Summary of the August AMA with Branimir & Vladimir
We want to give you first-hand insight into project development. To complement our regular monthly and quarterly reports, we kicked off monthly AMAs with founders and team members.
Our second AMA (Ask Me Anything) was focused on tech-related questions. Co-founder and CTO Branimir Rakic and Senior Software Lead Vladimir Lelicanin answered questions in a live stream on Friday, August 31. This was Vladimir’s first AMA! You can find the summary and timestamps of the questions below, or re-watch the whole AMA here.
0:46 What is OriginTrail up to these days?
A lot of things! The tech team, which is at the center of attention for this AMA, is most focused on developing the bidding mechanism and optimizing the resilience of the nodes. Branimir recently published a blog post with an update on that — you can read it here.
1:58 What are the advantages for big companies of choosing OriginTrail instead of building their own solutions? How can they benefit?
OriginTrail brings neutrality to the industry. Our solution is focusing on interoperability of data as the basic layer of the system. It also has a bunch of innovative features, such as the zero-knowledge layer, that benefit companies and help them overcome the reluctance to share their data.
4:35 How will the TRAC token be utilized as an actual use case for the supply chain? Why does OriginTrail need its own token?
Trace (TRAC) as a utility token is the glue that keeps the ecosystem together. It manages relationships within the system — relationships between nodes that need compensation for their services.
5:52 What are some of the challenges facing OriginTrail ahead of the release of the mainnet and how is OriginTrail addressing them?
Most of the challenges are described in the aforementioned blog post. The amount of ETH spent was a little higher than estimated. We are exploring different mechanisms to reduce this cost and make it as low as possible. We see great progress there — if you are already using the system, you are familiar with that. We ensured that you do not spend ETH if you do not win the bid for the offer.
Another important challenge is the node resilience. This is connected to the questions and concerns some community members expressed like “What will happen if my node goes down?” or “What will happen if the electricity goes out?” We are making sure that even if the node goes down, it can recover. We recently published a video demonstrating this — watch it here!
The tech team is also working on the high availability of nodes. The network as a whole will be resilient, not just individual nodes.
10:12 Will there be companies already using the OriginTrail protocol when the mainnet goes live?
Companies are already using the testnet and are eager to transition to the mainnet. For some of them, it is a process and it might take some time — each company transitions at a particular pace. But, companies are using the OriginTrail Decentralized Network (ODN) and will be using it more and more. We are also getting very valuable feedback from the companies within this process of structuring use cases with the OriginTrail protocol.
11:22 What will keep OriginTrail relevant as new blockchain technology continues to emerge?
OriginTrail is not building its own blockchain, but an off-chain decentralized network for supply chains that works together with the blockchain. It is designed from the start to be able to utilize many different blockchains that support ODN features. All the innovations happening in the ecosystem are valuable to us and can only contribute to scalability. OriginTrail leverages the development. It is not competing with other blockchain solutions. We are a complementary, middleware solution, focused on the interconnectivity of data as an underlying problem.
14:09 Will OriginTrail use NFC/RFID tracking products in any way? If so, how will you prevent tampering?
We are already working on cases including IoT tags — a good example is our wine project. The protocol has already implemented the “Web of Things” data standards, focused on encompassing different IoT data standards, covering a wide range of data carriers, including NFC/RFID.
However, using smart tags is not the focus of what we are developing. OriginTrail supports all kinds of data inputs and identifiers. Data carriers are only as good as the data that comes into the protocol. We are trying to ensure the mechanism that will help mark the data as correct, for example, through consensus checks. If there are multiple data inputs, and there is a consensus that the data is good, you can have a higher level of trust in the data.
18:09 Standardization is a major step toward business adoption. Will the OriginTrail, as part of the Trace Alliance, get in touch with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to propose the OriginTrail protocol as a standard for the supply chain industry?
Our aim is to support many different standards. We started with GS1, but that’s not where the story ends. We aim to support the ability to describe all flow of information. It comes down to building a proper base layer that supports many different standards. The essential idea is so be very standard-neutral, so everyone can build their own importers and graph logic ontology for their standards.
20:30 What is the point of using a graph database that is not immutable and decentralized on a blockchain project that should be wholly decentralized and thus carry all the properties and advantages of the blockchain? Why not consider decentralized cloud storage like Sia, Filecoin, Storj, etc…? What is preventing you from going in that direction?
That was actually Vladimir’s question when he was joining the company! The nature of the data OriginTrail is dealing with is specific in the sense that we have very interconnected data. It is better described with a graph than with standard query databases. Some of the mentioned solutions are designed more for private/personal file storage.
In our protocol, the data is still decentralized, since it is shared between the nodes and there is no one central place where the data is stored. It is also immutable since the hashes of the data are stored on the blockchain, meaning that all changes of data will be visible.
25:41 Could you specify how you are dealing with issues that presented within the Ethereum network and how will you tackle gas fees? Which, if any, scaling solutions are you considering for the time being? Given the current sharding issues with Ethereum (and every major blockchain or protocol), how does OriginTrail plan to address scalability issues?
We are closely looking at what the development community is doing. Scalability is a challenge that is known to the whole Ethereum community. The basic unit of OriginTrail is data exchange, not transactions. The cases observed so far can scale much better if they take the data off-chain (and put it on a decentralized network like OriginTrail), and then fingerprint this data in a clever way, like for a single batch, at a particular time. The data can be uploaded on a daily basis — one transaction on Ethereum a day means much less of a load. Solutions such as Plasma and sidechains also look promising to further soften the issue, which is a benefit to the protocol. But, even if they are not realized in the near future, we are still building a scalable system.
29:04 How does TRAC plan to distinguish itself from other supply chain blockchain solutions, being an ERC20 token?
The fact that TRAC is an ERC20 token does not distinguish us from other solutions. However, the utility of the system, how good the service is, how it can scale and be easy to use, is what will make OriginTrail stand out. The token is merely a way to move value amongst participants in the system.
31:35 How will the people that have low amounts of TRAC compete in the staking process against big holders? What guarantees that the big players won’t leave others without the ability to stake as they take all the jobs? As far as nodes/masternodes are concerned, has your team structured how that will work? What is the minimum number of TRAC tokens we will need to run a node/masternode? How many coins are required for a masternode and when will TRAC masternodes be introduced?
Masternodes are not a concept in the OriginTrail solution stack. You can stake less or more. Depending on how much you stake, you increase your chances to win the offers and have a better reward. A higher stake increases one’s chances of winning a bid, but does not guarantee it. There are other parameters included (price, availability of the node, past jobs & reputation, pure chance…). We are talking about a market, where offers are matched with demand. Chance is important for every decentralized system. Proof-of-Work mechanism also distributes chances for mining in a randomized way. We are already testing all these parameters on the testnet.
37:20 Is the team working on finding a way to reverse/refund the ETH/gas costs used to submit an offer in the case a bid is not won?
The current mechanism is that your node, in order to apply, needs to send a transaction to the smart contract which costs some gas. Because the node tries to guess its chances, it sometimes doesn’t get in. We are doing an upgrade of the bidding mechanism so that the transaction to the smart contract is made only when the node is selected for a job. At the end of the service, the node will earn enough to reimburse the cost.
39:17 How do you plan to get around the relatively high transaction fees on the Ethereum network? Do you expect gas fees to be an issue or will the value of the average transaction make the gas fee relatively tiny?
The mechanism will not let the node spend ETH or gas if they don’t get chosen. We are also optimizing the smart contracts to require less gas. According to some of our estimations, this cost could be brought down further — when the gas cost is high, if a transaction is not time critical, the nodes could wait until gas is cheaper. We are also looking into Plasma and similar solutions. The idea is that the actual gas cost is just a tiny part of the full service.
41:32 In my opinion, a key step to adoption is user experience. How are you tackling this problem?
We agree that UX is very important and it is something we are working on. Setting up a node is not a trivial task, but we already managed to put into a few commands. Still, it’s a complex software that needs a lot of configuration. We also created Houston as a control panel for the node holders and it is only at the beginning of its development — its usability will further improve over time. This is something that was not even in our roadmap, but we realized the need and decided to do it. Please, give us your feedback on what works fine and where you can see a need for improvement! The team reads every comment, and your feedback is valuable.
47:09 Will the average Joe be able to set up a node easily? Does he need the rent a server or is this possible by running something on Windows? What will the node setup process be like compared to the testnet? Will it be simpler?
Yes, you can already run it on Windows and we are further going to improve the user experience.
47:55 How will you be dealing with notifying node holders if their node goes down?
The node holder should definitely know the status of their node. We are looking into options for offering ways to do that.
49:04 Will node holders get feedback about the state of the network to be able to set competitive pricing? Will we know if we are excluded from the bidding mechanism because our price is too high or too low?
To set parameters, you need some insight. We are working in that direction. Some insights will be visible from Houston. A similar solution could also be developed by third-party developers since it’s an open source project and a lot of the data will be publically available on smart contracts.
51:42 What is it like working in a blockchain startup like OriginTrail? How would you compare it to your previous jobs?
Vladimir answered that it’s a great job — dynamic, challenging, and gives you the opportunity to work on something that really matters. He has 20+ years of prior career experience, working for huge clients, but here he feels that he is actually changing the world. We finally have a solutions that will tackle problems that have plagued supply chains for decades.
54:34 Do you guys have a passion for what you’re creating? The answer is probably going to be yes, but I would love to hear you guys try to convince us on why this is :). Personally, I find passion is immensely important for being successful in the things you do/create.
Branimir walked us through the story of how the founders started the project in 2011 and what drove them to this point.
58:55 I’m currently a communications student and have been enamored by crypto for the last year and a half. Is there anything you recommend for students that want to get involved in the crypto space?
Vladimir, who also has a lot of teaching experience, offered his advice. There are a lot of materials out there. Try to think about how technology influences society in the philosophical and economic sense, and in other aspects. Also, come to the conferences, try to meet people from the industry, get in touch with opinion leaders. “Go and start building!” added Branimir.
The next AMA will come out towards the end of September. Meanwhile, we will be glad to hear your feedback through your preferred channel. Trace on!