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Blockstack's First Business App Wants to Help Employees Earn More Crypto

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.”

Men and coins image via Shutterstock

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Blockstack Announces 'Universal' Dapp Store for the Decentralized Web

Decentralized web developer Blockstack is one step closer to its vision of web 3.0 with the introduction of app.co, a directory for decentralized applications or dapps.

Co-founder Ryan Shea said the company was launching the resource, which is aimed at bridging the gap between decentralized app developers and potential users. The open-source project will be free for developers, and Blockstack sees “this as a critical moment for decentralized application development and discovery,” Shea said.

He went on to explain:

“The goal here is to demonstrate, to really bring together app developers and users and provide value in connecting the two. We want to help users discover decentralized applications. We launched our browser last year which was a great success, and after that we started noticing people were building real apps on top of our platform, and this last year we were focused on learning from them.”

Indeed, it’s the first step toward what is intended to become a dedicated storefront for dapp developers, with the goal of allowing devs to charge for premium versions of their app as well as expand to a wider market.

“We’re looking to make this a comprehensive dapp store, and one component is an index and you can see the most popular applications, and another component is a feature list kind of like what you can find in the Apple app store,” he added.

Blockstack is moving out of the infrastructure phase and into supporting scalable dapps, he said, adding that “they’re getting real traction and real users.”

Stepping back, Shea told CoinDesk that his company will continue to encourage the development of a decentralized web, and encouraged developers to work together. He said:

“One of the things that we want to say to the community, there might be different platforms that compete with each other but we’re still very small and the real competition is with Facebook and [the like].”

Gumball machines image via Shutterstock

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Blockstack Fund to Give Crypto Social Networks $1 Million Boost

Decentralized web developer Blockstack has earmarked $1 million to fund decentralized social networks projects, the company announced on Thursday.

While developers will determine the particular nature of their projects, the firm hopes the grants will encourage a variety of usable dapps oriented toward the preservation of digital rights, privacy and user choice.

“We’re really looking for the best teams to build applications on top of Blockstack that have the highest likelihood of getting widespread user adoption,” the company’s co-founder, Ryan Shea told CoinDesk in an interview.

Shea explained:

“This is about bringing real value to end users. There is a lot of speculation in the space, there is a lot of talk and hype and not enough real things getting built that touch people’s lives.”

The initiative, he said, was borne out of a desire to incentivize developers to build alternatives to major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In the wake of incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he said, “We knew it was the right time for a lot of these social networks to gain traction.”

The company has specifically suggested that developers pursue features like uncensorable microblogs and community-curated blocklists among others. Likewise, it proposed that developers could create dapps targeted toward illness support groups, journalists and activists under authoritarian regimes, and LGBT communities, for example.

However, Shea said Blockstack doesn’t intend for these ideas to “confine people,” but instead hopes they will provide a point of departure for further exploration.

Additionally, he suggested that the funding will act as a stepping stone for developer teams, helping them to subsist until they are able to raise venture capital.

The grants will be only one source of financing for developer teams. They will also have the option to build monetization into their dapps via a rewards system that is embedded in the Blockstack protocol.

“Every single application that’s built on Blockstack will be eligible for these rewards and they will be eligible proportional to their ratings,” Shea explained.

He added that Blockstack’s support for social network dapps will be ongoing, noting:

“We really want to empower those teams.”

Social network concept image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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'Ebay for CryptoKitties' Raises $2 Million from All-Star VCs

More money is being poured into crypto cats.

Well, cats, and the slew of other non-fungible digital items made possible by new token standards, such as ethereum’s ERC-721, which now have a home in OpenSea, a marketplace for allowing users to buy and sell these items – an Ebay for CryptoKitties if you will.

Coming out of Y-Combinator last winter, OpenSea today announced a $2 million seed equity round led by 1confirmation, with participation from a series of other high-profile crypto investors, including Founders Fund, Foundation Capital, Blockchain Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Chernin Group, Stable Fund and Blockstack.

“When CryptoKitties came out, it was this exciting, mainstream, fun use case for blockchain,” Devin Finzer, co-founder of OpenSea, told CoinDesk.

Indeed, the ethereum-based decentralized application for buying, selling and breeding digital cats was a quick hit within the community, launching in November last year and peaking in December, when the game nearly brought the ethereum blockchain to a halt as it tried to deal with a significant increase in transactions.

Many concluded that the game helped push blockchain technology and cryptocurrency into the mainstream, and others argued that the game displayed a blockchain use case that could expand away from silly cats and into serious business (such as real estate). For instance, Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz led a $12 million investment round to spin CrypoKitties out of its parent company so that the team could really dig deeper into future applications for the concept of non-fungible digital items.

And while those serious applications have yet to be realized, a spate of similar games were created after CryptoKitties success, including the more general CryptoPets, CryptoCelebrities and Crypto All-Stars.

But according to OpenSea, users need a place to more easily buy and sell those items.

It turns out OpenSea wasn’t alone – the decentralized online marketplace for physical items OpenBazaar has plans to open up its platform for digital items such as CryptoKitties as well, plus OPSkins recently created Wax, a platform for spinning up decentralized exchange services for these items.

So far, it looks like a fine idea, according to Finzer, who said:

“We’ve so far had about half a million [dollars] in volume pass through our marketplace.”

The go-to marketplace

One of the keys to OpenSea’s success, according to Finzer, is the team’s relationship with crypto game developers.

As to be expected, OpenSea has done best in offering a “store” for games that don’t already have built-in marketplaces (many game developers want to focus on the game and so aren’t keen to building a marketplace on top). As those game developers hear about OpenSea, they’ve typically just made OpenSea the game’s official digital shop.

“We’ve kind of developed a synergistic relationship with game developers,” Finzer said, adding that OpenSea offers a revenue share model depending on what marketplace duties are handled by what party (although Finzer declined to discuss this in more detail).

Yet, OpenSea is available for more than just games, although that’s the company’s main stream of business. For instance, one art project used OpenSea and Finzer said it could also work as a marketplace for software licenses.

We’ve barely scratched the surface on what these crypto collectibles and a marketplace for them could offer.

One thing that’s interesting about these programs, for instance, is that because a CryptoKitty, for example, is just a piece of code, different interfaces will create completely different visualizations of that cat (as recently displayed by a viral art image made purely from code).

These different visualizations could be shared between users and might make the games even more fun.

Zombies for kitties

Plus, Finzer wants to facilitate the trade of items that aren’t even part of the same game.

This would go above and beyond digital games today, where items that are part of a centralized game must stay within that universe, he said, adding:

“I could be breeding zombies and you could be breeding kitties. I think what that results in is, these items having a lot more value than they would in the existing digital world.”

In fact, this kind of cross-collaboration has already happened – a new game called KittyRace allows users to race their CryptoKitties.

This kind of thing, Finzer said, has garnered quite a bit of interest from other crypto gaming companies.

This interest in digital items isn’t new only to the world of cryptocurrency, though. In fact, the market for gold within the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft is so lucrative that prisoners in China are made to mine the stuff for sale to gamers in the developed world.

Yet, Finzer said, he plans to stay out of the world of trading digital items for physical cash, namely because it’s a business that’s somewhat frowned upon, but also because he doesn’t see a lot of opportunity in enticing more traditional gaming companies to move to a blockchain.

“The technological benefits of moving an existing game to a blockchain are actually negative now,” he said.

That doesn’t get Finzer down, though. He sees tremendous opportunity focused on crypto.

He concluded:

“Our thesis is that the most interesting use cases for blockchain-based games will come from new games rather than existing games.”

CryptoKitties image via CoinDesk archive

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Two Big Crypto Startups Are Out to Build One Universal Wallet

If the future is to bring an endless variety of cryptocurrencies and tokens, the world will need a wallet that can hold them all.

Now, two of the most prominent startups in the sector are teaming up to entice developers to build just that. Announced Wednesday, decentralized internet startup Blockstack (through its venture capital fund, the Blockstack Signature Fund) and exchange platform ShapeShift are jointly offering a $50,000 bounty to the team or developer that makes the best open-source “universal” crypto wallet.

Contestants need to use Blockstack’s authentication, storage and encryption technology combined with ShapeShift’s API for token exchange. The goal is to build a wallet that supports almost any native token, even tokens that haven’t been created yet, before the deadline on June 29.

Xan Ditkoff, head of growth and business development at Blockstack, explained:

“We’re super early in this space. There are undoubtedly winners that have yet to even appear yet. It’s important that a wallet can support digital assets that have yet to be created.”

Most cryptocurrency wallets only support at most a handful of tokens, forcing enthusiasts to juggle multiple wallets and sometimes keep their tokens on custodial platforms like exchanges.

The Jaxx wallet added ShapeShift support in 2016, although that wallet provider is known to have some security vulnerabilities. Plus, it can’t support all tokens the way this upcoming wallet aims to.

Hedging bets

Notably, the partnership says much about the changing demands of crypto consumers, as it grew out of Blockstack’s concern that not supporting certain coins could cost developer interest.

“You shouldn’t be deterred from building on Blockstack just because your community’s atomic unit of use, or wealth, or whatever, your token, isn’t represented on our platform,” Ditkoff told CoinDesk.

“As soon as we came up with that idea, ShapeShift was an obvious partner. They’ve probably done the most of any project … for users to hold, exchange and add new tokens,” he continue.

The partnership also is good for ShapeShift’s bottom line, since the platform will earn revenue whenever wallet users convert their tokens through the API.

“Much like you don’t have a website that serves all of the needs of an individual, you won’t have a single wallet or decentralized application that serves all of the needs of an individual as well,” a ShapeShift spokesperson said.

More broadly, in Ditkoff’s view, sometimes cryptocurrency tribalism can create familiar silos centered around specific tokens. But cooperation between teams often produces more innovative results than niche experiments, he said.

Submissions won’t only be judged based on the quality of the code. Judges will also consider how easy the wallet’s code is to audit and use.

“We’d love to see other developers use this going forward,” Ditkoff said, concluding:

“This space, in general, is going to succeed, or it’s not. It’s not going to be a winner take-all-type thing.”

Crypto wallet image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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USV, Winklevoss Bros Invest in Blockstack's $50 Million ICO

Blockstack’s initial coin offering (ICO) has officially closed, with the company announcing today it has raised $50 million through the sale of 440 million tokens.

Launched in November, the sale saw investors – including Union Square Ventures (USV), Foundation Capital, Lux Capital, Winklevoss Capital, Blockchain Capital, Digital Currency Group, Y Combinator partner Qasar Younis, Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington and Digg founder Kevin Rose – fund Blockstack’s particular vision for a decentralized web built on blockchain technology.

Still, in statements, the Blockstack team was keen to stress that those involved are best thought of as long-term partners, all of whom agreed to take long positions in its new cryptocurrency.

For example, Blockstack said the largest investment came from an undisclosed endowment, which secured a $6 million allocation after agreeing to a four-year lock-up for half of its allocation (other investors had a two-year lockup, with a $3 million maximum).

Co-founder Muneeb Ali told CoinDesk:

“I think it’s more like a funding round, with high-quality sophisticated investors, rather than random people just throwing money at something,”

Elsewhere, Blockstack provided a host of metrics on the offering. More than 800 people and entities were said to have participated in the public token sale (a pre-sale was not offered), where the minimum investment was $3,000. The median investment was $6,140.

Further, Blockstack was keen to note its own guarantees.

Of the funds acquired, only $10 million will be immediately available to the company, as the firm has agreed to a lock-up until milestones are hit. The next $20 million will be released when its board of advisors verifies it has delivered the next version of its product, a network that integrates the token.

The final $20 million will be secured when it achieves its final milestone, one million verified users.

Founded in 2013, Blockstack has been building a decentralized architecture for publishing on the internet, one designed around user control. To realize that goal, the “stacks” token will run on Blockstack’s virtualchain technology, according to the white paper.

Co-founder Ryan Shea told CoinDesk:

“We have always emphasized that the token sale is a very important thing for the ecosystem, for us to be able to contribute resources, but at the end of the day the more important aspect of what we’re doing is introducing the token itself and what it does for the ecosystem.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstack.

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Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

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How Blockstack Counterattacked a Phishing Attempt on Its ICO

When criminals tried to con investors during its recent initial coin offering (ICO), Blockstack, a startup building a decentralized internet, used its tech expertise to turn the tables on the tricksters.

Scammers hoping to lure investors feeling left out because the firm limited its token sale to accredited investors only set up phishing sites by copying the entire blockstack.com code.

But doing so meant the fake sites were actually in contact with a server that Blockstack controlled, which fed the top banner of the legitimate site with tweets from the company’s Twitter account.

And that connection allowed the Blockstack team to undermine the phishing sites with what was effectively their own man-in-the-middle counterattack.

In a man-in-the-middle attack such as this, data is changed on a trusted website by someone who manages to insert themselves between a visitor and a publisher. For example, someone can create a Wi-Fi hotspot that changes a webpage before it reaches your browser.

Blockstack developers, though, used the attack for good, putting themselves in-between their own twitter feed and the scam websites. The team’s simple solution used the backdoor into the banner to warn those who potentially could have lost funds that the sites were not legitimate (see below).

“The server was fetching tweets from Twitter and formatting them for the blockstack.com website,” Blockstack co-founder Muneeb Ali explained to CoinDesk in an email. “For all requests for data not coming from blockstack.com, we displayed the ‘THIS IS A PHISHING SITE’ message instead of the tweet text.”

The Blockstack team provided CoinDesk with two different URLs used by the phishing scheme, which, for security reasons, we are not disclosing in this article.

“We had a couple of phishing sites that came online, where they were trying to direct traffic to them,” Ryan Shea, also a co-founder, told CoinDesk, adding the company took extra precautions:

“We made it very clear to only trust blockstack.com. So we primed everyone ahead of time.”

One of the most widely anticipated token sales of 2017, the Blockstack ICO was an attractive one for scammers to try and exploit, since hype can make links to their fraudulent sites shared on social media blend into the “noise” (much like fraudsters solicit donations to fake charities in the wake of natural disasters).

Blockstack’s token sale is now closed, although people are still being added to the waiting list. Still, one of the two phishing sites remains active with a redesigned front page (eliminating the tweet stream banner) and offering a 10 percent discount on … absolutely nothing.

We probably don’t need to say this, but, buyers beware.

Screenshot taken Nov. 29 from one of the two phishing sites.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstack. 

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

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A More Equitable ICO? Why Blockstack Said No to a Token Pre-Sale

Blockstack isn’t going along with business as usual for its initial coin offering (ICO).

As the new funding method gains momentum, token issuers have often allowed investors to access tokens in so-called “pre-sales” in advance of opening up to the public. The pre-sales, aimed at injecting money into projects early on, are often competitive, and for good reason, the prize can be a steep discount over market price.

But Blockstack, a startup whose “modest” goal it is to create a new infrastructure for the entire internet, won’t be offering a pre-sale for its new token set to go on sale Nov. 13.

Concerned that large buyers were scooping up most ICO tokens during prior pre-sales, Blockstack co-founder Ryan Shea told CoinDesk:

“We think it’s just really antithetical to what decentralization is about, so we considered that with the design of this entire process.”

Other industry observers have lamented on the pre-sale process, wondering how an ICO that making such an offering is any different than the traditional investment model that the new blockchain-based mechanism is trying to disrupt.

But skipping the insider phase isn’t just about Blockstack getting to moralize on the state of ICOs – the company believes scrapping the pre-sale will have benefits for its business model.

“For us, it’s really important that we have a wide distribution of the tokens because we really believe that, if those users are to become stakeholders of the ecosystem, we want a very diverse representation of what the ecosystem is,” said Blockstack co-founder Muneeb Ali.

Distribution focus

It isn’t just that Blockstack wants a wide distribution; the company needs it.

If the startup’s going to sell the internet on a new architecture, it has to deliver network effects quickly. According to Blockstack, people who hold tokens will have an incentive to use the system and maybe even build products for it, so the more token holders, the better.

In this initial token launch, Blockstack is distributing 440 million tokens to existing shareholders (like employees or investors) based on their equity and selling 440 million in the ICO to accredited investors only.

A third pool of 440 million tokens will be distributed to the existing Blockstack community (such as developers) through vouchers. The vouchers will be held in reserve until an undefined vesting period is over, Shea said, in an effort not to trigger SEC rules on selling securities.

After that, holders of the vouchers will be able to redeem vouchers for Blockstack tokens at the initial ICO price at a point when the company’s counsel decides the tokens function as a commodity.

The voucher system gives existing Blockstack shareholders a sort of free call option, providing them the opportunity to buy the tokens in the future at a fixed price. So once vouchers activate, if the tokens are selling for $10 each, but they ICOed at 10 cents, voucher holders stand to make a 100x return on every token they exercise their option on.

According to Ali:

“We deeply care about our open-source community and developers. So we spent a lot of time figuring out a legal framework where they could participate in this process.”

The mechanics of the system are broken down in a document released last week, which outlines how the price will be determined by the level of interest during pre-registration, which started Nov. 1. The Blockstack token will be the first sale managed by CoinList since it became an independent company.

The 1.32 billion tokens created during the initial release are not all the Blockstack tokens that will ever be created; more will be produced through mining when the Blockstack protocol goes live.

Venture privilege

But as pre-sales have benefits for startups, Blockstack’s abandoning of the idea likely also has to do with its position as an already well-funded venture-backed company.

Blockstack’s VC investors include Union Square Ventures, Lux Capital and Digital Currency Group, and those investors, according to the startup’s founders, have yet to pressure the company to maximize monetary gains in the short term.

In this way, Blockstack being able to focus on using the ICO less as a cash-grab and more as a tool needed to interact with the platform is a kind of privilege not all projects get.

And eliminating the pre-sale isn’t the only unique thing characteristic of Blockstack’s ICO.

Unlike most token issuers, the firm isn’t turning over management of its tokens to a non-profit organization.

Instead, earlier this year, Blockstack reorganized as a public benefit corporation (PBC), a legal identity that allows companies to make additional commitments to the public in addition to its fiduciary obligation to shareholders. To that end, the Blockstack PBC has committed to keeping its network decentralized and releasing its software as open source.

“Because we can have a single entity, we don’t need to create other non-profits in a different country and get into complicated situations, which you will notice is something other projects are still struggling with,” Ali said.

With these deviations from “normal” ICO model, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Blockstack’s whole roadmap is a critique of the ICO market to date.

As Shea said:

“We were disappointed in a lot of the previous sales, especially in the way they were run.”

Marc Hochstein contributed reporting. 

Disclaimer: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstack.

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

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Blockstack Today: 5 Apps Already Being Built on the Decentralized Web

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.

OpenBazaar

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.

Patterson continued:

“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.

Casa

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

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

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.”

Ongaku Ryoho

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. 

Pegs and string image via Shutterstock

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