A little more than a week after the initial release of Bison Relay (https://bisonrelay.org) we’ve all had some time to learn more about the underlying technology, the design decisions made, and what potential applications we could see in this context.
In this article I want to explore some of the use-cases that seem the most interesting to me, and specifically ones that:
- I haven’t seen discussed a lot yet
- Are very specific to Bison Relay, so that they are not easy to replicate by its competitors.
With that being said, here are 3 potential applications that I could see generating a lot of traction:
DAOs / Digital States / Cypherpunk Corporations
Multisig DAOs are in my view one of the most disruptive technologies that cryptocurrencies enable. They allow any group of anonymous individuals to create their own shared ‘treasury’, and collectively make decisions on how to spend the funds. This is the foundation on which Digital ‘Network States’ and Corporations can be built and it allows for a truly borderless and jurisdiction-free economic activity.
Decred already provides a comprehensive suite of tools for the creation of such digital organizations: we have the ability to create multisig wallets (although not using GUI tools yet), strong privacy through coinshuffle++ (which is essential for the anonymity of DAO members), and interestingly also an on-chain DEX, which, in combination with mutlisig wallets on other chains could one day allow those digital organizations to be actively trading based on collective votes. (Instead of providing single-party addresses for say a DCRBTC trade, the digital organization would provide multisig addresses for both chains where the same members control both multisig wallets. In that way a single DAO could theoretically control and trade multi-coin treasuries).
However, the creation and maintenance of such DAOs as well as the communication between the DAO members require a very secure and private communications platform - similarly to how it was envisioned in ‘The Sovereign Individual’ those digital organizations would be under constant pressure from the legacy states, corporations, or even competing DAOs. It is therefore essential that the exchange of signatures performed between the participants of those multisig DAOs as well as their general communications about the DAO's strategy are performed in the most private, reliable and secure way. Bison Relay is the perfect platform for that. It has a level of privacy and security that I’ve seen described as ‘overkill’ and this is exactly what those digital organizations will need.
Another benefit is that Bison Relay connects seamlessly to Decred wallets, and so I can imagine the entire mutlisig DAO creation process can be smoothly integrated to create a clean and comprehensive UX experience. Additionally one of the best aspects of building all of this on Decred is that it could one day go beyond those simple multisig DAOs and allow for the creation of full fledged DAOs with their own governance tokens that can be traded like 'digital-state passports' or 'cypherpunk stocks'. In fact, through the modularity and opennes of tools like Politeia, Decred has already made significant progress towards that goal.
With all those tools combined I could see the emergence of a new frontier of anonymous digital collectives running global and permissionless ‘Kickstarter campaigns’ for things like fighting authoritarian governments, supporting journalists and free press, providing protection for oppressed ethnic and cultural groups, and many more.
Of course the same technology can also be used for less serious use-cases, like turning a Discord or Reddit community into a micro-state, and Bison Relay will also be a great option for those.
Pirate Bay / Sci-Hub / Z-Library / Soulseek
Since their inception, the Web and digital media have been in a very odd and fragile state. There is this artificially maintained balance where on one hand any file can be infinitely replicated and shared globally at virtually no cost, while at the same time there is a massive effort by governments and corporations to try and make digital data scarce and thus monetizable (mostly by them). Like I mentioned this is an extremely fragile state and needs constant effort from the status quo to maintain the illusion of scarcity.
I believe Bison Relay will be the final nail in the gatekeepers' coffin. Everyone will be able to distribute data in an easy, reliable, anonymous and secure way, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that. At the same time Bison Relay will also allow for a very easy monetization of leaked/pirated content, creating an even more interesting dynamic. In a sense people will be incentivized to be the first ones to make leaked/pirated content available, as they can then monetize it before it spreads and becomes freely available. (In this case the best way of monetizing would be one where the content is only released once a certain threshold of funds is sent to the person releasing the pirated data, like a strange crowdfunding mechanism). This is a use-case that might sound controversial to some, but in my view this is simply inevitable - I’m honestly surprised we’ve lived in a world with corporate control over data for such a long time.
What is interesting to think about is how this will inevitably change the dynamics of the entire digital economy and every creator of digital content will be forced to adjust to this new reality. While this might sound worrying, it has the potential to allow for a very optimistic future, where the gate keepers lose their ability to profit, while at the same time it will become easier than ever for the original independent creators to monetize their content. The monetization will simply become different: with tipping in Bison Relay being as easy as sending a text message, your reputation and support from your audience will become the most valuable asset.
At the same time this new medium will disproportionately benefit small content produces – every big and popular movie, book, piece of music, computer program or scientific paper will be quickly distributed and made freely available, but if you want to say listen to the newest album of your favorite underground artist, or read a cutting edge research paper from some contrarian scientist, chances are you will only be able to get it directly from the source, and so you’ll have to pay the original creator to unlock the content.
A lot of those shifts are already slowly starting to take place even on the current Web (especially the idea of monetizing your reputation and audience instead of the end product). I believe this is simply the natural direction that the digital world wants to go into, and Bison Relay will just be the final frontier.
Off-Grid Mesh Economies
This is a theoretical use-case that might not be the most popular in the very near term, especially in developed countries, but could become increasingly useful as the world becomes more chaotic and adversarial, nation states collapse, and the key internet infrastructure that we take for granted becomes much less reliable. This might seem implausible or even paranoid, but it’s important to remember that those kinds of scenarios are already happening in a lot of places like Iran, India and many others.
A great feature of Bison Relay is that, as long as there is one person in a town or a community who is able to run a server and connect to the larger Decred network (this could potentially be done through long range radio or a satellite), all other members in the nearby area would be able to connect to that server through off grid means, such as LoRa Mesh nodes, and then continue communicating with each other without the need of an internet connection. As a result, entire cities would not only be able to communicate in an efficient, resilient and highly private way, but also build off-grid digital economies - sending payments through the lighting network and paying for goods and services both in the digital and physical realm.
I think this is an interesting possibility that could allow communities globally to become highly resilient to political and economic instability and empower them to protest and secure their freedom and independence much more effectively. Those off-grid economies built on top of Bison Relay could also prove valuable in the events of natural disasters, which can have a similar effect on the infrastructure stability as political chaos.
The three ideas presented in this article are just a glimpse of what will soon become possible with Decred and Bison Relay. In fact it's very possible that those won't even be the major ones. I purposefully omitted some use-cases that could have much more viral potential, like p2p storefronts, decentralized Patreon and many others, as I feel like they have already been discussed a lot. I wanted to focus mainly on exploring new ideas. What I'm certain of, however, is that the implications of Bison Relay are immense, and I'm excited to see what comes next.