Simple version:

If I want to send some of my bitcoin to you, I publish my intention and the nodes scan the entire bitcoin network to validate that I 1) have the bitcoin that I want to send, and 2) haven’t already sent it to someone else. Once that information is confirmed, my transaction gets included in a “block” which gets attached to the previous block – hence the term “blockchain.” Transactions can’t be undone or tampered with, because it would mean re-doing all the blocks that came after.

Getting a bit more complicated:

My bitcoin wallet doesn’t actually hold my bitcoin. What it does is hold my bitcoin address, which keeps a record of all of my transactions, and therefore of my balance. This address – a long string of 34 letters and numbers – is also known as my “public key.”  I don’t mind that the whole world can see this sequence. Each address/public key has a corresponding “private key” of 64 letters and numbers. This is private, and it’s crucial that I keep it secret and safe. The two keys are related, but there’s no way that you can figure out my private key from my public key.

That’s important, because any transaction I issue from my bitcoin address needs to be “signed” with my private key. To do that, I put both my private key and the transaction details (how many bitcoins I want to send, and to whom) into the bitcoin software on my computer or smartphone.

With this information, the program spits out a digital signature, which gets sent out to the network for validation.

This transaction can be validated – that is, it can be confirmed that I own the bitcoin that I am transferring to you, and that I haven’t already sent it to someone else – by plugging the signature and my public key (which everyone knows) into the bitcoin program. This is one of the genius parts of bitcoin: if the signature was made with the private key that corresponds to that public key, the program will validate the transaction, without knowing what the private key is. Very clever.

The network then confirms that I haven’t previously spent the bitcoin by running through my address history, which it can do because it knows my address (= my public key), and because all transactions are public on the bitcoin ledger.

Even more complicated:

Once my transaction has been validated, it gets included into a “block,” along with a bunch of other transactions.

A brief detour to discuss what a “hash” is, because it’s important for the next paragraph: a hash is produced by a “hash function,” which is a complex math equation that reduces any amount of text or data to 64-character string. It’s not random – every time you put in that particular data set through the hash function, you’ll get the same 64-character string. But if you change so much as a comma, you’ll get a completely different 64-character string. This whole article could be reduced to a hash, and unless I change, remove or add anything to the text, the same hash can be produced again and again. This is a very effective way to tell if something has been changed, and is how the blockchain can confirm that a transaction has not been tampered with.

Back to our blocks: each block includes, as part of its data, a hash of the previous block. That’s what makes it part of a chain, hence the term “blockchain.” So, if one small part of the previous block was tampered with, the current block’s hash would have to change (remember that one tiny change in the input of the hash function changes the output). So if you want to change something in the previous block, you also have to change something (= the hash) in the current block, because the one that is currently included is no longer correct. That’s very hard to do, especially since by the time you’ve reached half way, there’s probably another block on top of the current one. You’d then also have to change that one. And so on.

This is what makes Bitcoin virtually tamper-proof. I say virtually because it’s not impossible, just very very, very, very, very difficult and therefore unlikely.

Credit : coindesk

On August 1, 2017, the bitcoin protocol underwent a hard fork which split the network in two and gave birth to “bitcoin cash.”

Why did this happen and what are the consequences?

Tired of the infighting and perceived lack of progress on bitcoin’s scaling debate, and unhappy with the decision to go ahead with the SegWit upgrade (which would increase block capacity – but not its size – by restructuring how transaction data was stored), a group of community participants developed an alternative bitcoin with different characteristics. The new version increased the block size from 1MB to 8MB.

It also excluded SegWit, which some felt was no more than a temporary patch to bitcoin’s scaling problem. Some were also worried that the second layer networks that SegWit enabled (at time of writing these are still in development would deflect transaction volume from the main network and diminish bitcoin’s importance.

A further difference in the bitcoin cash protocol is the difficulty adjustment mechanism. To maintain a relatively even flow of blocks, the bitcoin protocol adjusts the difficulty factor of the hash puzzle (how hard it is to find the nonce that produces a hash within the specified parameters) every 2016 blocks. With bitcoin cash, the difficulty adjustment is much more agile, adjusting every 600 seconds according to the amount of computing power on the network.

This gives the new protocol a fighting chance at survival. If miners don’t mine a coin, it dwindles away. With bitcoin’s price so much higher than that of bitcoin cash, the latter would only be profitable to mine if it were much easier to do so. In other words, the value of the coin may be lower, but a miner would successfully process blocks more frequently, and collect more bitcoin cash tokens as a reward.

Trading

Bitcoin cash can be purchased at a wide range of big-name exchanges, with Bitfinex, GDAX, HitBTC, Bitstamp and Poloniex handling over 90% of the US$ volume.

After some initial confusion, most exchanges have settled on the ticker symbol BCH, although a few still use BCC (which is also used to denote Bitconnect, even more confusing).

At time of writing, over half of bitcoin cash volume comes from trades out of bitcoin. Most of the demand from fiat currencies comes from the US dollar and the South Korean won.

You can follow bitcoin cash price movements on CoinDesk’s price tracker.

Upcoming fork

On May 15, bitcoin cash’s protocol is due to upgradevia a hard fork (which means that the whole network will need to enable the new version to be able to continue participating).

The upgrade will further increase the size of the blocks, from 8MB to 32MB, and will introduce a more sophisticated smart contract capability as well as other features such as the expansion of its time stamping, asset creation and rights management function.

Now what?

As with all digital tokens, whether bitcoin cash lasts or not remains to be seen. However, market acceptancehas been increasing since the launch, with some large retailers accepting payments in the cryptocurrency. What’s more, key industry participants such as Coinbase and Circle have recognized that demand has exceeded their expectations. And an increasing number of crypto hedge funds are including BCH in their holdings, in response to investor demand.

Credit : Coindesk

When you hear about bitcoin “mining,” you envisage coins being dug out of the ground. But bitcoin isn’t physical, so why do we call it mining?

Because it’s similar to gold mining in that the bitcoins exist in the protocol’s design (just as the gold exists underground), but they haven’t been brought out into the light yet (just as the gold hasn’t yet been dug up). The bitcoin protocol stipulates that 21 million bitcoins will exist at some point. What “miners” do is bring them out into the light, a few at a time.

They get to do this as a reward for creating blocks of validated transactions and including them in the blockchain.

Nodes

Backtracking a bit, let’s talk about “nodes.” A node is a powerful computer that runs the bitcoin software and helps to keep bitcoin running by participating in the relay of information. Anyone can run a node, you just download the bitcoin software (free) and leave a certain port open (the drawback is that it consumes energy and storage space – the network at time of writing takes up about 145GB). Nodes spread bitcoin transactions around the network. One node will send information to a few nodes that it knows, who will relay the information to nodes that they know, etc. That way it ends up getting around the whole network pretty quickly.

Some nodes are mining nodes (usually referred to as “miners”). These group outstanding transactions into blocks and add them to the blockchain. How do they do this? By solving a complex mathematical puzzle that is part of the bitcoin program, and including the answer in the block. The puzzle that needs solving is to find a number that, when combined with the data in the block and passed through a hash function, produces a result that is within a certain range. This is much harder than it sounds.

(For trivia lovers, this number is called a “nonce”, which is a concatenation of “number used once.” In the case of bitcoin, the nonce is an integer between 0 and 4,294,967,296.)

Solving the puzzle

How do they find this number? By guessing at random. The hash function makes it impossible to predict what the output will be. So, miners guess the mystery number and apply the hash function to the combination of that guessed number and the data in the block. The resulting hash has to start with a pre-established number of zeroes. There’s no way of knowing which number will work, because two consecutive integers will give wildly varying results. What’s more, there may be several nonces that produce the desired result, or there may be none (in which case the miners keep trying, but with a different block configuration).

The first miner to get a resulting hash within the desired range announces its victory to the rest of the network. All the other miners immediately stop work on that block and start trying to figure out the mystery number for the next one. As a reward for its work, the victorious miner gets some new bitcoin.

Economic

At the time of writing, the reward is 12.5 bitcoins, which at time of writing is worth almost $200,000.

Although it’s not nearly as cushy a deal as it sounds. There are a lot of mining nodes competing for that reward, and it is a question of luck and computing power (the more guessing calculations you can perform, the luckier you are).

Also, the costs of being a mining node are considerable, not only because of the powerful hardware needed (if you have a faster processor than your competitors, you have a better chance of finding the correct number before they do), but also because of the large amounts of electricity that running these processors consumes.

And, the number of bitcoins awarded as a reward for solving the puzzle will decrease. It’s 12.5 now, but it halves every four years or so (the next one is expected in 2020-21). The value of bitcoin relative to cost of electricity and hardware could go up over the next few years to partially compensate this reduction, but it’s not certain.

Difficulty

The difficulty of the calculation (the required number of zeroes at the beginning of the hash string) is adjusted frequently, so that it takes on average about 10 minutes to process a block.

Why 10 minutes? That is the amount of time that the bitcoin developers think is necessary for a steady and diminishing flow of new coins until the maximum number of 21 million is reached (expected some time in 2140).

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations! There is still so much more to explain about the system, but at least now you have an idea of the broad outline of the genius of the programming and the concept. For the first time we have a system that allows for convenient digital transfers in a decentralized, trust-free and tamper-proof way. The repercussions could be huge.

Credit : Coindesk

 

 

 

To cut through some of the confusion surrounding bitcoin, we need to separate it into two components. On the one hand, you have bitcoin-the-token, a snippet of code that represents ownership of a digital concept – sort of like a virtual IOU. On the other hand, you have bitcoin-the-protocol, a distributed network that maintains a ledger of balances of bitcoin-the-token. Both are referred to as “bitcoin.”

The system enables payments to be sent between users without passing through a central authority, such as a bank or payment gateway. It is created and held electronically. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by computers all around the world, using free software.

It was the first example of what we today call cryptocurrencies, a growing asset class that shares some characteristics of traditional currencies, with verification based on cryptography.

Who created it?

A pseudonymous software developer going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto proposed bitcoin in 2008, as an electronic payment system based on mathematical proof. The idea was to produce a means of exchange, independent of any central authority, that could be transferred electronically in a secure, verifiable and immutable way.

To this day, no-one knows who Satoshi Nakamoto really is.

In what ways is it different from traditional currencies?

Bitcoin can be used to pay for things electronically, if both parties are willing. In that sense, it’s like conventional dollars, euros, or yen, which are also traded digitally.

But it differs from fiat digital currencies in several important ways:

1 – Decentralization

Bitcoin’s most important characteristic is that it is decentralized. No single institution controls the bitcoin network. It is maintained by a group of volunteer coders, and run by an open network of dedicated computers spread around the world. This attracts individuals and groups that are uncomfortable with the control that banks or government institutions have over their money.

Bitcoin solves the “double spending problem” of electronic currencies (in which digital assets can easily be copied and re-used) through an ingenious combination of cryptography and economic incentives. In electronic fiat currencies, this function is fulfilled by banks, which gives them control over the traditional system. With bitcoin, the integrity of the transactions is maintained by a distributed and open network, owned by no-one.

2 – Limited supply

Fiat currencies (dollars, euros, yen, etc.) have an unlimited supply – central banks can issue as many as they want, and can attempt to manipulate a currency’s value relative to others. Holders of the currency (and especially citizens with little alternative) bear the cost.

With bitcoin, on the other hand, the supply is tightly controlled by the underlying algorithm. A small number of new bitcoins trickle out every hour, and will continue to do so at a diminishing rate until a maximum of 21 million has been reached. This makes bitcoin more attractive as an asset – in theory, if demand grows and the supply remains the same, the value will increase.

3 – Pseudonymity

While senders of traditional electronic payments are usually identified (for verification purposes, and to comply with anti-money laundering and other legislation), users of bitcoin in theory operate in semi-anonymity. Since there is no central “validator,” users do not need to identify themselves when sending bitcoin to another user. When a transaction request is submitted, the protocol checks all previous transactions to confirm that the sender has the necessary bitcoin as well as the authority to send them. The system does not need to know his or her identity.

In practice, each user is identified by the address of his or her wallet. Transactions can, with some effort, be tracked this way. Also, law enforcement has developed methods to identify users if necessary.

Furthermore, most exchanges are required by law to perform identity checks on their customers before they are allowed to buy or sell bitcoin, facilitating another way that bitcoin usage can be tracked. Since the network is transparent, the progress of a particular transaction is visible to all.

This makes bitcoin not an ideal currency for criminals, terrorists or money-launderers.

4 – Immutability

Bitcoin transactions cannot be reversed, unlike electronic fiat transactions.

This is because there is no central “adjudicator” that can say “ok, return the money.” If a transaction is recorded on the network, and if more than an hour has passed, it is impossible to modify.

While this may disquiet some, it does mean that any transaction on the bitcoin network cannot be tampered with.

5 – Divisibility

The smallest unit of a bitcoin is called a satoshi. It is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin (0.00000001) – at today’s prices, about one hundredth of a cent. This could conceivably enable microtransactions that traditional electronic money cannot.

Credit : Coindesk

Bitcoin’s 26 percent rally left many a cryptocurrency in the dust over the course of July.

Indeed, the bitcoin dominance rate, a widely used indicator that tracks the percentage of the total crypto market cap contributed by bitcoin, rose to 48 percent, up from 42 percent, to record a 7-month high over the 31-day period, a function of money shifting from alternative cryptocurrencies into bitcoin.

That said, not every alternative cryptocurrency saw gains. Ether, the cryptocurrency that powers the ethereum blockchain, and the second-largest cryptocurrency by total value, as an example, recorded a monthly loss.

A notable exception among the largest 25 cryptocurrencies reviewed by CoinDesk, however, was stellar’s XLM token, which was able to defy the odds and become the top monthly performer in its class. Fueled by interest from the most influential U.S. exchange, Coinbase, the news the startup is considering an XLM listing revved up investor interest, spiking 13 percent on the news.

Still, it’s arguable that this simply helped galvanize stellar’s appeal after notable recent milestones.

In recent months, teams seeking to launch initial coin offerings (ICOs), including social messenger Kik, have begun to utilize stellar’s technology. Also notable has been the team’s technical commitments, such as its prominent support for the scaling solution, lightning network, which developers say they aim to implement this year.

Along the ride, stellar would go on to hold its gains, though, eventually displacing litecoin to become the world’s sixth largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization – valued today just north of $5 billion.

Monthly winner

Stellar

Monthly performance: +40 percent
All-time high: $0.90
Closing price on June 30: $0.19
Current market price: $0.27
Rank as per market capitalization: 6

XLM began its monthly ascent on July 13 (Coinbase news), reaching its monthly high of $0.36 12 days later when it showed a 93 percent gain from the month’s open of $0.19.

Still, the crypto asset cooled off during the last week of the July, dropping 11 percent, likely due to overextended technical charts and a wavering bitcoin price. When July came to a close, Stellar finalized its 40 percent month-to-month appreciation.

Daily chart

Price closed above the two-month long descending trendline (yellow) on July 14, a bullish signal seen in the chart above, and continued its journey past the 200 day exponential moving average to the 0.618 Fibonacci Retracement (from May high of $0.47). Its monthly high mark of $0.36 was set shortly after on July 25.

The combination of resistances proved to be too strong as price failed to find acceptance above the levels, first hinted by bearish divergence in the daily RSI. Price consequently reversed over 24 percent to where it stands today just below $0.28.

Only a daily close below the long term trendline (blue) would return the immediate trend to bearish favor and suggest a move towards the 0.236 Fibonacci retracement located near $0.23. On the upside, a bounce off of the trendline could be seen as a successful throwback test and would add credence to the bullish trend change, setting sights back on the elusive $0.36 resistance.

Credit : Coin desk

 

The state-level Chinese government agency responsible for censoring media output in the country may soon have a cryptographer on the payroll – and with expertise in blockchain technology.

The research center of the State Administration of Press – which is directly administrated by the State Council – is looking for a cryptographer who “keeps abreast of the most advanced cryptography applications in areas such as blockchain.”

According to the job description published by the government agency on Tuesday, the ideal candidate would be a technologist with strong skill-set in cryptography algorithms and performance optimization.

Other responsibilities will be researching and developing tools for measuring the security level of different cryptography applications.

The job description, however, does not offer much indication of the agency’s plans regarding blockchain.

Although it may not be related, the post comes at a time when blockchain is being increasingly used to bypass China’s pervasive web censorship – often dubbed the “Great Firewall” – in an effort to keep censored articles available to the public. Examples include an expose of a firm involved in China’s recent vaccine scandal and an effort by the #metoo movement in the country to not be silenced.

Founded in 1946, the State Administration of Press directly is administrated by the State Council, but reports to the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party. It is known for its role as a top censor with the remit of controlling information produced by all types of mass media in China, including TV, radio, newspaper and the internet.

 

As stated in our guide “What is Blockchain Technology?”, there are three principal technologies that combine to create a blockchain. None of them are new. Rather, it is their orchestration and application that is new.

These technologies are: 1) private key cryptography, 2) a distributed network with a shared ledger and 3) an incentive to service the network’s transactions, record-keeping and security.

The following is an explanation of how these technologies work together to secure digital relationships.

Cryptographic keys

Two people wish to transact over the internet.

Each of them holds a private key and a public key.

The main purpose of this component of blockchain technology is to create a secure digital identity reference. Identity is based on possession of a combination of private and public cryptographic keys.

The combination of these keys can be seen as a dexterous form of consent, creating an extremely useful digital signature.

In turn, this digital signature provides strong control of ownership.

 

Identity

But strong control of ownership is not enough to secure digital relationships. While authentication is solved, it must be combined with a means of approving transactions and permissions (authorisation).

For blockchains, this begins with a distributed network.

A Distributed Network

The benefit and need for a distributed network can be understood by the ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ thought experiment.

If a tree falls in a forest, with cameras to record its fall, we can be pretty certain that the tree fell. We have visual evidence, even if the particulars (why or how) may be unclear.

Much of the value of the bitcoin blockchain is that it is a large network where validators, like the cameras in the analogy, reach a consensus that they witnessed the same thing at the same time. Instead of cameras, they use mathematical verification.

In short, the size of the network is important to secure the network.

That is one of the bitcoin blockchain’s most attractive qualities — it is so large and has amassed so much computing power. At time of writing, bitcoin is secured by 3,500,000 TH/s, more than the 10,000 largest banks in the world combined. Ethereum, which is still more immature, is secured by about 12.5 TH/s, more than Google and it is only two years old and still basically in test mode.

System of record

 

When cryptographic keys are combined with this network, a super useful form of digital interactions emerges. The process begins with A taking their private key, making an announcement of some sort — in the case of bitcoin, that you are sending a sum of the cryptocurrency — and attach it to B’s public key.

Protocol

 

A block – containing a digital signature, timestamp and relevant information – is then broadcast to all nodes in the network.

 

Network servicing protocol

A realist might challenge the tree falling in the forest thought experiment with the following question: Why would there be a million computers with cameras waiting to record whether a tree fell? In other words, how do you attract computing power to service the network to make it secure?

For open, public blockchains, this involves mining. Mining is built off a unique approach to an ancient question of economics — the tragedy of the commons.

With blockchains, by offering your computer processing power to service the network, there is a reward available for one of the computers. A person’s self-interest is being used to help service the public need.

With bitcoin, the goal of the protocol is to eliminate the possibility that the same bitcoin is used in separate transactions at the same time, in such a way that this would be difficult to detect.

This is how bitcoin seeks to act as gold, as property. Bitcoins and their base units (satoshis) must be unique to be owned and have value. To achieve this, the nodes serving the network create and maintain a history of transactions for each bitcoin by working to solve proof-of-work mathematical problems.

They basically vote with their CPU power, expressing their agreement about new blocks or rejecting invalid blocks. When a majority of the miners arrive at the same solution, they add a new block to the chain. This block is timestamped, and can also contain data or messages.

Here’s a chain of blocks:

 

The type, amount and verification can be different for each blockchain. It is a matter of the blockchain’s protocol – or rules for what is and is not a valid transaction, or a valid creation of a new block. The process of verification can be tailored for each blockchain. Any needed rules and incentives can be created when enough nodes arrive at a consensus on how transactions ought to be verified.

It’s a taster’s choice situation, and people are only starting to experiment.

We are currently in a period of blockchain development where many such experiments are being run. The only conclusions drawn so far are that we are yet to fully understand the dexterity of blockchain protocols.

More on this point in our guides “What are Applications and Use Cases for Blockchain Technology?”and “What is the Difference Between Open and Permissioned Blockchains?”

As the implications of the invention of have become understood, a certain hype has sprung up around blockchain technology.

This is, perhaps, because it is so easy to imagine high-level use cases. But, the technology has also been closely examined: millions of dollars have been spent researching blockchain technology over the past few years, and numerous tests for whether or not blockchain technology is appropriate in various scenarios have been conducted.

Blockchain technology offers new tools for authentication and authorization in the digital world that preclude the need for many centralized administrators. As a result, it enables the creation of new digital relationships.

By formalizing and securing new digital relationships, the blockchain revolution is posed to create the backbone of a layer of the internet for transactions and interactions of value (often called the ‘Internet of Value’, as opposed to the ‘Internet of Information’ which uses the client-server, accounts and master copy databases we’ve been using for over the past 20 years.)

But, with all the talk of building the digital backbone of a new transactional layer to the internet, sometimes blockchains, private cryptographic keys and cryptocurrencies are simply not the right way to go.

Many groups have created flowcharts to help a person or entity decide between a blockchain or master copy, client-server database. The following factors are a distillation of much of what has been previously done:

Is the data dynamic with an auditable history?

Paper can be hard to counterfeit because of the complexity of physical seals or appearances. Like etching something in stone, paper documents have certain permanence.

But, if the data is in constant flux, if it is transactions occurring regularly and frequently, then paper as a medium may not be able to keep up the system of record. Manual data entry also has human limitations.

So, if the data and its history are important to the digital relationships they are helping to establish, then blockchains offer a flexible capacity by enabling many parties to write new entries into a system of record that is also held by many custodians.

Should or can the data be controlled by a central authority?

There remain many reasons why a third party should be in charge of some authentications and authorizations. There are times when third-party control is totally appropriate and desirable. If privacy of the data is the most important consideration, there are ways to secure data by not even connecting it to a network.

But if existing IT infrastructure featuring accounts and log-ins is not sufficient for the security of digital identity, then the problem might be solved by blockchain technology.

As Satoshi Nakamoto wrote in his (or her) seminal work, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”: “Merchants must be wary of their customers, hassling them for more information than they would otherwise need. A certain percentage of fraud is accepted as unavoidable.”

Private key cryptography enables push transactions, which don’t require centralized systems and the elaborate accounts used to establish digital relationships. If this database requires millions of dollars to secure lightweight financial transactions, then there’s a chance blockchains are the solution.

Is the speed of the transaction the most important consideration?

Does this database require high-performance millisecond transactions? (There is more on this point in our guide: “What is the Difference Between a Blockchain and a Database?”).

If high performance, millisecond transactions are what is required, then it’s best to stick with a traditional-model centralized system. Blockchains as databases are slow and there is a cost to storing the data – the processing (or ‘mining’) of every block in a chain. Centralized data systems based on the client-server model are faster and less expensive… for now.

In short, while we still don’t know the full limits and possibilities of blockchains, we can at least say the use cases which have passed inspection have all been about managing and securing digital relationships as part of a system of record.

If cryptocurrency is decentralizing the world of money, a new bitcoin wallet startup thinks it could also help decentralize the world of work.

Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Misthos launched its multi-signature wallet Monday on top of Blockstack’s decentralized application platform. One of the first enterprise products launched on Blockstack, the wallet is designed for project teams, investment partnerships and other ad hoc ventures to manage the divvying up of income (received as bitcoin) among their individual members.

These organizations, which often form to carry out a specific objective before disbanding (more like a Hollywood production than a corporation), “want to have transparency into where their cash is going and want to be able to distribute their income in a fair way,” Misthos founder Justin Carter told CoinDesk.

To that end, all proposed payouts from a venture using a Misthos wallet must be approved unanimously by the partners in that venture. Carter described this model as “moving away from an employee-employer relationship to a group consensus about who contributed value.”

In other words, instead of a getting paid according to a salary or contract negotiated before taking on a job, the individual is compensated based on social consensus among the team. Misthos makes its money by collecting a 1.49 percent cut of the payouts.

Similarly, proposals to add partners are subject to approval by all the existing participants, and in order to kick one person out, everyone else in the group must agree to it. Several partnerships are already using Misthos to distribute bitcoin among members, including the four-person team behind Munich-based bitcoin publication Coin Trainer.

“It helps us create a transparent environment where contributions are rewarded fairly and democratically,” Marcel Kasper, one of the co-founders of Coin Trainer, told CoinDesk.

Eventually, this collaborative model could be applied to managing fiat currency income for projects as well, but bitcoin was a natural starting point, Carter said.

“We are starting to build out the product on bitcoin is because of the reduced friction, as we have no institutional dependencies,” he told CoinDesk, adding:

“Crypto-first is about first developing a financial service for the new platform (cryptocurrencies). And once the overall experience is well-defined, adapting it to the old platforms, integrating with legacy financial institutions operating in fiat.”

Free agents

Misthos is part of a broader push across the cryptocurrency community to support less centralized employment models.

Opolis, for example, is a professional employment organization (PEO) that handles outsourced human resources functions such as benefits and payroll for employers. However, it caters to a specialized clientele, including blockchain projects and startups, and has close ties to ConsenSys, the ethereum design studio.

By the end of the month, roughly 300 Opolis users will be able to facilitate crypto or fiat payrolls, employee benefits, and tax documents through this one-stop-shop service provider. The company also runs an employment marketplace for recruiters and job seekers, and it has a grander vision of future “decentralized employment organizations,” or DEOs.

John Paller, a co-founder of Opolis, told CoinDesk his platform is optimized for individual contractors instead of corporate hierarchies.

“[Freelancers] can choose and vote on any benefits they want, any number of things, including things that are out of the scope of traditional options today,” he said. “For example, you could have part of your income go to a group investment model.”

Both Misthos and Opolis use decentralized data solutions of some kind for worker IDs and credentials, making it easier to recruit, onboard and offboard collaborators.

“There’s also storage that Blockstack provides, and part of that we’re leveraging,” Carter said of Misthos, which uses Blockstack IDs for logins and wallet management. “All the history of the ventures is all stored with the individual partners.”

Human factors

Stepping back, it’s easy to see why these entrepreneurs see an opportunity in offering solutions tailored for project-specific, flexible employment arrangements. These days many of the ecosystem’s leading developers prefer to work independently. Turnover at crypto startups is particularly high.

Indeed, Wall Street veteran turned startup advisor Jill Carlson told CoinDesk a wide range of workers with soft skills could benefit from employment opportunities modeled after open source collaborations.

In traditional freelance contract negotiations, “You have very little leverage,” Carlson said. “I want to be able to do this style of work but to scale it in some way.”

On the other hand, Carlson also emphasized the importance of training and mentorship provided by traditional employers. To bring bitcoin’s ethos to the workplace, some collaboration will need to take place offline, face-to-face. “I do my best work when I’m with other people,” she said.

Plus, in her view, it’s important to consider how crypto community politics, and arguments on social media platforms where “a lot of nuance is being lost,” could impact project governance on Misthos, which she nevertheless said offers a compelling idea for on-chain bounty management.

Carter agreed that much of the social governance will take place off of the Misthos payroll platform.

“The point Misthos steps in is for a form of documentation and execution,” he said.

This is why Jude Nelson, lead blockchain engineer at Blockstack, told CoinDesk such democratic projects will require both on-chain and off-chain coordination.

He concluded:

“On-chain smart contracts are likely necessary for users of a dapp who don’t know each other. But since all partners in a Misthos venture must know one another before signing off on a payment, they are able to coordinate pay-outs off-chain without needing a potentially cumbersome on-chain smart contract.”

Even private and permissioned blockchains need to build ecosystems and achieve network effects, just like their permissionless, public counterparts.

At least, that’s the thinking behind LedgerConnect, a financial blockchain “app store” that aims to make it easier for banks to access distributed ledger technology (DLT) solutions from fintech and software providers, and for those vendors in turn to reach bank customers.

Announced Monday, LedgerConnect is the offspring of bank-owned currency trading utility CLS and enterprise software giant IBM, and counts major banks Barclays and Citigroup among its founding members.

In fact, nine financial institutions are participating in the proof of concept (PoC) and have selected services from a number of vendors including Baton Systems, Calypso, Copp Clark, IBM, MPhasis, OpenRisk, SynSwap and Persistent Systems.

On LedgerConnect, financial institutions will be able to access DLT-based services in areas such as know-your-customer processes, sanctions screening, collateral management, derivatives post-trade processing and reconciliation and market data.

This new hub will address a connectivity gap, where upstart fintechs and large tech firms alike are faced with the cost and complexity of spinning up their own distributed networks so banks can consume their various applications, according to Keith Bear, IBM’s vice president for financial markets.

“Having a secure network and proven infrastructure allows an app store kind of model, where banks can identify applications from certified fintech and software providers and deploy these apps over a seamless blockchain network,” Bear told CoinDesk.

For Barclays, one of the most active banks in the DLT field, the app store is a way to test out a new approach.

Dr. Lee Braine of the investment bank CTO office at Barclays, explained that there are several different deployment options to consider when architecting distributed ledgers for live environments.

For example, if a financial market infrastructure provider like CLS is providing the governance and business services for a particular use case, then there may be an option for that market infrastructure provider to also host the nodes on behalf of the banks in order to accelerate the initial speed to market, said Braine.

“Some banks may also look to explore the more decentralized deployment option of hosting their nodes themselves,” said Braine. “By participating in the LedgerConnect proof-of-concept, Barclays is gaining experience of a distributed ledger private network aimed at connecting both market infrastructure-hosted nodes and bank-hosted nodes.”

LedgerConnect itself runs partly on a permissioned blockchain based on IBM’s blockchain platform, which in turn was built on Hyperledger Fabric, and all the apps currently in the store are Hyperledger-based. However, the founders are open to other enterprise blockchain solutions making use of the app store.

“We are not averse to supporting other ledger implementations, whether it is R3’s Corda, whether it is Quorum (provided these techs are robust and can meet the needs we have from security perspective etc.),” said Ram Komarraju, head of innovation and solution delivery at CLS.

He added:

“Our expectation is that in principle we will not be limited to one technoligy only.”

Original Consortium

Stepping back, CLS can perhaps be thought of as the original blockchain consortium.

Granted, it was founded in 2002 (six years before the first blockchain was conceived) to provide plumbing for FX trades. But it’s been testing blockchain technology since early 2015, before Hyperledger started and when R3 was still flying under the radar.

The early CLS blockchain efforts were later formalized into CLSNet, a way of testing blockchain to match and net trades involving a range of new currencies not on the main platform, keeping immature blockchain technology separate from the core settlement engine used by 60 large financial institutions.

“There is a lot of trade processing we do for banks and buy-side firms, without getting to the last mission-critical aspects of settlement itself,” said Komarraju.

As such, CLSNet will be one of the first applications on the new LedgerConnect portal. All these apps have been selected in the hope of removing typical reconciliation efforts and data duplication (remedies include things like capturing digitalized master agreements of derivatives contracts on a single ledger for example).

“Look at capital markets today, every bank has its own silo office systems even though they are trading typically with a counterparty that has the same type of business logic but using the same technology stack,” added Komarraju.

IBM and CLS go back a ways; the main CLS platform was built by IBM. And LedgerConnect is a way of joining the dots between their respective financial infrastructure and blockchain work, at the same time extending the blockchain work CLS has been doing beyond foreign exchange into other capital market domains.

“This is really leveraging the combination of CLS’s position as a globally systemically important market utility owned by the banks, and also IBM’s investment in that,” said Komarraju.

PoC fatigue

Unlike the average PoC, LedgerConnect is at quite an advanced state, according to Komarraju.

“We didn’t start this on Monday,” he said. “We have institutions that have selected a number of use cases and these have been implemented and we are in the very late stages of proving the technology.”

While Barclays and Citi are the only banks being named at this time, big hitters like JPMorgan and Goldman, which are both part of CLSNet, are logical candidates to take part.

Another list of likely suspects are the banks on the we.trade platform, which also uses Hyperledger in the form of an IBM software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

Explaining why CLS couldn’t reveal all the participants in LedgerConnect, Komarraju hinted that some of these big banks are experiencing a bit of blockchain PoC fatigue.

“We cannot share the names of full list of banks because we haven’t (yet) received the approvals from some of them. Some of them wanted to wait until the proof of concept is complete and others needed more time for internal approvals,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bear of IBM said the whole reason we are seeing PoC fatigue is because so many of them don’t progress. While this can be because of a weak business case, or one that doesn’t need a blockchain, oftentimes it comes down to the cost and complexity of getting a network up and running.

“In many ways we are trying to get rid of that PoC fatigue,” said Bear. “I know we have to go through a PoC to do that, but it’s kind of inevitable.”

IBM image via Shutterstock

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