Building the technology stack for the decentralised webMarch 2019
Introducing The Convergence Alliance
Last week (13 March) we announced our evolved investment thesis: The Convergence Stack. This frames both our investments and their relationship with one another as well as the wider ‘crypto’ industry in an OSI-inspired model from hardware at the bottom to the application layer at the top that combines DLT with IoT, Big Data & AI.
It represents an emerging stack of internet protocols and applications that inspire a multi-verse of solutions to compete, collaborate, integrate and become interoperable to provide a true Web 3 with high degrees of decentralisation, automation and increasingly autonomy. Importantly, not just for people, but devices and their digital representatives with growing economic agency.
We use this framework to guide how we invest and it allows us to identify important gaps where future value will be created and felt most by the industry as a whole as well as current investments. It has led us to think of our growing portfolio instead as the core of an open stack of protocols that enable the Web 3 vision. In fact, ‘portfolio’ has always been an uncomfortable word for us, not truly reflecting the level of involvement and partnership that follows any investments we make.
It provides context, and assists in the dissemination of its technologies to early adopters, fast followers and integrators and has enabled us to build a highly synergistic portfolio of investments that have begun to be adopted in combination by our enterprise partner network, inspiring regular cross-protocol collaboration.
|As such we have begun to formalise this organic collaboration via a handful of working groups which are now being opened up to our wider ecosystem through what we are referring to as The Convergence Alliance, kicking off with an initial CTO Working Group for some of the core protocols including: Fetch.AI, Ocean, Sovrin, Haja Networks and several other soon to be announced partnerships.|
Who is this for?
Firstly this is an open technology stack. Anyone can contribute to its combined codebase, and because at their core these are decentralised networks, anyone can contribute to their growth and subsequently participate in their economic success. However, at the core of the alliance itself it will be protocols Outlier has invested in and advises, and whose design and successful diffusion we can most affect.
Through wider alliance membership, additional working groups, research, hackathons and an annual dev con we will open up its code and brain trust as widely as possible to reach enterprise, the development community at large and academic institutions and their students.
The objectives of the alliance will be set annually by the CEOs and CTOs of each protocol as well as enterprise, development and integration partners through working groups facilitated by the various Outlier Ventures teams and published for full transparency. However at a high level the strategic objectives of the alliance are to facilitate collaboration between its constituent parts at both a technical and commercial level, to increase the successful diffusion of The Stack across a variety of industries and use-cases. In short, we aim to help our investments and the industry at large ‘cross the chasm’ towards meaningful developer and subsequently user adoption. Equally, we are committed to the general success of open source itself as well as the power of open tokenised systems to realise a more equitable Web.
Governing the Stack: the Convergence Alliance
The Convergence Alliance will consist of a number of working groups to support its members in the understanding, development, testing and adoption of Convergence technologies. These include:
Internal Technical Council
The Technical Council consists of the technical leads, typically the CTOs, of each protocol within the Convergence Stack. Through regular online summits and a yearly physical conference the Technical Council aligns on development strategy, governs the roadmap for integrations and the high level vision of the Stack. Participating in the Technical Council allows each member technology to align their development roadmap with the other protocols and the wider stack with realising interoperability at the centre. The Technical Council will also ensure the Convergence Stack successfully serves into the decentralisation technology ecosystem.
Internal Business Development Working Group
Outlier’s portfolio has always worked well on shared commercial collaborations, both organic and through Outlier’s active support. The Business Development Working Group establishes a more structured way for protocols business develop leads, commercial arms and CEOs to share opportunities, market learnings and interface with enterprise through one streamlined channel.
We believe enterprise will play a key part in taking Web 3.0 innovation mainstream. With global tech giants developing their DLT and AI understanding and offerings, these advances offer solutions to challenges within areas of logistics and supply chain, financial transactions and communication. The Enterprise Council is the key platform for corporations to engage with the Convergence Stack through one easy access point, with its combined member technologies to be used in isolation or concert to solve real world business problems at scale. We will start with industries where demand has historically been greatest from within our network.
Future Working Groups
As the alliance progresses we envision further working groups focused around specific concerns, the first of which will likely be Governance, Regulatory and Integrators working groups, as well as industry-focuses such as Mobility, Industry 4.0, Telecom, Energy & Utilities.
What will the Convergence Alliance actually do?
Evolve the vision of The Stack
The initial high level design of The Convergence Stack was developed internally within Outlier Ventures, albeit with collaborators from across our portfolio. From here on the Technical Council will maintain the high level design and further specifications through its official communication and governance structure.
Developability: Tooling and documentation
We target making The Convergence Stack to be accessible to the other 99% of developers not yet aware of blockchain, crypto or the decentralisation movement by focusing on tooling, documentation and integrations with popular IT systems and platforms.
A great example is how Ocean Protocol is accessible to data scientists through a direct Jupyter notebook integration. This might seem rather arcane for the average “crypto developer”, but since Ocean is creating a Data Economy it’s critical that data scientists can use the tools they are familiar with rather than having to learn new ones to be able to experiment and adopt technology from The Stack.
Building software integrations between The Stack
To work well as a set of interlinked and open-source technologies, we need to build software modules that integrate the components of the Convergence Stack with one another. Outlier Ventures Labs, our own inhouse development team, has started this work with H2O, demonstrating an integration between Haja Networks’ OrbitDB and Ocean Protocol, and will soon announce ANVIL (Agent Negotiation Verifiable Interaction Layer), providing a layer of trust between agents on Fetch.AI with verifiable credentials on Sovrin.
Within the Convergence Alliance working groups we will work together with our the respective teams and third parties to prioritise and deliver open source, production-grade integration modules.
Through collaboration with world leading academic institutions like Imperial College, Outlier Ventures has worked for several years to advance both fundamental and applied academic research in the space. From here on, our academic partnerships and their research will be focused on The Convergence Stack.
If you are in a world-leading academic institution and the idea of the Convergence Stack resonates with you, get in touch.
Standards: powerful when they work
Establishing widely supported standards is hard. But when standards work, they really work well. A prime example is the humble ERC20. Just four roughly drafted function definitions for smart contracts spawned what is now known as the “ERC20 ecosystem” and arguably one of the important factors of Ethereum’s rise throughout 2017-2018 spawning hundreds of dapps and other networks.
Establishing and promoting the use of standards is an explicit goal of the Convergence Stack. We see some promising developments already, such as Evernym and Sovrin’s leadership in the W3 Verifiable Claims working group. There is clear traction for decentralized identifiers (DIDs), credentials, claims, allowing for interoperability with uPort by ConsenSys, Microsoft’s decentralised identity work, and internally within the Convergence Stack with Ocean Protocol’s DIDs for data sets and actors.
Besides integrations between technologies, the Convergence Stack is about external integrations, focused both at decentralisation and enterprise technology stacks.
Examples of the former could include Ethereum, Bitcoin and its Lightning network, Cosmos and Polkadot, but also HyperLedger, of which Hyperledger Indy – the underlying codebase of Sovrin – is already a part. Within the Technical Council we will define and prioritise all the possible integrations of the Convergence Stack with decentralised technologies in concert with the Business Development Working Group who are closer to market needs and requirements.
As for external integrations with enterprise stacks, we’re already seeing some promising developments by third parties with Bosch XDK2MAM, integrating IOTA with Bosch XDK, the industry giant’s connected devices development kit, and Luxoft Cordentity, integrating Sovrin’s HyperLedger Indy with R3 Corda. Within the Convergence Alliance, the Enterprise Council and the Technical Council will work to align enterprise-focused integration work.
Regulatory environment and certification
Decentralised finance enables open innovation of financial mechanisms and assets. With the Convergence Stack we aim to create more secure, private, accessible and equitable digital infrastructure. But these innovations pose challenges for the regulatory environment and other forms of societal guardrails to catch up. We see this for individuals dealing with cryptoassets, and in corporate environments this becomes even more complex. Challenges that legislation like GDPR poses to public and private distributed ledgers can be challenging. What does the right to be forgotten mean for a Bitcoin transaction containing personally identifiable information? And what does it mean for node operators?
New cryptonetworks have to deal with these types of questions, and more. Within the Convergence Alliance we join forces with other bodies such as Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, Digital Chamber of Commerce and EU Blockchain Observatory to understand and address these challenges.
Usable applications: collaborating on real-world dapps
The Convergence Alliance provides a breeding ground for applications beyond proof of concepts (PoCs) through its combination of technology leaders, enterprise representation and business development leads. Real-world use cases and business cases inform the roadmap of the Convergence Stack and its member technologies to onboard hundreds of millions of users and devices to create a New Data Economy.
What can you build on The Convergence Stack?
Decentralised data to decentralised data markets – H2O
At the end of 2018 Outlier Ventures Labs released H2O, or Haja to Ocean. Ocean Protocol enables the creation of a decentralised data economy. It is agnostic to where the actual data is stored. OrbitDB is a decentralised database spearheaded by Haja Networks. With H2O, we demonstrated how data in a decentralised database can be enriched using machine learning algorithms and traded on an Ocean Protocol marketplace.
Autonomous Economic Agents with verifiable credentials – ANVIL
Next in line of Outlier Ventures Labs’ integration projects is the Agent Negotiation Verification Interaction Layer, or ANVIL. Fetch.AI is a decentralised world where agents perform useful economic work. Sovrin is an open ledger, technology stack and governance framework for verifiable claims exchange, enabling self sovereign identity and cross-silo authentication. ANVIL enables the real-world verifiable claims of Sovrin to be used by autonomous economic agents on Fetch to bootstrap trust in negotiations. Imagine an electric car negotiating with a charging pole, receiving a zero-knowledge proof that the pole has been produced by a manufacturer that the car trusts and has recently been inspected by an organisation that the car trusts, all in a fully automated, privacy-preserving manner.
Learn more in our webinar
We’re running a webinar on the 28th of March to present the Convergence Stack, run a live demo of ANVIL, and host a conversation between two technical leaders of core components of the stack. The webinar is free to join and we hope to see you there