Just about 120 days ago, Stellar.org launched.
We received an unexpected amount of attention from people all around the world and have seen the code stretched to its limits. We want to share what we have learned and tell the stories of the people using Stellar, so we will be doing a series of posts that walk us through this journey.
What happens when you try to sign up the world
When we opened our doors on July 31, 2014, we had expected about 10,000 people in our first month. 10,000 people did show up — in eleven hours. By the end of our first month there were almost 1 million Facebook authentications. This torrential flow of people took us by surprise and we had to rapidly adjust our focus to manage this change.
When we began Stellar.org, one of our goals was to provide financial access to a wide and global audience. Here is a snapshot of Stellar users in the first month:
Of all these stats, there are three important takeaways:
1) Stellar reaches women.
Women are critical to commerce and financial inclusion, but women have not had a significant voice in the digital currency or financial tech communities. Globally, women are 20% less likely to have a formal financial account and women account for about 5% of bitcoin holders. Stellar has the potential to become an equalizer on both of these fields.
2) Stellar includes the developing world.
Usage of money is context-specific and local. Participation of local consumers and developers is integral to developing solutions that will work in a local context. The next billion people online will change the Internet. And, they will determine the future of money:
The next iteration of the world’s financial infrastructure will be stronger if the perspectives of the next billion are brought to the table directly by the next billion, for the next billion.
3) Stellar opens the door for people to digital currency.
Digital currency protocols thus far have been least accessible to non-technical users or those with the least access to money. Yet for these protocols to have a positive global impact, we must go further. Stellar’s educational programs have reached hundreds of thousands of new voices which is step one of this long journey.
These three stats paint a colorful picture of what the world of financial inclusion could look like in a few years’ time — and it will extend to more women and the Global South. The road to this future will not be easy or paved, but our goal is to make sure there are diverse stakeholders at the table.
The bumpy road: overcoming fraud
One of the challenges we expected to encounter was a certain level of fraudulent signups. This is typical and most prolific in the early days of these systems and will wane over time. Systems will always be subject to gaming attempts and we have the responsibility to monitor and respond.
We began experiencing a sharp increase in what we believed to be fraudulent signups in Month 2. (This is why the stats above are focused only on the first million people who signed up in our first month.) To counteract this, we researched specific usage patterns to adjust our spam detection algorithms.
Taking action and making progress
We deployed updates to block several variations of automated behavior we had discovered. This reduced what we believed to be fraudulent signups significantly, but these gains were short-lived as numbers began to creep up between each deployment.
We added a machine learning system. Additionally, we implemented a change to our email verification process aimed at providing extra security to users — this single change had the greatest impact as it added a new step and enhanced the integrity of the signup process. Together, these measures have now nearly eliminated what we believe to be fraudulent signups.
Good fraud prevention has its own issues
With this issue having been largely addressed, a new challenge arrived. Valid users are also being mistakenly blocked at higher rates with tighter security measures. Each verification step added to the signup process has also created more friction for authentic users. This is a delicate line and we will continue to test, learn and report.
Measuring the journey in friends, not miles
As part of our fraud detection user research, we reached out to people who used Stellar. We asked how and why they were using Stellar. What we learned significantly altered our assumptions. Through these stories, people gave us a peek into their vastly diverse lives, demonstrating there are more complex cultural implications with people and money than initially thought.
In our next few posts, we will be sharing some of these stories along with stories from our tech team — come walk this road with us.