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The Big Interview

Loki’s Simon Harman: Blockchain space needs patience, honesty and responsibility

Coin Rivet chews the fat with Simon Harman, Co-founder of Loki, an Australian-based privacy network which uses blockchain technology to promote private and decentralised communication and transactions

Coin Rivet: Tell us about yourself and Loki.

SH: I lead the team at the Loki project. We’re building a suite of privacy tools for internet users to keep their communications, transactions, and internet access secure, private, and censorship free.

Using our network of user-run Service Nodes, the Loki network will provide a variety of features, such as the Loki Messenger, an end-to-end encrypted, decentralised messenger that uses the network to store messages offline and to route messages and packets in such a way that prevents anyone bar the recipient from knowing that you sent a message in the first place, let alone what was in it.

Using the same network, we will be able to offer users the ability to connect to the internet without revealing their IP address. This network is similar to the Tor network with a few distinct advantages, including support for both TCP and UDP, and a sybil attack resistant node network, thus increasing the difficulty of surveillance on the network.

Coin Rivet: Why is Australia a significant player in the blockchain space?

Australia has above average representation in the blockchain space. I think this is largely because we had a very high rate of adoption during the between 2013 and 2015, where many stores in Melbourne and Sydney started accepting Bitcoin. The people that are still around from that era have a significant amount of experience within the space, and through the various communities that can be found in the major cities, a small but significant ecosystem has emerged.

In recent years, there has been a strong and steady stream of entrepreneurial Australians that have established a foothold in the blockchain industry. However, despite this, I wouldn’t say that Australia has a particularly strong development culture, the majority of Australians that I know within the blockchain space do business development, investments, marketing, and so forth, although there are notable exceptions.

Loki is one of the few projects in Australia with high developer output that doesn’t rely largely on overseas developers. Although there are a few Americans on our development team, most of us work out of our Melbourne office.

“There’s a great deal of projects that have blown a lot of money on nothing and are failing to attract the talent required to build the elaborate products and platforms that they promised to make a reality. The blockchain industry in the last couple of years truly has been like the dot-com bubble in that regard”

Coin Rivet: What is the significance of the blockchain centres in Melbourne and Perth?

The Blockchain Centre in Melbourne has been the primary meeting place for people interested in blockchain technology since it opened in 2014. People have come and gone over the years, but literally thousands of people have come through the doors of the Blockchain Centre since its launch. The blockchain meetups that have been run there have been critical springboards for many the people that now work in the industry around Melbourne.

Personally, I haven’t visited the Blockchain Centre in Perth, but I am hopeful that it will serve as a valuable resource and educational hub for aspiring entrepreneurs and developers the blockchain sphere. Good meetups are vital for the growth of local blockchain ecosystems, and I hope that the new centre in Perth serves the community as the Blockchain Centre in Melbourne has done here.

Coin Rivet: What needs to be done to further the development and application of blockchain technology?

It’s not money, and it’s not hype. It’s not even adoption. At the moment I think many of us are still trying to work out what users are actually going to be interested in. I don’t think people realise that blockchain technology is still very new. I’d say in comparison to what we have seen in the last couple of years would be the kind of thing we look back on as we do Netscape and AOL today.

The projects that raised money over the last couple of years now need time and talent to build their products, and those that have built them need to ask themselves if users are actually interested in what they’ve built.

There’s also a great deal of projects that have blown a lot of money on nothing and are failing to attract the talent required to build the elaborate products and platforms that they promised to make a reality. The blockchain industry in the last couple of years truly has been like the dot-com bubble in that regard.

The market now needs patience, and project teams need to learn how to be fiscally responsible and be honest to themselves about what they’re doing. Only through steady and skilled hands will we see the biggest use cases, the most adoption, and the best products in the blockchain industry come to the fore.

Coin Rivet: How do you respond to those who label blockchain all hype and no substance?

It may certainly look like it from the outside, especially given the antics of some industry actors in the last couple of years. However, progress is always being made, regardless of the headlines. Actual usage of blockchain technologies is steadily increasing, and research into privacy, novel cryptography techniques, and new blockchain designs is coming out on a regular basis.

If nothing else, blockchain technology has spurred and funded the research and development of a number of ancillary technologies such as zero knowledge proofs and homomorphic encryption that could have a huge impact on the world of computing even if the blockchain itself loses prominence.

Those that do label blockchain technology as all hype and no substance must not understand what an incredible piece of applied cryptography the blockchain really is. I would wager that the blockchain itself will not be the ‘killer app’ in and of itself, but will form the basis of larger systems that will have a great impact on the world.

“The market now needs patience, and project teams need to learn how to be fiscally responsible and be honest to themselves about what they’re doing. Only through steady and skilled hands will we see the biggest use cases, the most adoption, and the best products in the blockchain industry come to the fore”

Coin Rivet: What is your take on future trends for the global blockchain space?

In terms of the market, we will continue to see weaker projects gradually cut away as general interest in cryptocurrencies continues to stagnate. I think that unlike this year with stablecoins and STOs making a whole lot of noise, things will be pretty quiet on the ‘trends’ front in 2019.

Meanwhile, those that are left will have some time to iterate on their ideas and build products that people will actually find useful, especially if it doesn’t require buying some arbitrary token in the process.

As a result of this gradual iteration, public interest will pick up once again and I am quite comfortable saying that another explosion of retail investment will strike the cryptocurrency market at some point in the next two to three years. The cycle of booms and busts caused by retail investment has been quite predictable since 2011, and I see no fundamental reason why that will change.

In the background, irrespective of the daily volatility, endless media drama, ‘regulations’ that never come or have little fundamental impact, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated, intelligent, and passionate software engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs quietly doing excellent work, day in and day out – eventually launching products which will genuinely change the world.

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