This post is longer than usual, but with good reason. This is a great opportunity for us to clear up some of the concerns and comments we have received and to define our strategy moving forward. MaidSafe tries hard to be a very open company so this post is also intended to garner feedback and spark debate. We are trying to change the world after all!
Why is a change needed?
It seems that there is a lot wrong with the world today. The financial system is on the brink of collapse, political corruption, poor distribution of wealth, mass surveillance and oppression all make the headlines on a daily basis. These problems seem overwhelming at times, but we can’t afford to sit back. We need to address these problems together and technology will help us along the way.
Strong technology fails without a strong business model
In terms of technology and invention, we feel that MaidSafe is right at the edge of the level of change we can accept. Dramatically different from anything else out there but close enough that we can start to understand not only how it works, but also the benefits of working in a decentralised way. However, even the best technology in the world will fail, or be delayed, without a cohesive and thought out business model. The need to engage with the world as it is must be done with careful thought. The business model must be developed in the same way that the platform was, with consideration, thorough investigation and execution of a plan.
Patents are not the root of all evil – not always!
At the risk of sounding controversial patents are not totally evil. They were originally set up to allow inventors to be able to profit from their inventions and not intended to be used used as weapons in patent wars that only serve to stifle innovation. We think the true evil here are patent trolls, entities that produce nothing and enforce patent rights in an attempt to secure licensing fees. Economic rent seeking, to put it another way. So, instead of bringing a knife to a gunfight, as our founder would say, MaidSafe has invested significant time and money in a patent portfolio. Some people dismay at this, however, we need to be realistic and if MaidSafe are unfortunate enough to end up in a fight we will be bringing more than knives for sure.
As MaidSafe are operating in such a new and innovative area, the company is afforded several advantages. To be awarded a patent you have to show how you can implement the claims. This means your application should have enough information that anyone versed in the art could reproduce it. As we are the first to create an autonomous network with self authentication and a PKI system that’s implemented in a mathematically complete manner, we have a great advantage over others. We can make broad claims, very broad. This means that we have a patent portfolio, only ever to be used in a defensive capacity, that covers a wide area, something that enables a distributed Internet to exist without fear.
Imagine what would happen if a large incumbent had got this technology and extended and locked it into their own network. A network that allowed no competition and could enhance vendor lock-in, we have all seen that previously, it’s bad for innovation.
Don’t try and take over the world, be part of a new world
So what do you do when you have technology that could disrupt nearly every other company out there? Well the first thing to do is find friends, like minded people to share the initial costs of getting started. These are your seed investors and we were very successful there. Then build your product and think the whole time how this technology could change the world. Stay excited and focussed.
As the technology becomes ready, it’s time to launch your attack on the status quo. Do not run in front of a speeding car or a machine gun nest. Others may not want you to succeed, initially the jealous then later the dangerous. It’s time to find more friends. These people take you to the next stage. For MaidSafe, these friends are all the projects, people and companies who will help build the decentralised Internet.
One of the things you must do for your friends is to include them at the final stages of the launch. When all the wrinkles are flattened, when the bugs are under control and you have a working system. They should not need to consider the risks involved in getting your product ready, they have their own battles to fight and you need to supply the ammo. MaidSafe supplies its customers with an amazingly powerful armament. That is, technology that dramatically improves customer experiences and provides people with the ability to communicate freely, and to share and store information of all types.
This partnership carries no infrastructure or start up costs and no API keys are required. In short, there is no limit on what can be achieved. As further reassurance, we use the very broad patents to protect the sphere these customers will be operating in. So in the unfortunate event our friends are drawn into a fight, we bring in the heavy artillery. Together we present a larger and more powerful force, enabling us to make changes to the status quo, to decentralise the Internet and to provide security privacy and freedom for all.
What about this dual license thing?
A quandary for many and it’s a shame the licensing system has become so complex. The landscape seems to have become a battle field with opposing forces completely at odds with on another. MaidSafe use the GPLv3 license which is perfectly suited for our use. It allows the code to be protected by a fantastic community, a community that can collaborate and contribute to a code base owned by everyone! If the MaidSafe network is to be the underpinning of the decentralised Internet, it cannot be owned!
The Non GPL license
We need everyone to create decentralised applications, that means; school kids, enthusiasts, tinkerers, open source projects, free projects, community projects, commercial projects…etc… MaidSafe wants an ecosystem that encompasses all walks of life and is completely sustainable. No point changing the world if it only lasts for a day! So if anyone wanted to link our code into their application, for instance, they can, in any way they want. They can statically compile our code and we don’t care, we just hope they succeed! They can build applications, sell them, give them away, raffle them or bin them. Everyone is welcome and will be supported to the best of our ability. No hindrance, no registration and no hassle.
How does MaidSafe make money then?
Ah, revenue. Universally agreed to be a fairly important part of any for profit business! It’s so important in fact that we have thought about it long and hard. You see profit is important to MaidSafe, but not profit at all costs! Our mantra has always been ‘profit follows value’. Profit is not something to be forced from people and we believe you should always leave something on the table. Greed fails, it always has and always will.
We have two immediate options here and we think they are both very fair:
Option 1: License Fee
As projects running on the MaidSafe platform start to generate revenue (not before) a clause in our license kicks in and 1% of this revenue is paid to MaidSafe. This is a small amount (in comparison to the 30% taken by app stores) and known by the developer in advance. It’s very simple and gives the developer every chance of success. What we especially like about this option is that if a project builds a product and it does not work out for them, i.e. little or no sales, then their investment in terms of MaidSafe is extremely small or zero. That’s fantastic for innovation!
Option 2, Token based system
There is a fantastic paper here that outlines a phenomenally exciting proposition. This is a concept based on utilising systems of crypto backed tokens (or currency if you like). There are many options available here and they all need to be investigated. Essentially, a project like MaidSafe supplies tokens to another project who builds on top of the platform. These other companies then increase the value of their token as they become successful in the marketplace and this in turn increases the tokens that MaidSafe has. So a mechanism to increase wealth, yes, but so much more.
Every company with such a token now sees their value climb as others increase the value of their own business. Now wealth starts flowing and no bankers or third parties were ever involved, it was just some calculations. This means the wealth becomes more evenly and fairly distributed, free from the professional services fees and burdens that we associate with business today. This is at an early stage and many questions still need to be figured out but the prospects are very exciting. We are, with our friends and partners, charting new territory here and the potential for balanced and sustainable growth cannot be underestimated.
What if somebody just steals the code and does not pay or take a token?
Well, our first thought is, we’re glad they stole our code. Our second thought is that they possibly couldn’t afford to pay or maybe the project failed in some way. Those are pretty good reasons and easy to understand. If, however, a project was generating substantial revenue and not paying or increasing the value of tokens then they are a threat to the community. In this instance, the thieves have not only broken a license agreement, they are also outside the protection of our patent umbrella and are infringing on Maidsafe’s IP. So, in addition to their license issue they also have a trading issue to deal with.
As our founder would say, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight!
Where do we go from here. Chaos or community?
Ok, you may have noticed the Martin Luther King Jr rip off in this section’s title. You can get the book here, it’s the least we can do. It’s just a perfect question for MaidSafe. Many think immediately, change equals chaos, whilst others see it as bringing a better sense of community. Change can be very good and nature requires us to keep probing the unknown. So let’s investigate some of that unknown now!
What will the future hold?
This is a particularly easy issue for the decentralised community. The easy wins here are; private data sharing (DropBox, Box, iCloud), video provisioning (YouTube, Vimeo), social networking (Facebook, Twitter), e-mail and messaging. There is a plethora of ‘low hanging fruit’ that would benefit immensely from decentralisation. Ask any of the businesses mentioned if they would like their infrastructure to be secure, reliable and free. The answer is obvious. Now ask their users if they would prefer to not have their identity taken and used in advertisements, or have their activity tracked to advertise to. We know the answer to that one too.
There will be a number of almost endless opportunities to commercialise applications on the decentralised market. Think autonomous distributed intelligence, access to your medical records only when you allow your doctor to see them, Bitcoin with a fully decentralised and scalable block chain (with secure wallets built in) and Worldwide voting systems to name just a few. We’re looking forward to hearing yours!