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AMA Satellite

By October 3, 2022November 24th, 2022No Comments
vVv AMA | Satellite

Satellite.im: Building a Web3 Decentralized Privacy-First P2P Platform

September 20, 2022

Satellite is a fully decentralized peer-to-peer voice, video, and text communication social advocate platform. Their initial desktop application supports 4k video chat and streaming, lossless audio, and four gigabytes sharing capabilities at no cost to the user. Currently, Satellite is both EVM and Solana compatible with the goal of being a chain agnostic protocol. The platform allows users to sign, encrypt, broadcast, search, and store documents and messages via decentralized identifiers with the optionality of a wallet. The functionalities that Satellite offers, are entirely built on decentralized peer-to-peer technologies.

Satellite’s inception did not originate from privacy concerns but rather as the brainchild of founder Matthew Wisniewki, who realized the limitations of current Web2 messaging platforms. The Satellite team seized the opportunity and started to build a platform solution combined with a native Web3 application. The final product would be impervious to data mining and any means of exploitation for monetary gains.

While the notion of a decentralized data ownership approach is an important feature, Satellite expects the influx of users as a result of their platform’s superior feature set and the ability for continuous evolution.

Tom McArdle (COO), Chris Hogan (Head of Software Engineering), and Drew Ewing (Senior Staff Engineer) from Satellite.im joined us for an AMA on September 8th.

vVv: What is your personal motivation for building a decentralized messaging platform?

McArdle: Within Satellite, everybody believes in decentralized technologies and blockchain. We want to move away from a couple of tech companies having a monopoly and controlling everything. There has to be an iteration where we get away from DeFi patnerships, that is just not a sustainable ecosystem to live in. We want to be the first ones with real utility beyond obviously the L1s that are really important. That’s the basis upon which we build.

In the space, an application layer is really needed, so we do need L2s. We want to be one of the first that distance ourselves from payment transfers, which we feel have been solved many times.

Another thing is that Satellite circumvents firewalls and is beyond the reach of sovereignty and censorship which is acutely felt in certain countries. When somebody comes to our office and asks for the server data, we have no way to get it. On our platform, you can do what you like, but we do not own the data.

Lastly, it’s been an incredible project for everybody working on it. We have a great team and the intrinsic motivation of solving a great problem, and we really are enjoying that.

Satellite circumvents firewalls and is beyond the reach of sovereignty and censorship which is acutely felt in certain countries

vVv: Do you think that the ownership of data is something that is valued by the end user at this point in time, or do you think there might be some unawareness that could be growing over the next month or years?

Ewing:  I think data ownership will always be a very important aspect for users, whether they realize how they’re impacted by it or not. Vitalik has once infamously said that Ethereum might not have existed if it had not been for a change to World of Warcraft. They gave users the ability to control the technology to a degree and explore its limits. With or without the alignment of our vision, I think is important to a lot of people, at least to power the users and developers that might build on our platform.

Hogan: We are seeing people more concerns regarding data ownership. I personally know that a lot of people are leaving platforms because they feel uncomfortable with how their data is being used. We also observe governments like the EU, who are starting to take their citizens’ privacy a lot more seriously than other governments. In that respect, I think online self-sovereignty of data is becoming a bigger deal.

vVv: Do you have the power to censor or de-platform people from Satellite?

Hogan: We are using a service called “Safer”, and we run a few containers in-house. When you send a picture or video externally, to a friend, we are giving our Sync node permission to decrypt it and run it through Safer, which is part of the infrastructure. By doing this we pin the footage, and if it’s not something inappropriate, we unpin it from the sync node and pin it for the recipient. We haven’t decided yet what we are going to do with accounts that end up triggering a lot. We want our platform to stay respectable and appropriate.

Ewing: When it comes to de-platforming a user, the number of levers that we must pull is pretty finite. They can get the data locally, so there is no stopping users from migrating around censorship that we might put in place. File sharing is where they are going to have a hard time, without a centralized entity.

vVv: Regarding more privacy-aware messaging apps, they are getting used by a certain group of individuals who have certain motivations and thought patterns. It’s a fine balance between freedom of speech and opening the gates for radical groups to form within your platform. Have you thought about these things?

McArdle: This is an evolving thought; nobody has worked out exactly how to cut off Discord around reprehensible activity. Even from a centralized server perspective, web2 platforms also struggle with it. Systems must have a bias toward free speech. But initially, we are going to start from a perspective of free speech and discussion, which is something that needs to be immutably put in place for human beings.

We are going to start from a perspective of free speech and discussion, which is something that needs to be immutably put in place for human beings

vVv: If I understand it correctly, you want to put freedom of speech first, and then address the problems which might arise?

Ewing: We will always put freedom of speech first, but we are going to continue using the best practices. Similar to our integration with Safer, we will always use technology that doesn’t unduly interfere with free speech. There is a known problem, and there’s a technological solution for it, but we will always be biased towards free speech.

vVv: Would you describe Satellite as a decentralized peer-to-peer platform that enables us to build apps on it, or is it mainly focused on decentralized peer-to-peer chat?

Hogan: We’re definitely both. In addition to the Satellite core product, we also have a couple of other projects in-house.  One example is called “Warp”, which is similar to what Iridium is, but modularized.  We can bring a lot of the benefits and features we’re bringing into the core product to basically anywhere. For example, we are making it possible for a game developer to use our product as an underlying communication layer. If anybody wants to use our technology in their application, we will make it available for them to use it.

vVv: If you could expand more on this statement from your website: “Satellite is built to be offline first, so your conversations are never left unhurt”. Could you tell us how the app will work without a network connection?

Ewing:  This means that we’re built on IPFS. It’s possible to run a local copy of IPFS, so your data is always pinned locally. The user will have a full, complete copy of their data when they are connected or disconnected. With their local copy, our users will be able to go through their messages and have access to what they need at any time.

vVv: The data is stored on IPFS, and the operations are run on Solana according to the Medium article. Are there any other blockchains planned for future integration?

McArdle: This is something we need to update. Operations being run on Solana still is the case, as you can still use your Solana wallet to verify your identity. But, you can also integrate your Ethereum wallet. We’ll keep integrating it with other chains along the way. Being on-chain is completely optional, there is nothing that requires a user to go on-chain unless they want to. IPFS is the technology that is powering the vast majority of our technology stack.

vVv: Does the user need to connect to a Web3 wallet when they are setting up their Satellite account?

Hogan: There are two methods to create an account. The first one which we showed today in our demo, is where you are generating your own key pair without a wallet. With this, your password gets salted into your key pair, and that’s how you use it. However, we also want to allow people to secure it with whichever wallet they want. That’s why we are integrating our technology with many different wallets. You can authorize Satellite to your wallet signature, and that will be consulted along with your password to make everything even more secure.  This two-layered authentication to access your Satellite account, will not have any direct access to your wallet, or anything that is inside of it.

vVv: What would be the underlying business model of the project? Assuming you would potentially launch a token, will that be part of the business model, or will that be separate?

McArdle: There will be both a business model and a token. We want to push a lot of the value out to the network, and there will be a business model on top. The plans are currently formative, as we are solving a technical challenge first, then incentivizing a network and creating a token.

Ewing:  What we are looking at with Iridium, is similar to what you see with, for example Filecoin. We have users who have compute and storage requirements. In terms of tokenomics, we want to be a broker, connecting users to entities. Users will be able to sync nodes or store data for other users for a specified time at an agreeable price. We’re looking at communities with apps, swaps, and marketplaces. Lastly, we can also look at a fee model. But these are to be determined on the R&D side. 

McArdle: From a business point of view, it will be an Appstore model. We help people integrate into certain discrete spaces, money transfers, exchange lock-in, and games. There will be some type of revenue sharing split flowing into the company to ensure that we continue to be a robust company capable of developing the application and pushing the network forward.

vVv: Can you share some more details about your token?

McArdle: To add to what we previously said, it is a work-in-progress. One thing we want to highlight is that we are different from a lot of the other crypto projects. Many projects ask you to fund a token with the promise you will get a product. Our point of view is that we’re going to build a product that is really great and has a lot of demand. Then we are going to workshop the token ideas. We are doing this to make sure that we’re pushing the value of the product into a network, that we push back into the community.  We will be sharing more details as we get closer.

vVv:  This is a welcome change in comparison to a lot of other projects, where we see that they are raising money first with the promise of the token either yielding a return or becoming something with great utility, without them even having a product. We think that it’s probably one of the most important aspects, where if someone has nothing but a promise, then you have to have an extremely solid track record to find anyone in their right mind to spend money.

Our point of view is that we’re going to build a product that is really great and has a lot of demand. Then we are going to workshop the token ideas

vVv: If I understood correctly, you want to make your base version available first, before progressing further and being more concrete about the utility and the application of your token?

McArdle: That is correct. We will be coming out with a product for people to start working on and enjoying within the month. This is also an open-source project. We are hoping people will give us feedback and maybe even contribute to the product. At one point, the token will exist, but before that, we will have deep conversations with our community and figure out what part of the network will need incentivization for our network to function faster, better, and be more enjoyable from a user perspective.

vVv: Who will be testing your product?  What would be the ideal person in terms of knowledge, background, and experience? And also, what kind of feedback are you looking for?  Do you want it to be more focused on stress tests, with spikes in traffic, or are you more focused for example on UI aspects?

McArdle: All that is mentioned. We are a constantly evolving protocol and will always be adding updates, so any comment is appreciated.  Our product should be usable to everyone, from tech-savvy people to people who aren’t, to people who are not crypto native and people who are. They all should be able to use it. Our product should be used and enjoyed by everybody. Of course, if you are a developer, we would love you to dive into our GitHub Repo.

Hogan: We are currently gearing up to do an internal release with just a small group of people. But when we open this up to the public, which is going to be very soon, we want everybody to try it and give us feedback from their perspective. All feedback is welcome. We will take a look at what people think about our product, prioritize it and incorporate it into what we do. The more the merrier is our goal. I know Drew currently is working around the clock to bolster up the sync node. With this, we’re making sure we can handle everything that gets thrown at us.

vVv: What makes you confident that Satellite is going to succeed compared to other companies who are aiming to do the same thing, or even those who work only within the Web2 and centralized space? How do you plan to compete with them, and eventually take market share away from them?

Hogan: We currently are competing, and one thing which is unique to Satellite is that we have a solution that is a lot more decentralized than any web2 company. Every day our product is becoming increasingly more decentralized and we are making conscious decisions to reach that goal. We are always looking to replace tech with better decentralized alternatives and by custom building a lot of different things.

Ewing:  Satellite is positioned as a decentralized Web3-facing product. We empower the user to really control their data, so competing with Web2 platforms is easy. We offer higher video quality, and a similar amount of storage, and the user owns their own data and can sign up for their own community. Taking a look at other web3 platforms, most of what we are seeing right now is pretty much focused on messaging. These platforms are not implementing RTC or video/screen sharing. The few platforms that are implementing this, don’t really have an application to put forward yet. Looking toward the future, we’re trying to solve problems for our users. An example is that we are looking to build tools for NFT communities and other users that are crypto-facing so that they can monetize our protocol, build things on top of it, and bring in the things they have licensed. This means that if you’re for example the owner of a CC0, or a licensed NFT, we want to empower you to bring that into our platform and make it into an emoji or sticker pack or other possibilities to make it possible for the users of the platform to discover it. We’re giving the option to potentially monetize these things. So, we’re looking for all sorts of ways to drive value for the early user, the super user, and the casual user, and to keep it as free as possible.

We’re looking for all sorts of ways to drive value for the early user, the super user, and the casual user, and to keep it as free as possible

vVv: The investors that participated in previous rounds, have they all been strategic partnerships? And what are the things you are looking for in terms of a partnership, regarding value or expertise that they could provide?

McArdle: Obviously, there’s a commercial aspect to every investment you get, but we built something special. So, we are making sure that we have groups who are strategically aligned with us.  We are very fortunate to have a list of three very large and important investors and get a lot of value out of their guidance. A lot of groups are knocking on our door, and we make sure we only work together with the people we felt brought the most value to us. We have marketing calls, development calls, and more. Every imaginable call with their in-house teams to help advance us, we are having. We can’t say enough good things about our current investor base.

vVv: If you feel comfortable disclosing who these are, could you tell us a little bit more about them?

McArdle: Multicoin Capital, Framework Ventures, and Hashed are the ones who have really helped us. But we also have a lot of other really great ambassadors. We can’t give all credit to these three. We for example also had Solana Ventures, IDEO CoLab Ventures, and more. I could pull up the whole list, but we have had many great funds, which is something we are very proud of, and we work closely with everyone.

vVv: On Discord and other platforms, scams are being distributed via direct messaging. What are you building to make the user experience more secure?

Ewing:  On the R&D side, we’ve talked about the potential for token verification, which will be a big part of countering this. Another part will be that community owners control some verifiable web3 presence, for example, a smart contract which will be needed in order to make changes to the community. They will need to own the wallet that deployed the contract.  Another possibility is that we will create a way for them to register and go through a web2 process to prove ownership. It’s up to the user to choose what he or she prefers. Giving people a way to show that they are the person that actually started the community, and giving the users a way to see that it is a verified community, can give our users a safer feeling on the platform. Also, knowing immediately when someone DMs you, that they definitely own the NFT and are part of that community – as they shared that publicly with you – is one of the tools that we are building. Lastly, we’re giving people access to direct swapping tools and marketplaces within the application, where they can kind of engage with another user without really giving up their identity until they’re ready. This can be done while they are still able to prove that they own these tokens or contracts.

Giving people a way to show that they are the person that actually started the community, and giving the users a way to see that it is a verified community, can give our users a safer feeling on the platform

vVv: With what you just said, you could probably reduce the scams in the space by 99%. If you have the community server being verified through the person owning the server and the smart contract or having a verification implemented where if someone wants to sell you an NFT, it shows you on the public profile that he or she actually is the owner, or having an integrated third-party swapping platform such as Sudo Swap, which can verify the users and their assets, then those scam links would likely no longer exist. 

This security mechanism for Web3 users might end up being – at least from my point of view – the biggest selling point to onboard web3 communities. If you can only make changes when you are the owner of the wallet or deployer, it would make it 100 times safer.

Ewing:  Exactly, these are the problems that really made me passionate about joining the team and have brought me here. I saw the potential to solve a lot of the negative scammy behavior which I’ve seen in this space.

vVv:  Something that might hold Discord back is that they are currently not focused on the Web3 space and their security. They lack security mechanisms or fail-safes to make anything secure. It’s completely up to the user to not get compromised. If you have the slightest vulnerability in your account, server, or have given the wrong permissions to an account or bot, then your entire server might be gone.

Ewing:  Exactly, one of our ideas is that we could even take it a level further with users opting in. Entities such as ZachXBT and other people who are out there looking for wrongdoers in the space could be given a sort of oracle mechanism. With this mechanism, they can mark links, addresses, and users as bad actors. And if you interact with one of those, you will get a warning from the application.

vVv: Being safe from any kinds of scams or fraud, potentially losing your server, or your members losing their NFTs, could be a very strong value proposition that could help you start onboarding Web3 communities. You can start offering very fast, verified service accounts to owners of smart contracts for example.

Ewing:  Yeah, I mean, I think those are things that we’re definitely planning on taking on. For early access, we plan to get out there and work with communities and make sure that the next step of verification and security tools that we build, is built for the communities with them in mind, and not just based on what we think they need.

vVv: Lastly, we would like to ask if there is any question that you wished we asked?

McArdle: A question that would be interesting is what kind of interdependencies our platform has on other technologies. Then I would say that what we’ve architected, like Iridium, is natively built by us. We are not using any kind of other third-party services except L1 of IPFS, and we do integrate libp2p. So, this was built from the ground up, this isn’t just plugging in a bunch of existing technologies and calling it a chat app. Our product is thoughtfully built from the ground up, and that is a fact we’re really proud of. If the application does not work, it will be because we did something wrong. We are passionate about this project, and if you share that passion, we would love to hear from you.

Our product is thoughtfully built from the ground up, and that is a fact we’re really proud of

Listen to the Spotify recording below for the full Satellite AMA.

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