22 December 2015

Tapping Bitcoin and Blockchains to Support the Solidarity Economy

(excerpt from application to present at The Global Social Economy Forum - GSEF 2016 - in Montreal, Canada)

A revolutionary peer-to-peer technology was created in late 2008: Bitcoin and its underlying software, the Blockchain. Its creator's intention was to offer people a tool to circumvent the hold that financial systems had on their populations, and to prevent the corruption, mismanagement, and exclusion that governments, banks, and corporations were perpetuating.
Since then, Bitcoin has been embraced worldwide by early adopters, technologically savvy individuals, and more recently, those same financial institutions that were meant to be disrupted.

It is vital that more people understand how to use bitcoin and blockchains so that they can benefit disenfranchised communities, and so that the development of these technologies include more diverse perspectives than just software engineers and economists.

The Bitcoin blockchain and others such as Ethereum offer opportunities to disintermediate contracts and transactions, giving people the power to interact without lawyers, notaries, banks, realty agents, and other middlemen. These are tools for empowering and increasing social solidarity at both the local level and worldwide. Blockchains and digital assets can be used for encrypted online voting and shared governance, true peer-to-peer online marketplaces, crowd-funding and crypto-equity, and so much more.

My role is to educate and inspire more people to learn about bitcoin and blockchains, so they too can benefit and shape our future. Ongoing partnerships are informal and include educational groups (eg. CryptoCurrency Certification Consortium; Diginomics; College Cryptocurrency Network; Bitcoin Meetups worldwide), as well as small businesses and non-profit organizations (eg. Empowered Law; BitGive Foundation; Factom).

The adoption of Bitcoin as a currency is growing worldwide, but is still primarily used by the privileged, despite efforts to integrate better remittance options and improved micro-transaction tools for less wealthy populations. Similarly, bitcoin is also being used quite a bit for speculation rather than actual transacting. These factors are unfortunately concentrating its use rather than spreading opportunities for those who need them most. Along the same lines, large financial institutions (eg. Goldman Sachs) are experimenting with private blockchains to tap into their potential efficiencies, thereby recreating the exclusionary nature of our current financial systems. But the ability to create useful and open blockchain networks is available to all of us, if we work together and engage invested communities well.

Blockchains are the future - let's make sure everyone has access.

01 November 2015

Talking bitcoin and blockchain in Moscow, Russia!

I spent the week in Moscow as an invited panelist for the Open Innovations Forum and Technology Show. I spoke on FinTech 2020, about bitcoin, blockchains, and "how the digital revolution will change the financial industry".

I also did a TV interview (forthcoming) and spoke with Elisaveta Vereshchagina of CoinFox, on making bitcoin and blockchain growth accessible to everyone. That interview is copied below.

Вы, Москва, для вашего хлебосольства!

During the Open Innovations show in Moscow CoinFox spoke to Caterina Rindi, the bitcoin enthusiast and educator who works on enlightment in the sphere of collaborative economy.

Coming from San Francisco, US, she has been the Community Manager for bitcoin startup SWARM and spent the whole 2014 travelling across Europe and talking to people about bitcoin.

CoinFox: Let’s start from the very beginning. Could you elaborate on what has led you to the industry?

Caterina Rindi: The economic downturn in the United States in 2008-2009 made me and many of my peers re-examine what we were doing with work and finance. At this time I discovered the sharing economy, collaborative economy, a lot of peer-to-peer types of interactions and the work around that. That is how I discovered bitcoin. Bitcoin is completely peer-to-peer, decentralized, and it’s worldwide. Before, when our world was smaller, I could exchange some goods, say, clothing, with my neighbours only. Now I can exchange things on a larger scale.

And I like the opportunity bitcoin offers to the people who don’t have money, who don’t have bank accounts or IDs. In the US, we have a lot of immigrants from other countries. Some arrive legally, some “not legally”, but they are all there and they’re all working. And those working don’t have access to bank accounts or any other services, as they are considered “illegal”. With something like bitcoin anybody can do financial transactions and use these kinds of services. It is an equalizer, in fact. And that’s what was very appealing to me.

CoinFox: So you decided to dedicate yourself to promoting this kind of technology...

Caterina Rindi: My personal background is in education, teaching children, so when I realized I could understand the technology and teach it to more people, I went that way. My last position was with a company called SWARM which is doing peer-to-peer crowdfunding using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. My title was the Community Manager, so it was all about communication and education. As our community was worldwide, I was travelling everywhere to meet people and to talk to people.

CoinFox: Do you then see bitcoin as something which is more about people and their ability to rely on each other than just about money? Not long ago a prominent Russian economist called cryptocurrencies “the material embodiment of mutual trust”…

Caterina Rindi: It’s interesting because in a way it is trustless, there is no trust, you don’t even have to know the other person, as bitcoin transactions are cryptographically secured and private. But at the same time they come out of a notion of peer-to-peer communication instead of trusting a government or a bank or a corporation. It is indeed about trusting our peers and other people as individuals, as opposed to large organizations and institutions, but the technology itself does not require trust, so it is sort of an interesting mix.
Banks and leading corporations have traditionally ignored the bottom socio-economic portion of our society, and I think that’s a mistake and they will lose opportunities in the long run. I think that if they learn to adapt, if then they learn to listen to and to engage and to appreciate their customers and clients, then they can stay relevant. But right now many of them are building private blockchains, which, I think, is completely missing the point.

CoinFox: How do you assess the emerging cooperation between the companies which specialize in cryptocurrencies and some governmental bodies, specifically in the field of what is called national security?

Caterina Rindi: I think that the organizations like the NSA and the FBI are interested in controlling information. They are interested in surveillance of individuals and not even individuals — they do mass surveillance instead of supervising just one potential criminal. So it depends on whether the businesses consider the needs of their customers when they collaborate with said services or not. If not, they are not actually serving the best interests.
People have been launching services like Facebook on blockchain because people want to have social interaction without the exposure, without being controlled… For example, Synereo.com.

CoinFox: So the technologies are being used much broader than just for the purposes directly related to money, aren’t they?

Caterina Rindi: Yes, absolutely yes, they have been used for many purposes now. There are social interactive networks; there is a company called Lazooz which is similar to Uber, with people driving cars and taking passengers, but it is all built on blockchain and they are using cryptocurrencies. It is peer-to-peer, there is no corporation making money out of this.

Though it does sound quite inspiring, both bitcoin and blockchain are still too far from getting really widespread. What do you think can be done to promote the technology to a wider audience?

Caterina Rindi: I’m optimistic. I think, education, which I am trying to do, is essential. But in general it is all very technologically complicated, and it really needs to be simplified. Now there are many software engineers working on the technology. They are a minority of the world but they are the ones who know the most. So we need to translate what they are doing for the rest of the world, for everyone who does not speak computer languages. The thing is to make it accessible for an average person, to make it easy to use.

We also have to involve more people in the process of creating these different uses for the technology. We need to involve philosophers; we need to involve artists, lawyers, teachers and everyone. If there is only a software engineer designing something, then it will look like a software engineer’s screen. But if we have an artist in there or we have an architect, then it is more likely to look like something that other people can also use.

Maria Rudina

17 October 2015

Subrahmanyam KVJ tells it like it is

03 August 2015

Keynote 2015

I was invited to Los Angeles as the keynote speaker at Keynote 2015: How to Harness the Distributed Ledger.

My presentation introduced blockchains to a diverse audience of fintech professionals as well as the bitcoin industry, and then proceeded to give people some good examples and ways to communicate about this decentralized technology. My goal was to help us all talk about and make bitcoin and blockchains and ethereum and smart contracts much more accessible to the general population, so that everyone can benefit from and guide their creation.

02 July 2015

3 Questions Bitcoin Beginners Ask

I recently did a workshop at OuiShareFest conference in Paris, an introduction to bitcoin and the blockchain for a non-technical audience. I loved it. The attendees were from all over the world - many had signed up for my session in advance, and several more came after we met at the conference and I told them about my presentation.

ChangeTip integrations
At the end of the session (and for the rest of the week) I sent everyone their first bitcoin, €1 worth. For most people I sent it via ChangeTip, the great app that uses bitcoin for tipping, supporting writers, artists and charitable organizations, and making the world a genuinely nicer place in the process. I also tied the giveaway in via Twitter, since that's a simple way to send and receive tips, though ChangeTip is integrated with many apps, making it as easy as possible.

One of the best parts about the workshop came afterwards. People approached me and thanked me profusely, in Italian and Spanish and French, telling me that they had tried to understand bitcoin but it had been too dense and confusing. That this was the first time someone explained it clearly enough for them to grasp. That they were starting to see how the blockchain could offer all these other potential uses. And they asked questions - three of which stood out:

Why should we use bitcoin instead of fiat currency, especially when it's so volatile and insecure?

 In my talk I discussed the climate in which bitcoin was birthed, the disillusionment and distrust of governments, banks, and large corporations without the best interests of its users in mind. I brought up the economic struggles in Argentina and Greece, and the bank bailouts in the US and UK. The 3-day OuiShare conference itself addressed the conflicts between big "sharing" companies like Uber and the people who provided the services, not to mention others impacted negatively. So this audience had the background already, but had heard all about bitcoin's price volatility, Mt. Gox, and Silk Road. They believed the negative hype, repeatedly trumpeted in the news, and thought that bitcoin wasn't going to last anyway.

I could have also emphasized that the people who can most benefit from using bitcoin as a currency, however, aren't attending conferences in first-world nations. I'm talking about the unbanked and underbanked, populations that transact in micro-payments, who use their cell phones to pay bills, or who send remittances to their families back home every month. These individuals are laboring under exorbitant transfer fees, lack of access to credit or loans, and limited technological infrastructure. Check out some of the efforts of 37coins and BitPesa for examples of how bitcoin is another tool helping narrow the wealth gap around the world.

Who is running it all?

Even though I explained the peer-to-peer network, and this was a Sharing+Collaborative Economy conference, it was still very hard for people to grasp that this technology is truly decentralized. There continued to be a suspicion that someone somewhere can shut it down or break it or manipulate it all. Maybe I should have added this image of active bitcoin nodes to my presentation?

Source: getaddr.bitnodes.io

Why isn't it easier to use?

This question made me laugh every time I heard it, because I agreed. Why isn't it all easier to use? It reminds me that to use a tool created by brilliant engineers, we still need designers and educators and economists and writers and philosophers and more. It's also fair to note that we are in the early stages of this technology. I've heard it compared to the internet in the 1980's, which in the beginning utilized strings of numbers for email and dial-up modems to connect. Look how far we've come in 30 years!

The focus now is on the layers and services being built upon bitcoin and the blockchain. So the more people know about it and support its development, the more that momentum and engagement will propel it forward. This is exactly why I presented the workshop in the first place, and will continue to speak and educate the populace wherever I'm invited (check my Twitter for upcoming talks). I encourage you to come 'drink the lemonade' - it's delicious and exciting!

Photo credit: Scott Kennedy

Addendum 6-July-2015: This post has also been published on the Coin Congress Events blog - check it out and share it there!

26 May 2015

Introduction to Bitcoin+Blockchain for a Non-Technical Audience

I enthusiastically returned to OuiShareFest in Paris last week and gave this presentation to an eager and very appreciative audience. At the end I gave everyone their very first bitcoin too (thanks ChangeTip)!

Testimonials (in French, Italian, Spanish, and English) went something like this: "Oh my god I am so grateful to have someone explain this stuff in a way that I can understand! Thank you thank you!"

Want me to come speak to your organization or at your conference? I'll happily travel. Sample slides below.