🔥Crypto Fireside #38— Interviews with crypto people.
🔥Hello! Who are you, and what do you do?
Here we work on a suite of privacy-enhancing technologies, including the Oxen coin which provides privacy in financial transactions, Session which provides privacy in communications, and Lokinet which provides anonymity to the internet. While Session may be a new project in the world of encrypted communications, we’re growing at a steady pace with over 300,000 monthly active users on Session.
🔥What’s your backstory, and how did Session come about?
K: I was studying computer science at a Melbourne-based university in 2017 when I learned about Bitcoin. I started attending local cryptocurrency meetups, which is where I was able to meet the other three Oxen founders. We were all fans of Monero because it provided a level of privacy that wasn’t available with Bitcoin; however, Monero only seemed to handle one aspect of privacy — financial privacy.
We had the idea that a second layer could be built atop a Cryptonote coin, one which would enable decentralized, incentivized, and privacy-enhancing applications like a private messenger (Session), and a new breed of onion routing protocol (Lokinet).
Soon after, I dropped out of university and started Oxen alongside the three other founders.
🔥Describe the process of launching Session.
K: For about two years before the launch of Session, we focused our energy on building out Oxen’s service node infrastructure. This is the part of the Oxen network that handles the temporary storage of Session messages, as well as the onion routing of communications.
This required us to develop a first-of-its-kind blockchain, a proof-of-stake Cryptonote blockchain. This was a tremendous effort of blockchain development, consensus wrangling, and crypto-economic design, which allowed us to bootstrap a network of ~1,800 service nodes and deploy the server-side of Session (though at this point it was still called Loki Messenger).
Now that the service node infrastructure was complete, we could work on actually building out Loki Messenger (now known as Session) — something we wanted to complete in time to demo at Consensus 2019. We managed to hit our deadline, but (much like a lot of decentralized tech back then) the application was extremely buggy. The next six months were spent rigorously fixing bugs in Loki Messenger and preparing the app for launch under a new name, Session.
Session, at launch still had some bugs, and it was also missing a lot of features people would expect from a messaging application. After another three years of hard work adding new features and improving the Session experience, Session has now reached a point where it is recognized as one of the most private and secure messaging applications.
With an upcoming UX/UI refresh, Session will become a class-leading messaging application not only in the world of privacy and security but in usability too.
🔥Take us through your daily process of what it is that you do.
K: A typical day for me usually starts with a few meetings, these might be one-on-one meetings with individual developers, management meetings to ensure we are moving in the right direction, or kick-off meetings to start work on a particular feature.
Once the meetings are finished, I’ll jump straight into a task, which depends on the day, but could be anything from filming a video, writing guides/docs, feature testing on Session or Lokinet, writing papers, and research. It can be anything.
🔥What has worked to attract and retain users?
K: The old adage of ‘build it and they will come’ is somewhat true here.
Session offered features and advantages for the privacy community that weren’t readily available in other encrypted messaging applications. Features like minimal metadata leakage, no requirement for phone numbers or email addresses to make an account, and a decentralized network infrastructure — if you are using a messaging application to stay anonymous or private, these are features you want in that messaging application, and people do use Session for these very features.
Privacy-focused communities can be quite skeptical of new entrants into the space. Which is fair. The longer you’re in the space, the more time you have to earn your place, to prove privacy is at the forefront of your mission, and get the respect of the community and your peers. For these people, security is crucial, which is why we have spent so much time ironing out the bugs to ensure Session is a class-leading secure messaging application.
For the less security-minded people, Session needed to listen to user feedback to learn how people use the app to better build out the UX/UI components. Opt-in market research programs have helped massively on this front.
In addition to all this, the Session social media account is about as fun and playful as it gets, sometimes likened to a privacy-focused Wendy’s Twitter account.
🔥You have several layers of security and privacy. Describe how it all comes together and works.
K: Oxen is a blockchain, the first proof-of-stake Cryptonote coin, but it wasn’t always the case. Oxen started as a fork of Monero, under proof-of-work consensus, before modifying the codebase to enable a proof-of-stake service node network to run as a second layer to the Oxen blockchain. This service node network is responsible for creating new blocks, ordering transactions, as well as the general consensus functions of the blockchain.
Additionally, these Service Nodes can run auxiliary services, such as the Lokinet onion routing protocol, and the Session storage server. These services are exposed to applications like Session and Lokinet, allowing for the storage and routing of data packets and messages.
Overall this creates an ecosystem of privacy-enhancing services at every layer of the stack.
🔥Explain the consensus and incentive mechanism and staking.
K: A few years ago, in preparation for the development of Session, Oxen transitioned from a proof-of-work Cryptonote blockchain to a first-of-its-kind proof-of-stake Cryptonote blockchain. This means that the Oxen service nodes create new blocks, validate transactions, and secure the network.
Our proof-of-stake implementation is called Pulse, if you’d like to learn more about Pulse including how Long Range and Nothing At Stake attacks are dealt with, you can do that here: https://github.com/oxen-io/oxen-improvement-proposals/blob/master/LIPS/LIP-5.md
🔥How are you doing today, and what does the future look like? Let’s talk numbers!
K: Session has been seeing some tremendous growth over the past year or so, with the monthly active user count growing by over 500% in 2021.
As mentioned above, we’re sitting somewhere above 300,000 monthly active users, though this is based on numbers reported by the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store from users who chose to opt-in to Play Store and App Store conversion tracking.
So in reality, the actual user numbers on Session could be far higher than our estimate, as Session user numbers are not something we can calculate accurately due to the nature of the application itself. We hit the 1,000,000 download milestone on the Google Play Store in late 2021, we’ll be trying to hit 1,000,000 monthly active users in 2022.
Oxen’s service node network has also doubled in size over the last 12 months. More nodes mean more decentralization for Session and for Lokinet, and that translates into better security for our users.
🔥Through launching Session, what is something you have learned that surprised you?
K: Messaging applications are extremely complex pieces of software, and users have a very low tolerance for errors in messaging applications. This is understandable, when you send a message, you want it to be sent and then received by the recipient, and it’s frustrating when this doesn’t happen.
Users don’t typically spend a lot of time in messaging apps, which means there isn’t a major time investment from users into the app, minimizing the time that the user may have exposure to bugs. Unless you’re in a big group chat, there’s really no reason to just sit and hang out on a messaging app.
With apps like web browsers or social media, there are a lot more users who spend a lot more time interacting directly with the app, leading to more bugs being found. This is a challenge we definitely underestimated.
Building a simple messaging app is easy. Building a secure, anonymous messaging app that people actually want to use…that’s extremely difficult, but we’re doing it.
🔥What have been the most influential things in your life that affected your project? This can include books, podcasts, or people?
K: For me, the three other Oxen founders have been the most influential forces on the project. We have worked together for over four years now, seeing each other almost every day, with most of that time spent in the same physical location. It has created a very strong bond between the four of us, one that enables us to really explore new ideas and concepts.
As far as getting into the crypto world and learning the basics, the Bitcoin whitepaper and StackOverflow are invaluable resources. If you haven’t spent any time with these, I highly recommend you do. In terms of staying up to date with crypto news, crypto Twitter can be quite fruitful, as it has such a large range of ideas from a huge array of different sources. Filtering through the noise can be tough at times though.
🔥Do you have any advice for other creators, entrepreneurs, or developers who want to get started or are just beginning?
K: Get into the space, join groups, and attend events.
You can learn from the outside, but there’s nothing quite like fully immersing yourself in the crypto world: absorbing different viewpoints, listening to other sects of the crypto community, and you may even make some friends.
There’s so much going on in crypto, in so many areas. Projects are working on identity, decentralized finance, art, communications, gaming, privacy, and more. There just might be something for everyone in crypto, once you find a niche that you vibe with, ingratiate into that community and start getting involved. You can attend events, provide feedback, test software, chat, anything.
🔥Where do you see the blockchain, cryptocurrency, and decentralization space going in the next 5 to 10 years?
K: Increased adoption due to improved scalability.
Most scalability improvements will come through the implementation of ZK proofs and their derivatives like recursive snarks. These allow for proofs of proofs, which is like wrapping millions of proofs into a single fixed-size proof, enabling scalability without having to sacrifice decentralization or security.
🔥Where can we go to learn more?
K: The first place to go would be to download Session and join the Oxen, Session, and Lokinet groups to stay up to date. Outside of that, we have all the usual social channels like Twitter, Telegram, Reddit, etc. which we’ll list below.
If you’d like to chat or have any questions you can find me on Twitter at @JefferysKee, otherwise, you can check out our project pages/profiles.
Github (iOS): https://github.com/oxen-io/session-ios
Github: (Android): https://github.com/oxen-io/session-android
Github: (Desktop): https://github.com/oxen-io/session-desktop
🔥Thank you, Kee!
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