Blockchain architecture startup Blockstack has a vision for a truly free and open internet.
It's a vision built on the idea that users shouldn't get locked into a particular application, but instead be able to choose from a myriad of applications without sacrificing control.
Co-founder Muneeb Ali recently discussed how major internet players wield too much power over users, and this is exactly what Blockstack was created to disrupt.
While the vision sounds rather utopian, the company has been able to convince developers that building decentralized applications on its platform can solve the problems - namely the liability of holding huge troves of customer data vulnerable to hacks - inherent in traditional digital services.
Patrick Stanley, growth partner at Blockstack, told CoinDesk:
"Apps are being developed at a much quicker rate than we had thought. We've already got over 200 applications for building apps on this platform so the interest is there to build these applications and, especially, to get funding for them."
Stanley said this is partly due to the platform's ability to allow developers to move between different blockchains, but it also has a lot to do with the infrastructure -from security mechanisms to a forthcoming payments plug-in - the company has built to allow developers to focus on their core business.
Another part of the equation is Blockstack's recent efforts to try and seed entrepreneurs with capital to build.
In August, the company announced a $25 million venture capital fund, backed by firms including Lux Capital and Rising Tide Capital, to invest in developers, and plans to launch a kind of "XPRIZE" program to award developers for potentially revolutionary blockchain services.
While the company isn't ready to divulge details about the delegation of the awards and investor money, developers currently building on the Blockstack platform give us insight into what kinds of projects it can accomplish.
One of the more high-profile services associated with Blockstack, decentralized marketplace OpenBazaar is not actually built on Blockstack, but one of its key features relies on the platform.
OpenBazaar uses the Blockstack platform to name its merchants' stores with user-friendly identifiers, explained Sam Patterson, co-founder of OB1, the startup founded to maintain OpenBazaar.
"Just like a bitcoin address is a random string of characters, an OpenBazaar store is a random string of characters. That's not particularly user friendly, no one's going to be able to remember that."
Instead, through Blockstack, merchants can take the string of characters and map it to a user-friendly handle, such as Ski Shop.
Before OpenBazaar chose Blockstack, though, it considered other options, but all were limited, said Patterson. The marketplace thought not only about building its own system, but also tried ethereum's naming system and several others.
According to Patterson, "It usually comes down to they're not decentralized enough or they're not user friendly enough or they haven't been around long enough for us to be comfortable using them."
OB1, which has raised $4.2m in total funding, is prepping version 2.0 of the marketplace, which will be "a complete overhaul" that users can hopefully start beta testing by the end of August, Patterson said. It will be built in IPFS to limit disruption to stores when they go offline and will include Tor capability.
Built totally on Blockstack, Casa is a decentralized home-sharing protocol allowing users to book rooms with bitcoin payments.
For Casa, the decision to use Blockstack was all about scalability, said founder Jeremy Welch, adding the platform is more accommodating compared to other networks as it relates to potentially dealing with millions of users.
Welch told CoinDesk:
"The Blockstack team is designing and building to scale apps to hundreds of millions of users, which no other blockchain tech can even come close to handling right now. Ethereum network is extremely congested with ICOs alone, much less a fully functioning app."
Plus, Blockstack already has an existing user pool of early tech adopters.
The startup, which was created by Bedkin, has raised funding from early stage investment firm Precursor Ventures and will launch the protocol publicly next month.
Afia is a platform to help people better manage their personal health data.
Its creators say the application gives the individual greater control of their medical records by storing them in a personal, encrypted cloud storage.
"Because the users bring their own storage through Blockstack's Gaia storage system, we don't have to worry about public information being lost or held by third parties," said Ani Agajanyan of Afia.
The cloud storage can only be decrypted with the individual's Blockstack ID private key, making the system compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which outlines data security and privacy provisions for medical information.
The platform also removes the need to fill out the same information for each new service provider a user interacts with, and gives users much greater control over how and when the information is shared.
And because Agajanyan hopes that app will "last forever," Blockstack, with its virtual chain technology, where an app does not rely on a single blockchain, was a perfect choice.
Guild imagines a future for open source blogging that is completely decentralized and server-less, allowing it to remove the restrictions put in place by other centralized blogging networks.
It's like a decentralized version of Medium, a project that seems particularly alluring to the backers of Blockstack XPRIZE that have already been revealed (Guild will be taking part in the program).
Albert Wenger, a partner at Union Square Ventures has confirmed he'll be looking to fund a blockchain-powered blogging platform through the project, and early Twitter investor, Naval Ravikant is interested in funding a blockchain alternative to the popular micro-blogging site.
For Guild developer Jay Hwang, the company's choice to go with Blockstack, and build decentralized apps, is all about giving user's control.
"Creating a decentralized blogging platform allows for users to post any blog they want, no matter how controversial it may be," he said, adding:
"And because it is stored where the author specifies and not on Guild's servers, Guild has no power to remove blogs they don't approve of or agree with. This takes away power from the monarchs of today's internet and gives more power and control to the individual users."
Following the trend, decentralized media player, Ongaku Ryoho is looking to allow users to control all their data.
The app connects music with user's chosen cloud storage, and allows artists to upload their music without platform fees, as well as make it available to download.
The music industry, and it's various middlemen have been in blockchain entrepreneurs' sights, with a Slovenia-based startup, Viberate attracting the attention of high-profile investors, Charlie Shrem and Pinterest chief scientist, Dr. Jure Leskovec.
But Steven Vandevelde of Ongaku Ryoho said the startup is differentiating itself with this idea of control.
He told CoinDesk:
"There aren't many [music apps] out there where you are actually in control of all the data, and by all the data I really mean all of the data, from the user data, like favorites and playlists up to the music files."
In terms of why it chose Blockstack, Vandevelde said, "I like how they think about data and identity, and how they are shaping those ideas into reality. Even though it's still early, it was really easy to integrate the authentication layer with my app.".
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has ownership stake in Blockstack and OB1.
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