travis vachon

on avalanches and coops

I lived in Ithaca, New York for about five years. I was working remotely for a Bay Area tech startup writing Ruby on Rails webapps and distributed systems in Clojure and was used to tech meetups in the Bay Area so I found the local group in town and started going to "Ithaca Web People" meetups. At the time they seemed a lot smaller and a couple years behind the kind of tech talks I heard in San Francisco, but they ended up containing seeds of revolutionary potential that have quickly taken over my entire life.

Cooperative Technology

Ithaca is the birthplace of CoLab Cooperative, a group of cooperatively-minded technology and business professionals who've been running a cooperatively owned-and-operated digital agency building web and mobile applications on a shoestring budget for values-aligned organizations around the world. I met some of their member-owners at an Ithaca Web People meetup and was soon renting office space from them, co-working, sharing emacs tips and grabbing coffee with folks I could talk shop with - something I'd been dearly missing as a graduate student husband working from home a mile up a hill from downtown Ithaca.

Years later after moving back to the Bay Area I attended an event in Oakland called "User Worker Owner" after going to an event about tech cooperatives, and realized it was hosted by the very same CoLab, whose member-ownership included Oaklanders. I reached back out to my friends from co-working in Ithaca days and within a month or so was actively working on new projects for CoLab, building web and mobile applications on the latest generation of tech. My experience working CoLab's clients directly informed the work I've been doing with itme and as I'll discuss here in the future feels like a core building block of the bright new future I see coming for all of us on the World Wide Web in the coming decades.

Avalanche Consensus

At one Ithaca Web People meetup I met a man named Emin Gün Sirer, a professor of Computer Science at Cornell who studied blockchains. At the time (roughly 2012) this was still very new technology, but Professor Sirer presented some very sophisticated critiques of some of the most popular chains and of Nakamoto consensus in general. His critiques, in part, contributed to a general lack of interest on my part in the first wave of crypto - neat tech for sure, but between Professor Sirer's critiques and my own understanding of quantum computers and the threat they pose to classical encryption I was skeptical they had staying power. I later regretted not mining Bitcoin when I heard about it in 2010, but never connected my hesitation to this talk until later.

I followed Prof Sirer for years on Twitter, and watched as he attained a large following as an important voice in the Bitcoin community, frequently telling the community things they didn't want to hear backed up by rigorous research and documentation. What I didn't notice was that during this time, Sirer and his research team at Cornell were hard at work designing a next-generation consensus algorithm designed to avoid some of the shortcomings of the mechanisms that power Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin and the wilderness of other cryptocurrencies that seem to be creeping into every corner of our society.

The new consensus algorithm is named Avalanche, and Sirer and his team at Ava Labs have been hard at work building the community and tools to showcase the power of their invention. They've named the open source platform they've build around Avalanche consensus Avalanche as well, and it provides the cleanest and most interesting user experience I've ever seen in the crypto space and my head is buzzing thinking about the different tools and digital artifacts we might build to complement and coordinate personal online datastore hosting at itme.

I'm very excited about this new tech from a number of different angles I hope to address in this space soon, but for now I'm happy to connect on Twitter with anyone interested in chatting more about Avalanche.

Snowflakes

Reflecting on these two threads that grew out of this seemingly minor part of my life I'm grateful for the grace to recognize these unique seeds in the people and places I connect with every day. May I never miss the radical potential of whatever moments I find myself in this week!