The global moment we find ourselves in today is unlike any other. It has thrown up uncertainty and confusion, yet at the same time it has shed light on something that has always been central to the Streamr vision — the enduring strength and importance of community; the ways in which our connections are what strengthen us in good times and bad.
The Streamr community is not only invaluable to the growth of the ecosystem and the ultimate success of the Streamr project, it energises the team with ideas, challenges and discourse on a daily basis. So this felt like a good time to check in with you all, to review everything we have accomplished since launch, with your support. I’ll also be running an AMA on the 11th of June at 15:00 CEST, but this article can give an overview ahead of that, and perhaps prompt some questions for discussion. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the vision.
The Streamr Vision
Streamr was founded with the goal of building a real-time data infrastructure for future data economies. Ideally, all data streams in the world could be accessed via your nearest node, with participants incentivised to provide both content and delivery services on the system.
The cornerstones of Streamr’s chosen approach are decentralization, peer-to-peer and blockchain. This is because, in our view, the only acceptable implementation of a future data infrastructure is one that is global, scalable, secure, robust, neutral, accessible and permissionless.
Decentralization ticks all the boxes (though it may not be the only solution — that remains to be seen). While a system built on fiat currencies and centralized technology could, if done skillfully, achieve sufficient user-facing functionality, it would always be heavily influenced by the commercial business goals of the commercial party operating it. The backbone of the global data economy should not serve someone’s business goals — it should serve everyone’s business goals.
If the operation and governance of a system is distributed across many independent parties in different jurisdictions and geographies, with a diverse range of commercial interests, no individual party or set of parties can compromise it. And that’s when it becomes truly unstoppable.
The Streamr vision is the foundation of what we do and why we do it. It is largely unchanged since launching the project in 2017, and continues to be the steady beacon that defines who we are.
So what are we doing in 2020?
In working towards the Streamr vision, the goal we have steadfastly pursued is delivering the roadmap laid out in the 2017 whitepaper. And we are well on our way to achieving that goal.
Milestone 1 is complete, with the successful launch of the Streamr Marketplace in 2018, and the launches of Core and the Network last year. Since late last 2019, we’ve been working on Milestone 2, the main aim of which is to progress the Network towards token economics and decentralization. Much of the work in this Milestone focuses on removing technical obstacles for scalability and decentralization, and commencing research on token economics.
In January of this year, Streamr ran an internal developer ‘Networkshop’ which addressed some of these obstacles head-on. Here, the Streamr dev team debated multiple development areas, generated new ideas and, above all, came away with the next steps to creating a network that is strong, secure and scalable. As we go forward, this process will involve but not be limited to: moving to a ‘clients as nodes’ model, ensuring network messages are signed and encrypted, and enhancing the systems by which we prevent network attacks.
The ‘Networkshop’ discussions around token economics were foundational — we defined the questions that we at Streamr need to answer in order to guide our token approach. Token economics are crucial because they are the mechanism by which the network captures the value created by user adoption. The mechanism incentivises people to participate in running the network, which enables decentralization, which enables the vision. We have recently begun research into token economics with BlockScience, and the project’s token economics will be designed during Milestone 2 and implemented in Milestone 3.
Another big deliverable related to the Network is the scalability research for the current milestone. The goal of that research is twofold: to show how the bandwidth requirements for publishers stay constant regardless of the number of nodes, and to prove that the network has good and predictable latency, which grows logarithmically with the number of subscribing nodes. Both of these properties are very desirable for Streamr from a scalability point of view. In recent experiments, we observed the selected metrics in networks of up to 2048 nodes, running in real-world conditions, distributed to 16 different AWS locations globally.
There were some major setbacks along the way. For example, we had to abandon the initially planned emulator approach because the emulator was adding severe artifacts to the measurements for large network sizes. Having to resort to actual real-world experiments made the process much slower and more expensive (spinning up thousands of virtual machines on AWS is not exactly cheap), but on the bright side, the results carry much more impact because they represent real-world performance. I have to say, the results turned out great and very competitive, even against the best centralized message brokers! The research will be published as a Network whitepaper very soon — the supporting text about the results is being finalised right now. The paper will be a crucial document for anyone thinking about utilising the Network for any business-critical or large-scale purpose.
Another big piece of work for 2020 is bringing the Data Union framework to market. The Data Union framework is our implementation of data crowdselling, a redistribution of data ownership which means that individuals can regain ownership over their personal data, rather than just the tech giants (who hoard and sell user data under the protection of T&Cs).
Under the Data Union framework, users can pool their own data with that of other users, allowing them to increase their data’s value and then sell it in a Data Union, via the Streamr Marketplace.
The Data Union framework has been in private beta since late last year. One of the app teams with early access is Swash, which has seen steady organic adoption since it was first demoed at Mozfest last year. Users can also hide any data they prefer to keep private, thus returning choice and autonomy to the individual. This is a major step forward in our vision for a new data economy.
And personal data ownership is something that people want, at least according to a research project that we ran in January. As our research partners at Wilsome stated: “Once we explained and demonstrated the concept of crowdselling and Data Unions, most people liked it, and some loved it.”
Right now our focus is supporting the creation of more Data Union products like Swash, finalising developer documentation to support that, and fixing all bugs uncovered during the early-access phases. The full launch is taking place in autumn, with a marketing push to promote this disruptive new framework in the personal data monetisation space.
We also started planning what the next big upgrade to the framework might look like; a ‘version 2.0’. In this new approach, the operator/validator model, Merkle proofs, and freeze period required by Monoplasma might be replaced with a side-chain plus inter-chain bridge to advocate a fully on-chain approach for better robustness and security, as well as fast withdrawals.
Partnerships have played a significant role in Streamr’s growth. Based on what we have learned over the last year of business development, we have made some changes to our enterprise partnerships tactics.
2017–2018 saw a surge of excitement around paper partnerships in the space, but they were predominantly PR-led and rarely led to real adoption. Therefore in 2019, we set up TX as a vehicle to secure solid partnerships by systematically searching out actual, value-adding use cases, and by having the capability to offer solutions and services on top of the technology.
At the height of the crypto hype, partnerships efforts across the space were focused on publicly telling stories about future collaboration. The new, down-to-earth approach is quite the opposite: once the enterprises really start building new capabilities by piloting new technology, they tend to keep quiet about it, and put NDAs in place to ensure their partners keep quiet about it too. Since the goal is no longer to produce news about partnerships every week, to an outside observer things may seem a bit quiet. This is the trade-off between talking about things and actually doing things, and in our view the latter is the only approach that can lead to actual substance, value creation, and serious adoption of the technology.
Bringing in commercial drivers solved the paper partnerships problem: only serious enterprises are willing to pay for the work needed, and getting paid for the work actually enables TX to participate in those projects (as opposed to the unsustainable model of the project team having to spend time on partner projects for free). This approach has been effective in terms of bringing interactions to the table that are serious, concrete and commercially grounded. TX has the liberty to pursue prospective partnerships as they see fit, both pioneering a model for anyone to create a solutions business on top of Streamr, as well as allowing Streamr project resources to be spent more effectively on delivering the roadmap and advancing the vision.
In tandem with this fresh partnership approach, this year we established a Growth team within Streamr. The team’s core objective will be to increase adoption across the board, with a particular focus on Data Unions in 2020. This objective will be accomplished via a multi-prong strategy of user feedback, research, nurturing the developer ecosystem, special project commissions and of course our ability to involve TX in enterprise partnerships.
At the time of writing, two and a half years into the project, around half of the funds raised in the token launch have been spent. The beginning of the project saw a spending peak as a result of initial set-up costs: legal and other crowdfunding-related expenses, team-building and setting up offices. Before the crypto market crash, spending was more liberal across the industry (anyone remember the boat party around Consensus 2018, where the organisers gave away two Aston Martins to random attendees?). While none of our project funds were lost in the crash, we have since introduced a more restrained approach to spending.
Milestone 1 was significant, covering much more than one-third of the development work, and a little bit more than one-third of the project budget. We’re on track to complete the project within its planned schedule (five years) and budget, and we should see a reduction in our expenses towards the end, when development work starts to approach completion. As an example of how our work up until now will manifest in more sustainable spending, TX will make enterprise partnership efforts self-sustainable, which saves project funds and helps extend the lifespan of the tech infinitely. Mechanisms for funding the long-term maintenance of the technology far beyond the crowdfunded phase can also be included in the Network token economics and/or on the Marketplace — ideas that we’re exploring as part of the token economics research track.
Community Fund / Growing the Streamr ecosystem
This year we also added another important layer to the Streamr Community Fund. We launched the fund in 2018 with 2,000,000 in DATA to empower community initiatives using our platform, and since then have funded several developers and projects with over 1,000,000 in DATA from the fund. But we realised that the one thing that DATA can’t buy is the kind of experience we have in our team at Streamr.
Developers supported by the Community Fund have received advice from our skilled team about the tech and potential marketing strategies, and they can now receive guidance from members of the newly-formed Streamr Data Union Advisory board — industry leaders, veterans and academics who advocate for personal data ownership.
Response to COVID-19
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still unknown. Enterprises may withhold investment when it comes to exploring and piloting new technology in 2020. It’s possible that an economic downturn may impact the willingness to pilot cutting-edge technologies in the enterprise sector. Diminished demand also could impact TX as our partners face their own unique challenges, which may have a knock-on effect on maintaining self-sustainability. Thus far, Streamr remains robust in the face of this crisis, and if the situation doesn’t extend too far into 2021, we can remain on track with the progress we’ve made.
So here we are — halfway through #buidling, with some major milestones behind us and well on our way towards the milestones ahead. These are uncertain times, there’s no doubt about that, but decentralization, self-sovereignty, and empowering people with control over their data and finances haven’t lost their importance. Quite the opposite, actually. With governments printing money for rescue packages, as well as leveraging personal data under martial law, these are even hotter topics than before. The innovations we come up with today will define the societies we live in tomorrow.
We’ll continue to hold on to our values and the bets we’ve made, and keep working through Milestones 2 and 3 towards a more decentralized, more efficient, more empowered future.
If you have any questions or comments about this update, be sure to join the AMA on the 11th of June at 15:00 CEST. Save the meeting link and post your questions in advance in this thread.