Saturday, 27 May 2017

Forbes/Laura Shin: Blockstack Unveils A Browser For The Decentralized Web

Personal Finance #​CuttingEdge

May 23, 2017 @ 08:50 AM 1,779

Blockstack Unveils A Browser For The Decentralized Web

 By  Laura Shin

Contributor

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Instead of Google, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn owning your data, imagine a world in which you control the data about yourself and reveal only what is minimally necessary when required. It would be the web equivalent of proving to a bouncer only that you're older than 21, instead of also handing over your birthdate, address and whether you've elected to be an organ donor.

Instead of people in North Korea typing CNN.com into their browser and being redirected to a website of North Korea’s choosing, imagine a world in which North Korea would have to take over, say, the bitcoin network in order to keep someone from seeing the actual CNN.com.

This is the world some people are calling Web 3.0 -- and it's built on blockchains.

Tuesday, at the main blockchain industry conference, Consensus, one of the companies working on this new decentralized web, Blockstack, which has $5.5 million in funding from Union Square Ventures and AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant, released a browser add-on that enables that and more.

“What’s different is that it comes out of the box with all these decentralized services — decentralized name, decentralized identity, decentralized storage,” said cofounder Ryan Shea. “I can’t think of any browser that’s come out that does all these things and allows the developer to just be plugged in and build an application without having to worry about any servers, worry about any databases, worry about building any identity management system. Just 400 lines of code — boom — you have a decentralized Twitter.”
Blockstack homepage

Blockstack

Blockstack homepage

The first version of the Mac and Linux/Windows add-on, which works with any browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox, is for developers to use these tools — decentralized identity, storage and payments — to create consumer-facing apps. While other blockchain startups are tackling each of these areas individually, Blockstack has a stack of solutions composed of each of those major parts.
Recommended by Forbes

“This platform is a full stack, and it’s ready," said Muneeb Ali, cofounder. "It’s not an idea, this is the moment where developers can actually start deploying decentralized applications right now, today, and we’ve made it simple for them to work with the stack so they can focus on the user experience." In six months, Blockstack plans to release something more targeted to users.

The add-on enables a browser to store the user's identity information by a local key on the consumer’s device. (If they lose their key, they can get their identity back via a backup phrase, plus there are other protections such as requiring multiple keys to change the identity.)

“Imagine going into the profiles application, and boom, you’ve taken back your identity and data," said Shea. "Now, every user who does this, they have now taken back their identity and data. Every application that wants to build on Blockstack has one user they can sign up with one click — and boom, they have a user.”

It also uses a data layer that enables a user to store other kinds of data in traditional data services like Dropbox but in an encrypted form so the service has no visibility into the data. Also, users can prove whether or not the service has tampered with the data. (For those of you who understand the jargon, the cryptographic hashes of the data are stored on the blockchain.) While other decentralized data storage systems actually have pieces of the data stored on multiple computers, Shea and Ali believe that architecture can slow down the system, whereas their system still gives users the performance of a centralized data storage system with the decentralization, privacy and user control benefits of blockchains.

In another part of its stack, the company has already gotten 72,000 new domains to register on its system, called the Blockchain Name System (BNS) (as opposed to the Domain Name System, DNS, currently used to manage domain names). In the Blockstack white paper, Shea and Ali write, “Anyone can create a namespace or register names in a namespace, as there is no central party to stop someone from doing so.”

The names of stores on OpenBazaar, a kind of decentralized eBay-like network where buyers and sellers connect directly to each other without a corporate entity in the middle extracting fees on either side, use Blockstack names.

Blockstack, which has so far resisted incorporating a token, has now changed course and will launch a token as a mechanism for spam protection and for access to the network. While the current network uses the bitcoin blockchain underneath, Shea and Ali believe a token will help insulate Blockstack from the volatility of the public cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin.

The use of a token makes BlockStack the latest in a slew of existing blockchain companies who, as the trend toward crowdfunding via token sales has taken off, have belatedly decided to add tokens to their platform.

Shea says by adding their own token, not only do they separate their system from the economics of the underlying blockchain (they currently use bitcoin), but they also make it easier for Blockstack to switch to other blockchains if need be. For instance, right now, big fees on the bitcoin blockchain have made it a less attractive option to other companies. However, Blockstack is able to batch transactions so as to keep its costs down.

Shea and Ali said they would release more details on their token, such as its name, when or how they would sell it, at a later date.

Blockstack isn’t the only effort to make the web more decentralized. Other projects that have also gotten some traction include the Interplanetary File System, or IPFS, which will launch a token for its storage layer, Filecoin, in the coming weeks.

I host the Unchained podcast (Google Play, iHeartRadio, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn) & wrote The Millennial Game Plan. Disclosure: I own some bitcoin & ether.
uare Ventures and AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant, released a browser add-on that enables that and more.

“What’s different is that it comes out of the box with all these decentralized services — decentralized name, decentralized identity, decentralized storage,” said cofounder Ryan Shea. “I can’t think of any browser that’s come out that does all these things and allows the developer to just be plugged in and build an application without having to worry about any servers, worry about any databases, worry about building any identity management system. Just 400 lines of code — boom — you have a decentralized Twitter.”
Blockstack homepage

Blockstack

Blockstack homepage

The first version of the Mac and Linux/Windows add-on, which works with any browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox, is for developers to use these tools — decentralized identity, storage and payments — to create consumer-facing apps. While other blockchain startups are tackling each of these areas individually, Blockstack has a stack of solutions composed of each of those major parts.
Recommended by Forbes

“This platform is a full stack, and it’s ready," said Muneeb Ali, cofounder. "It’s not an idea, this is the moment where developers can actually start deploying decentralized applications right now, today, and we’ve made it simple for them to work with the stack so they can focus on the user experience." In six months, Blockstack plans to release something more targeted to users.

The add-on enables a browser to store the user's identity information by a local key on the consumer’s device. (If they lose their key, they can get their identity back via a backup phrase, plus there are other protections such as requiring multiple keys to change the identity.)

“Imagine going into the profiles application, and boom, you’ve taken back your identity and data," said Shea. "Now, every user who does this, they have now taken back their identity and data. Every application that wants to build on Blockstack has one user they can sign up with one click — and boom, they have a user.”

It also uses a data layer that enables a user to store other kinds of data in traditional data services like Dropbox but in an encrypted form so the service has no visibility into the data. Also, users can prove whether or not the service has tampered with the data. (For those of you who understand the jargon, the cryptographic hashes of the data are stored on the blockchain.) While other decentralized data storage systems actually have pieces of the data stored on multiple computers, Shea and Ali believe that architecture can slow down the system, whereas their system still gives users the performance of a centralized data storage system with the decentralization, privacy and user control benefits of blockchains.

In another part of its stack, the company has already gotten 72,000 new domains to register on its system, called the Blockchain Name System (BNS) (as opposed to the Domain Name System, DNS, currently used to manage domain names). In the Blockstack white paper, Shea and Ali write, “Anyone can create a namespace or register names in a namespace, as there is no central party to stop someone from doing so.”

The names of stores on OpenBazaar, a kind of decentralized eBay-like network where buyers and sellers connect directly to each other without a corporate entity in the middle extracting fees on either side, use Blockstack names.

Blockstack, which has so far resisted incorporating a token, has now changed course and will launch a token as a mechanism for spam protection and for access to the network. While the current network uses the bitcoin blockchain underneath, Shea and Ali believe a token will help insulate Blockstack from the volatility of the public cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin.

The use of a token makes BlockStack the latest in a slew of existing blockchain companies who, as the trend toward crowdfunding via token sales has taken off, have belatedly decided to add tokens to their platform.

Shea says by adding their own token, not only do they separate their system from the economics of the underlying blockchain (they currently use bitcoin), but they also make it easier for Blockstack to switch to other blockchains if need be. For instance, right now, big fees on the bitcoin blockchain have made it a less attractive option to other companies. However, Blockstack is able to batch transactions so as to keep its costs down.

Shea and Ali said they would release more details on their token, such as its name, when or how they would sell it, at a later date.

Blockstack isn’t the only effort to make the web more decentralized. Other projects that have also gotten some traction include the Interplanetary File System, or IPFS, which will launch a token for its storage layer, Filecoin, in the coming weeks.

I host the Unchained podcast (Google Play, iHeartRadio, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn) & wrote The Millennial Game Plan. Disclosure: I own some bitcoin & ether.
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