blockchain testnet that’s seen 51,000 mock transactions in the past two months. Libra nodes that process transactions are now being run by Coinbase, Uber, BisonTrails, Iliad, Xapo, Anchorage, and Facebook’s Calibra. Six more nodes are being established, plus there are 8 more getting set up from members who lack technical teams, meaning all 21 members have nodes running or in the works.

But the update on the Libra backend doesn’t explain how the association plans to get all the way to its goal of 100 members and nodes by next year when it originally projected a launch. And it gives no nod to the fact that even if Libra is technically ready to deploy its mainnet in 2020, government regulators in the US and around the world still won’t necessarily let it launch.

Facebook itself seems to be hedging its bets on fintech in the face of pushback against Libra. This week it began the launch of Facebook Pay, which will let users pay friends, merchants, and charities with a single payment method across Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

Facebook Pay could help the company drive more purchases on its platform, get more insights into transactions, and lead merchants to spend more on ads to lure in sales facilitated by quicker payments. That’s most of what Facebook was trying to get out of Libra in the first place, beyond better financial inclusion.

Last month’s congressional testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was less contentious than Libra board member David Marcus’ appearances on Capitol Hill in July. Yet few of lawmakers’ core concerns about how Libra could facilitate money laundering, endanger users’ assets, and give Facebook even more power amidst ongoing anti-trust investigations were assuaged.

This set of announcements from the Libra Core summit of technical members was an opportunity for the project to show how it was focused on addressing fraud, security, and decentralization of power. Instead, the Libra Association took the easy route of focusing on what the Facebook-led development team knows best: writing code, not fixing policy. TechCrunch provided questions to the Libra Association and some members but the promised answers were not returned before press time.

For those organizations without a technical team to implement a node, the Libra Association is working on a strategy to support deployment in 2020, when the Libra Core feature set is complete” the Association’s Michael Engle writes. “The Libra Association intends to deploy 100 nodes on the mainnet, representing a mix of on-premises and cloud-hosted infrastructure.” It feels a bit like Libra is plugging its ears.

Having proper documentation, setting up CLAs to ease GitHub contributions, standardizing the Move code language, a Bug Bounty program, and a public technical roadmap are a good start. But until the Association can answers Congress’ questions directly, they’re likely to refuse Libra approval which Zuckerberg said the project won’t launch without.

The Garage is a new blockchain-focused incubator based in Paris

Meet The Garage, a new incubator in Paris that is all about blockchain projects. Co-founded by Cyril Paglino from Starchain Capital, Fabrice Le Fessant from Dune Network and Oussama Ammar from The Family, the company will support blockchain startups, help big companies launch blockchain projects and educate engineers about blockchain development.

The Garage is a sort of puzzle made out of multiple pieces. First, it wants to create a community of startups and support those startups in different ways.

“We copy and paste The Family’s model, which means that it’s built on trust. We take 5% of equity after six months if the startup and The Garage are happy,” The Garage director Damien Daübe said during a small press conference yesterday.

In exchange for 5%, startups that are part of The Garage community get some help when it comes to product, engineering, press relations, marketing, etc. Eventually, The Garage wants to tap its network of investors to make some introductions and help them get some funding and traction.

There are already five startups participating in the program, such as Ipocamp, Ticket721 and Elite Chain. Eventually, The Garage wants to help 25 startups per year. The Family receives a lot of applications. You could imagine that The Family might recommend The Garage to some of them.

But taking some equity isn’t going to generate revenue from day one. The Garage is also going to work with Dune Network, the new blockchain from OCamlPro. According to The Block, OCamlPro was working with the Tezos Foundation but decided to part ways, create a fork and start a new blockchain.

The Garage is going to work with big corporate clients on some blockchain projects. This could generate some revenue much more quickly.

Finally, The Garage is also going to teach software engineers about blockchain development. The company will host with free lessons in the evening. There will be some online resources as well.

All of this is going to happen in a recently renovated building that looks like a hybrid between an Apple Store and a movie set. If you’re into concrete, metal and industrial design, it’s a beautiful place. It was mostly used for fashion week events until The Garage started renting it.

Arweave’s Permaweb blockchain can host sites & apps forever

What if you could pay now to store something online permanently? You could preserve a website against censorship, save legal contracts, or offer an app even after your company fails. That’s the promise of Arweave‘s Permaweb.

The startup has built a new type of blockchain that relies on Moore’s Law-style declining data storage costs. Users pay for a few hundred years upfront (about half a cent per megabyte), and the interest accrued by the excess payment will perpetually cover the costs of shrinking storage prices.

The Permaweb quietly launched last June. Over 100 permanent apps have been built on Arweave’s infrastructure including an email client in the last six months, while 50,000 objects were stored on the Permaweb in October alone. As long as some node operators keep hosting the data on unused hard drive space, they keep getting paid, and the sites, apps, or files remain available. Instead of needing some special blockchain browser to access what’s stored, the Permaweb can be accessed through traditional web browsers and URLs.

Arweave founder Sam Williams

The potential of the Permaweb has attracted $5 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, and joined by other top blockchain investors Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital who’ve exchanged the cash for tokens from Arweave. Those tokens, and the rest Arweave is sitting on, could become increasingly valuable if the Permaweb becomes popular.

“Arweave’s mission is to become the new Library of Alexandria” Arweave founder Sam Williams writes, “but invulnerable to the pitfalls of centralised points of failure, ensuring that humanity’s shared knowledge and history is available to all future generations.”

Filling Orwell’s Memory Hole

The idea spawned from a slew of PhDs dropouts trying to address the fake news problem. They figured if sites or articles could be stored permanently in their original form, they couldn’t be changed or eradicated by a future despot.

The team discovered blockchains could handle this at small scale. But to decentralize large amounts of data, they developed a special kind of blockchain where miners are rewarded for storing a random old block from the chain, not just the most recent one. That meant the more of the total blocks they stored, the more they’d stand to earn.

After going through TechStars Berlin and recruiting some of their accelerator-mates, Arweave launched the Permaweb mid last year. Those who want to store something download a free Chrome, Firefox, or Brave browser extension, fund their wallet, and make a one-time payment. For example, here’s a permanently hosted forum that won’t disappear like many online communities have over the years.

While pricier than alternatives like AWS in the short-term, the Permaweb could theoretically keep files alive forever. Williams says that data storage costs have declined around 30% per year for a while, but the decentralized network would still be able to cover costs as long as that rate doesn’t fall lower than 0.5%. “If we dropped below 0.5% storage cost decline, then really, really bad things will have happened to humans.” And even then, today’s payments would cover 200 years of storage.

Another benefit is that users of applications can choose to use the original version of a Perma app instead of an updated one. That way if a developer polluted later versions with ads or privacy invasions, users could rely on the old one.

An important concern is that the Permaweb could be used to enable piracy. But Williams tells me the majority of node operators have to vote to approve hosting a file, so they could refuse copyrighted music or revenge porn. And anyways, torrenting is a free and so likely more appealing to pirates. We’ll see if other players try to crash into the market with a similar concept and trigger a perma pricing war. But Williams claims Bitcoin, Ethereum, and EOS can’t do this type of storage while Archive.org, The Wayback Machine, and Perma.cc are focused on academic uses for shallow web preservation.

Arweave likens itself to an Uber for storage, matching users needing to save files with those with excess storage capacity. But it acts as if there’s no middleman like Uber taking a cut. Instead the startup will sell tokens as necessary to stay funded until the network is sufficiently decentralized and runs itself.

“A lot of crypto projects are long on white papers but short on code. Arweave was the opposite” says Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger. His fund tried out the Permaweb by storing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ongoing measurements of carbon dioxide — something climate change deniers might want to suppress.

The goal was always to stop misinformation. Williams concludes “We think that we’re closing what Orwell called the memory hole so people can’t change what was said, so everyone can see it that way in the future without the possibility of redaction or censorship.”

Justin Drake from the Ethereum Foundation is coming to Disrupt Berlin

The Ethereum community is hard at work on Ethereum 2.0, the next major upgrade of its blockchain. It is an incredibly challenging task, and the Ethereum Foundation has been completely transparent about its roadmap and progress. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Ethereum Foundation researcher Justin Drake is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Justin Drake will give us an update on Ethereum 2.0. He’s been working on sharding and scalability in order to better support the Ethereum ecosystem and enable new use cases.

The current version of Ethereum can only handle a dozen transactions per second. With sharding, the computing load will be partitioned, which should lead to a drastic increase in performance.

And the most fascinating part of Ethereum 2.0 is that it’s a moving target. The Ethereum community has put years of research and development in the update in order to refine how it’s going to work and how it’s going to be rolled out. It’s a large scale experiment of distributed development.

Ethereum 2.0 will be rolled out in multiple phases in order to ensure the finality of a transaction, construct shard chains and make sure smart contracts run properly. If that sounds complicated, Justin Drake can tell you in simple words why Ethereum is such an interesting project.

Ethereum 2.0 could transform the Ethereum blockchain into a sort of “world computer” that can execute instructions across a network of servers all around the world. And that’s what so exciting about it.

And that’s not all. In addition to an interview on Ethereum, Justin Drake will also talk about building a blockchain startup on the Extra Crunch stage with other blockchain experts.

He knows how important it is to build a community of developers and researchers around your blockchain project. And he can tell you about the best strategies to communicate and iterate on complicated blockchain projects.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to those discussions — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.


Justin lives in Cambridge, UK where he studied mathematics. He founded the Cambridge Bitcoin Meetup group in 2013, and in 2014 left his job as a programmer and FPGA engineer to study the blockchain space. In 2015 he operated a Bitcoin ATM and started a company providing a web interface for OpenBazaar. He is now a researcher for the Ethereum Foundation focusing on sharding.

Moon’s browser extension lets you pay with bitcoin on Amazon

Meet Moon, a three-person startup that lets you pay for stuff on Amazon using bitcoin via the Lightning Network, bitcoin, Litecoin or Ether. The company has released a desktop browser extension for Google Chrome, Brave and Opera.

While some e-commerce retailers let you pay with cryptocurrencies, the biggest e-commerce platforms have yet to accept cryptocurrencies. Moon doesn’t want to wait and wants to make it possible to pay with cryptocurrencies using current payment methods.

After installing the extension, Moon automatically recognizes when you’re on an Amazon checkout page and inserts the company’s own payment widget. You can see how much you’re going to pay in cryptocurrencies before accepting the transaction.

Right now, Moon lets you pay using two different ways. You can pay with any bitcoin wallet that works on top of the Lightning Network. Normal bitcoin transactions can take minutes to be confirmed on the bitcoin blockchain. The Lightning Network lets you open a payment channel between Lightning nodes to enable fast transactions.

Moon also lets you pay with your crypto balance on your Coinbase account. This way, if you hold bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, etc. on your Coinbase account, you can also pay in seconds by leveraging Coinbase’s API.

Behind the scene, Moon uses prepaid value on Amazon. When you pay with Moon, the service automatically converts your cryptocurrencies, tops up your Amazon account and pays with your Amazon balance. Moon doesn’t charge additional fees.

In the future, Moon plans to expand beyond the U.S. and Canada and let customers in Europe use the browser extension. Similarly, Moon wants to expand to other e-commerce websites. Moon participated in the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator.

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