One cycle ends, the next one begins

Today we’re delighted to announce the release of MultiChain 1.0 into production and the addition of 14 new members to the MultiChain Partner Program. These include two multinational consulting companies: Cognizant and Indra Sistemas, as well as twelve other companies: Aicumen, Bambusoft, Chainfrog, CrimsonLogic, Encrypgen, Hypatia Technologies, Maroon Studios, Medici Ventures, Project Radium, SolarLab, The Apollo Group and Tilkal.

Apart from that, we’re already hard at work developing MultiChain 2.0 and hope to have a first preview release available (with the richer data model for streams) before the end of the year.

More details can be found in the press release below.

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What they are and what they’re not. Probably.

Here at Coin Sciences, we’re best known for MultiChain, a popular platform for creating and deploying permissioned blockchains. But we began life in March 2014 in the cryptocurrency space, with the goal of developing a “bitcoin 2.0″ protocol called CoinSpark. CoinSpark leverages transaction metadata to add external assets (now called tokens) and notarized messaging to bitcoin. Our underlying thinking was this: If a blockchain is a secure decentralized record, surely that record has applications beyond managing its native cryptocurrency.

After less than a year, we stopped developing CoinSpark, due to both a push and a pull. The push was the lack of demand for the protocol – conventional companies were (understandably) reluctant to entrust their core processes to a public blockchain. But there was also a pull, in terms of the developing interest we saw in closed or permissioned distributed ledgers. These can be defined as databases which are safely and directly shared by multiple known but non-trusting parties, and which no single party controls. So in December 2014 we started developing MultiChain to address this interest – a change in direction that Silicon Valley would call a “pivot”.

Two years since its first release, MultiChain has proven an unqualified success, and will remain our focus for the foreseeable future. But we still take an active interest in the cryptocurrency space and its rapid pace of development. We’ve studied Ethereum’s gas-limited virtual machine, confidential CryptoNote-based systems like Monero, Zcash with its (relatively) efficient zero knowledge proofs, and new entrants such as Tezos and Eos. We’ve also closely observed the crypto world’s endless dramas, such as bitcoin’s block size war of attrition, the failures of numerous exchanges, Ethereum’s DAO disaster and Tether’s temporary untethering. Crypto news is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Where we are today and where we’re going tomorrow

Today we’re delighted to release the second beta of MultiChain 1.0 for Linux, Windows and Mac (for now the Mac version requires compilation). This concludes the planned development of MultiChain 1.0 – with the exception of any bug fixes, the final release of MultiChain 1.0 over the summer will be unchanged.

This month also marks two years since the first alpha release of MultiChain in June 2015. As with any new product, we weren’t sure how the market would react, and knew there was only one way to find out – release a minimum viable product, meaning an initial version which provides significant value but is preliminary by design. Thankfully, unlike our first product CoinSpark, MultiChain received a strong and immediate positive response. This was accompanied by a tsunami of sensible feature requests, many of which we’ve now implemented. In parallel to the product’s development, usage has also grown remarkably by every measure. For example, the MultiChain website received under 3,000 visitors in July 2015, and now brings in ten times that number monthly.

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Where flexible thinking is preferable to dogmatism

“The highest good, than which there is no higher, is the blockchain, and consequently it is immutably good, hence truly eternal and truly immortal.”
— Saint Augustine, De natura boni, i, 405 C.E. (with minor edits)

If you ask someone well-informed about the characteristics of blockchains, the word “immutable” will invariably appear in the response. In plain English, this word is used to denote something which can never be modified or changed. In a blockchain, it refers to the global log of transactions, which is created by consensus between the chain’s participants. The basic notion is this: once a blockchain transaction has received a sufficient level of validation, some cryptography ensures that it can never be replaced or reversed. This marks blockchains as different from regular files or databases, in which information can be edited and deleted at will. Or so the theory goes.

In the raucous arena of blockchain debate, immutability has become a quasi-religious doctrine – a core belief that must not be shaken or questioned. And just like the doctrines in mainstream religions, members of opposing camps use immutability as a weapon of derision and ridicule. The past year has witnessed two prominent examples:

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A product development and partnership milestone

Today we’re delighted to announce the first beta release of MultiChain 1.0 for Linux and Windows, after more than two years of intensive development. As we’ve said before, our definition is very specific: "beta" means that there are no known bugs or major shortcomings. So the purpose of the beta period is to ensure than any unknown issues are discovered through our own testing, as well as that of our growing user base.

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Bringing blockchains to the world of science and engineering

Today we’re delighted to jointly announce a collaboration with Wolfram Research, the industry-leading company behind the Mathematica platform and the Wolfram|Alpha answer engine. Over the coming year, MultiChain will be integrated into the Wolfram Language and across Wolfram’s line of products. For example, Mathematica users will be able to store and retrieve data in a zero-configuration private blockchain deployed in the Wolfram Cloud, in their own blockchain running on local MultiChain nodes, or in a chain which combines nodes from both.

We’re particularly pleased with this collaboration because it demonstrates our long-running view that, as a technology, blockchains are in no way specific to the finance sector. The perceived association between banks and blockchains is an accident of history, stemming from the fact that most public blockchains, like bitcoin, happen to enable a new type of money. By contrast, private or permissioned blockchains are a shared database technology, allowing a set of participants or organizations to safely collaborate on a database that crosses boundaries of trust.

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Now available to view, review, compile and fork

Two years after starting to develop MultiChain, we’re delighted to release its source code under the GNU General Public License (GPLv3). The code, along with compilation instructions for Ubuntu, is now available at Github. You are free to browse and review it, compile it for yourself, or fork MultiChain in accordance with the GPL license.

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When chains and blocks serve no useful purpose

About 18 months have passed since the finance sector woke up, en masse, to the possibilities of permissioned blockchains, or to use the more general term, “distributed ledgers”. The period since has seen a tsunami of activity, including research reports, strategic investments, pilot projects, and the formation of many consortia. No one can accuse the banking world of not taking the potential of this technology seriously.

Naturally, the explosive growth in blockchain projects has driven the development of permissioned blockchain platforms, on which those projects are built. For example, our product MultiChain has tripled in usage over the past year, whether we measure web traffic, monthly downloads or commercial inquiries. And of course, there are many other platforms, such as BigChainDB, Chain, Corda, Credits, Elements, Eris, Fabric, Ethereum (deployed in a closed network), HydraChain and Openchain. Not to mention still more startups who have developed some kind of blockchain platform but have not made it publicly available.

For companies wishing to explore and understand a new technology, an abundance of choice is generally a good thing. However, in the case of blockchains, which still remain loosely defined and poorly understood, this cornucopia comes with a significant downside: many of the available “blockchain” platforms don’t actually address the core problem they are meant to solve. And what is that problem? Allow me to quote the succinct video definition by Richard Gendal Brown, CTO of R3, in full:

A distributed ledger is a system that allows parties who don’t fully trust each other to come to consensus about the existence, nature and evolution of a set of shared facts without having to rely on a fully trusted centralized third party.

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How to show you know something without showing what you know

Last Friday saw the launch of Zcash, a new public blockchain and associated cryptocurrency that attracted a lot of attention. By now, there are hundreds of cryptocurrencies, so any budding young entrant needs a serious differentiator to rise above the fray. In the case of Zcash, this is easy – Zcash users can send money to each other in absolute privacy. For a cryptocurrency based on a blockchain, this is a remarkable technical achievement. (Though it should be noted that other chains such as Monero and Dash aim at the same goal using simpler but less effective means.)

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