Blockstack - A New Decentralized Internet

Our portfolio company Blockstack is building a development platform for decentralized applications built on top of the blockchain.

This video explains what they are doing and they just published a whitepaper outlining how their token works to support this application ecosystem.

I think that most people would agree that a more secure Internet with identity that users control built-in from the start is a better approach. But how one bootstraps that kind of Internet has been a challenge. Tokens as incentive systems are likely a solution to the bootstrap problem and it is exciting to me to see how this works.


Comments (Archived):

  1. aminTorres

    They just announce details on the token distribution event, might be good to include in the post:

    1. mplsvbhvr

      Nice – less digging for me to do. Thanks

    2. Muneeb Ali

      Thanks for including the link! Indeed, we just announced this today and have a lot more information in the blog post and also the new website of Blockstack Token LLC.

    3. jason wright

      i don’t believe in coincidences ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Mac

        How about ‘bitcoincidences’?

  2. Shanghai Reader

    Fred,I know you guys backed Protocol Labs. Any reason why USV isn’t involved with Nebulous / Sia? They’ve got solid, working tech and a strong and growing team. Sia would also be a synergistic investment as the storage layer of Blockstack, much like IPFS.

    1. fredwilson

      We can’t back every token project. Just like we can’t back every startup

      1. jason wright

        but you can buy their tokens.

  3. Ann Greenberg

    Who owns and controls the IDs? And, are they persistent or can users have multiple IDs?

    1. Larry Salibra

      One of the Blockstack engineers here: You own and control your own Blockstack IDs. Each Blockstack ID is controlled by a private key that only the person who creates it has. When you add a username to your Blockstack, ownership of that username is stored in the blockchain. Users can have as many Blockstack IDs as they want. You switch between different IDs when you sign into apps.

    2. jason wright

      i have more than one. i have the private keys. i am in control. just don’t lose the keys.

  4. mplsvbhvr

    Won’t comment on the tech until I have a chance to read the white paper, but I just want to say how refreshing it is to see such a well put together video promoting a block chain platform. It’s great to see professionalism in all aspects of a project, not just on the development side. I’ll definitely be paying attention to blockstack and what they can add to the ecosystem.

  5. curtissumpter

    I just watched the Ted Talk. This is the future. If you’re a bank or any large critical organization why would you ever mess with user passwords again?

  6. curtissumpter

    But how do you authenticate if let’s say someone else is using your machine? Let’s say at work?

  7. Sundar Subramanian

    Thanks for sharing Fred this seems to be a great disruption. I guess I don’t need to remember passwords and where I got hacked.Kudos to Ryan and Muneeb and btw great video. I hope to keep track of their progress.

  8. kidmercury

    the incentive system, aka monetary and fiscal policy, is the key, but i dont think blockstack’s hands off approach here will do them favors. IMHO a “bernie sanders” approach is needed here, in which the network operator (blockstack or any of these other blockchain management organizations) issues tokens strategically and regulates their value as needed to jump start the ecosystem. what amazon is doing with amazon coin is a great example (amzn coin is a virtual currency with no blockchain, so the underlying technology is completely different, but i believe the economics/incentive structure warrant imitation).

    1. Girish Mehta

      Why do you call it a “Bernie Sanders” approach ?

      1. kidmercury

        because i associate the necessary approach with a lot of “government” (or in this case, network operator) handouts. in the US, anti-illegal immigration people often suggest reducing welfare benefits because welfare benefits serve as incentive for illegal immigration (according to proponents of this thesis). as network operators *want* immigration to their network, i suggest they use the tactic of handouts to get people on board. right now, though, most networks are essentially some form of pay to play.

        1. jason wright

          so you want airdrops?

          1. kidmercury

            essentially, yes. i have a blockchain dream of my own, if i get to the point where it is rolled out, i envision implementing a monetary policy that allocates tokens with the goal of achieving and sustaining a normal distribution. to me this is the real promise of all this stuff.

    2. Muneeb Ali

      Regulating tokens would be very hard in a decentralized way especially given SEC regulations. We worked with securities lawyers for months ironing out our legal framework. It’s not just about what the technology enables but also what is compliant with regulators (the SEC is just one of them).

      1. JLM

        .It is encouraging to see someone comment upon the SEC implications of tokens. This is the real battlefield in my view.I have no dog in the fight other than having run a public company, I purposely had as few dealings as I could with the SEC and PCAOB.I do not dislike the SEC, but any organization which is forced into multiple law enforcement, law writing, and advisory duties will not be really good at any of them.I sympathize with the SEC having to talk to crooks in the morning and honest folks in the afternoon. Their view of the world definitely erodes to the lowest common denominator.I once had an SEC attorney/accountant scream at me for using the term EBITDA in a conference call. EBITDA is not a GAAP defined term. If I remembered to “derive” it in words, it was no problem. If I did not, it became screamworthy and offensive.It is difficult to imagine any outcome in which tokens do not become full fledged securities in the worst possible manner imaginable.Those who can figure out how to navigate these mine-laden waters will have a huge first mover advantage.Good luck. Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      2. kidmercury

        i don’t deny the difficulty with regulators, though i question the upside if regulatory limits are maintained. i don’t believe much value can be realized until tokens have the same legal/social status as those enjoyed by nation-state currencies.

        1. jason wright

          when tokens have the same status as electrons we will have arrived.

  9. Vitor Conceicao

    For quite a few years I have been a sceptic about IPV6. I think it is something that is over engineered and designed by committee and my bet is that something will come and change everything before everything change to IPV6.This Blockstack might be this. Very interesting.

    1. Muneeb Ali

      I’m a big fan of IPv6! Blockstack operates at a layer logically above it. Blockstack focuses on the application layer of the internet stack and can work with any transport layer (e.g., TCP, UDP) or internet layer (IPv4, IPv6) underneath.Thanks for your interest and glad you’re finding Blockstack interesting!

  10. JLM

    .This is a very high quality video and it was a great decision to make it. Its production values are apparent and obvious.Subconsciously, its high quality pre-disposes me to believe whatever they are saying, in no small part because the speakers are articulate, persuasive, and professional.I am skeptical about the idea of creating a “new” Internet as there is so much invested in this one.I could write for a long time about how those with the commanding marketshare are going to protect their turf at all costs. They also have gobs of money with which to do this and the ability to buy whatever irritates them.Well done.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Muneeb Ali

      Agree that new internet sounds ambitious but we’ve been at it for a while and it’s already deployed and working! You can download the new browser and check it out.

      1. JLM

        .Bravo, well played. I will do just that.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  11. JoeK

    @Muneeb – The video is very sleek, but it still is not clear what the real value proposition is. You mention security, and data theft, but how exactly are you stopping this? Is blockstack re-engineering the entire hardware, software, and human stack, to eliminate hard, soft, and social bugs? How about a single convincingly valuable use case, just one, before promising to replace the entire internet. I am trying to be open minded here.

    1. Muneeb Ali

      Blockstack is focusing on the application layer of the internet stack. The layers underneath where TCP/IP etc live are fairly decentralized and open and no need to re-invent the wheel there.We’re targeting unbundling of centralized data. If centralized data silos are removed then hackers will need to hack individuals instead of hacking a single company and getting access to data of millions of people.

      1. JoeK

        Could you be more specific, with say, an example of a major recent hack that has a more secure Blockstack analog?

      2. Alex

        What happens once a personโ€™s identity is hacked? Won’t it be way worse than just Equifax or a company being hacked? Isn’t this decentralization of the internet with centralization of identity?Instead of centralization of data silos with decentralization (pieces) of identity?

        1. Matt A. Myers

          I always wonder about the 50%+1 attack where I believe where the function of a blockchain can essentially be taken over? This is a global security threat individual companies seem happy to not address as a regular overarching concern.

      3. cavepainting

        Muneeb, Does blockstack support ways to aggregate anonymized data from individual nodes with consent? Can machine learning based apps that process data across nodes be deployed on blockstack?

  12. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Hot damn. I get goosebumps every time I read about Blockstack! I hope the team is thinking about how it can increase its outreach to communities of developers who are under-served such as people of color and women. There are huge rewards to be reaped by projects that make that effort ๐Ÿ™‚ When you’re trying to bootstrap participation in something like this, it can have game-changing outsized returns.

    1. Muneeb Ali

      Thank you and absolutely! Can you please get in touch with us and we’ll make sure to follow up on how to increase our outreach to people of color and women. My email address is on my website. (We recently had a 400 person sold-out event in Mountain View and did outreach to women and minorities and gave them special discounts / free tickets.)

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Will do! Delighted you’ve extended the invitation ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Ryan Shea

      That means a lot Kirsten.It’s extremely important to us to ensure that we have a wide distribution of the token. And this distribution must be representative of many different groups of people.One method of our 3 method mining process involves giving out tokens to every user who verifies on the system (up to a certain point in time). This is powerful but I think we can do even more.Would love to hear your thoughts as well. Reach out to Muneeb or myself and we can chat.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        On it. Thanks, Ryan!

  13. William Mougayar

    Congratulations.Air dropping tokens to real users/developers is a great practice, and I believe it will become increasingly popular.

    1. Muneeb Ali

      Thanks, William! We’re really excited.

    2. Ryan Shea

      Thanks William! Glad you’re a fan of this and appreciate your support. I’m sure it will be very powerful for many projects down the road.

  14. Frank W. Miller

    Well, they’re probably gonna make a bazillion dollars on their token offering. I recently took a role as faculty advisor for the cryptocurrency club at my school. So I’m talking to these students about all this stuff and it sounds just like what I hear on this blog.I finally figured out what bugs me about all this blockchain stuff. In almost every discussion I have, its about how much the value of this token or that is going to go up. It has very little to do with actual technical innovation. Ethereum smushed a programming language into the blockchain entries, now Blockstack smooshes some other features into it.I should go back and pull out some of my old textbooks and see if there’s something I can smoosh into a blockchain entry and then claim that there’s a new internet. Let’s see, batch processing, oh wait, thats Hadoop. Timesharing, now that might be interesting. Maybe I can figure out a way to allow sessions into blockchain entries that allow for multiple simultaneous updates during the convergence period before eventual consistency occurs, blah blah. Better yet, I should go write it up in a fancy academic looking paper like Satoshi did that references itself and websites rather than academic papers. Then I can claim I’ve got the next greatest token and everybody will come put their money in my blockchain, at least until somebody else decides how to put an entire blockchain inside a blockchain cell. Then my feature set won’t be so popular anymore…

    1. Muneeb Ali

      Thanks for your feedback, Frank! Our team has a background in distributed systems research and we share your skepticism for re-inventing known database / distributed concepts and riding the wave of the “blockchain hype”. That said, we’ve done 4+ years of research & development for Blockstack and have published peer-reviewed papers at top CS conferences. We believe that we’ve found a great use case of blockchains that can solve the centralization problem of various services in the application layer of the internet stack. Check out our research papers and happy to chat more!

      1. Frank W. Miller

        Despite my sarcasm, I do genuinely wish you luck with your enterprise!!

      2. Matt A. Myers

        The important question is whether you and your team believes/thinks the current incentive structure for the most popular blockchain technologies like Bitcoin, Ethereum’s Ether, etc are fair to society – if the transfer of wealth is reasonable or appropriate, e.g. the whole “$100 of Bitcoin is now worth $70mm” – the exact incentive Fred concludes with: ” Tokens as incentive systems are likely a solution to the bootstrap problem and it is exciting to me to see how this works.”

    2. Matt A. Myers

      I think there are enough people voicing their logic that the main problem with blockchain is in fact the incentive structure, whereas people who have vested interest in an increase in the value of a blockchain crypto-asset see that incentive as a positive. Albert has discussed in a video the different ways you can have adoption – I think the correct way if blockchain is to be used as a transactional layer for currency, an immutable ledge, etc will be through having the State agree it should be implemented.The above is the sole reason I am actually interested in blockchain and seeing how it can be integrated into my projects, because I do believe the structure the technology will allow – a single shared database being another value – has a high enough probability of success that it needs attention.

  15. cavepainting

    Congratulations! This is really cool.The primary reason for app developers to launch ERC20 tokens is that it is easy to raise capital on the ethereum block chain through token contracts. But the questions of scalability and gas (high fees) make it difficult to deploy for the vast majority of use cases.The questions for anyone considering blockstack as an alternative are:a) Can a developer raise capital through ERC20 tokens but run the app on blockstack as a sidechain with one-to-one mapping to the parent token on ETH?b) Or will blockstack support a platform for app developers to launch their own tokens that are linked to stacks?Sorry if this is already addressed in the white paper. Thank you!

    1. Ryan Shea

      Hey there! Please find my answers inline below:> The primary reason for app developers to launch ERC20 tokens is that it is easy to raise capital on the ethereum block chain through token contracts.The primary purpose of tokens should be to enable powerful decentralized ecosystems with incentives and organization. Raising capital is important but it shouldn’t be a primary driver for a token. Otherwise you’re doing it wrong.> But the questions of scalability and gas (high fees) make it difficult to deploy for the vast majority of use cases.Yes, this is why a big part of Blockstack’s philosophy is to use blockchains as minimally as possible.> a) Can a developer raise capital through ERC20 tokens but run the app on blockstack as a sidechain with one-to-one mapping to the parent token on ETH?First, Blockstack will enable developers to create their own tokens for their apps. Second, Blockstack apps can also use Ethereum.> b) Or will blockstack support a platform for app developers to launch their own tokens that are linked to stacks?Yes exactly. We will allow apps to (a) create their own tokens (b) create their own namespaces to collect name registration fees. Both will be supported as monetization options.

      1. cavepainting

        Ryan, Thank you! Appreciate the response!

      2. cavepainting

        >The primary purpose of tokens should be to enable powerful decentralized ecosystems with incentives and organization.Agree 100%. My point is that even developers with the right intent end up choosing ethereum (fully knowing that it may not be the right platform to scale and they would have to build the app on a side chain) because there is no real alternative. Blockstack sounds like a real exciting option.

  16. Ben Longstaff

    I have been developing a portfolio app with Blockstack. I think one of the challenges is going to be that you have to run a node locally, which is resource intensive which leads to a bad experience if your internet connection is slow.It creates challenges for mobile, I found other wallets that downloaded the blockchain to the phone ate through my data cap before the sync completed.The team is super responsive so I think they will build a good eco system.The recent integrations with Storj / Sia as well as a bunch of centralised solutions like Google drive / Amazon cloud drive / Microsoft one drive / Dropbox is very cool.Delegating responsibility for data safety to the end user will be interesting. There are a lot of very convincing, well executed crypto scams.

    1. Muneeb Ali

      The token actually helps a lot with the issue of mobile and “light clients” on desktops. Now we can independently verify the longest/correct blockchain without running a full-node and that was critical to get right. This was one of the more imp reasons to introduce a native token.

  17. David Jefferys

    Many new networks will thrive in the future; however, MAID SAFE will win!

  18. falicon

    I feel like Coinbase’s stance is legit – they won’t support any Blockchain tech. that isn’t open source and available for technical/security review…my guess is that once it is, and they have a chance to vet it on behalf of their customers, they’ll start to support it (assuming it’s all solid).But agree with you that it feels like Ethereum is already poised as most of the solution to the general problem they are pitching here…

  19. Muneeb Ali

    Ethereum focuses more on financial apps. Blockstack is for general-purpose internet apps. Here is a good summary of differences: https://forum.blockstack.or

  20. Twain Twain

    The Blockstack team explained how they’re differentiated from Ethereum here:* https://forum.blockstack.or

  21. kidmercury

    IMHO ethereum’s design, which is simply more centralized, will be easier to use and thus result in far greater market adoption.

  22. falicon

    When you say Ethereum is more centralized you mean more centralized in terms of where the data and code goes right (to the blockchain)?My understanding of Blockstack is that they have their own distributed, but proprietary, set of systems for each part they talked about (identity, storage, etc.)…they basically keep them in-sync and verifiable/honest by dumping the core keys to the a Bitcoin (or Ethereum, I’m not sure which they actually use right now) backed blockchain.So to me, Blockstack is more centralized and slightly more complex (because you have to use *their* distributed systems)…on top of another blockchain.The bigger problem I *really* see though, isn’t so much about the technology (what they have built is actually pretty impressive AND cool)…if you watch the video above, the problems they start off talking about really boil down to one main problem with the ‘current’ internet:Gatekeepers are in charge.You can build whatever you want and pretty much however you want with ‘todays tech’, but people need to find it (Google, app stores, etc.)…or you can go where the people already are but then you pay a control (and possibly censorship) tax (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).You can accept payments anyway you want but if you want to make it easy for buyers you’ll pay a usage tax there too (Paypal, credit card companies, etc.)Nothing about the stuff they talked about throughout the video *really* addresses this problem (IMHO).The challenge for the future really isn’t in the building of something or even the technology…the challenge is in getting an end around the gatekeepers.Blockchain technology seems to only really help on that front when it comes to censorship and/or identity (think gov.)…and I’m not sure that’s actually a widespread concern/complaint for the average user (yet).

  23. kidmercury

    When you say Ethereum is more centralized you mean more centralized in terms of where the data and code goes right (to the blockchain)?yes, with their whole “super computer” approach. i believe the ethereum model will be much, much better for utilization of smart contracts, which i think is vital to the development of blockchain economies. i think creating a new set of languages/tools for smart contracts that are highly integrated with the underlying protocol are the right way to go; i don’t believe blockchain protocols can be separated from the programming language and still realize their full potential. i should note that that is my take based on my theoretical interpretation; i haven’t had a chance to delve into writing smart contracts and getting my hands dirty in that regard.IMHO eventually network operators will be the new gatekeepers, i understand they need to demonize incumbents for their own marketing endeavors but they should remember the inextricable relationship between usability and centralization. i view gatekeepers as a necessary fact of life with both positives and negatives; from this perspective, demonization of them is sub-optimal, and frequently driven by political motivations rather an honest discourse.

  24. Paul Momoh, PhD

    I should add here that generally, when the crypto community refers to Ethereum as “centralized”, they’re referring to it’s governance (more like your network gatekeepers argument) not the deposit of data & code into the blockchain. Data in the blockchain cannot be argued as centralized by virtue of the very nature of blockchain itself – decentralized.

  25. kidmercury

    i understand your point, though i think the distinction between centralization of governance/access and centralization of data/code is not as distinct as many suggest. for instance, it is my understanding that when ethereum rolls out byzantium, it will impact how solidity code is compiled. this may seem relatively inconsequential at the moment but i believe it illustrates the opportunity for centralization inherent in the architecture of the system.

  26. Muneeb Ali

    Currently, ~10 minutes per transaction. But we’ve moved most operations outside of the blockchain and that’s super fast. That’s our general design philosophy: do as little at the blockchain level as possible.