DAppHack Berlin 2016

On the last November weekend in 2016 the first DappHack Berlin took place. The event was focused on decentralized technologies. While the name suggests a hackathon, the actual event turned out to be more like an unconference. Johannes, one of the organizers, said that when the name was settled, the idea was to host a hackathon, but as more and more speakers came on board the event evolved into an unconference.

The line-up of speakers was pretty phenomenal for an admission free event. Core-devs of IPFS, the ethereum foundation and ethcore were present as well as many other very knowledgeable people. Among the recurring themes of the conference were distributed storage, distributed application (dapp) development and serverless pub/sub systems.

Fortunately there is no need to regurgitate here what has been presented, since you can watch all talks on Adjy Leak’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxfh-2aOR5hZUjxJLQ2CIHw, but I would like to point out some highlights:

Dapp Development Tools

David Roon @ DappHack Berlin

David Roon @ DappHack Berlin

On Saturday David Roon kicked off the event by introducing a java library for smart contracts. His talk was followed by Thomas Bertani’s presentation of Oraclize, a service that solves a very urgent problem that concerns almost all dapp developers: how to access external data from the context of a smart contract. A third talk that featured development tools was Tomasz Drwięga’s workshop about how to build an app with Parity. I

personally benefitted a lot from this session.

Distributed Storage

With IPFS and Swarm two of the big projects that promise distributed storage were present. Unfortunatly the IPFS talk was overshadowed by some technical problems. Those caused some interruptions which stretched the talk to almost 2 hours. The talk about Swarm (ethereum’s native distributed storage system) by Viktor Tron on the contrary is only snappy 16 min long. I got the impression from this event that Swarm differentiates itself from the already relatively widley deployed IPFS by it’s focus on incentivization of data storage.

A third project, that I had not heard about before is Datproject. Dat has the goal to become the “Better bittorent”. It makes it possible to not only share files but also folders and streams of data, which can make distributed live TV possible. Last but not least in this category was the presentation of the Alexandria project. It is a project that uses IPFS as backend to permanently provide content on the net. It has a well developed integration of bitcoin payments. A curious detail about this project is that they use the rather obscure blockchain Florincoin to publish metadata for the content.

David Dias IPFS @ DappHack Berlin

David Dias IPFS @ DappHack Berlin

Distributed Pub/Sub systems

There were two talks at DappHack that I would put in this category. OrbitDB, that is a sister-project to IPFS. (I have previously writte about OrbitDB here) and Secure Scuttlebutt. The demo of Secure Scuttlebutt made a deep impression on me, because they already realized several working applications including a Twitter-like social network and an app very similar to Soundcloud.

All in all this was a very interesting event. Kudos to the organizers Ksenia, Johannes and Sven (and Andreas who sponsored the beer!). Also a big thank you to the hosts of Agora Co-working, which was a wonderful venue for this event.

IPFS and orbit-db meetup at Ethereum Office Berlin

On Saturday, July 30th 2016, the fourth meetup in the Hack And Learn series was held at the Ethereum Office Berlin. Samuli Pöyhtäri presented IPFS (interplanitary filesystem) and orbit-db a database-system that runs on said filesystem. Samuli works at Protocol Labs, the company behind IPFS and the lead-developer of orbit-db. The meeting was attended by a dozen people, most of them developers who had already some experience with IPFS.

Samuli gave an overview over IPFS (see also http://www.propellah.net/2016/03/13/the-permanent-web-for-music-and-other-media-content/) and the peer-to-peer database orbit-db which runs on top of IPFS. A truly decentralized database-system is still a big gap in available decentralized systems.

Right now the options for developers of decentralized systems are either distributed hash tables (DHT) and blockchains. Examples for systems that use DHTs are Bittorrent and Openbazaar. An Example for blockchains that can be used to store data are Namecoin and Ethereum. However these systems cannot compete with conventional databases in terms of query speed and they offer less ways to query data. Typically DHTs and blockchains can only be used as key-value-stores, which means that values can only be retrieved by the value. Conventional database systems like MySQL or PostgreSQL offer many more ways to organise data, build relations between datapoints and select them. However these conventional systems require a centralized server to run and cannot be used in a decentralized context.

Orbit-DB (similarily to https://www.bigchaindb.com/)aims to bring some of the benefits of traditional database systems to the world of decentralized applications. As of yet however Orbit-DB still requires a centralized server for pubsub-communication, however the IPFS-team works on a decentralized pubsub service. According to Samuli Orbit-DB will switch to this pubsub-service as soon as it is finished. He added that this task is not trivial though.

After the very informative and interesting presentation, there was the opportunity to ask questions and chat with other IPFS users. I highly recommend the Hack And Learn meetups as a place to get to know new technology, play around with it!

The Permanent Web for music and other media content

Since the internet has emerged accessability of music and other media content has vastly improved. iTunes, amazon and simliar vendors offer millions of songs, books and movies instantly for relatively cheap prices. Sites like these pretty much guarantee that artistic and cultural content produced in our day and age will remain easily available and conserved for the future. However what about digital content that is not easily marketable and therefore not available on the big commercial platforms?

For instance what about free songs by lesser known bands, self-published mixtapes by no-name djs, live recordings from concerts or particular radio shows? Content like this might appear on some website, online forum or file-sharing site and then might be soon lost for various reasons. Maybe the creator of the content removes his account, maybe the website ceases to exist or a simple change in the url renders the old links to the content in question invalid.

I ran into this kind of problem a lot, especially after that one time I lost a bunch of mp3s due to my own stupidity and a lack of proper backups. My attempts to get a hold of particular dj-mixes I once possessed often ended in a 404.

A new piece of technology called the Interplanetary File System or IPFS tries to solve this problem and deliver the vision of a Permanent Web. The permanence is achieved, because every user that has a particular file in its IPFS-directory is sharing it with all other users (similar to bittorrent). Therefore as long as only one user has a file, the file is available to everybody.

Another advantage is that this design doesn’t have a central server as bandwidth bottleneck. The decentralized nature allows for potentially much higher download speeds. Over bittorrent the IPFS has the advantage that files are versioned similar to files in a GIT repository. This should make it easy to get new improved versions of a particular content.

The creators have set their aims high: “IPFS is becoming a new major subsystem of the internet. If built right, it could complement or replace HTTP. It could complement or replace even more. It sounds crazy. It is crazy.” (quoted from project description on github)

I am really looking forward to this distributed vision of the internet, among other reasons because it might help me rediscover lost recordings of obscure dj-sets.

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