Samsung Next said it has backed nine projects that use decentralized ledger technology, or blockchain. The company has given each of those startups a Stack Zero Grant, through a non-equity program that supports early-stage teams building decentralized technologies by providing funding, expertise, and access to the Samsung Next network.
The Stack Zero Grant arose from the company’s interest in supporting volunteers and researchers who are building the infrastructure of the future.
During the application period, Samsung Next received proposals from more than 100 teams. The teams selected cover a wide range of projects, from low-level libraries to decentralized social networks to privacy tools. The one thing they all have in common is that they use decentralization technology to empower individuals and communities.
The projects are:
Mapeo, by Digital Democracy, and PeerMaps are two teams providing tools for decentralized editing, distribution, and syncing of mapping data. The always-connected world has facilitated the rise of centralized services that use computers and smartphones as dumb terminals. It can be easy to forget that there are entire communities that could benefit from technological tools yet are unable to rely on an internet connection to access a centralized mapping service. These peer-to-peer tools allow indigenous tribes in South America to map the territories fundamental to their society, and serve as a reminder of what decentralization can help accomplish.
Mastodon is a federated social network, akin to a decentralized Twitter, that allows anyone to run their own server. Created by Eugen Rochko, it’s the first decentralized social network to really take off at scale. Mastodon instances have become a haven for people looking for a more personal, focused exchange in a network where they are considered participants and not just advertising targets. It’s built on a W3C-recommended standard called ActivityPub, so each instance can communicate with other instances, or with other federated applications.
Samsung Next is also supporting ActivityPub/Spritely. Christopher Lemmer Webber is the co-editor and co-author of the now-ubiquitous ActivityPub protocol. While it provides a great framework for creating, updating, and deleting content across applications, it doesn’t provide any standardized mechanism for secure authorization. Webber will work on extending the protocol in a backward-compatible manner, while at the same time building tools and applications that showcase its use. This will enable developers to build applications and enable richer interactions through a federated standard.
The Dat Project is the umbrella for a series of libraries enabling peer-to-peer communication, such as Hypercore (an append-only/Merkle tree combination) and HyperDrive (a peer-to-peer distributed file system). It also maintains and supports the Dat protocol, which combines properties of Git and IPFS into a unique distribution mechanism. The team has been quietly working on libraries for more than five years, and its tools have enabled others to easily start their own decentralized projects.
The ZoKrates team is building a toolbox to enable the creation of zkSNARKs, a family of zero-knowledge proofs, in a standard way across the blockchain ecosystem and beyond. Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKP) enable individuals to prove statements about data without revealing the data itself, thus enhancing user privacy. However, these proof systems are typically extremely complex and difficult to use. ZoKrates exposes a simple domain-specific language whose syntax is close to Python’s, which simplifies ZKP development and makes it easier to program and reason. In turn, this makes it easier to create privacy-preserving applications, both on and off the blockchain.
The final technical grant went toKatzenpost, which is conducting research and writing libraries for mix networks. The team is building tools to prevent passive eavesdropping that is able to detect who is communicating with whom, while at the same time providing reliable out-of-order delivery. While moving to a decentralized world, the team believes approaches that help defend a user’s privacy against metadata analysis will be fundamental.
Samsung Next is also supporting two teams with opportunity grants:
She256 is a movement dedicated to increasing diversity and breaking down barriers to entry in the blockchain space. It has an approach to inclusion that focuses on mentorship, education, and community, which it seeks to accomplish through a global mentorship program, various workshops, and an annual conference featuring groundbreaking research and innovation.
Simply Secure supports practitioners who are putting people at the center of trustworthy technology by providing workshops for user experience designers, researchers, and developers. The team runs workshops and mentors security practitioners, helping to ensure that technology puts people at the center of privacy, security, and transparency.