26 May 2016

Review of OuiShareFest 2016, by other smart people

I'm just back from a great month in Europe, a mix of business and socializing, including time spent in Germany (Mainz and Berlin), Italy (with family), Belgium (Antwerp and Ghent), and France (Paris).

The last bit in Paris was as part of the OuiShareFest, the excellent yearly conference put on by the collaborative economy folks at OuiShare.

Ariane S. Conrad, the brilliant Book Doula, wrote a lovely review of this year's OuiShareFest, wherein she calls me "refreshingly plainspoken" in explaining blockchain technology.

Read the whole piece on her blog, and watch the adorable video recap of Day Two of the conference, with Ariane and I laughing around minute 1:30.

Other memorable bits of the conference included the work being done on Platform Coops, much of it led by the thoughtful and principled Nathan Schneider, whom I was incredibly excited to finally meet in person, as can be evidenced by the goofy look on my face, below.

No question, I'll be back for next year's OuiShareFest for sure. Join me?

22 April 2016

Keynote at JAX conference in Mainz, Germany

credit @JAXcon

I was invited to do a keynote presentation at JAX conference in Mainz, Germany, to an audience of enterprise software developers on 19 April 2016, and this is what they had to say about it:

The Future Belongs to Bitcoin and/or Blockchain

Caterina Rindi, a consultant and multilingual speaker, took the floor and talked about how blockchain can and will be part of the future through projects from different industries, including lottery, energy and Internet of Things. She addressed the most sensitive issues of Bitcoin and opined that the identity of this cryptocurrency’s founder is not relevant anymore because Bitcoin has bee created “for the people.” Bitcoin and blockchain —not necessarily taken together— are threatening traditional institutions, but Ms Rindi is convinced that this digital currency “or a variation of it will be in our future.

JAXenter and S&S Media Group ran a great event and it was a pleasure to work with all the organizers and team. Hope to join them again in the future!

credit @JAXcon

Watch the video here:

13 February 2016

The Block Chain Conference Brings Finance Industry and Blockchain Companies Together

The Block Chain Conference, held in San Francisco on February 10, billed itself as the first event to address the intersection of business and blockchains, bringing together the IT establishment and innovative startups. While it’s unclear whether the lofty goal was accomplished, to “accelerate the development, deployment and leverage of block chain-based approaches by global business,” it definitely brought together finance industry and blockchain technology companies in conversation.
The first presenters and keynotes opened with discussions on the nature of the blockchain industry and its strengths and weaknesses, admonishing the audience to think beyond the bitcoin blockchain and short term uses. Spencer Bogart, Equity Research Associate for Block Chain & Software (SaaS) at Needham & Company, championed public, permissionless, and open-source network. He sees them as being the best to build upon, highlighting their resilience, security, and anti-fragility as features that organizations need to resist the potential shocks of exploration and growth. He imagined a future of multiple blockchains and continued disintermediation.
In a slight contrast, keynote speaker John Wolpert, Global Blockchain Offering Director at IBM, argued that networks should be “permissive,” or a combination of centralized and decentralized services, much like ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Wolpert also made a case for standardizing communication protocols, and insisted that IBM’s strategy of open innovation supporting projects like Java and XML would be the way to build the economically-aware “fabric” upon which interoperable platforms would grow. Wolpert also called out the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Project, a cross-industry collaboration that includes IBM, DTCC, R2CEV, and Digital Asset, amongst others.

Judd Bagley, Director of Communications at Overstock.com and Chief Evangelist of t0.com, referenced US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 2008 speech to give historical economic context for the development of bitcoin and then presented some statistics on who is using bitcoin for transactions and what they’re buying. Bagley also described t0’s crypto-finance unit as an example of how the path forward must be grounded in regulatory compliance.

The conference was occasion for several startups to launch new products, notably Ascribe’s BigChainDB, and Tendermint. Bruce Pon, Founder & CEO of Ascribe, was very well received, explaining how BigChainDB was designed to address the roadblocks to blockchain enterprise adoption, namely scalability, latency, and query. Special guest Leanne Kemp, Founder & CEO of Everledger, announced their partnership, using BigChainDB as a database for diamond certification and fraud detection.
Tendermint described their new Open Blockchain Platform, or “Trust as a Service,” promising to simplify blockchain application development for enterprise developers. Both products spoke to the needs of large-scale organizations for security, decreased latency, and improved throughput.

There were two jam-packed afternoon streams, one for Wall Street and financial services and the other for the New Business World, both tapping the implementations of smart contracts, integrations with Ethereum, and ­­­­­current development in practical applications.

Highlights included presentations from Ryan Singer (Blockchain Clearing) calling for an interledger protocol, Cheryl Gurz (The Bankcorp) encouraging the growth of global micropayments, Micah Winkelspecht (Gem) breaking down smart networks, and Tiana Laurence (Factom) showcasing how they track mortgages. Gideon Greenspan of CoinSciences sent a valuable video message on Avoiding Pointless Blockchain Projects. The entire conference live-tweet stream can be seen at the TBCCSF hashtag. Some notable tweets came from Michael O'Loughlin, Jen Massing Harris, and Caleb Chen.

All in all, the speaker list could have benefitted from more varied representation in other industries (not to mention gender and ethnicity). Other global businesses could have included media and hospitality, transportation, communications, law, or governmental organizations and NGO’s (for example, BitGive Foundation is currently building a Donation Transparency Project with BitPesa). The continued focus on finance and IT applications of blockchain technology is understandable, but to John Wolpert’s point, we need to think about more than just immediate networks, and recognize that we’re building new environments and tools for the future, for everyone.

This article was originally published on BraveNewCoin.

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