Recently, I was contacted by a fellow Bitcoiner and informed about some possible shady goings-on on the DECENT platform. Reportedly, the platform has raised 5352BTC (3.2M USD equivalent) in its token presale, but the product appears to be on some shaky grounds. Lets have a look at what we can find out about the platform, the presale and have a look at whether there is something shady going on…
Any self-respecting blockchain project styles itself after Bitcoin and releases a whitepaper early on. Decent is no exception (#liberateyourself on every page…).
The paper starts with criticising Bitcoin for BOTH its low transaction throughput, and its large blocksize. Wouldn’t it be nice if one could have a higher transaction throughput with a lower data footprint? Unless you start pruning old data, it won’t happen. But that’s apparently "some childhood diseases" Bitcoin has.
"Unfortunately, in spite of more than 6 years of its existence [Bitcoin] did not reach a position it could have attained mainly due to the imperfections in its architecture and design."
In comes Decent. Saving freedom of speech, solving the issue of authors having to figure out how to monetise their content, drive traffic to their sites, deal with Amazon’s pay cut, etc. You can use it to publish "any text, picture, video or music content" (and even software) and "no third parties can control or influence the content".
The platform is characterised by being:
- Independent – owned by the users and "will never be affiliated with any economic, media, or political party"
- Stable – not dependent on any single server
- Fair – everyone starts at the same level and build up their reputation
- Profitable – users can buy content directly from the authors and there is no cut taken by Decent
- Spam Free – content publishing is expensive for spammers
- Secure & Anonymous – authors can publish the content anonymously
- Recommendations-enabled – readers that purchased the content can embed their feedback into the blockchain
While describing how the protocol works, we also learn that the application will be using the bittorent protocol with a distributed tracker to distribute its content. The torrent is downloaded by the "publishers" that charge a fee for storage and bandwidth. For encrypted content, the decryption keys are also distributed to the publishers.
Upon hearing what kind of content the platform will support, the cynic in me instantly reached two conclusions – a lot of the content, especially the movies and music, will be pirated like on current torrent websites, and a lot of the software content will contain malware. I somehow doubt I will be proven wrong…
So all in all, it looks like the system will use a blockchain to keep track of who paid for what content, while the actual content will be distributed over torrents. All in all, it looks like a poor man’s version of MaidSafe or Storj, also somewhat similar to the Alexandria project. While those platforms focused on creating their own storage solutions paired with the blockchain, Decent appears to just mash Bitcoin and torrent technologies and produce something that’s less than a sum of its parts.
A somewhat more usable solution would just focus on augmenting the torrent architecture without burdening it with a proprietary blockchain. You could use Factom or Ethereum to publish the magnet links, have some proof-of-payment solution to request the torrent data for paid content, or even just rely on donations from people that consume your content. Building one’s own blockchain just to manage new tokens proves once again, a solution looking for a problem.
The token presale
Like a lot of projects in the crypto space, Decent is raising money through a token presale. To buy the tokens, you need to register an account on Decent’s portal and pay bitcoins into a provided address. The tokens are distributed into the account and will later be available for withdrawal on the network proper. At the moment there doesn’t appear to be an option of transferring the balance between accounts, so one is unlikely to be able to trade or sell the tokens before the network goes live.
Since it looks like Decent is handling all of the balances and not acting as a client-side wallet provider like Blockchain.info (that is, Decent probably handles all of the balances themselves), this can get really hairy for them from the regulators’ perspective. Were they located in the USA, I would stay away from the service after what happened to Ripple Labs. Since the service does not seem to gather KYC information, it might be in a legal grey zone. Not being able to send the tokens around might actually be a benefit for the company – the token appears as a less of a security this way.
At any rate, the gathered bitcoins end up in 2-of-3 escrow with Coinbase. The three people responsible for handling the funds are:
- Matej Michalko, the founder and director of Decent. Also, a co-founder of five different Bitcoin conferences (I suppose that is a new, fancy term for "organizer" nowadays), and a co-founder of two other crypto-related companies
- Tibor Tarabek, reported to be the "Founder of Microsoft Slovakia", although his LinkedIn profile lists him only as a General Manager in years 1995-2000 (and also a "General Manager" of some "bitcoin, s.r.o." company between years 1992-1994, 16 years before Bitcoin was released!)
- Vasylchenko Alexander, former director of Mycelium in years 2012-2014
It is a bit strange that the founder of Decent is a co-signer of the escrow if you want to show that you can deliver on the project’s promises. Find a few reputable Bitcoin people and use them for the entire escrow to show the release of funds is unbiased. Currently, all you need is one of the two extra people to co-conspire and you have full access to the 3.2M USD. While I might not know the reputation of mr Tarabek in the Slovakian Bitcoin space, his apparent lack of involvement with Bitcoin-related projects doesn’t speak well to his ability to objectively judge a project like this.
Lastly, storing token presale funds in Coinbase, a company known for helping US authorities shut down torrent-related websites, doesn’t bode well for the security of the funds. No KYC, token presales and US don’t mix well…
All in all, I’m very dubious about how well the presale is handled. While it’s not completely shady, I would not be surprised if the tokens get released before the project is finished or worse. To anyone that has purchased the tokens so far – hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
All in all, what makes or breaks a project is often the team. Let’s look at who the Decent team is compromised of…
The Founders consist of:
- Matej Boda, who seems to be rather fresh out of university without much prior experience
- Matej Michalko, the aforementioned co-founder of a lot of crypto-related projects. He appears to be business-focused
- Wayman Kwan, a venture capitalist
So mostly business-focused founders. Let’s look at the developers in the team:
- Josef Sevcik, with background in Business Administration, Informatics and telecommunication
- Bohdan Skriabin, a cryptographer still studying at a university
- Lubos Novotný, an UX / designer
- Stanislav Cherviakov, "a tech expert with a mathematical background" with experience in fintech, etc.
- Vladimir Dubinin, a mathematician with a computer science degree
- Anatoly Ressin, a programmer
And a lot of other advisers, ambassadors, etc. All in all, the development team is a bit mixed, having a few people that appear to have a lot of relevant experience, and some that are just starting out. The company also appears to be looking for a senior developer and a junior developer, both with a negotiable compensation payable in "other".
It looks like there are about 13 people making up the company proper. That can give the company a pretty high burn rate before any technical prototypes have been developed, but the costs may be rather low if the majority of the team is located in Slovakia.
So far, Decent doesn’t appear to be publicly owning up to any publicly available repositories on their website. However, the bitcoiner that prompted me to investigate the company pointed me in a direction of a github repository posted by Josef Sevcik, one of the developers on the Decent Team. It looks like a possible prototype of the Decent platform. The codebase appears to be based on Peershares with a small amount of changes (a few file diffs: 1, 2, 3).
Basing the codebase on proof-of-stakes based currency informs a lot of new things about the project that haven’t really been mentioned on the project’s website – the initial allocation of tokens (how much is being kept by the company and developers) can be really important when it comes to earning block rewards for example.
All in all, the Decent looks like an underwhelming solution looking for a problem. It is very unlikely the platform will solve all of the problems it sets out to fix – nobody will want to switch over to a new platform, use a new currency to get a glorified paywall. Focus on presaling the tokens doesn’t seem to be improving the solution, as is often the case. Raising 3.2M USD before anyone has seen a prototype of the platform is similarly ludicrous. The tokens have little to no value during the presale – you can’t trade them for speculation, you will only be able to use them once the platform launches, and there doesn’t appear to be any special use for the tokens in the final system other than paying for things. I somehow doubt the platform will have 3.2M USD worth of content on it for years to come, so pre-purchasing a token now to be able to pay a movie for a few dollars or a blog article for a few cents a year down the line sounds like an awful proposition.
The escrow holing the coins doesn’t appear to be following the industry’s standards. It is not completely shady, but it could inspire more confidence.
The team behind the project looks fine – no "blockchain rockstar" stands out, but it seems to have everything needed. It is good that the company advertises its contact information, including physical addresses.
From the rumours I heard from a few fellow bitcoiners closer to the project, the company seems to be aggressively pushing for its presale with just a forked open source repo to back it up.
So in conclusion, the project doesn’t look like it can live up to its own hype. The approach is rather naive, even if it can be fully realised. I see no reason to back it financially, and for anyone that has – I would like to know why? The token can’t be traded, sold, speculated on until the project launches, which makes it a rather risky proposition.
Piotr Piasecki is a master of science and a double bachelor in the field of computer science and informatics. He is currently an Advisor for the Crypto Currency Certification Consortium, Chief Scientist at Provable Inc, and Core Developer at Factom.