Will Qora solve Bitcoin's biggest problems?

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The blockchain.

Marc Andreesen calls it an invention as profound as "computers in 1975" and "the Internet in 1993." Fred Wilson thinks it's the future of social media. Kim Dotcom wants to build a new global network on it.

And the team behind Qora wants to bring it directly to you—the open source way, of course.

Qora is one of many so-called "second generation" cryptocurrencies emerging in the wake of Bitcoin's unignorable popularity. But Qora is more than a currency. Simply put, it's a peer-to-peer transaction technology; it allows people to exchange digital assets without an intermediary (and in relative privacy).

To do this, it leverages the blockchain. Sure, the blockchain is the beating heart of Bitcoin, the world's most popular cryptocurrency. But Qora developers believe it can power so much more.

Financial transactions, experts suggest, are but one application of blockchain technology. A blockchain is a kind of "public ledger," a transparent record of transactions between parties. No central authority owns or controls this record; it's distributed across entire networks of computers that monitor and maintain it. It allows parties to exchange digital goods without having to trust anyone, including one another. (Blockchain is actually a practical solution to a computer science problem called the "Two Generals" or "Byzantine Generals" problem, which addresses ways multiple parties can achieve consensus in a distributed fashion.) And every one of those transactions occurs with radical transparency—even as the identities of the transacting parties remain private.

Some prognosticators claim the technology will transform not only financial transactions but also any transaction involving a contract. Qora's developers consider their project a critical component in next-generation voting systems, encrypted messaging, automated transactions—and, yes, social networking.

In this interview, one of Qora's core developers—identified simply by the handle "Vrontis"—explains Qora's promise for a truly decentralized Web.

Tell me about Qora.

Qora was founded by qora dev, a user who initially built Qora's entire infrastructure from scratch. He publicly announced the project in March of 2014.

Qora's source code had remained closed from the start—until the founder delivered the whole project to a small team and ceased development. The Qora community took a poll and, along with the founder, authorized that team (of which I am a member) to continue development.

In early 2015 (when the founder went silent), the project was at the point where the integration of automated transactions was taking place on Qora's core. So we issued another poll and asked the community to authorize a small group of developers (again, our team) to proceed with the integration of automated transactions in the absence of qora dev. People voted in favor of this, and the founder delivered the full source code to the team. We took it from there and enhanced the whole network.

What makes Qora a "second generation" cryptocurrency?

Qora's initial features included an asset exchange (with the ability to trade assets directly), a polling feature, arbitrary transactions, and a naming service. Arbitrary transactions are a type of transaction on Qora that allows users to store data on the blockchain—data like text, images, etc. At the moment, we allow a maximum of 100KB size of compressed data per a batch of bulk transactions.

We've also integrated automated transactions and a Turing complete programming language, a smart contracts mechanism founded by CIYAM developers. Performing tasks programmatically on a network backed by blockchain technology represents a new era in computing. The ability to have such functionality available on Qora boosts the whole environment, increasing efficiency and usability.

This automated transactions technology powers Qora's smart contracts feature, which can automatically execute the terms of a contract. A simple example of a smart contract would be an auction, where a user wants to set a product to be sold in an auction that will last for a specific period of time. In May of 2015, we achieved the world's first Atomic cross-chain transfer between two blockchains by using a smart contract that has been created for that purpose. Thanks to smart contracts, Qora users can operate in a trustless environment without the need for a central authority to manage their activities. Payments can now be triggered automatically, businesses can be more efficient, and legal system can be more equitable. Everyone is able to deploy his or her own script, or use existing deployed programs—programs with a variety of purposes, such as funds management and digital rights management. Also, fully automated businesses built around managing valuable property can exist.

We've continued development by implementing a decentralized web, a decentralized social network, file storage, a database management system, a revision control system, and an encrypted messaging service. Using arbitrary transactions and automated transactions expands the blockchain's capabilities. With Qora's decentralized web, we can use both on a single website to retrieve stored data along with the details of a smart contract. To be more specific, here's an example: We can visualize a crowdfunding campaign on a single decentralized website where the details of the project (story, images, comments) will be retrieved instantly along with the existing funded progress (the percentage of funds raised), expiration date, and the participants list.

We've brought these implementations to life with Qora, and they've all been generated by our beliefs. Qora was, from the very first moment, a really innovative project. It has introduced many new features on the blockchain—like polls, for example, where the online voting process is secured with the power of the blockchain. Such accomplishments, among others like the decentralized web, are made in order to secure users, ensure their personal data (no censorship, no third party interferences) and provide a transparent and trustless environment to negotiate and reconcile (hence, no fraud).

Exploring the power of the blockchain is a challenge and, as a team guided by common sense and community, we are hoping to serve users. The combination of features we've devleoped brings us closer to an evolution of the Web, where each resource can be reused seamlessly across the whole network. Qora provides us with a really effective way to handle and solve real world problems in a decentralized manner: using the blockchain.

You say that you've designed Qora "from the ground up to solve Bitcoin's biggest problems." What specific problems does it solve?

As a cryptocurrency written from scratch, Qora is independent from Bitcoin. It differs in many areas and has been enhanced with scalable features, making it a unique platform in the world of cryptocurrencies.

The biggest difference between Bitcoin and Qora is Qora's environment-friendly approach to block generation. Qora generates blocks using proof-of-stake, a consensus-seeking method that does not consume the amount of energy Bitcoin's proof-of-work method does. With less time between blocks (one to five minutes per block), Qora is faster than Bitcoin. (Qora has a block time of one to five minutes, while Bitcoin has a block time of ten minutes).

"Proof of work" and "proof of stake" are two different approaches to reaching a distributed consensus in a cryptocurrency network. Proof of work systems rely on miners, who use specialized hardware with high energy costs for securing the network by solving complex puzzles. Proof of stake systems distribute "mining power" (the probability of a right to generate a block) equally—to shares of holders of the coin. Another difference is that in proof of work systems (like Bitcoin), new coins are generated continually as a reward to miners, making the system inflationary. Proof of stake systems usually create all coins in a "genesis block." So proof of stake systems tend to be rather deflationary. Qora holders and those generating blocks are basically rewarded in the form of transaction fees included in a block, and now, thanks to automated transactions, also in the form of a fixed reward from a common fund.

What makes blockchain technology so promising and exciting to you?

Satoshi Nakamoto introduced the blockchain when inventing Bitcoin. It's a public ledger that holds a record of all the transactions ever made on the network. This was exciting—the very first case of a peer-to-peer payments model, totally decentralized, with a form of a common agreement.

The technology underlying the blockchain can support more things than ordinary payments, and that's what we're trying to accomplish with Qora: proving that blockchain technology can provide more tools to the world.

You've open sourced the Qora code. Bitcoin is also open source. Why are people keeping cryptocurrencies open?

By having such projects open source, you first achieve transparency, which is a problem that needs to be addressed before people start using a cryptocurrency. Clean code matters, especially where personal data are involved. This is how you gain people's confidence.

Also, open source code can be browsed and tested by more people, and in this way it gains more opinions, more solutions, and further growth, because it invites anyone to do their own research on—or apply fixes to—Qora.

How can people pitch in and help the project?

Everyone can use Qora's wallet to start making blog posts, set up profiles, build websites, run businesses, or create applications on top of Qora (in addition to making payments and composing encrypted messages). That's how people can help Qora: by using it as a tool that extends their activities in a decentralized world—a network of users connected across the world with no borders.

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan formerly managed the Open Organization section of Opensource.com, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on Opensource.com since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.

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