On today’s episode we’re going to be talking about MyCoin and the proposed Hong Kong bitcoin ban, insuring the p2p economy, Pirate Bay domain names under attack, distributed networks and the law, and last but certainly not least, Matthew Deiters joins the show to tell us about the Assembly platform and Assembly coins.
Content for today’s episode was provided by John Light and Matthew Deiters
Interview edited by Grant Strac
Music for today’s episode was “Curbside Killers” by Pskov
I’ve got quite a few exciting announcements today.
I’m happy to announce that thanks to patrons of the 2P Connects Us Patreon campaign, I have hit my second fundraising goal of $25 in pledges per episode on patreon.com. So far 7 people have pledged a total of $27 per episode. If you like what you hear, you, too, can support the show by becoming a patron of the P2P Connects Us Patreon campaign. At the end of each month, I will receive the amount you pledged for each episode that was released since the previous month; for example, if you pledge $1 per episode and I release 4 episodes this month, I will receive about $4 from you. Simple, but powerful – it all adds up. To sweeten the deal, Patrons who send me a copy of their Patreon receipt along with a bitcoin address from Counterwallet.io are eligible to participate in my LTBcoin giveaway program. The full details of the Patreon campaign and LTBcoin giveaway program can be found at patreon.com/p2pconnectsus.
Big thanks to everyone who supports the show. I’d like the support you back – if you’re working on a peer-to-peer project, or use peer-to-peer philosophy or technology to improve your life, write me your story and I’ll share it on the show so others can learn more about how p2p ideas can be valuable to them.
By the way, P2P Connects Us is looking for content creators! I’m paying 50,000 LTBcoin for high quality videos, 25,000 LTBcoin for audio content, and 15,000 LTBcoin for written articles. All work published will be released under a copyleft license so that it’s free to remix and redistribute as long as any derivatives or copies are also released copyleft. If you’re interested in sharing your own perspectives on peer-to-peer philosophy, technology, and culture, please contact me through the contact page on my website at p2pconnects.us.
I’m also paying writers 30,000 LTBcoin for English transcriptions of the interviews featured on the podcast. If you’re interested in transcribing an interview, head on over to the official P2P Connects Us thread in the Listener’s Lounge on the Let’s Talk Bitcoin forums on letstalkbitcoin.com and stake your claim. First come first serve, so claim early and finish fast to receive the 30,000 LTBcoin bounty.
What is LTBcoin good for anyway? Right now, LTBcoin serves as a token of gratitude in the Let’s Talk Bitcoin ecosystem. People can receive it through tipping, redeeming magic words, producing content on the blog and forums, and through giveaways like the one offered by this show. You can use LTBcoin to tip people and pay for goods and services offered by people who accept LTBcoin. Do you have a message and want it to be heard by the LTB audience? As long as it fits within the show’s guidelines, time for sponsored messages on Let’s Talk Bitcoin network shows can be purchased with LTBcoin, usually at discount compared to the price in other tokens. You can check out the the sponsor page and the bazaar in the LTB forum on letstalkbitcoin.com. If you don’t have a message to share, you can sell your LTBcoin to someone who does using a centralized exchange or the decentralized exchange built right into the Counterparty protocol. You can learn more about LTBcoin at LTBcoin.com.
I’m excited to announce that I will be releasing the next episode of P2P Connects Us using Darkleaks, a new piece of p2p software that I covered in the last episode of the podcast. Darkleaks allows people to sell information using the bitcoin protocol in a provably trustless way, and I want to experiment to see how useful it is for releasing creative content. I’m going to be setting the price low this time, at just .001 BTC or one-tenth of a bitcent, and if it’s successful then I may consider using Darkleaks as the primary method of releasing all future episodes of the podcast once the software is stable. We’ll see how it goes! You can download the software by clicking the Darkleaks link in the show notes and start playing with it today.
The last announcement today is a hat tip to Phillip from p2pjunkie.com for producing a great p2p news aggregation site and my life a little bit easier. Keep up the great work!
You can follow the show on Twitter, @p2pconnectsus, subscribe to the P2P Connects Us YouTube channel and Soundcloud page, and sign up for email alerts each time new content is posted on the P2P Connects Us blog by entering your email address in the sign up form at p2pconnects.us
With those announcements out of the way, let’s move on to the news.
MyCoin bitcoin exchange closes; bitcoin ban in Hong Kong?
A operators of a Hong Kong bitcoin exchange have disappeared with up to $387 million dollars of client funds. It appears that the company was simply operating a Ponzi Scheme the whole time, promising huge returns and offering expensive rewards to people who brought in new clients. These huge losses have brought both lawmakers and victims of the scheme to call for greater regulation of bitcoin exchanges in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong lawmaker Leung Yiu-Chung was quoted saying, “The government should not just stand aside. It’s simply not enough to just ask people to exercise caution when investing … It has to ban the circulation of such virtual currency in the market.” No word yet on whether Mr. Yiu-Chung plans to ban corporate stocks and foreign currencies as well, since they are also used to scam people out of money.
Insurance companies embrace sharing economy with new policies
CNBC reports that Geico, Metlife, and USAA are now offering auto insurance specifically for people who drive for “Transportation Network Companies,” also known as p2p ridesharing services. This is in addition to services like those offered by the P2P support organization Peers, which offers drivers a paid vehicle rental service for when the vehicle they normally use to offer rides is in the shop. Peers also offers people who rent out their homes using P2P platforms like Airbnb additional insurance that follows them no matter what market they list on. So if a homesharer out there wants to cut the cord with a centralized marketplace like Airbnb or 99flats and list on a totally P2P marketplace like OpenBazaar instead, they can use this homesharing insurance offered by Peers to do so. Likewise, if someone sharing their car on one of the P2P carsharing marketplaces wants to do so on a P2P marketplace like OpenBazaar instead, now there are multiple insurance companies offering unbundled insurance products. Exciting times for p2p economy as more established companies embrace the new norms of p2p exchange.
Pirate Bay domains targeted in legal action
While some are indeed embracing p2p exchange, others are trying to beat it back. A prosecutor in Sweden has filed motions in the District Court of Sweden to place both of the .se domain names of The Pirate Bay under State control. The motions target the domain names’ registrar, the Internet Infrastructure Foundation. The registrar told news website TorrentFreak that this case is unique because it’s the first time that prosecutors have targeted registrars directly, rather than a domain name’s owner. The prosecutor, Frederick Ingblad, says, “It is about fundamental rights versus the need to prevent crime online. It’s a balancing act, and ultimately it’s for the legislature to decide.” Cases like this show why it’s important for people to own their online identity. In my interview with Greg Slepak from the okTurtles Foundation in episode 5, Greg explained how his software DNSChain can help solve problems like the one the Pirate Bay is facing here by giving users an identity they own using block chain technology. In addition to using DNSChain, the Pirate Bay could also use the OpenName protocol, Namecoin, ZeroNet, and similar software to claim a name they own that points to their server’s IP address, bypassing the centralized domain system altogether. While this would add steps to the normal browsing process, such a move would help the Pirate Bay maintain resiliency in the face of continued attacks by those who are intolerant of information sharing.
Distributed Networks and the Law working paper released
Even as some attempt to use the law to fight p2p exchange, others are trying to use the law more constructively. A four day legal workshop at the MIT Media Lab, which lasted from January 15 to January 18, has produced a working paper entitled “Distributed Networks and the Law.” The workshop was co-organized by the crypto-crowdfunding startup SWARM, Constance Choi of the Digital Asset Transfer Authority, and Primavera de Fillippi, a research fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Law Center. The group and the paper they have produced seek to clear the ambiguity around the legality of crypto-token crowdsales and other innovative uses of the block chain. The legal classification of these crypto-assets seems to rely mainly on factors that the asset issuer has little to no control over, such as whether the purchaser has an expectation of profit or other financial interest. Also discussed was the issue of smart contracts and whether or not they could be legally binding when they deal with assets outside of the smart contract, such as the case of “smart property” that uses smart contracts to transfer ownerships of hard assets like cars or houses. I look forward to more clarity on these issues, especially as more entrepreneurs and businesses begin building on block chain technology to offer redeemable tokens, app coins, crypto-equity, smart contracts, and other valuable services. To read the legal working group’s findings so far, you can find a link to the full working paper in the show notes.
Interview transcription by LTB community member bitillionaire
If you would like to transcribe an episode or help edit any transcriptions, visit the offer thread in the Let’s Talk Bitcoin forums.
[John Light] I would like to welcome to Episode twelve of the P2P Connects Us podcast Matthew Dieters, founder and CEO of Assembly. Matthew, thanks for coming on the show.
[Matthew Dieters] Thank you, John.
[John Light] So Matthew, what does peer-to-peer mean to you?
[Matthew Dieters] What is the internet great at? It’s bringing people together so that they can collaborate together, that they can network with each other, and, I guess, peer-to-peer, when I think about people, I think it’s about people connecting with each other to accomplish things bigger than what one person can do.
I mean, I know that peer-to-peer means a lot of other things if you think of it very purely in a technical perspective, but in context of Assembly, that’s how I think of peer-to-peer.
[John Light] What is Assembly?
[Matthew Dieters] Assembly is a platform that allows people all over the world – designers, developers, community people, people that want to do marketing – to collaborate together on building real products. Software products.
Anyone can come with an idea. The community gets behind the ideas that they like best and they build them into products. At the end of every month, Assembly collects the revenue for those products, pays any bills, and then distributes any proceeds to the people that built them.
[John Light] Wow, that sounds like a really unique collaborative platform in the sense that it adds this kind of monetization model where people are actually rewarded for their contributions instead of it just kind of being like a hobby. So, why did you choose to start Assembly?
[Matthew Dieters] If we go back, the company originally started with the goal of helping those building software find better careers – you know, like, I think the direction that, as an engineer, I find that we’re finding that people want to work where they want to work on things that they want to do with the tools that they want to and the people that they want to – and I think that we want more autonomy and agency. So, we initially started the company with this goal of – how do we have people find better careers that are more fulfilling?
And that took us down a really interesting path. But at one point, we finally were helping people find jobs and we were talking to our users and they were basically saying things like, I’d like to take this position but, you know, I’m also working on this thing on my own and I’m trying to find a designer to help me or another developer to help me.
And it kind of reminded me and my co-founders of when we were building side-products, and we all have side-products, but we always do those by ourselves. But yet, everything else we do on the Internet, we do really collaboratively. And why aren’t we helping, like, build products collaboratively?
So that’s really where the idea of Assembly started.
So, I think what’s interesting to me is, like, we’re now really trying to help people build really successful products and earn revenue from those products, and in a way, it’s really back to the original goal of the company, which was to help people find, like, a more fulfilling career. But we figured out how to do so where people could actually do things on their own and do these things collaboratively with other people.
[John Light] So how much control does Assembly, as a company, have kind of over the whole process? Is it just a neutral platform or do you guys get more involved than that?
[Matthew Dieters] We try to be supportive and we try to create a platform where things are transparent and fair, but for the most part, we’re there to support the community, so we try to be neutral in most situations, I would say. That’s our goal, is to – to let strong core teams – you know, core teams are what each product has that kind of lead the direction and vision – let them run with the direction and the vision that they want to and just be there to provide the tools so that they can collaborate with other people in the community that come in and want to help.
[John Light] Okay, cool, I asked because I read this part in the terms of service – I was looking through the website just to get familiar with it, and it said that project creators have to turn over control of the domain name to Assembly – did I read that right? And if so, like, what is the rationale behind that?
[Matthew Dieters] Yes, the rationale is we’re trying to create a fair platform for people. The reason we ask for the domain is so that – it’s almost like a point of like – almost like an escrow position, where we wouldn’t want somebody to build a product on Assembly, get the support of the community, everyone’s participating, building this thing, and for someone – one bad actor – to be able to run off. And if that bad actor owned the domain, to build a runoff, and the community would be unable to be fairly rewarded for the work that they did.
We looked at a few very small things that we can put in place like the domain, and actually collecting the revenue, and being transparent about the finances – the things that are necessary so that people from wherever they are can collaborate and trust that if the product does well, that they’ll share in the success.
[John Light] Okay, that makes sense.
So, the way that I found out about Assembly was, originally, I heard that you guys were working on what seemed like an Altcoin, or it was called Assembly Coins at the time. Can you tell us a little bit more about – are you still doing these coins and if so, kind of, how that works?
[Matthew Dieters] Sure. We do. Every product has its own App Coin, and that App Coin sits on top of the Bitcoin block chain. We use a technology called colored coins. If you go to coins.assembly.com, you can read about our implementation of colored coins, as well as you can use an API that’s publicly available and is open source. So we use this implementation so that each product has its own App Coin. And so as people in the community participate on that product, other community members award them ownership in app coins, in that product, so then at the end of the month, when we talk about how we distribute revenue, what we do is look at how many app coins are out there and then distribute the remaining proceeds to all of the app coin holders.
[John Light] Okay, so are all those wallets kind of held internally to the platform, then?
[Matthew Dieters] So right now, the private keys are but the public keys are available to everyone and, you know, we’re continually looking at ways to give the actual coin holders more and more control and even ways that that control isn’t just represented in app coins but also in the way that they might influence the direction of the products.
But, at the moment, the goal there was that the ownership was transparent. It’s there, everyone can see it, everyone can see their coins on the block chain – it’s not just something in our database. We can’t tamper with it. You know, once you earn your coins, you have your coins. And then, you know, we’re just continuing to, like, build up the ecosystem around that technology.
[John Light] That’s really cool. So how did you first get the idea to do that? Because that’s a really innovative use of coins that I haven’t really seen tried anywhere else. Like, I think Reddit Notes was trying to do something like that but, but you guys actually have a working –
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah, we actually started this about a year ago, this aspect. You know, we – we believe in the way that, you know, a community can succeed on Assembly is through us creating tools that give people more control and more transparency into what’s happening so that they can make good choices. And in general, we’re always looking at ways that – how do we make more trust? Like, how do we take Assembly out of the picture so that people are more in control of their destiny?
And so, I don’t know where the idea originally came from, but at some point, we had been looking at other Bitcoin 2.0 technologies and we came across colored coins and we liked it because, you know, it leveraged the power and the network effects that Bitcoin had – it wasn’t dependent on the price of Bitcoin, at least not too much, and it was also an open protocol, and showed a lot of promise for the types of uses that we needed.
So we decided about a year ago to look into it and to start exploring and then, I would say, early spring, Andrew Barrister, an engineer who is really good with Bitcoin joined us to help us build out this implementation. And so this is really, like, the first step along the way of things that, you know, we think we can do to leverage the power of, like, the block chain to create more – basically more transparency into how products are operating on Assembly.
[John Light] Very cool. So what kind of legal structure is an Assembly project actually organized as, and how are contributors classified, legally speaking? Like, shareholders, partners, something else?
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah – so, they’re not shareholders. I mean, right now, you can’t sell your app coins to somebody else. You only earn them by participating in a product. It’s a very new model here where it’s a group of people that are co-operating together to build something. And because of that, like, it doesn’t kind of fit in traditional regulatory schemes. And, you know, we’ve been working really hard to basically figure out a model that works really well with, you know, the current system and I think that’s what we have right now.
So basically, the way that it works is Assembly products run under Assembly and then, through our terms, we basically distribute the revenue based off of the app coin ownership.
[John Light] So they’re not like a separate LLC or general partnership or something like that?
[Matthew Dieters] Correct. No – I mean, I think it’s – in many ways, there are similarities to like how, potentially, a legal firm would operate in that people with the ownership in these app coins are able to influence – are able to have access to all of the information that’s happening on a product, they’re able to influence the direction of the product. You know, they are responsible for kind of maintaining the product and making it successful. So in many ways, it’s like a bunch of people kind of partnering together. It’s not a LLC or a general partnership.
[John Light] Okay, interesting. So what happens then, if a project gets an acquisition offer or wants to do independent crowdfunding or fundraising or just wants to separate from the Assembly platform for whatever reason?
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah. So we, we’re constantly building tools so that the community can have more control over what happens to them, as in, like, how they drive their products forward. The model that we are building towards basically allows the community that has ownership in those products to actually make that decision.
So the core team on each product is made up of the people that originally started that product and then others that they involve in that – so they kind of have the real control over what happens and then anyone that has ownership can participate in the voting of like large decisions, like where does the money go and such.
Most of the products on Assembly at this stage are early enough stage where, you know, they’re still building a product to launch or, you know, they’re making revenue in the tens of thousands of dollars with pretty clear expenses, and so there’s not a lot of, like, those challenges. But part of the reasons why we’ve invested in the block chain and what we’re doing on the platform is so that more and more of those decisions are made by the community and are part of the product experience to where you can make those decisions.
To answer your question, like, you know, whatever an acquisition would look like for a community owned and created product, ultimately that decision would be up to the core team and in the past when we’ve had to do things like issue new coins, we’ve made the ability to vote – you could see where everyone’s vote is and the decisions are made that way.
[John Light] Okay, that’s an interesting way of doing it and definitely an innovative use of the block chain.
I read a great story posted on the Assembly blog about a company that was acquired – not a company on Assembly but they were acquired separately and decided to open source its products and make them Assembly projects.
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah –
[John Light] Are there any other notable stories or projects that – that – that you can highlight?
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah, I mean, that was one of the first companies that were actually looking at shutting down and then instead were able to, like, revive the product and continue to serve it to customers due to making it a community-owned product on Assembly.
Coder Wall is also on Assembly. That’s a product that actually is profitable, makes revenue, it’s paying out proceeds to contributors. That, too, started before Assembly and migrated onto the Assembly platform. And, you know, there’s a couple other products that are new – I think there’s a recent app that’s an Android app that has, you know, 500,000 installs and about 100,000 active users. And that recently has migrated to Assembly so that the community can help, can move that product forward too.
[John Light] Really cool. So, I guess, just generally speaking, what’s next for Assembly?
[Matthew Dieters] In general, I really focus on two things.
One, how do we make it easier for people to effectively collaborate across products and find interesting products to work on?
And then the other one is – how do we give the community that has built products more control over what’s happening and more transparency and insight into their product as they grow. Specifically, we talked earlier about, like, you know, how do you handle odd expenses or how do you handle potential, like, strategy decisions? Like, do we do an acquisition (whatever that looks like) – and so we’re creating tools that allow people to do that on the platform in a very clear way. So that’s kind of our main two focuses at the moment.
[John Light] Cool. So how can people actually get involved in Assembly projects, either start one or contribute to one?
[Matthew Dieters] Yeah, it’s really easy. You just go to Assembly, you sign up, and then we have a way of browsing lots of different products that are in various states. We have products that are live, we have products that are profitable, and then we have lots of ideas that are kind of just forming so that, depending on what you want to work on, I mean, you can find an interesting product that way.
And then, usually, a product will have what we call “bounties,” and those are the ways that you can help it out. Many of the products, because of their stage, are either, kind of working on design issues or engineering issues, so you can easily find those. But we’re having more people coming that want to do, like, support, or they want to help with marketing, and distribution, and so I think, if you see something that you’re really interested in but you don’t find, like, an open bounty that you can like jump into and take on, then it’s just great to ask a question and introduce yourself. There’s a way of introducing yourself to the team. You can say what you want to do and then you can start to work on the product and as you, basically, help it out, the community and, specifically, the core team, award app coins to you once the work is done and that’s basically what materializes into revenue once the product has profit.
[John Light] Awesome. Well, I want to thank you, Matthew, for coming on this show and telling us all about Assembly and I look forward to seeing what you all do next.
[Matthew Dieters] Thanks, John.