What is Ripple? 0 1145

ripple

Now you’re down with Bitcoin and Ethereum, if you heard about the Banco Santander announcement about a partnership with Ripple, you may be wondering – what is Ripple? Is it just another cryptocurrency like Bitcoin? And if so, does that mean that one of the world’s largest banks is now accepting payments in cryptocurrency?

No, and definitely not. What’s going on, then? Let’s take a closer look.

Rather than just a digital coin, Ripple is a remittance network, currency exchange and real-time gross settlement system (RTGS). Going back to 2012 when it came out, Ripple (unlike Bitcoin) does not actually use the blockchain system. It uses what is known as a common ledger, which is essentially a network of independent servers that validate transactions constantly.

If you’re thinking, “that sounds a lot like the blockchain,” that’s because it is. Ripple’s shared public database also uses a form of consensus. The majority of the network has to be in agreement on the validity of transactions, to prevent events like a 51% attack.

Unlike Bitcoin though, Ripple doesn’t rely on a proof-of-work (PoW) concept, or the computational power of members of the network. It also isn’t mined.

The token is XRP and its main characteristic–the raison d’etre of Ripple–is that it allows for real time exchange of currency between two parties, whether that be fiat currency, gold, or any other type of currency. Its major claim to fame is that it allows people to avoid wait times, fees, and even exchanges transactions.

How is Ripple Different From Bitcoin?

As mentioned, the technology they rely on is different. Ripple is more targeted to banks and other FSIs (as displayed through the Banco Santander partnership). While Bitcoin was built for the people, Ripple was built for enterprise. Sure, you can buy and trade it peer to peer, but that’s not what this cryptocurrency is all about. It’s to move massive sums of money around safely and practically instantly. That’s what’s getting the banks all excited.

And today, it is still the fastest cryptocurrency for transactions, settling payments in a maximum of four seconds, as compared to Ethereum, which can be a few minutes, and Bitcoin, which can take several hours. Another main difference is that this cryptocurrency is not mined, like Bitcoin, Ether, and other cryptocurrencies. They just settled on 100 billion tokens from the get-go and issued that many coins.

In theory, the 100 billion XRP tokens originally issued are meant to be the only tokens there will ever be. But there is technically nothing to stop Ripple from issuing any more. But, they probably won’t, seeing as the XRP token is completely separate from Ripple’s technology. Banks can send currency in dollars, yen, or pounds, without needing to use XRP at all, making the investment in this token somewhat less attractive. Without doubt, Ripple’s value is the network, not the Ripple coin.

Banks can use its software for fast, international payments (as is the case with Banco Santander) and can ditch the traditional SWIFT method, that is slow and cumbersome.

Is It Volatile as Well?

Yes. Like most cryptocurrencies, the markets are very sensitive to FUD and FOMO. As the price of Bitcoin exploded towards the end of last year, Ethereum doubled and Litecoin blew up, Ripple also experienced a massive price hike, with first time investors looking to purchase cryptocurrency within their price budget. Moreover, a rumor was spread that Coinbase was thinking of listing it on their exchange and that shot the price up further…

Until Coinbase quashed the rumor and the price came crashing back down.

Against an Ideology?

Bitcoin purists have criticized Ripple, because it has owners. It is a centralized network in the middle of a decentralized, idealistic ecosystem. Also, the trusted Unique Node List (UNL) that is supposed to protect Ripple from hackers and threats throws up another issue: while it protects the cryptocurrency, what’s to stop a  government or regulating body from coming in and making a change?

It is certainly an interesting technology and worth keeping on your radar. But, unless you’re working in a large financial institution, you probably don’t need it too much of it in your investment portfolio.

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Christina is a technology and business communicator who has worked with high profile ICOs and blockchain influencers to break industry news.

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After the Death of Net Neutrality, We Need a Decentralized Internet 0 76

Net neutrality died more quietly than expected. It’s been almost two months since the FCC’s ruling to make internet access vulnerable to corporate meddling, thanks to FCC chairman and Verizon advocate Ajit Pai. And not much seems to have changed on the web browsing citizen’s end. Major ISPs Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have all indicated that they have no plans to block or throttle traffic, or to prioritize paid content. So rest easy, dear ones. The sharks have promised not to bite.

Of course, that’s really no reason to celebrate. As of June 11th, “there is nothing legally preventing companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily censoring entire categories of apps, sites and online services, or charging Internet users expensive new fees to access them,” notes Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit advocating for digital equality.

Fight for the Future is just one organization working for a free digital world. All around, and in part thanks to the FCC’s ruling, people are switching on to the notion that open connectivity should be a right and not a privilege. And some folks are getting a crazy idea: if we can’t have net neutrality, we may just have to build another internet.

Building Our Own Internet

That’s exactly what people have been doing in Detroit. To combat the emergence of a “digital class system,” and in response to the scarcity and prohibitive costs of ISP connection, residents and volunteer members of the Equitable Internet Initiative, or EII, are building their own internet infrastructure.

Over on the Pala Reservation in Southern California, meanwhile, indigenous communities are tired of waiting for a connection. So they’re taking matters into their own hands and repurposing unused analog TV channels to broadcast their own free and neutral internet across the rez. They call it Tribal Digital Village.

Efforts like the EII and Tribal Digital Village are proving that we can take control of our connectivity and decouple it from the stratification of economic privilege.

Reinventing the Internet Altogether

Radical community efforts to build DIY networks are inspiring and powerful. But perhaps we can go even farther. The internet still works on an old model that has plenty of room for improvement. Let’s say you’re sitting in a public library, messaging your zine collaborator across the table. There’s no direct internet connection between your phones, so your message has to go up into the nebulous cloud of internet before it bounces back down to their phone. Not entirely efficient, considering they’re sitting right there.

If you had a direct connection, the signal could just travel across the table. That would be possible using a mesh network, like the one proposed by RightMesh. In their mesh network model, every device becomes a hotspot in a decentralized connective network.

Why volunteer your device as a public hotspot? Because you get tokens, of course. This is blockchain! Like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, this is a cooperative and participatory system that relies on no centralized authority (like a corporate ISP). Everyone volunteers their device as a hotspot, gets rewarded with tokens, and just like that, we have a decentralized internet.

Without the need for ISPs, we would be free from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T. We could run open-armed through the proverbial fields of digital wildflowers. The possibilities of this go well beyond urbanite convenience. A global mesh network could bring internet connection to any part of the globe where there are phones—even phones not connected to wifi. In this system, the phones create the wifi.

An Off-the-Grid Internet

RightMesh’s stated goal is to “connect the next billion people and lift 100 million out of poverty.” They claim to be the first P2P network that requires neither infrastructure nor network connectivity to operate.

That said, they’re not alone. Blockmesh is doing something similar. Moeco’s ‘global IoT connectivity platform’ uses mesh network principles for IoT gadgets. And Open Garden allows ISP customers to ‘sell’ your underutilized connection (extra bandwidth at home, or unused data from your mobile plan) to your neighbors for tokens.

All these ideas are packed with possibility. But the point is, with the grassroots efforts of groups like the EII and Tribal Digital Village, and with blockchain innovation pushing the definition of the internet forward, we’re looking at a future where the connection is universal, accessible, fast, cheap, self-generating, decentralized and off the grid. Someday soon we might be thanking the FCC for spurring these advances.

Woz’s Technological Optimism Suggests Promise for Bitcoin, Blockchain 2 3519

The earliest Macintosh PowerBook was chunky and dark gray. It featured a built in trackball, where the touchpad is on today’s Macbook, and little rotating peg legs to elevate the keyboard at an ergonomic tilt. The screen was black and white. You could open it on your desk at school, and tuck it into its special carrying case to sling it over your shoulder when Mom came to pick you up.

Going to school with Steve Wozniak’s kids in Los Gatos, California, meant having special access to cutting edge technology, like the Macintosh PowerBook in 1992. Along with five other students from our small school in the Santa Cruz mountains, I went to after school classes at Woz’s office to learn about Apple computers and emerging technology.

The first day, Woz taught us to dismantle and reassemble a desktop Macintosh, showing us all the pieces and what they did, with diagrams on the whiteboard. We learned the difference between random access memory (RAM) and the storage space on a hard disk, between a hard disk and a floppy disk. We learned how to navigate the innovative GUI that used windows (while PCs were still using DOS) to access the Apple utilities and adjust the settings for peak performance.

A great advocate for the intelligence and capacity of children, Woz challenged us with sophisticated knowledge and trusted us with expensive equipment, eager to see what creative uses we would put them to. He showed us the first version of Adobe Photoshop, a new technology that shook the public into doubting the integrity of photographs. Along with it, we had early model digital cameras called Canon XapShots, which used tiny floppy disks to store around 50 pictures at a time. The day he brought in America Online version 1.0, we were ecstatic that we could chat with each other from different rooms.

Woz was childlike himself, especially in his enthusiasm for developing technology. When laser pens were new, you could always find one clipped to the collar of his Hard Rock Cafe tshirt. He seemed to like them more for playing tricks on people than for any practical purpose.

Me (in the awesome blue sweatshirt) with Woz at his office in the early 90s. Photo courtesy of Gretchen King.

Early Techs Championed by Woz Became Familiar Names

Most of the technologies Woz championed have evolved. Some went big. As dial up AOL gave way to internet browsers like Netscape, I remember sitting in our middle school’s Wozniak Library Media Center learning how to use a world wide web page called Yahoo!, the novelty of which I put to work looking up David Letterman’s recent Top 10 lists.

America Online set the original chatroom model, complete with primitive emojis. It grew so big that in 2000, the year we kids were graduating high school, it bought Time Warner for $165 billion and became AOL Time Warner, then the world’s biggest media conglomerate. Now, estranged from Time and Warner after a decade and a half of new mergers, AOL is part of the Verizon subsidiary Oath, which also owns Yahoo! and, believe it or not, Netscape, which is still around.

The success of Photoshop, of course, positioned Adobe to set industry standards, now untouchable as king of the Silicon Valley’s creativeware. Macintosh PowerBooks evolved into Macbooks. Digital photography sure became a thing. And there are exceptions, too. Those laser pens, well, occasionally you still see someone using one to disrupt their cat.

Woz on Bitcoin

Wozniak hasn’t taken his finger off the pulse of emerging tech. Still full of wonder for the promise and possibility of technological advances, he’s been outward about his enthusiasm for Bitcoin, calling it “pure digital gold,” and placing his faith ardently in its mathematical integrity.

“I believe so strongly in mathematics and purity and science as defining the world,” he told CNBC in June.

“Bitcoin is mathematically defined. There’s a certain quantity of Bitcoin,” he said, “and it’s pure. There’s no human running it. There’s no company running it, and it’s just going and going, and growing and growing, and surviving! That, to me, says something that is about—something that is natural. And nature is more important than all our human conventions.”

His journey with Bitcoin is well documented. He tried to buy some around $70, ended up not getting any until they hit $700. Then he lost a few to fraud, and when prices soared “way up in the sky,” he said he “got scared, and sold everything but one Bitcoin.”

Woz stresses that he isn’t an investor. Still a man who loves laughter, he puts a premium on happiness, not wealth, and only holds his single Bitcoin for the sake of experimentation. “Part of my happiness is not to have worries, so I sold it all — just got rid of it — except just enough to still experiment with,” he told CNBC last year.

He said he agrees with Twitter founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, that Bitcoin could be the first global currency. At New York’s Consensus, a blockchain conference last May, Dorsey said “the internet is going to have a native currency so let’s not wait for it to happen, let’s help it happen… I don’t know if it will be Bitcoin but I hope it will be.”

Woz responded: “I buy into what Jack Dorsey says, not that I necessarily believe it’s going to happen, but because I want it to be that way.”

By contrast, Woz has called federal fiat currency “kind of phony.”

…And on Blockchain

But Bitcoin isn’t blockchain. It’s just the first and most well known use of blockchain technology. Last month at New York’s NEX technology conference, Woz called blockchain a bubble, similar to the dotcom hype bubble of the early aughts. “It was a bubble, and I feel that way about blockchain,” he said on stage.

“Blockchain in all forms is so popular and being studied by so many people,” he previously said in June’s CNBC interview. “It may be long term. I do see it, as you said, as a bubble… There’s a huge amount of interest in it right now, but things aren’t going to change that rapidly. That’s what the internet bubble was about.”

When asked how long he expects it to take for blockchain to gain widespread traction, he referred to the lag between the dotcom bubble and today, when we’ve finally realized many of the dotcom era dreams: “I’m going to give it 10-15 years.”

Part of the reason for this is human adjustment to new technology. “People have to have their mindset change,” he said. “Culture and tradition, and status quo and the way things are doesn’t change that rapidly, instantly, when it’s that huge.”

His faith in blockchain appears to be mixed. But in a seeming contradiction, Woz has suggested Ethereum could be the next Apple. “Ethereum interests me because it can do things and because it’s a platform,” he said at a May tech conference in Vienna.

Woz’s view of Bitcoin as solid gold but blockchain as a bubble is the inverse of that held by Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant Financial. Last month Ma said that the “technology itself isn’t the bubble, but Bitcoin likely is.”

Bubble or No, the Future Still Seems to be Blockchain

Which way is it? Is Bitcoin the bubble while blockchain is solid, as Jack Ma says, or the other way around, as Woz indicates?

Woz’s hope for Bitcoin as the pure-form currency of the future could prove misplaced if demand for it suddenly falls off. Blockchain, meanwhile, has myriad potential uses in finance, logistics, travel, even the art world. Developers and entrepreneurs are testing the mettle of this new technology with fervor and abandon. If we’ve learned from the dotcom bubble not to bet all our chips on untested technology, we can watch it develop steadily, as the internet did around the turn of the century. And even if the hype around blockchain is a bubble, Woz is probably right about the technology’s ultimate staying power.

To say the least, he’s seen a lot of technologies come and go. Sometimes, like the novelty laser pens of the late 1990s, new tech is just a fun experiment. But Woz’s enthusiasm for Bitcoin and measured interest in blockchain platforms like Ethereum is an indicator. A mathematically pure ledger system that governs transactions with transparency and automation holds emergent promise for the childlike optimist in any of us, much the way the Macintosh PowerBook did in 1992.

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