Meet the Livepeer team: Yondon Fu

Over the next couple of week, we’ll be highlighting each of the team members working on the Livepeer project. We’re excited to get to know you all and for you to get to know us, starting with Yondon Fu. Yondon is a software engineer and built much of the Livepeer protocol and smart contracts. Below we share a bit about what got him interested in the project, what he’s working on, how the community can help, and a bit about what he’s interested in when he’s not hacking on Livepeer!

Tell us who you are and how you got into the blockchain space?

I’m Yondon and and I lead the smart contract development at Livepeer — a lot of my work is focused on mechanism design research and implementing incentive compatible mechanisms which these days centers around Ethereum smart contracts.

I discovered Bitcoin in 2015 and I found the idea of peer to peer Internet money intriguing so I spent some time learning how it worked, but I did not really understand the value proposition of blockchains aside from creating a digital currency for payments until I started tinkering with Ethereum the summer before my senior year of college. Playing around with the more developer friendly (relative to Bitcoin) stateful smart contract system of Ethereum opened up my mind to a larger variety of applications that blockchains could enable. In particular, I found the concept of a permissionless, open marketplace where a distributed set of actors could trade digitally scarce resources without a central intermediary and solely by adhering to a protocol designed around cryptographic guarantees and economic incentives fascinating. At the time, I was also thinking a lot about how to make open source software projects sustainable so that organizations and individuals can continue to rely on them in the future. As I observed the rise in popularity of token sales to fund Ethereum based projects, I wondered if a similar mechanism could be used to fund general open source software projects in a way that would align the incentives of project community members and properly direct the scarcest resource in an open source software project: developer attention. I ended up writing my senior computer science thesis on a proof of concept design for a protocol to fund and incentivize general open source software development: https://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~trdata/reports/TR2017-831.pdf. I presented the contributions of the thesis not as a full fledged solution to the sustainability problem, but as an attempt to push the discussion around open source software sustainability forward and to encourage other open source software community members to experiment with new approaches of maintaining healthy and supported open source software projects by leveraging new tools such as blockchains and token based protocols. Even though I’m not currently working on this problem, I am excited to see the progress made in this area in the future!

What made you decide you wanted to work on Livepeer?

Blockchains, smart contracts and token based protocols can be useful tools for creating permissionless, open marketplaces for digitally scarce resources. With this in mind, when I learned about Livepeer, I thought these tools were a perfect fit for creating a marketplace for video transcoding services. Video is such a core part of an Internet user’s experience today. Additionally, there are so many applications that could leverage video streaming to provide experiences and services that we have not even thought of yet. Given the incredible importance of this medium for transmitting content, the existence of a robust, scalable and performant infrastructure to support the development of video streaming applications is crucial. What valuable products could be built if a shared infrastructure layer enabled developers to focus on building their specific products such that they would not need to deal with the intricacies of transcoding and distributing video? I saw Livepeer as an opportunity to help ensure that innovative uses of video streaming can continue to proliferate into the future. Furthermore, I had talked with Doug and Eric while writing my computer science thesis and through the process of trading feedback on various ideas about designing token based protocols could tell that they were taking a very thoughtful approach to building Livepeer.

Being a software engineer, what are the key goals you’re focused on in helping Livepeer realize its full potential?

I am focused on testing the current economic assumptions of the first version of the Livepeer protocol after launch and using real data to more rigorously analyze the cryptoeconomic security of the current iteration of the protocol in order to inform development of future protocol updates. The end goals motivated by the focus on these areas include designing incentive compatible mechanisms that are the right fit for the Livepeer protocol and implementing those mechanisms with secure smart contracts.

What challenge or obstacle do you need help with right now?

I would love to engage in more discussion about the mechanism designs specific to the Livepeer protocol with smart people with a background in areas such as (but not limited to) cryptoeconomic research, traditional economics/game theory/mechanism design or the economics of traditional video processing services. As a team, we have a lot of these discussions internally, but I think it will be important to learn from a more diverse set of individuals that can bring insights from their specific area of expertise. At its core, Livepeer is a decentralized project and in order for it to become robust, scalable and performant video streaming infrastructure, it will need the help of community members that contribute valuable insights as the design evolves over time!

What can you help folks with?

I am happy to help people learn about the details of the Livepeer protocol design including the purpose of the various roles in the protocol, attacks that the protocol attempts to defend against and different levers used to try to incentivize certain behavior. Additionally, having spent a lot of time working on the Solidity smart contracts for the protocol, I am also happy to help people understand how the smart contracts are implemented today and how to interact with them or provide thoughts on developing a large multi-contract system.

What personal principles drive you?

I think open intellectual debates based on rigorous analysis informed by evidence and logic on the merits and flaws of ideas is crucial especially in the blockchain space where communities can easily tend toward extreme tribalism.Completely dismissing others just because they disagree with you is an easy instinctual reaction. The harder, more productive reaction is to evaluate the idea for yourself from first principles and only then decide on the value’s merits and flaws. There is so much to learn in the world — what are the chances that everything there is to learn is going to come from someone that agrees with you? Probably pretty slim chances!

When you’re not at work, where can we find you?

Running anywhere with nice scenery or eating food at random establishments that the Internet tells me I should go to.