On today’s episode we’re going to be talking about the recent Bittorrent Incorporated layoffs, the PopcornTime domain name suspension, crowdfunding for an immortal Library of Alexandria, and last but certainly not least, Meghan Murphy joins the show to talk about HandUp and their mission to help the homeless.
Content for today’s episode was provided by John Light and Meghan Murphy
Music for today’s episode was “Curbside Killers” by Pskov
Today’s episode is brought to you in part by Bitseed.org and the okTurtles Foundation.
Do you want to help support the Bitcoin network? Bitseed has developed a plug-and-play Bitcoin full node that makes it super easy to support the bitcoin network by running a full node with a full copy of the bitcoin blockchain on a small personal server. By running a full node on your own dedicated hardware, you not only ensure continuous uptime to support the network but you also free up computing power on your desktop or laptop for other applications. You can order your own Bitseed Bitcoin full node at bitseed.org/shop.
The okTurtles Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting beneficial decentralization technology. The Foundation is launching a crowdfunding campaign imminently to fund the development of DNSChain, a peer-to-peer, blockchain-based replacement for Certificate Authorities. 100% of proceeds from the crowdfunding campaign will go to benefit the okTurtles Foundation and DNSChain, and top donors will receive a personal DNSChain server made by Bitseed. You can subscribe to the okTurtles newsletter at okturtles.org to be alerted when the crowdfunding campaign begins.
Big thanks to these organizations for supporting P2P Connects Us and working hard to create a more peer-to-peer world.
You can also support this show by becoming a patron of the P2P Connects Us Patreon campaign. All 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. This past weekend, 29,861 LTBcoin and change were given away to ten patrons of the P2P Connects Us Patreon campaign who sent in their Counterwallet addresses. If you’d like to become a patron and participate in the giveaway, you can find the full details at patreon.com/p2pconnectsus.
I recently got a chance to discuss P2P Connects Us and my LTBcoin giveaway program, along with other projects I’m involved with, on the Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast. You can hear that episode by visiting letstalkbitcoin.com and doing a search for the episode “Gradual Progress.” Big thanks to Adam B. Levine for having me on the show. Expect an episode of P2P Connects Us in the near future featuring an interview with Adam discussing some of his own recent projects.
I appreciate all the support I get from P2P Connects Us listeners and like to 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 the audience can learn more about how peer-to-peer ideas can be valuable to them. Lots of great stories and interviews have been featured on the show thanks to input from the audience, so keep em coming!
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With those announcements out of the way, let’s move on to the news.
Our top story comes to us from Gigaom.com, where it’s being reported that Bittorrent, the company behind the popular Bittorrent and uTorrent peer-to-peer filesharing clients, has laid off about 20% of their staff in the U.S., to “better align our resources around our core content delivery infrastructure business.”
This report comes just weeks after a flurry of both positive and negative press about the company, including the public launch of Project Maelstrom, a proprietary web browsing tool based on Bittorrent technology, and revelations that their uTorrent subsidiary was silently bundling cryptocurrency mining software with some of their uTorrent installs.
Brian Hoffman, lead developer of the open source peer-to-peer marketplace software OpenBazaar, which is also based on Bittorrent technology, sent out a tweet after the layoff announcement, saying,
“If you were laid off at @BitTorrent and know p2p development come join @openbazaar. I’m not even kidding either. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Bittorrent isn’t the only peer-to-peer project facing some difficulties right now. Time4Popcorn, developers of one of the popular forks of the peer-to-peer video streaming application Popcorn Time, have had their domain name “suspended” by the EURid domain registry, effectively breaking their website and their app. TorrentFreak reports that, “The developers were informed that the suspension was the result of an ongoing legal investigation into the BitTorrent streaming app, presumably after copyright holders complained.” The developers have since moved their website to the .se domain name, and are working to eliminate their apps reliance on central servers, instead making it so that all data for the app will be distributed peer-to-peer. They claim that with these improvements, their service will be “unstoppable” and “impossible” to shut down.
PopcornTime has been one of the most popular peer-to-peer applications since its release, offering users a free alternative to video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, with faster streaming and a growing content library that continues to make this app an appealing choice for media consumers. Like Bittorrent, its weakness is its reliance on third party servers for content discovery and the distribution of magnet links. But there are other peer-to-peer projects which are working on solving even this problem.
The company Blocktech has launched a crowdfunding campaign for Alexandria, a media library that really could be impossible to shut down. The Alexandria project is working to help media content avoid the fate of the Royal Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed by a series of fires beginning in 48 BC with Julius Caesar’s Seige of Alexandria, burning many of the historical scrolls and manuscripts that were stored there. Alexandria uses the Florincoin blockchain to store links to media files and metadata about the content, including a description, keywords, and cryptocurrency tipping addresses. While the metadata is stored on the blockchain, the content itself is distributed through peer-to-peer file sharing networks like Bittorrent. This is similar to the approach being taken by the company OneName with their Blockstore protocol, which uses the bitcoin blockchain to link files stored in a peer-to-peer storage network to an easy-to-read name, creating a permanent and censorship-resistant link to identity information about people, organizations, digital files, or anything else that can be given a name.
Blockchain technology, which could make information uploaded to the Internet truly permanent and always available, begs deep philosophical questions about the nature of sharing, privacy and secrecy, and the ability to forget. Should information always be available, or should it be able to be forgotten? Are privacy and digital information, which is infinitely reproducible at near zero marginal cost, fundamentally at odds? If so, what does this mean in a world where our lives are increasingly digitized, whether through social media or personal services such as online health, banking, e-commerce, and education applications? One thing is for certain: there’s no stopping the spread of peer-to-peer technology, which is censorship-resistant by design and increasingly the more appealing option when compared with centralized services. It’s important that we get the issues of personal privacy, digital security, and control of data right at this critical juncture in history, so that people can retain their dignity, freedom, and humanity in a world of fluid and unstoppable information sharing.
[John Light] I would like to welcome to episode 17 of the P2P Connects Us podcast Meghan Murphy, who’s leading marketing and community building efforts at HandUp. Murphy, welcome to the show.
[Meghan Murphy] Hi, yes, thank you so much. I’m excited to be here, to chat with you today.
[John Light] So, Meghan. Murphy. What does peer-to-peer mean to you?
[Meghan Murphy] Good question. Peer-to-peer really is, I guess I take it as literal as that is. Person-to-person, whether that’s connected in a digital sense or even in the real world. I think being a community builder IRL P2P connection is really important, but it’s exciting to see how people have been able to leverage technology to connect with so many others across the world as well, in different ways.
[John Light] Yeah, that’s for sure, and what I’m really interested in talking about today is how HandUp is doing that for people online, people who normally wouldn’t have such a powerful way of connecting with other people to receive help. So could you tell us a little bit about what HandUp is and what you do in your role at HandUp?
[Meghan Murphy] Sure, sure. So HandUp is a way that anyone can go online, visit HandUp.org, and donate to a specific person that’s experiencing homelessness or a family that might be experiencing poverty and contribute towards their basic needs. So who we call our members, people that are fundraising on HandUp, they have different goals that range from groceries for the month to a security deposit to help them move from a homeless shelter to a stable apartment.
On the other side of kind of how it works, and where we full transparency and accountability with these donations, is we work with non-profit partners across the US. So once a goal is met, the individual fundraising would work directly with their case manager to redeem those donations for items or services.
[John Light] What’s the actual criteria for somebody to sign up and ask for a HandUp?
[Meghan Murphy] So that really comes down to our non-profit partners because we as HandUp are not signing individuals up or creating profiles for people. So when someone who is experiencing any kind of significant economic hardship, they are most likely already connected or hopefully connecting to services in the community. And then really it’s up to that non-profit partner to figure out with that person, is HandUp the right tool for what you need. You know, can you use HandUp as a stopgap to help you reach these goals for some of these needs that are not covered by the current system of care.
[John Light] Now, do people need to be working with the non-profits ahead of time or are they kind of assigned a case manager so to say after they join the platform if they’re not already working with someone?
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah, that’s a great question. So right now someone would have to already be connected to a local non-profit or human service organization. That’s how they really set up that profile and share their story online.
I mean, this community, a lot of times, they obviously have limited access to the Internet. They may or may not have bank accounts. So we definitely use our non-profit partners to reach this community to begin with.
[John Light] And so are those non-profits listed on your website so that somebody can connect with them if they find out about HandUp and think that that would be a helpful service for them?
[Meghan Murphy] Yes, absolutely, you can see all of our non-profit partners and where they’re located and contact information on the site.
[John Light] And so that brings up an interesting question, which is if these communities can typically have unreliable or intermittent or no Internet access, how do they usually find out about HandUp?
[Meghan Murphy] Well, it’s usually through our non-profit partners. And so we, locally in the community, we make sure that we’re getting information out to this community but also directing them to specific partners. So project Homeless Connect is a great example of a partner here in San Francisco and they have a day to day drop in office, so someone can drop in and, and get connected to other services that can help them get back on their feet. And so HandUp is one of those services that the case managers there can offer to people that come in.
What I will say, though, is something around between 40, 50% of people experiencing homelessness still have their cell phones. It’s actually a really important piece of technology that is, you know, important for them to stay connected to resources and information but it’s, that text message, especially if it’s a feature phone, is also how they stay up to date with what’s happening with their HandUp profile and donations.
[John Light] That fact also brings up an interesting question and I was going to bring it up later but now sounds like a good enough time. So, I remember when we first met, I asked if HandUp accepted Bitcoin and you said that you do. Now, first I’m wondering, was accepting Bitcoin a conscious decision, does it like, does it play any sort of strategic role in your business? Or was it just a matter of, you know, checking all the boxes to make sure you added all the right payment options?
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah, great question. You know, it wasn’t just checking the boxes and right now we do accept Bitcoin but we don’t yet accept PayPal. So, we are first and foremost a technology company. We’re building the platform and we’re building the tools so we can empower both our non-profit partners and their clients to fundraise for basic needs but also to give donors a way to make an impact in their own communities. So we really, it’s important for us to stay on that cusp of what’s happening with new technologies, especially when it comes to how people are donating or what new digital currencies are out there.
And, I think, I think our first digital currency donation was a Dogecoin on Twitter.
[John Light] Oh, nice.
[Meghan Murphy] So, so that happened before we implemented Bitcoin. But really we had an opportunity because we use Stripe right now to help them test their Bitcoin beta. So that’s, you know, having that top of the line and having the opportunity to get involved in something early like that, of course, we wanted to jump on it.
But overall, I mean, we want people to be inspired to give however they want to give. And what’s cool about Bitcoin and the Bitcoin community is that they’re actually thinking about how can we use this new type of currency for giving and for making the world a better place. So that’s pretty cool.
[John Light] Yeah, and I bring it up now because the, you mentioned earlier that, you know, 40 to 50% of the people that you work with might still have a phone and being a digital currency, you know, like over in Africa and other developing parts of the world, maybe mobile money is really all people are using nowadays through like services like M-pesa but also Bitcoin is actually gaining some popularity in these areas as an independent kind of store of value.
Has there been any discussions at HandUp about how you can actually use Bitcoin as a currency. You mentioned that many of the, the people that you work with do not have a bank account. So Bitcoin is a kind of digital currency that doesn’t require a bank account. Has there been any discussions about using Bitcoin or offering any sort of Bitcoin tools or education services to the people in your community so that they can store value in Bitcoin on their phones to spend on daily necessities?
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah. Kind of back to talking about how it’s incredible to see digital currency and things like M-pesa taking off in other markets. I think it’s incredible and I hope that the same will be true in the states in a couple years or it even might take ten years to move towards that as the norm. I think that there’s definitely opportunity in terms of providing educational resources or helping someone that may not be able to set up those traditional types of resources for themselves to think about digital currency.
At this time, you know, we’re really focused on our product and what we’re building right now and making sure that we’re serving all of our communities that are involved with HandUp as best as we can. But definitely something we could think about in the future. And more, even more likely, helping our nonprofit partners understand digital currency and Bitcoin and how this might work for their clients and who the communities they’re working with.
[John Light] Yeah, I definitely see an opportunity there. HandUp is a business. It’s a for-profit company.
It says on your website that 100% of donations go to the people that are being supported, so, I’m wondering how does HandUp sustain itself if it’s not taking any sort of cut from the donations that are going to people in the community.
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s funny, we get that question a lot, which I think is good because people want to know, again, going back to transparency and accountability, they really want to understand how that works. So right now, like you said, we don’t take a percentage of donations and we don’t take a percentage from what we’re passing on to our non-profit partners either.
We have an optional tip that we ask donors to contribute. $5 to HandUp that goes towards our operations. And between 85 and 90% of donors opt into this. So we’ve been able to continue using this model using this model and it’s been successful for us.
There are other potential revenue channels in the future. I mean, we are building, again, this platform that’s a tool for our non-profit partners where they’re able to engage with their clients. They’re able to track transactions and redemptions and progress toward certain goals, so that, you know, that platform, B2B software may be an opportunity in the future. But, yeah, right now, that optional tip model has been successful.
[John Light] So do you look at HandUp more as like a social network or is it more like a Kickstarter or somewhere in between?
[Meghan Murphy] We’re a crowd-funding platform. Very similar to Achieva or even IndieGoGo Life. But we, we have this evolving social network aspect. And it’s so cool to watch. So one of the things that donors can do when they contribute to someone on the site is send words of support.
Really just positive messages like, I believe in you and I hope, you know, hope this donation helps, thinking about you, and these words of supports are sent to the recipient via text message or e-mail. And what’s awesome is then the, the recipients, the members who are fundraising on the site are able to respond again, via text message or e-mail and so there’s this relationship built between the donors and the members fundraising on HandUp.
And then, beyond that, what we’re seeing is donors offering in-kind donations. Oh, you’re fundraising for a laptop? You know what? I have an old laptop that I want to give you. Or, oh you’re ready to look for work again, I might have an opportunity.
And one time, we actually, Robert and Sandra, a couple that are fundraising HandUp to cover their month to month basic needs, and they were homeless at the time. And because of HandUp, they were able to connect with someone in their neighborhood who happened to have an affordable place to live. And they ended up moving into this apartment and essentially graduating from HandUp because they were able to re-stabilize in their life.
And it’s those things that are so awesome to see and when you think about P2P and what that means and using technology to bring humans together, that’s happening. I mean, people want to connect with other people and, you know, give back but also feel connected to the impact that they’re making.
[John Light] Yeah. There’s, so there’s a lot of noise on the Internet. It’s hard to find meaning in a lot of it a lot of the times, but having a platform, it seems, that’s dedicated to really extending a HandUp to people in the neighborhood. People local to you who you can have an immediate impact on. I can see, I can see a lot of value in that. Those were some great stories. Do you have any other inspiring stories of success that you can share about someone who’s used your platform and graduated to being a self-sustaining person?
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. There’s so, so many wonderful stories I mean, it’s just, it’s amazing to, to watch people progress also over three months, six months, a year. One recent story from end of last year, right before the holidays, a woman named Raquel who is a single mom and also a teacher here in the Bay Area.
Unfortunately she found herself homeless with her children right before the holidays so they were staying in hotels and sleeping in their car, you know, kids dropped off with friends while Raquel slept in the car, I mean, just really challenging times. And I mean, just to know, one of those things about homelessness is it’s, sometimes it’s temporary and it’s very transitional, and I mean, Raquel was working at the time, so it’s not always that image that many folks have in their head of what homelessness is.
So Raquel got connected with Project Homeless Connect, our partner here, and created a profile so that she could fundraise to move into stable housing. And in really just about a month she raised over $3,000. She was able to handle some of those fees from hotels while they were waiting an available place to live and then use that towards initial security deposit and moving costs. And so now Raquel and her kids are in a stable apartment and she’s able to focus on, you know, continuing to be self-sufficient and so we don’t limit how many times someone would be able to fundraise on HandUp. So now Raquel is fundraising for university fees so that she can go back to school and take that next step for a sustainable career.
[John Light] That’s a really great story. And so how many people have actually gone through your platform in total?
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah, so, let’s see. HandUp’s just over a year and a half old. We’ve served over 500 people on the platform. So we’ve had over 500 people fundraise to meet their basic needs.
[John Light] Any idea of the success rate so far?
[Meghan Murphy] You know, the way that we’ve been looking at success is goals met and needs met. So to date, we’re looking at about 1,600 different basic needs that have been met on the platform. Which, again, ranges from health care, housing, transportation, food, clothing.
[John Light] So I guess if you’ve had, you know, 500-something people on the platform and over a thousand needs met, it sounds like most of, most if not all of them have been successful at least, at least getting one of their needs met. That’s really awesome. So what cities is HandUp currently working in, then? Where do you work now and kind of how do you plan out where you’re going to go next?
[Meghan Murphy] Sure. So we, we’ve been very focused here in the Bay Area. We have partners in San Francisco and East Bay as well as South Bay. And we now have, over the past couple of months expanded beyond the Bay Area to partners in Detroit as well as across Washington and Oregon state.
[John Light] Wow. Detroit in particular I can definitely see a great need there. That’s really awesome. So how can people get involved if they want to help somebody on HandUp?
[Meghan Murphy] Sure. I mean, I would encourage everyone to visit HandUp.org and read through people’s stories and see who’s fundraising and what their goals are. And of course contributing towards those goals is really the best way to get involved right now. We also, we just launched a new product which we call HandUp Campaigns. So anyone can create a campaign to fundraise for a person that’s on HandUp or a specific area.
So you could create a campaign for homelessness in San Francisco and fundraise for that. So that’s just another way that you can get involved in rally your network and fundraise to give back in your own community. People that really are not sure how to give back or they want to contribute but they just don’t know how to go about it, I hope that HandUp is a way for, for them to do that. And see the impact that they’re making.
[John Light] Yeah. I was actually just having a conversation at dinner the other night about how it’s not even always a question of giving but ability to give, it’s actually, sometimes it can be a question of does someone have an ability to receive.
[Meghan Murphy] Yeah.
[John Light] You know, there’s, there’s a question of ego or of, I guess, humility or sometimes even shame, thinking like I need to like actually ask strangers for help. Or even people I know for help, it can be very scary for people.
[Meghan Murphy] No, that’s, that’s very true, and that’s, that’s why it’s so important for us in how we share others’ stories and how we present people that it’s in a way that’s very respectful and very dignified and, again, that’s also why it’s a conversation with the person in need and their case manager to make sure that it’s the right avenue for them.
[John Light] Right.
[Meghan Murphy] We also, yeah, I mean, we also have ways that we can protect identities, especially for women who are survivors of domestic violence and that sort of thing. They, or at least they can not, show their photo and their real name so we have the option to use a different photo and use an alias online as well.
[John Light] That’s really interesting.
Murphy, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on P2P Connects Us, and I’m looking forward to seeing more success on HandUp in the future.
[Meghan Murphy] Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me on to share our story and chat with your community, so, thank you.
[John Light] It was my pleasure.