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Alpha In Action: An Interview With The AKASHA Project




With over 1,000 identities created during their alpha phase, valuable lessons have been learned and will be applied for the AKASHA Project’s next release(s).

The AKASHA Project, a widely publicized and anticipated Ethereum-based Dapp, has been hailed as the decentralized Facebook-killer of the crypto community.

The brainchild of Bitcoin Magazine creator and Ethereum co-founder Mihai Alisie, AKASHA transcends the current notions of what a social media platform is or could become. AKASHA defines itself as a both a technological and social experiment rather than the next fad of media-sharing channels.

The name AKASHA is an acronym for the Advanced Knowledge Architecture for Social Human Advocacy and “is also the Sanskrit word meaning ‘ether’ in both its elemental and metaphysical senses.” Figurative language aside, AKASHA and its creators have conveyed a spirit of open source exploration into the unknown, facilitating online basic human rights such as freedoms of expression and privacy.

ETHNews spoke with Mihai Alisie to find out more about the AKASHA Project and the state of their functional alpha phase.

ETHNews: Can you describe in your own words what the AKASHA Project is and what the main goals for your platform are?

Mihai Alisie: Let’s give it a try from a different angle—even though the technology behind it is absolutely amazing, I think most people resonate more with the “Why” behind the project.

For example, if we propose the question of: “When you talk to someone, do you want a random person listening in and taking notes?” Most will answer “No” because it would be either awkward, a breach of privacy, or simply creepy. The same goes for many other things which we define as “normal” in today’s society—from self-determination to concepts such as freedom of thought.

The majority of people agree that these rights are very important and that losing them would be unacceptable for our human dignity. With this in mind, we believe that the Internet is just an extension of our reality—the thoughts and ideas we share online are just as real as those shared in the “real world.”

But on today’s Web, we have no rights or control even when talking about basic things like our personal data. Through AKASHA, we want to demonstrate that it is possible to have basic human rights respected online by using a different approach and technology stack.

So you can think of AKASHA as both a social and technological experiment that offers a glimpse of how we can craft a better future for our Web—a future in which freedom of expression and collective memory is not outsourced to corporations, but back in the hands of people.

E: In what country is your current headquarters located in?

MA: Our HQ (AKASHA International GmbH) is situated in the heart of the beautiful Crypto Valley, Zug, Switzerland. This decision was not random and is based on many interactions with the local authorities. The business and legal environment here fosters innovation—people tend to be more open minded than in other jurisdictions when presenting radical new ideas.

If you add on top of this the strong data privacy and free speech of the Swiss tradition, you have everything you could wish for when building a disruptive social network that protects its users’ rights. Starting last year, we expanded our operations in Bucharest and we’re continuing to grow as a group of independent thinkers working under the AKASHA International umbrella.

E: What sets AKASHA apart from other similar platforms?

MA: I believe that AKASHA is one of the first decentralized apps exemplifying the promise of Web 3.0 in a simple but significant way. The logic behind the application and social network is powered by Ethereum, there are no servers, and people can freely share information and value without depending on any particular entity.

“Decentralized” in our case means that everything is done without central servers and that everyone using AKASHA is communicating in a peer-to-peer fashion. This is one of the fundamental differences between AKASHA and other blockchain projects.

Another difference is the approach we took to solving challenges—most blockchain projects start with a token idea followed by theoretical driven research to find and explain the place of tokens in the project—all of this effort culminating into a whitepaper defining “How Things Should Work.”

In my opinion, the main problem with this approach is that designing good token ecosystems is extremely hard—all sorts of weird incentives show up during live usage. It is often the case that people don’t behave or want what you thought they would want in your original whitepaper. In many cases, the technology you are counting on when writing the whitepaper does not work the way you assumed it would. It’s all trial and error.

Instead of starting from a whitepaper on tokens and working our way back to how everything else fits, we started with building a scaffolding in the form of this alpha pre-release that allows for rapid iteration and experimentation for everything, including the token. That being said, every approach has its pros and cons. Time will tell which one is better.

E: Why do you feel that AKASHA is important?

MA: Human rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, creative perpetuity, and privacy are very important issues we have to solve if we are to have a future as a thriving information-based society. In the current status quo, these rights are outright ignored and violated without any consequences to those who are doing it.

I believe it is extremely important to have an alternative. If enough people start caring about something, history teaches us that it all culminates in a change. Social injustices like slavery, racism and sexual discrimination, have only changed as result of people deciding these things are wrong, and protesting or voting to change these particular issues.

This time, however, I think protests will be more invisible and will take the form of people who stop using web services that have been repeatedly reported for spying and manipulating them. The people will stand up and say “You know what?! I had enough!”

With each user making this choice, the dream of having a web in service of humanity becomes more real—the apps and services you’re using will be both your protest and your vote. When enough people make that mental paradigm shift, changes will naturally follow—people from around the world will agree that basic online human rights such as privacy and freedom of expression should be respected. Then it will become “normal” to have privacy and freedom of expression online.

If this tipping point is reached, then corporations will be forced to adapt and improve in order to survive.

E: What specific blockchain is AKASHA utilizing for its platform?

MA: We designed AKASHA as a set of smart contracts deployable on the Ethereum network. Currently we are using a private network with the intention to move on as we go out of alpha. The smart contracts handle the logic and help with things such as the identity, verification, voting and transactions. With so many projects being developed on Ethereum, we see each one as an opportunity for AKASHA to become a common, shared, social layer shared by thousands of Dapps.

E: How will users be able to earn/purchase/spend tokens on the platform?

MA: The current alpha pre-release covers only the basics of social publishing and by no means reflects the “destination” we have in mind for this project. The platform provides a humble starting point on top of which we can iterate and improve together with the community formed around the project.

In its current stage, AKASHA is for the curious who don’t mind occasional bugs and understand that through their involvement they can shape what AKASHA will become. It’s also worth mentioning that we are using test tokens as placeholders until a later stage when we start experimenting more seriously with this area.

In other words, if you’re in it for the money then AKASHA is not the Dapp for you…yet.

E: AKASHA describes itself as censorship free. Is there anything the platform wouldn’t publish?

MA: Compared to traditional social networks that act as “intermediaries” between users sharing information, we do not have any servers. When people “publish something on AKASHA” they are in fact broadcasting a hash pointing into the IPFS (interplanetary file system) and Ethereum network where other peers can access and spread the information.

From this perspective, it is quite different from how normal “publishing platforms” store your content on their servers in order to make it accessible to your friends/followers. When someone would ask us to remove something, we would simply be unable to honor the request since we cannot delete the information from our users. The people using AKASHA are in full control over what they say—we’re merely providing a new kind of canvas on top of which people can freely express their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

E: What is the currents status of AKASHA’s alpha test phase and how can more people get involved?

MA: We have surpassed 1,000 identities created, and learned valuable lessons that will be applied in the next release(s). The overall feedback was very positive and people seem to appreciate our clean design direction.

Those intrigued can get started and test the application by following the instructions in the announcement or by joining our community Slack. But beware, this is just an alpha—bugs, random errors, and glitches should be expected! 

E: What can the public expect from AKASHA 2017?

MA: You can expect anything since this could turn into one of the most impactful social catalyst in the history of the Web, or into a complete failure serving as a lesson for other pioneers creating in this space.

On this note, in a few weeks, we will make public an experiment designed to tap into the community’s collective intelligence allowing for new ideas and insights to bubble up organically. Once identified, the ideas will undergo intense discussion and theoretical assessment in the search for flaws. This is the first part.

Following this, we will take the surviving ideas and start implementing them as proof-of-concepts designed to reveal any weaknesses that were not detected in the first part of the experiment. The strongest ideas that survive this harsh environments are then selected for a final experiment round with details yet to be determined.

I think it will be an exciting experiment because it will showcase a new approach to solving problems—instead of working in silos we can co-create solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts. That’s where the magic happens, and we hope that it will catch on as a model for open innovation in the Ethereum space and beyond.

More details will follow in the coming weeks, in the meantime feel free to check our Slack for feedback, suggestions and ideas!

ETHNews will continue to reach out to AKASHA for future developments and updates to their platform. Interested users can visit the AKASHA website to get involved and help support the community.

Los Silva

Los Silva is a writer and filmmaker who has collaborated with tech and design companies. His interest in Ethereum stems from emerging creative applications that allow artists control of their work through blockchain technology.

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