What is Holochain and why does it matter?

In this video, Holo/Holochain co-founders Eric Harris-Braun and Arthur Brock and ICO Project Lead Jean Russell explain what Holo and Holochain are and why it matters. Additionally Jamie Klinger explains the finer dimensions of Holochain in the post below:

Holochain : The Blockchain picks up a Dimension

Jamie Klinger: Bitcoin’s central mechanism — the Blockchain — is a monumental achievement in computer science. And from that central achievement, many other cryptocurrencies have emerged attempting to improve the model in one way or another. Holochain has come along to further decentralize, maximize efficiency, and allow for all types of interfaces and applications to be built with it.

Holochain harnesses the parallelism of BitTorrent to power fully distributed apps.

Holochain is a data integrity engine for distributed apps

An Engine is “a machine with moving parts that converts power into motion.” (Source: Google)

Data Integrity is what blockchains and torrents have been doing. They make certain that the data on my computer is the same as the data on your computer. They make certain that the order of the data is exactly the same, otherwise there would be a malfunction.

Distributed Apps are apps that run locally on your personal device (as opposed to in the cloud).


centralized app like Snapchat offers you a small file (the app) to download that sends data through centralized servers.

A decentralized app like TenX runs on a decentralized blockchain (Ethereum).

distributed app would run locally on your personal device and would offer peer-to-peer connections.

So if Snapchat were a distributed app, you and your friends would all have the (d)app on your phone, and when you send a photo, it would be sent directly to your friends and only to your friends. No intermediary servers. No intermediary blockchain.

Another way of seeing distributed apps are as scripts (executed code) that hook into distributed databases, compiling data.

Holochain allows you to build interoperable apps for communication


If you want to build a Twitter clone on Holochain (which, incidentally, its core team has already started, and it’s called “Clutter”), you decide on the rules for message size, hashtags, and whatever other parameters are important to you. Maybe you decide that for your specific Twitter app, it is crucial to segregate posts by the person’s color preference, so in the creation of your app, you hold a sign-up requirement for people to share their favorite color.

Now, when you post a poll and people begin to respond, you can have their answers sorted automatically by the respondent’s favorite color.

Ok, so you made Twitter with color preferences, we’ll call it Color-Twitter. That’s not the most useful feature in my opinion, so I make a poll asking people to vote on a more useful parameter and gather statistical information. The group votes and they choose age. We then request to the creator of the app to add in this parameter to Color-Twitter. Here’s what happens next.


The app creator likes your idea

Congratulations! The app creator wants to integrate your update! They build the new functionality into the app, but since it is a distributed system, everybody who is using the platform needs to download the latest version.

The founder will run both versions (and hopefully many people will do the same to facilitate the transition) where the users who have upgraded will leave one final tweet saying, “I no longer post here. Find me as HonestlyJamieK on ColAge-Twitter, follow this link.”

Some users may choose to stay behind and continue using Color-Twitter. They will not be able to interact with ColAge-Twitter accounts. But it could be possible in the future that ColAge-Twitter accounts can interact on the old chains of users still running Color-Twitter. This is because the parameters for Color-Twitter have been met by all users, but the parameters of ColAge-Twitter have not been met by all users.

Color-Twitter can only exist as long as there are users running that specific app. If all of Color-Twitter users go offline and/or upgrade to ColAge-Twitter, it will no longer be accessible.

Users who have chosen to use ColAge Twitter are now required to register their age before being able to join..

Once Ceptr — a parent project encompassing Holochains and related tech that would further simplify interoperability — is integrated, it could be fully possible that if another application already holds the information required by this app, Color-Twitter could automatically make a request for access to this parameter. This can be looked at a little bit like an auto-fill feature. In other words, by filling out your age once, you might never have to fill it out again, you would only need to approve access to that information by a specific app that you downloaded.


The app creator does not like your idea

If the creator does not believe that this is the vision of their system, they can refuse to upgrade and remain with Color-Twitter.

Now, the same thing happens as before except that the founder of Color-Twitter is the one who is left behind. I can take the original app’s code, fork it, add the parameter of age, and launch it in holochain as my separate app. People can now use my app to broadcast tweets too if they choose.

Just like in the other example, if my new app follows all of the rules of the Color-Twitter, when someone broadcasts on the ColAge-Twitter app, they can (if they choose) simultaneously broadcast on the Color-Twitter app. As long as the rules of all the apps validation rules (color for Color-Twitter, color+age for ColAge Twitter) are met, you can broadcast across as many apps as you are running; the holochain-equivalent Facebook, Flickr, Slack, etc.


Distributed, not decentralized

Want to post on the Color-Twitter? I hope you’re prepared to share the network load. Holochain apps will be light enough to run on your cell phone and will be efficient enough to only be grabbing the information you request at any given time.

If the system was decentralized, we would require upgraded nodes for ColAge-Twitter to be able to run. With a distributed system, it is entirely individualized and is up to the user base to voluntarily follow along. However, if your dApp is financially sustainable and you want to provide your users with access without requiring them to maintain a shard* of the system, there will be an opportunity for dApp maintainers to run nodes/servers.

*Each app consists of a series of shards distribted across the userbase sharing the serverload, comparable to torrent functionality


Lyft & Uber vs La’Zooz & Holochain

La’Zooz was a blockchain-based ridesharing app. It functioned as a self contained system. The network was supported by its mobile app users running the app and earning tokens, who were supported financially by token purchasers, which worked by having drivers accept the tokens. They completely removed the middleman that is Uber. While that project itself has fallen to the wayside, the idea of it seemed completely obvious to anybody who has ever played with blockchain — and it won’t be going away.

Why pay a middleman when the system can be taken entirely out of the hands of a corporation? There actually are a number of very important reasons why Lyft and Uber need to exist today and why the blockchain isn’t ready for them just yet. There are legal challenges, security issues, insurance requirements, etc., that make a purely peer-to-peer system for ridesharing a bit out of reach. But in a few years, we can expect smart contracts to enter the equation and solve many of these problems.

Decentralized and/or Distributed reference systems are right around the corner. We can create parameters for verification of proper insurance, background checks, and any other requirements for potential drivers. This would function similarly to a smart contract, allowing for users to move through to the next level of verification once accepted through the former.

And once the Uber-clone is up and running, somebody can decide to fork it and generate an eco-friendly version which would only support drivers using electric cars. Eco-Uber might cost more, but it would offer a new parameter to its participants.


There Are Too Many Apps!

After Eco-Uber started, somebody created Red-Uber for red cars and Blue-Uber for blue cars. If the driver is subscribed to the Mass-Join-Drivers App, and fits the appropriate driver parameters, they can automatically (with permissions) becomes a driver for all of the latest apps.

For users, imagine someone now has a list of options to choose from (Red-Uber, Blue-Uber, etc) and it’s just too many unimportant choices for them. They don’t care about who drives them from point A to B, they just want to get there quickly.

Just like with Color-Twitter and ColAge-Twitter, if you as a broadcaster meet all of the requirements, you can broadcast to whomever you like, even multiple applications simultaneously.

So the user sends out their lift request to all of the appropriate driving apps. Once the first driver responds to the call, it will ping the user and then automatically cancel all of the other lift requests.

Holochain is like having access to all of the capabilities of all of the Internet apps simultaneously without needing an API, because the languages are entirely compatible. Holochain is the equivalent of having an IFTTT layer built underneath the entire Internet.

It is important to note that some of the deeper features described in this article will require self-describing protocols which have been built into Ceptr, a highly related but (currently) separate sister project.


The Ultimate Dashboard

Today, we are forced to settle for what Facebook’s algorithm decides to show us. Our capabilities for manipulating our feed are extremely limited. With Holochain, we are only limited to the parameters set by the applications. And if you and your friends don’t like those parameters, you can change them with a forked app!

And because the information exists on a layer on top of the app and isn’t held proprietarily, you can mix and match your feeds to your heart’s content. I might create dashboards for all different circumstances and be able to jump between them seamlessly. Everything dog-related from all of my app channels from users who have posted at least 10 times could be one of my dashboards. All pizza-related posts by users with a high reputation level who live within 10km of me could be another dashboard.

Because the information isn’t forced to sit uniquely in each application, the end user can create a customized experience with the parameters of their choosing. The possibilities for data mining and consensus building are endless. End the data-monopolies of Facebook and Google. If we choose to use Holochain, we choose how our information is shared and empower the commons to utilize it for collective growth and understanding.


Lead image: https://www.pexels.com/u/invisiblepower/

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