Category Archives: Distributed Systems

Blockchain — A Definition for Software Engineers

Blockchain has become a buzzword grown out of Bitcoin and subsequent cryptocurrencies. The original Bitcoin paper did not use the term blockchain and it took some time for the term to emerge, in order to describe the underlying technology that permits implementing digital currencies and other applications.

Consequently, and also due to the decentralised nature of blockchain communities, there is no official definition of the term. Many definitions out there are aimed at the investment community or the general public, which is fine, but means they lack a technical depth. Other definitions merely reflect the lack of understanding of the author. Those with a background in Computer Science or Software Engineering that would like to understand the underlying technologies need more precise definition.

Therefore, here is a definition aimed at software engineers and computer scientists:

A blockchain is a linked list data structure, implementing an infinite state engine with immutable state transitions, on top of a peer-to-peer network with a byzantine failure model.

Let’s take a look at this definition one concept at a time.

Linked list data structure

The data held in a blockchain is represented in a list of block, with each block linking back to the previous one. The following diagram is from the original Bitcoin paper and shows how data (transctions) is organised in blocks.


Bitcoin block structure

Blocks are linked by including the cryptographic hash of the previous block. All blockchains have a similar way of organising data. However, just defining a blockchain as a linked list of blocks is not enough. Some additional properties are required.

Infinite state engine

Blockchain systems represent state engines. State engines are systems modelled as a series of state through which the system transitions. State engines are termed finite, if there is a finite number of possible system states. The possible states are known in advance. In the case of infinite state engines, there is an endless number of possible states.


Example of a state engine

Blockchains thus, are infinite state engines. Transactions take the system from one state to another. System state may be account balances, as in Bitcoin’s case, represented by the set of UTXOs (unspent transaction outputs). In more general purpose blockchains, such as Ethereum, state can represent any piece of data.

A virtual machine (VM) typically executes transactions to take the system form one state to another. The Bitcoin VM executes a domain specific script language encoded in transaction inputs and outputs. The Ethereum VM executes more complex operations, as it is touring complete (it can be used execute anything that can be modelled computationally), but the concept is the same.

Transaction immutability

Transactions, which we have just defined as state transitions, are immutable in a blockchain system. This means, that once a transaction has been confirmed, i.e. included in a valid block, it cannot be undone. State can only be reversed by issuing another transaction, but history of transactions cannot be modified.

Peer-to-peer network (P2P)

The data structure and the infinite state engine a system implements is no enough to make it a blockchain. A real blockchain executes on a P2P network. Each full node has a copy of the data-structure, and importantly, all nodes reach consensus on the correct version of the data. That is; all nodes agree on the same system state. A blockchain system thus implements various P2P protocols, such as node and neighbour detection, group communication protocols and consensus protocols.

Byzantine failure model

The biggest achievement of blockchains is probably, that they achieve all the above in a byzantine failure model. In distributed systems research a failure model is the assumption on what may go wrong in a system. For instance, the crash failure model assumes that nodes may crash and the the partition failure model assumes that nodes (or groups of nodes) may be temporarily isolated, due to network faults. Both failure models however assume that nodes try to behave correctly, i.e. there are no malicious participants.

In the byzantine failure model we assume that a node may behave in any way, i.e. system state integrity may not be the goal of every node and there may be malicious participants. Thus, no node is assumed to be trusted.

I was working in distributed systems research in the early 2000s and we managed to implement pretty reliable systems with crash and partition failure models, but byzantine failure models were considered extremely difficult. Blockchains present a working solution to this problem, which is why they can actually be used to model financial transactions in trustless systems.

Blockchains achieve operation with a byzantine failure model by implementing strict consensus mechanisms which include financial incentives for nodes to maintain state integrity, such as proof-of-work or proof-of-stake based models implemented by cryptocurrencies. This also explains why blockchains usually come with their own currency and why transactions tend to have an ascociated transaction fee.

Supporting a byzantine failure model is very costly. This is the main reason why blockchain solutions scale badly. It is important to think carefully wether a problem requires a blockchain based solution, or may work on a traditional centralised system or even a distributed system that does not require a byzantine failure model.

Relaxed definitions and technology advances

The above definition is muddied in some systems which are usually also grouped in the blockchain category. These include systems that relax the failure model by including some trusted nodes, for example systems that use proof-of-authority consensus schemes, in which blocks are created by a set of trusted nodes.

At the other end of the scale there are systems with similar properties that replace the underlying data structure. For example there are systems that build on directed acyclic graphs instead of linked lists of blocks, such as RaiBlocks and IOTA.

Blockchain — A Definition for Software Engineers

Blockchain has become a buzzword grown out of Bitcoin and subsequent cryptocurrencies. The original Bitcoin paper did not use the term blockchain and it took some time for the term to emerge, in order to describe the underlying technology that permits implementing digital currencies and other applications.

Consequently, and also due to the decentralised nature of blockchain communities, there is no official definition of the term. Many definitions out there are aimed at the investment community or the general public, which is fine, but means they lack a technical depth. Other definitions merely reflect the lack of understanding of the author. Those with a background in Computer Science or Software Engineering that would like to understand the underlying technologies need more precise definition.

Therefore, here is a definition aimed at software engineers and computer scientists:

A blockchain is a linked list data structure, implementing an infinite state engine with immutable state transitions, on top of a peer-to-peer network with a byzantine failure model.

Let’s take a look at this definition one concept at a time.

Linked list data structure

The data held in a blockchain is represented in a list of block, with each block linking back to the previous one. The following diagram is from the original Bitcoin paper and shows how data (transctions) is organised in blocks.


Bitcoin block structure

Blocks are linked by including the cryptographic hash of the previous block. All blockchains have a similar way of organising data. However, just defining a blockchain as a linked list of blocks is not enough. Some additional properties are required.

Infinite state engine

Blockchain systems represent state engines. State engines are systems modelled as a series of state through which the system transitions. State engines are termed finite, if there is a finite number of possible system states. The possible states are known in advance. In the case of infinite state engines, there is an endless number of possible states.


Example of a state engine

Blockchains thus, are infinite state engines. Transactions take the system from one state to another. System state may be account balances, as in Bitcoin’s case, represented by the set of UTXOs (unspent transaction outputs). In more general purpose blockchains, such as Ethereum, state can represent any piece of data.

A virtual machine (VM) typically executes transactions to take the system form one state to another. The Bitcoin VM executes a domain specific script language encoded in transaction inputs and outputs. The Ethereum VM executes more complex operations, as it is touring complete (it can be used execute anything that can be modelled computationally), but the concept is the same.

Transaction immutability

Transactions, which we have just defined as state transitions, are immutable in a blockchain system. This means, that once a transaction has been confirmed, i.e. included in a valid block, it cannot be undone. State can only be reversed by issuing another transaction, but history of transactions cannot be modified.

Peer-to-peer network (P2P)

The data structure and the infinite state engine a system implements is no enough to make it a blockchain. A real blockchain executes on a P2P network. Each full node has a copy of the data-structure, and importantly, all nodes reach consensus on the correct version of the data. That is; all nodes agree on the same system state. A blockchain system thus implements various P2P protocols, such as node and neighbour detection, group communication protocols and consensus protocols.

Byzantine failure model

The biggest achievement of blockchains is probably, that they achieve all the above in a byzantine failure model. In distributed systems research a failure model is the assumption on what may go wrong in a system. For instance, the crash failure model assumes that nodes may crash and the the partition failure model assumes that nodes (or groups of nodes) may be temporarily isolated, due to network faults. Both failure models however assume that nodes try to behave correctly, i.e. there are no malicious participants.

In the byzantine failure model we assume that a node may behave in any way, i.e. system state integrity may not be the goal of every node and there may be malicious participants. Thus, no node is assumed to be trusted.

I was working in distributed systems research in the early 2000s and we managed to implement pretty reliable systems with crash and partition failure models, but byzantine failure models were considered extremely difficult. Blockchains present a working solution to this problem, which is why they can actually be used to model financial transactions in trustless systems.

Blockchains achieve operation with a byzantine failure model by implementing strict consensus mechanisms which include financial incentives for nodes to maintain state integrity, such as proof-of-work or proof-of-stake based models implemented by cryptocurrencies. This also explains why blockchains usually come with their own currency and why transactions tend to have an ascociated transaction fee.

Supporting a byzantine failure model is very costly. This is the main reason why blockchain solutions scale badly. It is important to think carefully wether a problem requires a blockchain based solution, or may work on a traditional centralised system or even a distributed system that does not require a byzantine failure model.

Relaxed definitions and technology advances

The above definition is muddied in some systems which are usually also grouped in the blockchain category. These include systems that relax the failure model by including some trusted nodes, for example systems that use proof-of-authority consensus schemes, in which blocks are created by a set of trusted nodes.

At the other end of the scale there are systems with similar properties that replace the underlying data structure. For example there are systems that build on directed acyclic graphs instead of linked lists of blocks, such as RaiBlocks and IOTA.

Ethereum’s scalability roadmap and distributed systems challenges

Ethereum’s recent Parity hack resulted in a potential loss of up to $150M and is another addition to a long list of issues that point to the fact that “smart contracts” are extremely hard to get right on a blockchain.

Some months ago, after discussions with a few mentors, I explicitly decided to not comment on Ethereum’s architecture no matter how odd I might find their design. It’s not my responsibility to try and course correct Ethereum’s path (I’m not involved with the project) and I’ve publicly voiced my opinion a few times before which should be enough.

Ethereum developers and core team are really nice people and mean well but it’s hard to have conversations about distributed systems with them.

A lot of people were asking me about examples where Ethereum developers are reinventing known distributed systems concept or are just generally misunderstanding the concepts. Usually, out of politeness, I don’t get into specifics but yesterday I pointed out one example.

I’ve known Eric Brewer for a while (we started a new computer science conference together) and I know the history around what problems he was trying to solve that led to the CAP theorem: scalability was the primary issue.

The Ethereum community generally reacts well to feedback and here are a few suggestions:

  1. Stick with the terminology and concepts that evolved over 30+ years of distributed systems research. Using known words in new ways or reinventing new names for known concepts confuses people.
  2. Don’t rely on wikipedia as a source of information for distributed systems, it’s a really bad source for this field. Read Any Tanenbaum, or just dive into the research papers directly (lists by Frans Kaashoek, Mike Freedman, David Mazieres are a good start).
  3. Hire people who have 5–10 years of training in the field. Ethereum has a $30B market cap and can afford to attract distributed systems researchers. I personally know some great people who’re coming on the job market and happy to make intros.

I’m likely going to take a vacation from Ethereum discussions again. For people who’re curious about how Blockstack approaches scalability differently, here is a good summary.

Comments? Tweet them @muneeb.

Lyra and the Antonopoulos test

About Private Distributed Ledgers

On May 31, 2017, a new consortium over Blockchain, called Red Lyra, was created by 22 Spanish companies, in order to develop a permissioned Blockchain to provide basic services in Spain, such as secure identification. Among the founders of Red Lyra there are banks, energy corporations, law firms, and consultancy firms. This is not the first consortium created over Blockchain, but it is in fact the first one involving only Spanish companies.

In fact, there are currently a lot of consortiums over Blockchain all over the world. William Mougayar, the author of ”The Business Blockchain” has listed some of them here.

Why are consortia created?

This collaborative behavior between big companies in front of the advent of a new technology is not new. Before the Internet crashed in 2001, a lot of different consortia were also created with the aim to develop ecommerce. Most of them just didn’t survive the crisis.

In the case of Blockchain, consortia are born because of one or two of these reasons:

  • To help developing Blockchain technology in order to implement it into the current business models of their members, as a way for boosting innovation, getting lower manufacturing costs, and accessing a technical competitive advantage that potentially allow them to increasing profits.
  • To avoid the potential disruptive effects that a new technology creates over the old models carried on by incumbents. Blockchain is somehow perceived as a threat for some industry branches, due to the fact it can transform the way that value is captured. This goal is pursued towards the provision of services through ”permissioned” Blockchains before the same services are openly available through new distributed sources, with the hope that the newly created user behaviors and their inherent resistance to change would make difficult the substitution of those services once the open-based alternatives are developed.

In an article published in the January–February 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, The Truth about Blockchain, Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani define four stages for Blockchain’s development, i.e., single use, localization, substitution, and transformation. Localization is a stage in which there are innovations relatively high in novelty but need only a limited number of users for creating value. In other words, localization’s stage involves some organizations working together for creating local private networks for building single-use applications. These are the type of consortia we find nowadays.

About Lyra

The Spanish consortium, Lyra, defines itself as a transversal, multisectoral, and neutral network, open to any startup or any company that wants to use it to validate basic services and run applications. One of the first services to be developed is said to be a system of digital identification, 100% compliant with the Spanish regulations, and able to be verified by Spanish notaries. Lyra defines itself as a ”semipublic permissioned network”. In order to develop it, these 22 companies have created a non-profit association.

The Antonopoulos test

Andreas Antonopoulos summarizes the main features of Blockchain as an open, borderless, transnational, neutral, censorship resistant, and trustless network (see Blockchain vs. Bullshit: Thoughts on the Future of Money).

Can Lyra be considered as a Blockchain network regarding to these criteria? Let’s consider each one of them separately, in what I have called the Antonopoulos test.

An open network
Open doesn’t mean that anyone can join it. It means that anyone can do it without previous restrictions or approval by the members of the network. It doesn’t seem clear with the information provided if it is the case or nor for Lyra.

Borderless
Lyra is a network of nodes owned by companies that make up the network. Lyra describes itself as a Spanish Blockchain network, and it seems to be only focused on Spanish users.

Transnational
This is related to network centric trust, in order to avoid that any government, public or private institution is able to provide a different source of trust, and therefore, network’s users are not able to only trust independently the own network. Network centric trust (and transnationality) is breached here when the organization says that will follow the Spanish regulations and when it states that Spanish notaries are the ones who finally grant ”trust” as a token of truthfulness.

Neutral
Lyra defines itself as neutral. But what does neutral mean? Neutral means that the network is not serving the goals of any institution or organization. Can a network that is run by banks and big corporations be neutral? Let’s imagine a fintech startup running a successful business model over Lyra but neither being a node of the association nor dealing with it, but at the same eroding with its activity inside the network the market share of banks. Is Lyra still going to be neutral then? What are the governance rules and transparency policies that Lyra is going to adopt to run the network? In other words, how are decisions going to be taken? Are these procedures going to be transparent? Why are we going to believe that transparency is going to be applied inside Lyra when its founders don’t apply it when business as usual? How neutrality is going to be guaranteed?

Censorship resistant
How many nodes is Lyra going to keep? Where are they? Are they together or not, all in Spain? How are they protected? How are they kept independent? What’s the difference between this network typology and a shared VPN between parties? And, more important, how is Lyra going to keep security, not being a purely decentralized system?

The result of the Antonopoulos test
It seems clear then that Lyra is an example of a permissioned network. It seems clear too that it doesn’t pass the Antonopoulos test. It is not open, neither borderless, transnational, neutral or censorship resistant. But it doesn’t mean Lyra is useless. It will probably be suitable for their founders, and it will get some market value, but, please, don’t look for the real transformation assigned to Blockchain here!

Just in the same way that we used in the past different terms for VPN’s and Internet, I think we should not call these type of networks as Blockchains, as they are in fact ”Private Distributed Ledgers”. If we don’t use the word Blockchain for referring to them, we avoid poisoning the term. Blockchain is currently a difficult concept to understand for most of people, so I think it’s better if we keep the term for defining only an open, borderless, transnational, neutral, censorship resistant, and trustless network.

Lyra is in fact an example about what is currently happening around the Blockchain’s community worldwide. As said before, consortia are created as private networks that only need a limited number of users for creating value.

Substitution

At the same time that consortia are created, we also see some advances on the field of substitution, the next stage of development according to Iansiti and Lakhani, as more and more companies try to develop simple solutions to be widely adopted, e.g., fintech solutions for the unbanked, or wallets for cryptocurrencies. These solutions need to become mainstream in order to create impact, and this is nowadays the real challenge.

Transformation

But, what about the transformation that Blockchain promises?
In my opinion, the social transformation expected for Blockchain is based on trust and decentralization. This involves new systems of governance to be proved as useful. And it also involves the development of new systems of trust. When I refer to trust, I’m not talking about the kind of trust between parties involved in a transaction, that Blockchain satisfactorily solves, but the trust placed in decentralized systems as a whole, or, in other words, the trust in P2P transactions.

The real mainstream adoption of the open Blockchain is behind the substitution of our delegated trust.

We need to trust decentralized networks instead of, for example, blindly give our trust to some banks just for telling us that they have developed a new, more powerful, and secure network that allows them to keep our money safer, i,e, for just doing the job we pay them for to fulfill.

This is the big challenge. It’s difficult to believe that this change is going to happen from one day to another. It will probably take decades. So, the management of a transition is necessary, and this means that we need time for adaptation and experimentation.

In my opinion, the real challenge is also related to the governance of distributed networks. A lot has to be done here, but I am totally convinced that both two things are correlated. Systems of governance for distributed networks proved successful are going to boost our delegated trust on them.

Both delegated trust and the governance of distributed networks are the minimills of Blockchain.



Lyra and the Antonopoulos test was originally published in Proof-of-word on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

David, this is pretty badass.

David, this is pretty badass.

I’m wondering if you could put together a series for those of us who would love to apply the blockchain technology, but don’t know where to start. How to get to Hello World.

Also: I dig the concept behind PriorThings.com. Would love to see it field-mapped to the current USPTO forms.

Thanks for the exciting, and excited, intro.

Because you’re absolutely right: I thought The Blockchain and Cryptocurrency were one-in-the-same. Good to see it’s a much more empowering platform.

David, this is pretty badass.

David, this is pretty badass.

I’m wondering if you could put together a series for those of us who would love to apply the blockchain technology, but don’t know where to start. How to get to Hello World.

Also: I dig the concept behind PriorThings.com. Would love to see it field-mapped to the current USPTO forms.

Thanks for the exciting, and excited, intro.

Because you’re absolutely right: I thought The Blockchain and Cryptocurrency were one-in-the-same. Good to see it’s a much more empowering platform.

The Ether Review #61 — The Biggest City in Blockchain

Last week I was honoured with the privilege of representing New Zealand at the inaugural ISO/TC-307 Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies standards committee meeting. The event was hosted by the secretariat, Standards Australia. 18 nations attended. The event itself will be the subject of a blog post when I get around to writing it.

While at the meeting, blockchain legend Nick Addison wrangled together a who’s who of blockchain entrepreneurs for a round table discussion. We convened in the media room at the international convention center. The group grew piecemeal over the course of three hours during which we discussed everyone’s projects and the state of blockchain in Australia.

The attendees were:

Tim Bass of Block 8

Bok Khoo of the Internet, and Bok Consulting

Sam Brookes CTO of Veridictum

Russell Mclernon of Rexmls

Luke Anderson of Sigma Prime

Sergei Sergienko of Chronobank

Matt Hale of Divvi

Conspicuously absent were Chris Mountford of DAH, Conor Svenson.

I’ve split the conversation into two episodes and there will be a separate one with Nick Addison because, well, this is Nick Addison we’re talking about here. Before we get stuck in, I want to draw your attention to the Blockchain NZ conference and the Auckland and Wellington Blockchain Meetups. Things are gathering pace down here and with Vitalik soon to grace our shores with his presence, the whole country is abuzz. You can pick up conference tickets at a discount by following this link. I’ll be there and everyone will be invited to my place for a barbecue in the days following.

So let’s hear from they guys in Sydney. First up we have Tim Bass, on joint real estate investing, then Bok Khoo on decentralized exchanges and derivatives markets. After some general chat Sergei discusses Chronobank and Russell explains Rex before we move into discussions about usability, insurance and end user friendly key management. Finally, Sam outlines the steganographic processes behind the operation of the Veridictum anti-piracy platform slated to launch later this year.

https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-ether-review/id899090462?mt=2



The Ether Review #61 — The Biggest City in Blockchain was originally published in The Ether Review on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Ether Review #61 — The Biggest City in Blockchain

Last week I was honoured with the privilege of representing New Zealand at the inaugural ISO/TC-307 Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies standards committee meeting. The event was hosted by the secretariat, Standards Australia. 18 nations attended. The event itself will be the subject of a blog post when I get around to writing it.

While at the meeting, blockchain legend Nick Addison wrangled together a who’s who of blockchain entrepreneurs for a round table discussion. We convened in the media room at the international convention center. The group grew piecemeal over the course of three hours during which we discussed everyone’s projects and the state of blockchain in Australia.

The attendees were:

Tim Bass of Block 8

Bok Khoo of the Internet, and Bok Consulting

Sam Brookes CTO of Veridictum

Russell Mclernon of Rexmls

Luke Anderson of Sigma Prime

Sergei Sergienko of Chronobank

Matt Hale of Divvi

Conspicuously absent were Chris Mountford of DAH, Conor Svenson.

I’ve split the conversation into two episodes and there will be a separate one with Nick Addison because, well, this is Nick Addison we’re talking about here. Before we get stuck in, I want to draw your attention to the Blockchain NZ conference and the Auckland and Wellington Blockchain Meetups. Things are gathering pace down here and with Vitalik soon to grace our shores with his presence, the whole country is abuzz. You can pick up conference tickets at a discount by following this link. I’ll be there and everyone will be invited to my place for a barbecue in the days following.

So let’s hear from they guys in Sydney. First up we have Tim Bass, on joint real estate investing, then Bok Khoo on decentralized exchanges and derivatives markets. After some general chat Sergei discusses Chronobank and Russell explains Rex before we move into discussions about usability, insurance and end user friendly key management. Finally, Sam outlines the steganographic processes behind the operation of the Veridictum anti-piracy platform slated to launch later this year.

https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-ether-review/id899090462?mt=2



The Ether Review #61 — The Biggest City in Blockchain was originally published in The Ether Review on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Hijro Talks Blockchain Solution Strategy at Ariba Live 2017


Source: Linkedin.com

Today Hijro joins SAP Ariba onstage at Ariba live 2017 for two discussion sessions regarding the opportunities in trade utilizing Blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). Blockchain and DLT have been discussed across the Ariba Live event in 2017 as having the potential to disrupt and reimagine trade and supply chain networks around the globe.

CEO Lamar Wilson will represent Hijro on two panels: “What Value Can Blockchain Bring to the Supply Chain?”, and “SAP Ariba Solution Strategy: Blockchain for Business-to-Business, Expert Panel”. These two panels will investigate the potential of DLT to connect and improve global trade platforms by doing the following: provide transparency and tracking of goods, increase visibility into the ownership of trade assets, streamline settlement and reconciliation, connect previously silo’d technology platforms, and merge the physical and financial supply chains.

Hijro continues to differentiate itself from other tech solutions with its ability to drive security, automation, and efficiency in origination, distribution, tracking, settlement, and reconciliation of trade assets including receivables and approved payables. This ability, through developer platform and API layer, allows businesses and funders to connect to the Hijro network and tokenize and distribute digital versions of trade assets across a DLT network.

“Further integration will allow Hijro to embed our receivables finance solution directly in trade platforms and treasury systems.” Lamar Wilson, CEO of Hijro, continued, “Thus allowing fast access to working capital and diverse funders available to support a large network of businesses.”

The Hijro Network has presented at previous event emphasizing the power of the network. By connecting additional partners in the trade ecosystem, you can provide all members a much smarter, more secure, and more efficient way to move value and assets around the world. The issue of connecting disparate financial and IT platforms has been a topic of conversation at this years Ariba Live event and continues to be an obstacle to efficient global trade.

“Building integrated services that add value to existing large networks is the key to achieving rapid growth,” said Lamar Wilson, CEO of Hijro. “By never sacrificing user experience and encouraging openness and interconnectivity we will build the next trade infrastructure layer on DLT.”

Hijro will continue to present its solutions across the country in the 2017 year. Follow our progress on twitter @hijro and shoot us a message if you would like to schedule a meeting.

Applications and solutions built on the Hijro Network include a multi-bank, multi-lender trade asset marketplace, flexible working capital solutions for businesses, and a robust suite of APIs allowing integrations to existing trade platforms. Hijro recently announced it is raising a third round of funding following its $2.5MM seed round in May 2016.

Contact hello@hijro.com or visit hijro.com for more information.

How the internet is used for “Authoritarian Deliberation”.

Excerpted from TED transcripts by Evgeny Morozov:

“What you can actually see is that certain governments have mastered the use of cyberspace for propaganda purposes. Right? And they are building what I call the Spinternet. The combination of spin, on the one hand, and the Internet on the other. So governments from Russia to China to Iran are actually hiring, training and paying bloggers in order to leave ideological comments and create a lot of ideological blog posts to comment on sensitive political issues. Right?

4:27

So you may wonder, why on Earth are they doing it? Why are they engaging with cyberspace? Well my theory is that it’s happening because censorship actually is less effective than you think it is in many of those places. The moment you put something critical in a blog, even if you manage to ban it immediately, it will still spread around thousands and thousands of other blogs. So the more you block it, the more it emboldens people to actually avoid the censorship and thus win in this cat-and-mouse game. So the only way to control this message is actually to try to spin it and accuse anyone who has written something critical of being, for example, a CIA agent.

5:11

And, again, this is happening quite often. Just to give you an example of how it works in China, for example. There was a big case in February 2009 called “Elude the Cat.” And for those of you who didn’t know, I’ll just give a little summary. So what happened is that a 24-year-old man, a Chinese man, died in prison custody. And police said that it happened because he was playing hide and seek, which is “elude the cat” in Chinese slang, with other inmates and hit his head against the wall, which was not an explanation which sat well with many Chinese bloggers.

5:53

So they immediately began posting a lot of critical comments. In fact, QQ.com, which is a popular Chinese website, had 35,000 comments on this issue within hours. But then authorities did something very smart. Instead of trying to purge these comments, they instead went and reached out to the bloggers. And they basically said, “Look guys. We’d like you to become netizen investigators.” So 500 people applied, and four were selected to actually go and tour the facility in question, and thus inspect it and then blog about it. Within days the entire incident was forgotten, which would have never happened if they simply tried to block the content. People would keep talking about it for weeks.

6:39

And this actually fits with another interesting theory about what’s happening in authoritarian states and in their cyberspace. This is what political scientists call authoritarian deliberation, and it happens when governments are actually reaching out to their critics and letting them engage with each other online. We tend to think that somehow this is going to harm these dictatorships, but in many cases it only strengthens them. And you may wonder why. I’ll just give you a very short list of reasons why authoritarian deliberation may actually help the dictators.

7:15

And first it’s quite simple. Most of them operate in a complete information vacuum. They don’t really have the data they need in order to identify emerging threats facing the regime. So encouraging people to actually go online and share information and data on blogs and wikis is great because otherwise, low level apparatchiks and bureaucrats will continue concealing what’s actually happening in the country, right? So from this perspective, having blogs and wikis produce knowledge has been great.

7:44

Secondly, involving public in any decision making is also great because it helps you to share the blame for the policies which eventually fail. Because they say, “Well look, we asked you, we consulted you, you voted on it. You put it on the front page of your blog. Well, great. You are the one who is to blame.”

8:02

And finally, the purpose of any authoritarian deliberation efforts is usually to increase the legitimacy of the regimes, both at home and abroad. So inviting people to all sorts of public forums, having them participate in decision making, it’s actually great. Because what happens is that then you can actually point to this initiative and say, “Well, we are having a democracy. We are having a forum.”

8:25

Just to give you an example, one of the Russian regions, for example, now involves its citizens in planning its strategy up until year 2020. Right? So they can go online and contribute ideas on what that region would look like by the year 2020. I mean, anyone who has been to Russia would know that there was no planning in Russia for the next month. So having people involved in planning for 2020 is not necessarily going to change anything, because the dictators are still the ones who control the agenda.

8:55

Just to give you an example from Iran, we all heard about the Twitter revolution that happened there, but if you look close enough, you’ll actually see that many of the networks and blogs and Twitter and Facebook were actually operational. They may have become slower, but the activists could still access it and actually argue that having access to them is actually great for many authoritarian states. And it’s great simply because they can gather open source intelligence.

9:24

In the past it would take you weeks, if not months, to identify how Iranian activists connect to each other. Now you actually know how they connect to each other by looking at their Facebook page. I mean KGB, and not just KGB, used to torture in order to actually get this data. Now it’s all available online. (Laughter)”

See the video here:

Photo by F.d.W.

The post How the internet is used for “Authoritarian Deliberation”. appeared first on P2P Foundation.

State Change #32 — Carolyn Reckhow, Weaving the Mesh

Carolyn Reckhow is responsible for designing and implementing the developing organizational structure of ConsenSys. Balancing employee autonomy with a coherent and unified collective direction is a challenge which Carolyn addresses with a deft hand. Taking inspiration from the distributed information networks that ConsenSys builds services with, and drawing on some of the techniques of Holacracy, Carolyn is developing a system known internally as Meshocracy.

Content: Carolyn Reckhow, Arthur Falls

Subscribe on iTunes:
itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/state…d1088310627?mt=2

Project of the Day: IOBY

As we learned through the Panama Papers, establishing a corporation is not difficult. Especially, when you have occasion to dodge your tax obligation or launder illegal profits. In contrast, when you want to raise money for community development incorporating draws more scrutiny, at least in the U.S.

The U.S. government allows tax deductible donations to socially beneficial organizations incorporated as non-profits. However, the Internal Revenue Service needs proof that the non-profit corporation is actually operating to benefit society. (Apparently, no such scrutiny is applied to anonymous, for-profit corporations operating in known tax havens).

As a result, a small group of people intending to develop a blighted neighborhood, or provide job training to unemployed adults faces a huge obstacle. They cannot attract tax deductible donations without incorporating and filing voluminous tax documentation annually.

Ioby (In Our Back Yard) provides non-profit, incorporated status to ordinary people who want to do good. It enables accountantless and lawyerless groups to conduct crowdsourcing that is tax deductible for donors.

Ioby is, well, your very own shell corporation.


Extracted from https://www.ioby.org/about

What we do

ioby helps neighbors grow and implement great ideas one block at a time. Our crowd-resourcing platform connects leaders with funding and support to make our neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable and more fun.

ioby believes that it should be easy to make meaningful change “in our backyards” – the positive opposite of NIMBY.

How we do it

ioby uses the concept of crowd-resourcing (a term we coined) to drive projects to success:

       crowdfunding + resource organizing = crowd-resourcing

Crowdfunding is the pooling of small online donations for a cause or project.

Resource organizing is a core tenet of community organizing that considers activists and advocates the best supporters to ensure the success and long-term stewardship of a cause or project.

As a combination of these two, ioby’s platform gives everyone the ability to organize all kinds of capital—cash, social networks, in-kind donations, volunteer time, advocacy—from within the neighborhood to make the neighborhood a better place to live.

Extracted from http://www.shareable.net/blog/iobys-erin-barnes-on-the-nonprofit-advantage-in-civic-crowdfunding

This was really part of our founding initiative. The US Forest Service had done all this research in 2007 on the grassroots groups that stewarded open green space in New York City. They inventoried these groups, and they found that about seventy percent of them are volunteer-run and more than half had annual budgets of less than a thousand dollars.

Our interest was in supporting this civic vanguard in this grassroots, mobilized network of people who just were responding to the urge to protect and care for open spaces and public spaces in cities. By being able to extend our 501(c)3 status through fiscal sponsorship, we’re allowing those groups a couple different things.

One is their donors can write off their donations to those projects. The other is the groups don’t have to feel forced to incorporate because they can use ioby as a fiscal sponsor up to a certain point so they don’t have to have that urge to incorporate. They can stay unincorporated for longer periods of time or possibly even consider incorporating in a different way.

Then I guess the third part is, and I think that this varies depending on groups, so I would say some groups have said that being able to operate under ioby’s fiscal umbrella has, in some ways, legitimized their work in the eye’s of some of their potential donors or supporters. It’s about people’s perceptions of where they’re putting their funding or who they’re throwing their weight behind.

Photo by IvanWalsh.com

Photo by deeje

Photo by Parvin ?( OFF for a while )

The post Project of the Day: IOBY appeared first on P2P Foundation.

The pattern of the coming changes

grupos-de-trabajo-somero-2015

What we take away from Somero 2015 is a model and a map of social, economic, and technological change that forces us to rethink and refine the framework of work. And internally, for the Indianos, it is the beginning of a new time with a new way of understanding what las Indias is.


Last night we said goodbye to the last participants from Somero 2015. Somero is meant to be our end-of-summer party and beginning of a new year, but also a succinct “Somero” catalog of the socio-economic change created by technological development. In both categories, it was a great success: we learned so many things and we met many new friends that it has forced us to stop and re-order the main reference points from which we understand reality.

The pattern of the emerging change

grupos de trabajo asarta somero 2015Throughout the presentations, interviews, and talks, we gradually discovered a common pattern in the changes in the production of software, objects and appliances, in energy, and in the coming finance system, but also, to the surprise of more than one person, in areas as apparently distant from each other as local development and the new missions and operational capacities of the FFAA. This is a radical change that also became transparent in the global view of the economy and geo-strategy.

It’s a relatively invisible but unstoppable change that uses the keys of what we have called the Direct Economy.

The heart of the change: less scale, more scope, lower cost

This common pattern is an across-the-board reduction in the scale of productive units and the growing centrality of economies of scope. What are economies of scope? The disproportionate improvement of productivity obtained from two things:

  • The capacity obtained through the intensive use of multi-purpose machines and systems–3D printers in prototyping, “recyclable” production chains in manufacturing, systems integrated into logistics–of multiplying the diversity of low-cost supply, marking a tendency towards low-cost customization.
  • The capacity for reaching, at a low cost, across greater distances by using networks and identifying concrete identarian networks, to make them customized offers.

The result of the balance between large scales that are suffering more and more inefficiencies and a new productive “SME” community that is producing a greater diversity of things, in smaller runs, and selling them globally by differentiating more kinds of customers, is clear: the whole sector of the new “small and globalproduces at a lower cost and is simply more efficient.

So the slogan of the change, in any setting, could well be less scale, more scope.

Distributed isn’t decentralized

Manuel en el GNU social Camp

The main contradiction of this world that we started to map out in Somero 2015 is the tension between the decentralized and the distributed.

entrevista mikael hannes manuel somero 2015The Internet of the giants of scale, the world of finance, and the industrial sector that is still dominant today, are the results of the connection of a series of centralized and centralizing systems. Twitter, Facebook, and Google are such centralized networks that they show the user a single entry page. Volskwagen, Endesa or any other industrial giant are such centralized transnational systems that they can plan not only their margins but updates to their equipment from their providers with their corresponding financial costs. These providers, who live in a true monopsony (a market with a single buyer) have no margin for any other technological innovation than that dictated and funded by the buyer.

But starting at certain scale, decentralized systems not only accumulate more inefficiencies, but turn them into costs that are higher than those of their distributed alternatives. These alternatives are not just more and more competitive in industry and even in the credit market. They are, by definition, more robust and resilient, and with a minimal regulation, as we saw in finance, they have systemic effects that underpin the main path of socio-economic and technological progress in our era: the dissipation of rents.

Additionally, when we joined the logic of distribution to that of free software, the free [of charge] nature of the underlying infrastructure appears easily, and the result is the appearance of resilient and accessible markets, and above all of a social fabric that gives a leading role to the community in the city and in conversation.

The key word is community

juan y jurg somero 2015

And as Juan had already told us on the second day and again remarked in the send-off, the new world doesn’t relate in impersonal ways, talking about “here’s what you should do,” but about many different versions of “here’s what we’re doing,” from many real communities, each one with their own values and ways of being themselves.

Somero 2015 was, above all, a community event. From the first days, we saw the birth of a powerful, imaginative and cohesive development community: that of GNU social. Working in parallel with the seminar of the “Sharing Cities Network,” in less than three days, it made a true show of force by developing the basics of the free and distributed toolbox of the “sharing city.”

cocktail somero 2015 isabel corral enriqueBut that wasn’t the only community that took shape in those days. The participation of many of our friends of la Matriz, who had jointly rented and organized accommodations and transportation to participate, gave shape to turning An?ovoligo into “las Indias Club.” Their participation in conversations and in software development, their contributions to the development of the event, and their interaction with the speakers were fundamental to everything turning out as marvellously as it did. In the end, as we wanted, we are something closer to a country than a landscape. Now the “Indianos” are not just the members of the cooperatives, but the network of friends of las Indias Club, our “happy few,” our “we,” united by values and ideas, but above all by experiences, feelings, and affections.

Towards Somero 2016

nat somero 2015 el comercioThis morning, while the apartment rented by la Matriz was emptying out and its Indianos were leaving for train stations and airports, the other one, that of the cooperators, was ringing with accounts, bills, and telephone calls. Among them were the first preparatory calls for Somero 2016.

We feel that we entered, reinforced and excited, into a new year, our fourteenth year, and into a new stage. This is a stage in which las Indias is no longer only a community with cooperatives but also a Club to think and do together. During the upcoming weeks, we will build its new webpage and we will publicize the first contents published and produced in and as a result of Somero 2015.

Somero 2015 was exciting–it gave us all momentum, filled us with ideas, and let us glimpse a powerful general framework from which many valuable things can be made. None of it would have been possible without all those who came and gave the best of themselves. Endless thanks to everyone!

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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The post The pattern of the coming changes appeared first on P2P Foundation.

The pattern of the coming changes

grupos-de-trabajo-somero-2015

What we take away from Somero 2015 is a model and a map of social, economic, and technological change that forces us to rethink and refine the framework of work. And internally, for the Indianos, it is the beginning of a new time with a new way of understanding what las Indias is.


Last night we said goodbye to the last participants from Somero 2015. Somero is meant to be our end-of-summer party and beginning of a new year, but also a succinct “Somero” catalog of the socio-economic change created by technological development. In both categories, it was a great success: we learned so many things and we met many new friends that it has forced us to stop and re-order the main reference points from which we understand reality.

The pattern of the emerging change

grupos de trabajo asarta somero 2015Throughout the presentations, interviews, and talks, we gradually discovered a common pattern in the changes in the production of software, objects and appliances, in energy, and in the coming finance system, but also, to the surprise of more than one person, in areas as apparently distant from each other as local development and the new missions and operational capacities of the FFAA. This is a radical change that also became transparent in the global view of the economy and geo-strategy.

It’s a relatively invisible but unstoppable change that uses the keys of what we have called the Direct Economy.

The heart of the change: less scale, more scope, lower cost

This common pattern is an across-the-board reduction in the scale of productive units and the growing centrality of economies of scope. What are economies of scope? The disproportionate improvement of productivity obtained from two things:

  • The capacity obtained through the intensive use of multi-purpose machines and systems–3D printers in prototyping, “recyclable” production chains in manufacturing, systems integrated into logistics–of multiplying the diversity of low-cost supply, marking a tendency towards low-cost customization.
  • The capacity for reaching, at a low cost, across greater distances by using networks and identifying concrete identarian networks, to make them customized offers.

The result of the balance between large scales that are suffering more and more inefficiencies and a new productive “SME” community that is producing a greater diversity of things, in smaller runs, and selling them globally by differentiating more kinds of customers, is clear: the whole sector of the new “small and globalproduces at a lower cost and is simply more efficient.

So the slogan of the change, in any setting, could well be less scale, more scope.

Distributed isn’t decentralized

Manuel en el GNU social Camp

The main contradiction of this world that we started to map out in Somero 2015 is the tension between the decentralized and the distributed.

entrevista mikael hannes manuel somero 2015The Internet of the giants of scale, the world of finance, and the industrial sector that is still dominant today, are the results of the connection of a series of centralized and centralizing systems. Twitter, Facebook, and Google are such centralized networks that they show the user a single entry page. Volskwagen, Endesa or any other industrial giant are such centralized transnational systems that they can plan not only their margins but updates to their equipment from their providers with their corresponding financial costs. These providers, who live in a true monopsony (a market with a single buyer) have no margin for any other technological innovation than that dictated and funded by the buyer.

But starting at certain scale, decentralized systems not only accumulate more inefficiencies, but turn them into costs that are higher than those of their distributed alternatives. These alternatives are not just more and more competitive in industry and even in the credit market. They are, by definition, more robust and resilient, and with a minimal regulation, as we saw in finance, they have systemic effects that underpin the main path of socio-economic and technological progress in our era: the dissipation of rents.

Additionally, when we joined the logic of distribution to that of free software, the free [of charge] nature of the underlying infrastructure appears easily, and the result is the appearance of resilient and accessible markets, and above all of a social fabric that gives a leading role to the community in the city and in conversation.

The key word is community

juan y jurg somero 2015

And as Juan had already told us on the second day and again remarked in the send-off, the new world doesn’t relate in impersonal ways, talking about “here’s what you should do,” but about many different versions of “here’s what we’re doing,” from many real communities, each one with their own values and ways of being themselves.

Somero 2015 was, above all, a community event. From the first days, we saw the birth of a powerful, imaginative and cohesive development community: that of GNU social. Working in parallel with the seminar of the “Sharing Cities Network,” in less than three days, it made a true show of force by developing the basics of the free and distributed toolbox of the “sharing city.”

cocktail somero 2015 isabel corral enriqueBut that wasn’t the only community that took shape in those days. The participation of many of our friends of la Matriz, who had jointly rented and organized accommodations and transportation to participate, gave shape to turning An?ovoligo into “las Indias Club.” Their participation in conversations and in software development, their contributions to the development of the event, and their interaction with the speakers were fundamental to everything turning out as marvellously as it did. In the end, as we wanted, we are something closer to a country than a landscape. Now the “Indianos” are not just the members of the cooperatives, but the network of friends of las Indias Club, our “happy few,” our “we,” united by values and ideas, but above all by experiences, feelings, and affections.

Towards Somero 2016

nat somero 2015 el comercioThis morning, while the apartment rented by la Matriz was emptying out and its Indianos were leaving for train stations and airports, the other one, that of the cooperators, was ringing with accounts, bills, and telephone calls. Among them were the first preparatory calls for Somero 2016.

We feel that we entered, reinforced and excited, into a new year, our fourteenth year, and into a new stage. This is a stage in which las Indias is no longer only a community with cooperatives but also a Club to think and do together. During the upcoming weeks, we will build its new webpage and we will publicize the first contents published and produced in and as a result of Somero 2015.

Somero 2015 was exciting–it gave us all momentum, filled us with ideas, and let us glimpse a powerful general framework from which many valuable things can be made. None of it would have been possible without all those who came and gave the best of themselves. Endless thanks to everyone!

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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The post The pattern of the coming changes appeared first on P2P Foundation.