BITNATION: Year 1 Summary

Creating the foundation for the world’s first blockchain powered virtual nation.


BITNATION started July 14th, 2014, when I shared this Google document on my personal Facebook page, outlining BITNATION’s intentions to build the world’s first Blockchain powered virtual nation, aggregating all services a traditional government provides, but in a decentralized, voluntary and borderless way. A bold plan, but with achievable goals, and a concrete roadmap. Within a few minutes several volunteers gathered and started promoting the concept.

The first year has been intense, to say the very least. The concept has gone viral, and received international media attention, hundreds of volunteers, ambassadors, investors. It has also been challenging in many ways, working with a frontier technology creating a previously untested concept, building it and promoting it, is no easy task, and we’ve endured everything from technical problems, to outright sabotage attempts.

Moving forward we’ll focus all our energy on the Pangea platform, and user adoption. The objective for the second year ahead is 1 million users in our key markets (frontier and emerging markets with high Bitcoin adoption, including but not limited to Turkey, Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, etc).

Further on, we need to improve our DAO infrastructure, including management, accounting and more. We need to raise additional funds, and we need to build a stronger development community around our open source platform.

Thank you all who’ve been part of this crazy journey. Through well planned and hard work we’ll be able to improve the lives of billions of people. It will take time, but it’s achievable. And it’s starting to happen now :) Onwards, and Upwards!

Blockchains, not Borders

Achievements:

The BITNATION Pangea Platform — www.bitnation.world

The most important achievement is to have built the platform, BITNATION Pangea V 0.1.0. It has been built to be optimized for decentralization, and for mobile use (through using React.JS), because our core audiences will use it with smartphones. A heavy emphasis has been put on UI/ UX, to make the platform mainstream attractive.

As of now you can:

  • Create an individual account
  • Send and receive encrypted messages
  • Timestamp documents in the Public Notary
  • Search documents in the Public Notary

Features we’ll be adding in the next months ahead are ID/ Reputation System, Dispute Resolution, Basic Income and the DApp Library. Read more about it below, in The Way Forward.

Pangea has been built using the technology of, and in partnership with, Horizon and The Blocknet. Mawo, Sascha, Xander Shepherd and Oskar Dahlgren has been doing the heavy lifting on the platform development. Nick Cote and Arlyn Culwick has helped with coordination.

Everything is 100% open source code, and can be found and forked on GitHub.

Pilots

We’ve done 4 groundbreaking pilots, including the world’s first blockchain marriage, world citizenship ID, birth certificate and land title.

It has been an important process, to make people realize that many things can be done without traditional governments, using the blockchain technology, and to that end, we’ve received international media attention. It has also been important to inform the development process.

Team and Advisory Board

More than hundred volunteers from around the world has participated in BITNATION during its first year, with everything from code, to accounting, management, advisory, fund raising, and more, and new people keeps joining every month. The support has been nothing short of amazing.

Over the year, a solid core has taken shape, consisting of both technology people, business people, administrators, and communicators, and an advisory board.

Ambassador Network

Under the steady leadership of Erik Vollstädt the Ambassador Network has expanded around the world, you can see the map here. A blog for the ambassadors has been created, and several ambassadors are working independently on BITNATION applications suited for their own local environment, from corporate incorporation to land titles.

The next step is to include a map of the Ambassadors into the platform, so users can communicate directly with the BITNATION Ambassador in their area, for information or assistance.

Horizon and The Blocknet Partnerships

We’re extremely pleased with our partnerships with Horizon and The Blocknet. They’re excellent technology partners that adds a great value to BITNATION. They’ve got solid teams, and tested and used technology. While Horizon provides us with a good foundational technology (using the NXT blockchain technology), The Blocknet will permit us to be Blockchain agnostic, moving forward.

Bitnation Space Agency (BSA)

Through our partnership with SpaceChains Space Program and Bitcoin Kinetics, the Bitnation Space Agency (BSA) has formed. Iman Mirbioki is running it as a semi-independent organization, with the goal of finding more environmentally friendly fuel, and is preparing the first two missions, Stratoshi 1 and 2 to be launched this year. Even though BITNATION’s primary focus is on software development, we’re pleased to be able to offer DIY ‘hardware infrastructure’ elements, as well.

3rd Party Applications

3rd Party DIY Governance Applications shared or sold on our DApp Library is a big part of the BITNATION Pangea concept. To that end we’ve reached out and engaged with several 3rd Party DApp developers, who’ve started to build on the BITNATION Technology. The most high-profile one is Johan Nygren and his Basic Income application basicincome.co which is in the process of being integrated into the Pangea.

Media and Event Appearances

We’ve had more than 200 media appearances around the world, including in mainstream media like Wall Street Journal, BBC Radio 4, WIRED Japan, Forbes, New York Times, TechCrunch, Swedish and Russian Television, and many others.

We’ve been appearing and mentioned everywhere from underground Bitcoin meetups to high-profile venues from Mexico to UK to Ghana and more, including several TEDx talks, BIL talks, Oxford and Cambridge University, Google’s ‘Solve for X’, and many others.

DAO Structure

We aim to become a fully decentralized DAO within the next five years. To that end, we’ve created CounterParty tokens as cryptoequity, and incorporated SwarmOps, a Bitcoin software for decentralized accounting. Full decentralization is a key-priority, to ensure resilience.

For communication, we’ve migrated from Skype to Slack, because it offers more functionalities, and is less distracting. However, we’re always looking for better, more decentralized, and encrypted alternatives.

Investment

Approximately 250 individual investors participated in our token sale. Due to some technical problems, low Bitcoin price, as well as outright sabotage attempts, we only raised a modest approx. 15,000 USD, but with that money we’ve produced more results than most of the ‘blockchain 2.0’ startups.

Challenges and Lessons Learned:

Centralisation VS decentralization

In a fast-paced open source environment relying on a large number of volunteers in a frontier space like crypto it’s important to have as few barriers of entry as possible, to keep the ability for people to join and contribute as accessible as possible.

However, the drawback with having little central control and barriers of entry is that it makes the evaluation and management of individuals harder. Sometime it attracts bad apples, that will use the openness of the organization for malicious activities.

Last fall we encountered those problems, a few individuals with malicious intents attempted to first hijack BITNATION and corrupt one of its primary core objective, that of being resilient through being a Decentralized Organization — DO (as outlined in the foundational document published at its inception on July 14), and when that failed, they went on to attacking and trying to destroy BITNATION. The sabotage attempts went on for several months, including spreading wild lies about myself and BITNATION, public and private slander, attacking the server, shutting down social media channels, and much more.

As a result, BITNATION became more centralized, and less community oriented. That was a mistake. Even though it do offer protection against that type of attacks in the short term, in the long term it’s counterproductive, harming development. Now, we aim to go back to our original stance, being as open and decentralized as possible, removing nearly all barriers for entry. It’s always a great risk to do so, but we need to stay true to our principles.

Distractions

BITNATION being an original concept makes people wonderfully creative, coming with their own ideas of applications that can be developed on the platform. It’s easy to get enthusiastic about these ideas, and get carried away, and lose focus on the priority — the Pangea platform itself.

The first few months we made the mistake to focus too much on our various blockchain pilots. Even though they were useful to raise awareness and inform the development process, it was a distraction from building the core platform infrastructure.

Another major distraction has been cash-flow challenges. It’s hard for the team to stay focused when people need alternative income sources, like freelance jobs or a day job, and when it’s a hustle to pay basic running costs. As of present, we have several options on the table for fundraising, but have not definitively settled on any of them yet, as we’ve been putting the platform development in priority.

Going forward we’ll try to mitigate distractions through further decentralizing things; e.g. if people want to do something that’s not part of the core priorities (platform infrastructure, user acquisition or fund raising) they’ll have to manage it more autonomously.

Highly autonomous management is already the case for several parts of Bitnation, including the Ambassador Network by Erik Vollstädt, the Space Agency by Iman Mirbioki, the Basic Income application by Johan Nygren, etc.

We need to move further in the direction of autonomously managed parts, while the core need to maintain greater discipline in focusing all its energy on the platform infrastructure (ID/Reputation, Dispute Resolution, and the DApp Library), user acquisition, and fund raising.

Technical Challenges

The blockchain technology is still young, and evolving. Working in a decentralized environment presents a large set of challenges, for everything from storage, to payment systems. We have to accept that some parts of the technology will take time to develop, and we will in some cases have to compromise some functions, either through temporary centralized solutions, or through simply not providing those features for the time being.

Further on, another technical challenge, is the operational costs associated with blockchain technologies. As of today there’s no solution to those costs that doesn’t compromise decentralization to some degree, a compromise we’re not willing to make. It’s something we’ll have to take into consideration in the future, and work to find creative solutions around.

Linguistic adoption is another area which will take time to implement. Hence, initially, until we’ve implemented language options, we’ll focus on areas where the technological elite have a relatively high English language knowledge.

Objectives Year Two:

Customer Acquisition

The core objective for year two is customer acquisition. Our goal is one million users in our key-target markets by this time next year. That may sound unrealistic, but we believe it’s achievable, through targeting key markets, and providing user-friendly, cost-effecient and needed services. The first application we’ll market on the platform is the Public Notary, which will be followed by the Dispute Resolution function, voluntary Basic Income application and the DApp Library (with 3rd Party DIY Governance Applications to download).

The reason customer acquisition is key, is because the services will be more valuable through critical mass adoption, just like, for instance, Bitcoin. Bitcoin is only valuable as a currency if it can be used as one, e.g. if other use it as well for that purpose. Contracts and other applications are the same. A land title, or a corporate incorporation, for instance, is more valuable if it’s recognized by- and tradable with other persons.

BITNATION Pangea Development

In the next year ahead we’ll focus on the key-platform infrastructure components, the most important ones (apart from the Notary and encrypted communications, which is already in place) being:

  • The ID/ Reputation System through integrating the identi.fi protocol
  • The Dispute Resolution system (with choice of code of law, choice of arbitrators, etc)
  • The DApp Library (similar to the Google Play app store, or the Apple App store, but for DIY Governance DApps benefiting from our market adoption, and core infrastructure applications (ID, dispute resolution, encrypted communications, etc)

These are the applications which will give value to all other in-house and 3rd Party Applications on the platform.

Additionally, we need to:

  • Improve the UI
  • Finalize Basic Income, Ambassador Network and Space Agency integration on the platform
  • Improve the overall development structure and environment, with better documentation, roadmaps, clearer communication channels etc.
  • Optimise the payment system for different currencies (including, but not limited to BTC and fiat)
  • Optimise the platform for desktop client and mobile usage
  • Add the ability to choose different blockchains (through the Blocknet technology)
  • Add decentralized storage (to store documents, etc)
  • Add tokenization functions (to tokenize land, corporate equity, etc etc)

Decentralise All The Things

We need to work harder to achieve full decentralization, not just on the technology side, but also on the financial, communications and management end. That includes adding more people to the multisig, delegate core administrative tasks more efficiently, creating a better development environment where it’s easier for developers to immediately understand the structure and develop on top of it, etc.

The greatest decentralization challenge will be in terms of financial management, to create a structure where people can be rewarded appropriately for their work from the DAO income, without any central approval mechanism. We do not expect to reach that level of decentralization during the next year, but we hope to move towards that direction this year.

How You Can Contribute

Development Needs

We need to grow our development community, and as such we’re looking for JavaScript developers. If you know React.JS you’re very needed! Please check out our GitHub and Slack, and contribute to the creation!

Financial Needs

We need additional funding to operate efficiently over the next 6 months, until after the beta release. We’re considering different alternatives, from angel investment, to grants, to crowdfunding. If you’re interested in investing, please get in touch with us to discuss options.

3rd Party Developers

We’re keen to integrate as many 3rd Party Applications as possible. If you’re creating a governance related app, please get in touch with us so we can discuss mutually beneficial cooperation.

On A Personal Note

All in all, I’m satisfied with the first year of operation. As I outlined in my TEDx talk 2012, my goal is to create a world where thousand or millions of non-geographical governance service aggregators competes through providing better services, rather than through the use of violence.

To that end, the first year has been a success, because we’ve communicated the concept worldwide, hence opened people’s eyes for the possibility to create a ‘crypto nation’, and how it can change the world, and we’ve built the technological foundation for it.

To permanently cement the concept, and make it attractive for people to use and copy, we need to improve the platform, make a resilient DAO structure, generate significant market adoption, and prove the revenue model. I believe, with the foundation we’ve built, all of that is achievable in year two.

— — — -

I would also like to thank other supporters, advisors and team members who’ve not yet been mentioned elsewhere in this writeup, including but not limited to David Orban, Janina Lowisz, Evok3d, Aleksander Katulus Vidmar, Vikram Nikkam, Toni Lane, Stefan Dyck, Ty Cabaya, Ismat Sherzad, Maxwell Rebo, Anthony Culligan, Chris Ellis, Pedro Rivera, Martin Eriksson, Kasper Mikkel Sonne, Hafez Mancayo, Kofi Akosha, Niels Hesser Nielsen, Abhi Dayal, Max Katz, Nick Lockwood, and many many others. You’re the the reason the creation of a decentralized future is possible!

I also want to extend a special thank you to Rick Falkvinge, who was there nearly from day one, an avid supporter of the concept since its public conception. Rick have helped out with all sorts of things, spending hours and hours figuring tedious imperatives out. During the hard times and the setbacks, Rick didn’t shy away from the problems, to the very opposite, he INCREASED his engagement even more. Beyond being an advisor, and a mentor, Rick has also become a close friend. Thank you for everything.

/ Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof

Gothenburg, Sweden, July 14, 2015