Digital Decentralization: Could MaidSafe be the biggest game changer since Bitcoin?

Bitcoin, the controversial digital currency which uses an innovative technology known as “the blockchain,” has slowly been gaining traction throughout the world, even as it faces challenges in myriad forms: drastic fluctuations in value relative to traditional currencies; an unshakeable connotation with crime; a core development team that can’t agree on software upgrades.

However, despite various setbacks and bad press, the notorious online currency seems destined for continued growth. American Express just announced that it is investing in Abra, a “mobile cash” start-up that utilizes the Bitcoin network. Qualcomm-backed company 21 Inc. is attempting to add native Bitcoin infrastructure to the Internet of Things. Even as alternative digital currencies such as Ripple and Ethereum attract plenty of attention and venture capital, Bitcoin’s transaction volume and per-coin value eclipse those of competitors.

One innovative feature made possible with Bitcoin is the ability to create “tokens,” a sort of stakeholder asset that can be created and distributed by anyone through the Bitcoin network. A Scotland-based company called MaidSafe issued such a token early in 2014; the “crowdsale” of the token (one of the very first of its kind) was messy and did not go according to plan, but it was still considered a massive success after more than $6 million worth of Bitcoin were raised. MaidSafe COO Nick Lambert has made it clear that their token is not a financial instrument but merely a sort of key that grants entry to MaidSafe’s future software, likening the offering to a video game pre-sale.

MaidSafe — led by founder and CEO David Irvine — is currently developing and testing what they have dubbed the SAFE Network, which will operate as an encrypted and distributed worldwide network. Machines running MaidSafe’s software that are connected to one another form the network itself, replacing the need for centralized servers; data transmitted through the network gets splintered and encrypted in a randomized fashion such that no one computer stores a whole file and no human actor can trace a file’s origins. This interview with Irvine conducted by Bitcoin Magazine goes into greater detail about underlying mechanisms of the network.

If MaidSafe’s project is executed successfully, it could represent a major hallmark in internet history. Traditional barriers to communication such as censorship or regional firewalls would become moot. Websites and databases that migrate to the network would become exponentially more secure from hackers. Although MaidSafe has patented its distributed network technology, the patents have been transferred to a non-profit entity and will be held for defensive purposes only; additionally, the project’s code is open-source and thereby available for anybody to build applications within the environment.

A specialized digital currency called Safecoin will dictate access to and use of resources within the SAFE Network. Network participants who contribute their own computers’ resources (“Farmers”) will receive Safecoins as compensation. Additionally, software developers (“Builders”) will receive Safecoins in proportion to the popularity of apps they deploy on the network.

As “ad-blocker” programs are increasingly being seen as a threat to content providers, the SAFE Network may hold the key to a viable revenue stream for writers, artists, etc. Financial institutions may adopt it as a vital asset in security solutions. Grid computing projects such as MIT’s BOINC initiative could begin rewarding volunteers for their donated CPU power. Facebook or LinkedIn might perceive an advantage in moving operations to the SAFE Network… or a savvy Builder could deploy a new, privacy-minded social network that outshines its predecessors. In essence, MaidSafe is attempting to build a better internet on top of our existing internet, one which could conceivably even supplant it at some point.

Although MaidSafe has not been making headlines since its crowdfunding event, the team (along with outside developers, who can be rewarded with Safecoin bounties for their code contributions) has been continuously tweaking the software and is still on track to release a full-scale test network before the end of 2015. Only time will tell how big of an impact the SAFE Network has on everyday internet users.