Today, when you are first exposed to Status, you might see an instant messenger and wonder, "What's the big deal? After all it’s just another instant messenger right? What makes Status different and more importantly why should I bother working on it?"
If I had to answer in one word, I would say Decentralization.
Now, that word might not have much meaning to you - it might even sound like a buzz word - but in our context, Decentralization has the potential fundamentally to change the way we organize socially and to rebuild the Internet as it was originally imagined - a commons for innovation. By decentralizing all the things, we are changing the very foundation of civilization, providing a new infrastructural base that impacts everything else above, from our greatest institutions to our daily social interactions.
Status is our gateway to this new world. Let me explain.
Why I got into Ethereum?
At the time of writing I am 31. I was lucky enough to be born in the developed world and am old enough to remember a world where internet and personal computing wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. I, like you, had a front row seat to the birth of the Internet and perhaps like you, I spent the majority of my childhood with networked computers. The idea of instant, cheap and global communications was a given, and this is the lens through which I viewed the world.
It wasn’t long before I began to start observing my environment and the ways we collectively decided to do everything; whether that was in school; seeing my parents jump through hoops around taxation; dealing with receipts; banking; voting; dealing with car registrations; and even setting up companies. I didn’t understand why things were like this, having grown up with the Internet - all of it seemed senselessly tedious. Couldn’t we do this all online? Wouldn’t life be better if we could do this from the comfort of our homes? Imagine how much time we’d save and how precise things would be! No more waiting in line, never-ending form filling or traveling great distances just to see a person who tells you ‘no’.
This is my firsthand experience with a concept called transaction costs. It took me a while to realize these monolithic, lumbering and inefficient institutions was actually the best we could do. That all these needless jobs and their apathetic attitudes, these pens that barely worked, the paper torn from some rainforest, were all just symptoms of operating the machinery of civilization. These dry, boring, legal systems are what enabled us to scale collective organisation beyond tribes. They allowed us to build religions, nations, and corporations and are the very foundation of all our modern accomplishments. Bureaucracy allowed humans to begin to exploit the division of labour, maximizing the surface area in which we explore the natural world.
In fact low transaction costs are so fundamental to economic growth, it is expected that just a 0.1% reduction in transaction costs quadruples a country’s wealth — the difference between Argentina and Switzerland. Source: M Kovac and R Spruk (2015)
Twenty years later, everyone in the developed world is connected to the internet, they have more powerful computers in their pocket than existed in buildings forty years ago, and yet the bureaucratic systems are still largely unchanged. People go through life thinking they are as constant and unchanging as the ground they walk on, or the air they breathe. Even with yesterday’s technology, we could make the shift to digital world, but it seems our current systems are setup to expand their bureaucracy with minimal increases in efficiency. There is little attempt to scale intelligently with our population and demands. People are starting to see institutions buckle under increasing complexity, and their legitimacy is starting to be questioned.
What's more is the 'developed world' only encompasses a small fraction of our global population. The vast majority of trade is done in ‘dark markets’ and the vast majority of people are in 'third world' countries, with governments that have larger corruption issues than our own. These populations are side-stepping desktop computers in favour of mobile first, just as they sidestepped landlines. Need they to follow in our exact footsteps? Quite assuredly, the answer to that is no. A better question would be: how can we simultaneously upgrade our systems and provide people with less access to technological infrastructure with modern networks that are corruption-resistant, cheaper, less bureaucratic and more efficient?
Bitcoin, like most people, was my first taste of a paradigm shift. The first widely-adopted crypto-economic mechanism that provided the legal abstraction of money. It had effectively created programmable, digital scarcity by providing a solution to the double-spend problem. Furthermore, it had created the Blockchain, a socially immutable database that could operate in hostile environments - a.k.a. the public domain - but with a fixed set of operations. Bitcoin had provided fair and inexpensive access for anyone wanting to participate and left a history that anyone could independently audit. Tamper-proof technology flies in the face of book-burning power regimes. It allows people to send value through the internet without an intermediary, without questions or gate-keeping, privately and securely - eroding the top down control of institutions.
Then Ethereum came along, replacing a fixed instruction set and minimal scripting language, moving away from “stored procedures” and replacing it with a Turing complete Virtual Machine. With Ethereum, the Blockchain became a world computer, capable of running Smart Contracts (arbitrary code), for a price. This incremental innovation opens the flood gates on what’s possible with Programmable Money.
We are witnessing the birth of a new trustless medium in which to execute not just code, but law. We’re giving anyone who is willing to participate fair access to not just create new policies that can be used between friends, but to create new ways of organizing socially that can be deployed instantly and used globally, creating mass movements. We’re moving into a world where the agreements we join are not just defaults based on arbitrary facts like where we were born, but contracts we enter into voluntarily. We can reclaim our sovereignty.
For any of that to happen though, we need to make this technology accessible and ubiquitous for the people. As it currently stands, using networks like Ethereum is largely dependent on a technologist's skillset. That’s where Status comes in. Status' goal is the mass-adoption of the best public Programmable Blockchain which, at the time of writing, is Ethereum mainnet. Private Blockchains gain their strength by resting on the existing legal infrastructure and, while this approach has its merits, private chains do little to move civilization forward, stagnating in their attempt to redesign systems that approximate existing institutions.
If Ethereum is a World Computer, then Status aims to be an Operating System, or Window Manager. It is the visual expression of the Ethereum network, a user-friendly interface between people and machines alike (as Ethereum makes no distinction with it’s address identifiers - Smart Contracts are first-class citizens).
Status provides a way to find and transact with DApps and users.
We are a mobile-first experience. As of 2014 more people are on smartphones and more time is spent on smartphones than laptop/desktops - smartphones are the new personal computer. Status originally started as Web 3.0 Browser, a ‘Mist for Mobile’, and is currently expressed as an instant messenger, as a third of all time spent on a smartphone is within an instant messenger, and instant messengers have the highest amount of monthly active users. This allows us to increase the surface area of adoption, meaning users can interact with Ethereum on a daily basis.
Status should always adapt to how humans interact with their personal computers on both the hardware and software levels. This includes the inevitable change from Smartphones to Mixed Reality devices.
But Status is also more than a product, it is an experiment in organization.
Moving away from Product, to thinking to Networks
Of course, at the time of writing - designing, developing and shipping a high quality Ethereum client is our first and foremost goal, but this is just the expression of a belief in public Blockchains. This belief exists in our collective minds, and together, our collective forms a belief network.
This belief is in mass adoption of a public Programmable Blockchain, or Ethereum, and as such is not bound to Status as a product alone. Our job is to strengthen and grow this network, create the means to govern it, and give birth to new Networks, just as the Ethereum network has given birth to Status. This is the strength of open source development and permission-less participation.
Forks in open source are something of a misnomer, instead code should be viewed more like cultural text for an ideology. ‘Forks’ represent a shift in thought and give rise to new networks of belief.
Open source projects historically have had a hard time to fund themselves. Often they are carried on pure belief alone, by a loose collective of people who found each other through the internet. Often, it is the case they must support themselves by training and consultation (which disrupts and distracts from original belief), or depend on donations from supporters. If successful, maintainers may find that new issues outstrip their ability to offer support, and there is simply no means to scale with their users, except to encourage more developers and work on it full-time, but we all have lives to maintain.
Tokens offer a way to commoditize beliefs and incentivize software users to play an active role in governance and evangelism. This has interesting side-benefits. We hypothesize that these can be used to generate network effects on steroids. If you’re having difficulty with this concept, take a common currency, such as the USD. This is only valuable because both parties believe in it. Their reasons may be varied, but it all stems from the USD's perceived legitimacy - i.e. the particpants belief in the value of that coin - even though today this is increasingly becoming backed by debt, rather than any tangible store of value.
Our role is helping find and testing forms of decentralized governance, to recreate typical functions found in organizations and adapt them to work out in the open, in hostile environments.