Joining The Team At MaidSafe

(This is a repost from the MaidSafe blog)

As we hurtle towards the end of 2017, it’s time to take stock. And the verdict’s in: it’s been a crazy year in the world of cryptocurrency. But thankfully, in most cases, that’s crazy-good, as opposed to crazy-bad. That’s certainly the case for me personally at least. And this is why…

Back in January 2014, I organised the first Bitcoin Meetup in Scotland. As I wrote at the time, it felt like a bit of a leap of faith. Not in terms of the organisation (thanks to Meetup). But because the prevailing view amongst those few who’d actually heard of this ‘magic internet money’ was that the whole thing was a scam and destined to end in tears.

Whether real or perceived, it crossed my mind that there might be a reputational risk in becoming so deeply involved as an organiser. I don’t consider myself risk-averse in any way. But as someone who had enjoyed/endured a legal career of more than a decade, I’m hardly the best person to judge. After all, the risk of loss-aversion has well-known effects on decision-making.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get past one simple fact. I’d spent many months by that stage falling deeper down the proverbial Bitcoin rabbit hole. Late nights wrestling with explanations about the technology, engaging with the economic implications, debating the future potential and limitations. To me, it was clear that change – at a fundamental, disruptive level that would resonate across multiple areas of everyday life – was coming. And yet, as far as I could make out, no-one in Scotland had got together in a room  to discuss what was going on. The decision was made. I might be left sitting alone in that pub one evening – but surely there had to be others out there.

The story of how the scene in Scotland developed after that first meetup (for which, to be clear, I claim no credit!) is an interesting one. But it’s not the focus here. Nor is the purpose of this post a chance for me to say ‘I told you so’ when we look at Bitcoin in 2017. I believe Bitcoin remains a technology in evolution with an indeterminate end state that has plenty of room left to run. The key thing here is the paradigm shift that’s taking place.

But that very first night in Edinburgh was important for another reason. I’m still in contact with many of the people that I met for the first time that night. But undoubtedly one of the most impactful conversations I’ve had was with someone who’d been one of the first to sign up for that meetup – a guy called David Irvine, who travelled all the way across from the West Coast of Scotland, from an outfit that went by the name of MaidSafe.

I’d tried to research everyone who’d signed up before the meetup. Not in a creepy ‘let’s-track-you’ kind of way. But in a ‘let’s-build-the-community’ kind of way. I wanted to help people to keep the conversations going after the event. And I have to admit, my feeble brain had struggled to understand what MaidSafe did before the Meetup. But that changed when I spoke to David on that evening. And I was dumbfounded by the fact that a project with such huge ambitions and such far-reaching implications was taking place pretty much under my nose in Scotland.

Since that time, I’ve been heavily involved in the Bitcoin/blockchain scene, particularly in Scotland. But I’ve always been convinced that something big was happening in the mythical shed in Troon. Throughout my travels, I kept pointing people in the direction of the SAFE Network and discussing what it represents. That included asking Nick (Lambert, COO) to give a talk when I put on the Scottish Bitcoin Conference in 2014, running a Maidsafe-focused meetup and also sharing in the rollercoaster excitement of the MaidSafe fundraising in April 2014.

Fast forward four years and I’m delighted to say that I’ve now joined MaidSafe full-time as Marketing and Outreach Coordinator. Most people who start at a new company talk platitudes about their new employers. But you’ll have to take my word for it in this case. I’d continue to sing the praises of the SAFE Network even if I wasn’t working here.

This is why.

MaidSafe’s mission is no less significant than building a new secure network that will revolutionise the way that every one of us uses the internet. Many years ago, David had worked out that we collectively needed a better solution. And MaidSafe is in good company, with none other than the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, sharing similar concerns. In fact, Tim is working on addressing the same sort of issues with his Solid project at MIT.

Over the past couple of years, the problems of data storage and security have only worsened. The concerns so presciently raised by MaidSafe eleven years ago have intensified in the collective awareness of society. We now see daily examples of sensitive personal information and data being hacked or misplaced by third parties. Arguments over privacy and net neutrality dominate the news. And new concerns over the excessive power wielded by giant internet companies are raised daily.

In short, as the internet has increased in importance to our daily lives, so has the visibility of its major flaws. And crucially – these aren’t issues that will simply solve themselves. We can’t sit back and expect things to improve. Technologies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have helped to bring the benefits of decentralisation to the forefront of discussion. And even amongst those who remain cynical, few still believe our current architecture remains fit-for-purpose when it comes to the next few decades of human evolution.

In addition to playing a small part in helping to build a solution to a problem that increases with each passing day, there’s another big motivating factor at play for me here. With the emergence of MaidSafe so early in the chronology of recent events, I believe that many over the past few years have simply not had the opportunity to spend  the time to find out what the ultimate success of this project represents. I’ve been a member of MaidSafe’s forum (https://safenetforum.org/) since it was set up (not by the company but by enthusiasts around the world, it should be noted) a few years ago – and I’m constantly bowled over by just how engaged, respectful, intelligent and enthusiastic this community is.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many talks on Bitcoin and the blockchain scene in general. But the reality is that my advocacy has always been a response to the level of community engagement out there. The more people that found out about the subject, the keener they were to explore further. The similarities to me are striking. Today, I don’t think most people are aware that the SAFE Network project has been active for eleven years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Pre-Bitcoin. The project even had a prototype crypto-currency before Satoshi’s White Paper. As I said at the start, in the context of 2017, the SAFE Network is so far from being a hyped product it’s not funny. But it’s clear to me what the SAFE Network is: an open-source project that’s open to all that invokes a passion and belief in a community who are all driving in the same direction.

Remind you of something?

As I start working with the team on a unique project, I can’t wait to get out and do my bit. I remember a comment David made years ago. It was along the lines of “It doesn’t matter who achieves our goal in the end – but it does matter that someone does”. Joining a team that have been toiling away at some of the hardest technical challenges out there for over a decade – for the most part entirely unheralded and under the radar – there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to change soon. And I can’t wait to get started.

If you want to get in touch and have a chat, please reach out. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@dugcampbell) or you can sign up and speak to thousands more via the forum (https://safenetforum.org/). In the meantime, we’re looking for some more people to join us at MaidSafe – so if you’re a UX/UI Designer, Software Support Analyst or Testing & Release Manager and fancy joining the team, please get in touch!

Fiat Currency Stash Hacked (Again)

Interesting to read today that possibly up to a billion dollars have been stolen from a range of banks in a sophisticated and coordinated attack by hackers that started in 2013.

It’s even more interesting however to hear that not one single bank has, to date, stepped forward to admit that it’s lost cash. And that the attack might even still be taking place today.

We hear criticisms so often within the digital currency ecosystem that imply that Bitcoin (for example) has inherently inferior security. Yet the reality is that whilst some early stage startups within Bitcoin have struggled with inexperienced leadership as they scaled, the so-called safe and traditional sector has struggled at least as badly over the years. In any organisation where your model is to pool valuable resources (in this case, cash), you effectively wave a big red flag and the reality is that someone somewhere will either try to steal it or they’ll negligently misplace it.

As I often mention when I give talks about Bitcoin, it’s worth remembering the (perhaps apocryphal) response of prolific criminal Willie Sutton when asked why he kept robbing banks.

“It’s where the money is”, he replied.

That’s the centralised system we have at present. Time for a change?

Andreas Schools The Canadian Senate

Few words tonight. I’ll let someone else do it who’s far better than I’ll ever be at explaining exactly why Bitcoin is so important.

Yup, it’s Andreas schooling the Canadian Senate about Bitcoin. It’s a long one from a couple of months ago but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s worth watching. Enjoy!

PS Call me psychic if you like – but I have an inkling that tomorrow’s post *might just* be about Bitcoin breaking through into the established financial markets (in the US at least) considering that there appear to be announcements scheduled for both Coinbase (the first official insured US exchange anyone?) and the Winklevoss twins (Gemini ETF/exchange?).

Coinbase To The Moon Announcement
Coinbase: 26th Jan 2015 – To The Moon Announcement

Counterparty and Medici

I don’t tend to write too frequently about Bitcoin here. Which is really odd because pretty much literally all of my time that I’m awake and not doing other (paid) work or doing family things is spent reading about, speaking about or thinking about Bitcoin. I think the reason is simply because the posts that I have written about Bitcoin recently (like here and here) tend to very much focus on the introductory, pack-it-all-in at a 30,000 foot high level kind of posts.

However, I did write one post with a slightly wider perspective back at the start of October following the huge announcement by Overstock that it planned to work with a couple of the core developers from Counterparty on Project Medici – in effect a decentralised exchange for the buying and selling of cryptosecurities. I’m pretty excited about the whole Counterparty project. It’s great to see Scotcoin making the decision to migrate to Counterparty for example – immediately tackling the network security issue full on by coming under Bitcoin’s wing.

Anyway, maybe this is a cop-out today (and certainly SEO suicide for the site….if I was concerned with such things…) – but I thought I’d repost my original piece on the Medici announcement from earlier in October – mainly because there’s some interesting links in there that some of my non-crypto friends might be interested in looking into further over time.

October 3rd, 2014

The big news in recent days has undoubtedly been the announcement from Overstock that it will commit real time and money to build a platform upon which cryptosecurities can be sold using Counterparty’s decentralised exchange. Adopting the name of Medici (in a nod to the pioneering Italian bank that pioneered improvements in the ledger accounting system in the 15th century), Overstock’s goal is to build a system that will let individuals trade securities directly on a decentralised exchange, thereby removing the need for any third party transfer agents.

There’s huge potential for a project that attempts to reimagine the financial markets using blockchain technology. If you’re looking for disruption, building a system that lets individuals execute trades of their own cryptosecurities directly in such a way that the cryptographic confirmation is verifiable to all on a public blockchain is a pretty good start.

CEO Patrick Byrne is no stranger to the world of cryptocurrencies of course. He drove his business to become the first billion dollar business to accept bitcoins earlier this year and gave the keynote at the Bitcoin 2014 Conference. However, the news is significant in itself for a number of reasons – not least because this is arguably represents the first major milestone for a 2.0 platform in the long journey towards much-touted mainstream usage.

Debate has raged about the choice of Counterparty, with members of the NXT and BitShares communities (amongst others) actively putting forward strong arguments for their own technologies during a process that was curated in part via Overstock’s wiki (“How to Issue a Cryptosecurity”) that was launched a couple of months ago with the purpose of focusing the debate. The decision is undoubtedly a significant boost for Counterparty which only launched at the start of 2014. But it’s important to bear in mind the fact that once any cryptosecurity is ultimately issued, the owner will be free to exchange this on another platform of his or her choosing in the future. Any decision to go with a specific platform was always going to split opinions amongst many exceptionally talented and committed individuals who appear at times to be competing, if simply for community mindshare.

However, the fact remains that the first attempt is being spearheaded by a corporation with ‘skin in the game’, so to speak, to deliver on the promise of decentralised exchanges for the mainstream – a concept that has been openly discussed within the wider crypto-community for a long time with few tangible results.

The benefits of a successful project are clear. To Byrne, a man who has campaigned against the inefficiencies – and alleged criminalities – of the capital markets for over a decade (focusing in particular on existing loopholes within centralised clearing and fractional reserve banking), the potential for pushing decentralised blockchain technologies to tackle the issues head-on is hugely attractive.

In theory, a decentralised exchange could bring significant benefits by enabling startups to take their companies public more easily – accessing deeper pools of public money to fund their growth – by slashing a significant chunk of IPO costs which currently go to middlemen. Some estimate that the costs of issuing a crypto-security via a decentralised exchange could be as much as 20% below the costs charged by Wall Street banks for listing.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, nor the likely cost of surmounting them.

The reality is that the technology hurdles are small in relation to the regulatory obstacles and it’s without question that the regulators will have plenty to say about Byrne’s campaign to democratise Wall Street. Overstock have partnered with Perkins Coie, a law firm at the front of crypto developments, to shape that battle. And ultimately, regardless of the success or otherwise of Medici, Byrne and Overstock deserve much credit for  shouldering the cost (5-10% of Overstock’s cashflow has been earmarked) of a project that directly or otherwise will be used by others to deliver future implementations of the concept.

The costs are unlikely to be solely financial – hence the importance of having a figurehead who’s not frightened of ruffling a few feathers. It may be a long, arduous journey ahead but there can be no doubt for all those in favour of innovation that it’s worth watching the progress of Medici very closely over the coming months.

 

Bitcoin Chat on Sand Hill Road

Since I started posting on a daily basis here, the reality is that daily life sometimes gets in the way of my writing time that I try to put aside. Today was one of those days. But rather than stopping that daily habit, I’ve decided that those days are a great chance to post a video that I’ve watched recently that’s worth sharing.

Given that I had a blast giving another Bitcoin 101 talk this morning (at Young and Partners lawyers), it seemed apt to stay on theme and share a video from the recent Academic Roundtable 2014 organised by Andreessen Horowitz. Of course, given the high pedigree of commentary from the firm on Bitcoin’s potential to date (two essential posts to read here and here if you haven’t come across them yet), it’s not surprising that there are some great points from a combination of Chris DixonMatthew Green (co-author of ZeroCoin, the truly anonymous extension to the Bitcoin protocol) and Ed Felten from Princeton.

 

As an aside, it’s great to see tipping suddenly really take off across social platforms over the past few weeks. Not only are my favourites ChangeTip making it ridiculously simply to send bitcoin to pretty much anyone with a social account (in most cases, people who have no clue about Bitcoin – yet), but Coinbase have just introduced a simple tip button to help content creators monetise content for blog posts and the like.

Not because I’m expecting any, but just to show you how easy it is I’ve added the ChangeTip version below. Because it’s easy. And everyone should do it. What have you got to lose?