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March 2, 2021

Meet the Founders

How Decentralized Storage Is Changing the Game with Arweave and ArDrive

Featuring

Sam Williams is co-founder and CEO of Arweave, which allows users to store data permanently. Phil Mataras is CEO of ArDrive, which is building on top of the Arweave Network. Both joined host Paul Gordon for the Coinscrum Meet the Founders Series to discuss decentralized storage. 

Sam encountered bitcoin for the first time in 2010, at which time the price was around USD 0.03. He really started to pay attention when the “magic internet money” passed USD 1. By 2012, he started mining activities in his university dorm room and even set up a mining rig between the machines in the computer science department, which mined crypto at night when the computers were otherwise idle. 

He invested in the Ethereum ICO, which was also one of the tokens that he mined. The USD 20 he invested in the ICO turned into USD 20,000. Somewhere along the way, he started doing a Ph.D. in distributed operating system design, which at the time was more BitTorrent than bitcoin.  

For his part, Phil started out with his computer science degree but went into the world of consulting and enterprise IT, where he managed teams of developers and was a system administrator for a while. He was focused on collaboration, document management, storage and deployed an email platform or two. 

In 2017, Phil started learning about Ethereum. The concept around the blockchain and the world computer drew him in. He started mining it and went the route of building a GPU miner. But the purpose of being part of the network still hadn’t clicked. 

That’s when he found Arweave. As a fan of decentralized networks in general, Arweave really struck him. He couldn’t participate in the ICO because he is based in the U.S. but he was able to look into mining and understand how the actual node and technology works. While he had some familiarity with massively parallel networks and distributed systems, he really wanted to dig into it. 

(10:20) That’s when Phil set up his first miner, and he really enjoyed working in the community as well, where he felt a sense of belonging. He was a miner for a couple of years on the network and after coronavirus decided to make a change. Being so passionate about what Sam and the team were trying to do with Arweave, he decided to switch what he was doing, leave the classic enterprise IT world and build something of his own. 

(11:00) “So that’s where we took all the tools and all the patterns that Arweave gives developers and we put that into our app, ArDrive. It’s a simple file-sync app. We want it to be intuitive, easy for the users to just get their data permanently on Arweave. That’s what I’ve been focused on really for the last eight to 10 months or so and building that out. So it’s cool to be a part of the bc industry as opposed to just a speculator,” said Phil. 

Foundational Layer and Permaweb

Arweave has been operational for several years now, and it’s not just storage they are focused on. They are building the tools for the wider ecosystem so people can develop all sorts of apps and storage is an essential part of that. 

(12:41) The foundational layer is the outward protocol. Basically, it does something that nothing else will allow you to do, and that’s on-chain storage that scales. The idea is to hone in on information and storage for interesting use cases for blockchains. Sam is a fan of decentralized temporary storage projects but he doesn’t see them as competitors because what Arweave is building is something completely different. 

(13:13) “If you want to store a piece of information permanently, forever, replicated in hundreds if not thousands of places across the world, then Arweave is the thing to use. There really isn’t any other competition in that area,” said Sam. 

On top of Arweave’s base protocol layer, there’s a collection of protocols that make up the permaweb. This is key to the Arweave project. All the information stored inside the Arweave network is exposed to web browsers. What this allows you to do in practice is not just store documents and make them easily accessible for people but also to build full applications. You can query the network as a database, and there are indexes that allow you to ask questions. 

(15:15) “There is really nowhere on the internet that is public property, Yet the original premise of the internet if you go back to what people were excited about in the 90s, it was the permissionless nature of it, the idea that anyone can participate and they could say what they like or have spaces which are inhabited by people that govern themselves. But that was never actually possible, ” said Sam. 

Decentralized web applications allow you to take the power that was once necessary to be in a single person’s hands and put it in the collective hands of the community. Smartweave is another protocol that is built on top of the base layer. It’s a smart contracting system that Phil now uses to express DAO, in which people stake and receive voting power. 

(18:10) It’s absurdly easy for an existing web developer to come and build on Arweave, Sam said. The web application is built on HTML CSS javascript. If you want to build a smart contract, you can actually do it in javascript if you really wanted to. Most people do. Arweave uses the lazy evaluation system.

ArDrive Full-Steam Ahead

(21:01) One of the key fundamental values of the Arweave network is storing files and data there. Given Phil’s background, he’s dealt with setting up systems for collaboration and file storage. It clicked that Arweave could be used for something like your drop-box, G-drive, and similar type of functionality. That’s how he created the idea of a drive on which you can keep things on Arweave. 

21:42 – “That’s what started it. My background was in that and, I saw this really unique opportunity to take advantage of a very unique network to build this permanent file storage layer or application, and really the goal was to get it in the hands of everyone,” said Phil. 

Another differentiator is that a lot of web 3 type-apps cater to a specific type of user. Arweave is different in that it is really easy to explain to a non-blockchain type person. You store your data on a blockchain. It’s permanent and you can’t delete it. A lot of people resonate with that and understand the use cases, and that’s the group of people they are trying to target. 

(23:10) It was quick for Phil to take the idea and turn it into a product. Once that happened, they just went full steam ahead with a web application. They want to deploy it on a native mobile app and desktop apps to do the watching of an actual folder so users can synchronize their data up and down. The fact that Arweave provided the basic tools to start with let the gears spin really fast for Phil to come up with the rest of ArDrive. 

User Experience

(25:08) There are two pieces to the Arweave user experience. One is that to use ArDrive or any other Arweave app, you need the AR token to upload data. So the first challenge is making it easy for the person to get the token. That’s one of the things that they have been working on is to get a nice little widget where you can use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or a credit card to stock up your wallet in a trustless way. 

The second piece is user identity, so the wallet and the private key. That’s how they identify users in ArDrive and how most of the apps identify users. It’s tricky because users have different wallets. They are working on better solutions for that, something equivalent to MetaMask for Ethereum or even simpler. For the next few months, they are focused on getting the user log-in piece really nice.

Mining Network

(28:37) To contribute to the network, you need a hard drive and you need to download the data. And SSD would probably be effective. A new mining system will be in place shortly, which will move much of the work from CPU power to storage.

You don’t have to stake a huge amount and you don’t have to have mass amounts of RAM, Sam explained. You do need a competitive CPU. The more you invest, the more you’re going to earn on that front. The same goes for SSDs. There’s going to be a ratio of expenditures on CPU and hard disks — the more you spend on CPU, the more you’re going to have to spend on multiple replicas of the data. Otherwise, you’re going to saturate that link between the two pieces of the puzzle that are required to do the work.

(29:50) “It’s pretty easy, frankly relative to the others….You just replicate as much of the data you can, which is what the node will do by default,” said Sam.

If you’re a developer who wants to get involved, the community is exceptionally open. Just come along and start talking to people, develop a discord server and in a matter of minutes you’ll have some interesting ideas to go hack on.

(30:44) “Arweave is probably one of the more forward-thinking communities when it comes to UX. In fact, the developers building applications, all they talk about when they come to me is ‘hey, how do we make the UX better? How do we make it so that people can get on board with the ecosystem easier?’” said Sam.

Roadmaps

As for the roadmaps of both projects, a new gateway software is being worked on, called Amplify. It should help from the perspective of serving data on the network.

(37:) “I think that’s going to be a huge boon for the network, all the apps that are being posted there. For ArDrive, we’re already looking at running our own gateway just so we can tune it for our data,” said Phil.

In the next couple of months, ArDrive wants to release its native mobile app and desktop app. They just expanded the team to work on bigger things, including the rebranding of the user experience, tying in the fiat on-ramp piece and introducing more features down the line. They want to get it to a reasonable parity with the files and storage that you probably use today.

(4:34) Arweave sees its job and the way it can really add value is being the investor connector for a lot of these early-stage projects. They run an incubator program where they take founders with good ideas and take them through the process of getting established as a project and getting to their first capital raise. This allows them to quit their day job and do this full time, which is happening more and more in the ecosystem. It is incredibly fulfilling to watch, said Sam.

Visit Arweave.org and Ardrive.io for more information

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Gerelyn Terzo
Gerelyn caught wind of bitcoin in mid-2017 and after learning about the peer-to-peer nature of Satoshi's creation has never looked back. Previously she covered institutional investing and fintech for several major trade publications. Gerelyn resides in Verona, N.J.

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