Portis goes to India

Last week our CEO Tom Teman traveled to India, following an invitation from our good friends at SpringRole Inc., to speak at YourStory’s TECHSPARKS2018 conference. We asked him to share his experiences.

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Oct 15, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo by Wim Arys on Unsplash

For many Israelis, India is a very popular destination after completing their military service, yet I’ve never been there (my personal post-army choices were Thailand and Laos). Although I’ve spent most of my time either at the hotel, inside different office buildings or on the road, I still feel like I managed to soak up a bit of India, and I loved every part of it. I’m grateful to the SpringRole team for inviting me and for being such wonderful hosts 🙏🏻

If you haven’t heard of SpringRole, I strongly suggest you go check them out now. It is one of the most interesting and mature DApps to come out of India. SpringRole is an attestation and verification platform, allowing anyone to upload their professional profile to the Ethereum blockchain, enabling other people to attest to their credentials and verify them.

SpringRole didn’t look at blockchain technology and tried to force an idea on top of it, but instead took an actual problem that already exists and used the blockchain to solve it in a straightforward manner.

So in addition to being a terrific example of a meaningful DApp, you should also go ahead and create an account. Isn’t it time you had a verified résumé on the blockchain? And with Portis, sign up is a breeze!

The collaboration between SpringRole and Portis started over six months ago. So after e-mailing each other for months with a few video conferences here and there, it was exciting to finally meet the team behind one of the biggest DApps to use Portis in person.

Our first event was a “usability in blockchain” meetup, hosted by SpringRole in a co-working space in Bangalore. We kicked off the meetup with me giving a short talk about the current UX challenges that DApps face, followed by a demonstration of Portis (by showcasing SpringRole’s DApp) and finally we opened up the floor for discussion. The crowd was diverse, as were the questions since we hosted designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and others. Such a variety always ensures an excellent conversation, as we don’t just focus on one aspect of using DApps and enjoy inputs from various perspectives.

The following day TECHSPARKS2018 opened. TECHSPARKS is a huge tech conference, hosted at the luxurious Taj Yeshwantpur, which attracts India’s industry leaders in the fields of technology, business, media, finance, and innovation. It’s always fascinating to experience conferences in different parts of the world, where the problems getting solved are ones you wouldn’t even consider. For instance, an Uber-like service except you get picked up by a motorcycle (a real time-saver in India’s congested roads), or a machine that’ll brew the perfect chai tea in your office. Spoiler alert: I’ll talk about another “unexpected solution” that I saw during my last day when I judged a hackathon.

During the first day of the conference, I participated in a panel about “The UX Problem in Blockchain”, hosted by Incrypt Blockchain founder Nitin Sharma, alongside Koinearth founder & CEO Praphul Chandra and SpringRole founder & CEO Kartik Mandaville.

We discussed the pros and cons of decentralized applications and touched on the most significant opportunities and hurdles users face today. This awesome tweet by Dinesh Senapati captures some of the issues we discussed:

It was evident from the questions we got from the crowd that people still need convincing as to the value of decentralized applications. I guess they’ll be truly convinced when they wouldn’t even know they are using blockchain behind the scenes. Such a scenario may sound overly ambitious, but in our next blog post, we’ll explain how this reality is getting closer than you might think.

The following day I gave my talk at TECHSPARKS, titled “Decentralized Applications: The Road to Mainstream Adoption”. I started off by giving an introduction to Ethereum and DApps, and the inherent value they can offer (trust and verify data, no censorship, no downtime, immutable, users own their data). However, it’s isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, and we do face some major UX issues when it comes to DApps, issues which can’t be solved by slicker UI or simpler user flows.

The two main hurdles for mainstream adoption are gas fees and private key management

To deal with gas fees, the community is rallying behind gasless transactions, allowing DApp owners (or anyone else for that matter) to sponsor the gas fees for the user. Austin Thomas Griffith’s MetaTx project is a terrific example. It was recently used in a proof of concept created at ETHSF by MetaCartel.

When it comes to private keys though, the current state isn’t as bright. Key management for mainstream users is still a tough nut to crack, and although several solutions were proposed, such as Argent’s social recovery mechanism or Alex Van de Sande’s universal logins approach, we still haven’t reached a solution which is as simple and secure for the user as current web2.0 “I forgot my password” flows. But we’ll get there eventually.

After finishing my talk, I rushed off to the DoraHacks blockchain hackathon, where around 200 people worked tirelessly through the night to create awesome projects that utilize blockchain. Hats off to DoraHacks for a remarkable event!

I gave the hackers a workshop that explains how to build a basic DApp, covering the fundamental principles of the entire flow (slides available here). From writing your smart contract to interacting with it from your browser (using Portis of course 😎). Afterwards, I lingered for a little while to mentor several groups, and when I returned in the morning to judge the projects, I was thrilled to learn that some of the teams found my presentation useful and that it really helped them when they were building their first DApp ever (#BUIDL!).

“If you want something done right…”

Remember that I promised another “unexpected solution”? Well, the winning project (which was also my personal favorite and received my judge’s vote) deals with a problem which actually costs lives in India. The DApp by team “Pochinki” tackled the terrible issue of potholes in India. By using dashcams and ML, users can automatically report the location of potholes to a smart contract from their car. Later on, contractors can use deposited community funds to fix said potholes. Users will then validate that the potholes were fixed using the same system, and if the contractor messed up, then they will lose their deposit funds.

Potholes in India are on a whole other level

I think it’s a really creative and useful idea, which utilizes blockchain in a meaningful manner. And most importantly — they can actually make this DApp a reality, it’s not just some overly ambitious pie in the sky project.

Another notable project was Accredit, which feels like the missing link between SpringRole and GitCoin. As a non-technical person hiring programmers for your company, Accredit allows you to create bounties for experts to rate a potential candidate’s code. Again — useful and implementable in the real world. They were another personal favorite, and they won second place 🤘🏻

Don’t spend it all in one place

To sum up, the tech scene in India is very exciting and despite some recent unfriendly legislation from the government, blockchain development is just as lively. Community-driven ecosystems play a significant role in Indian culture, so I expect to see plenty of exciting blockchain innovation coming out of this amazing subcontinent.

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Portis

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Making blockchain simple for users

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