“Our goal at Eris Industries is to empower developers to embrace participatory software architecture via distributed computing and smart contract systems.”
– Casey Kuhlman Eris Industries CEO
In 2014 early bitcoin pioneer Olivier Janssens awarded a $100,000 bounty to coders. The goal was to replace the Bitcoin Foundation with software applications, and there were two winners. Recently we put the spotlight on Mike Hearn’s Lighthouse, the project that won the lion’s share of this bounty. Few people have noticed the other winner, Eris Industries, despite its very impressive entry.
Eris industries began as Project Douglas, “Although it ended up being structured in response to the Bitcoin Foundation Bounty, we had been working on the idea before the Bounty was announced. The original idea we had was to build a forum on smart contracts as a way of putting precision on some of the ideas we had been thinking through” explains Kuhlman.
Smart Contracts can be written to execute their own conditions, eliminating the risk of relying on someone else to follow through on their commitments.
The platform Eris Industries created is an open source suite of applications, free to anyone. The applications are designed to create fully working and legal Distributed Applications (Dapps) and Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).
“We were early in the forum development process when the Bounty was offered. At that time, Preston came on board as he was also interested in the capacity of smart contracts to build automation into organizations, but he was also very interested in the harmonization of both the real world legal entity and the DAO system of contracts we were building. Over the course of the month we finalized the original Eris concept and released it.”
Preston Byrne is COO of Eris Industries, and his interest in the legalities of smart contracts and DAOs has become a core focus for the company, “Data-driven interactions are not exempt from legal norms and procedures, and platforms capable of operating within existing legal frameworks will be profoundly useful to businesses and individuals alike.” states the Eris Industries website.
Dapps and DAOs have a key advantage over legacy, centralised alternatives. Current server-based solutions are expensive to operate and administer. As they scale, they become more expensive.
Eris Industries is targeting this barrier to entry for the production, distribution and maintenance of applications. This is achieved by asking users to participate in the management and scaling of an application, a software design paradigm Eris Industries refers to as participatory architecture. “Peer-to-peer technology should enable application developers to enlist their users in scaling an application, by lending use of their hard drive space and their processing power.” explains Byrne
“Designing software using a participatory architecture paradigm, developers are able to focus on providing users with pure utility from the application and control over their data rather than attempting to leverage that data for the developers’ sole benefit.”
Spotify, for instance, initially allowed users to cache files locally. The service then used a proprietary technology, very similar to BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, to enlist the assistance of users in distributing the content available within the application. Byrne believs that even though Spotify is moving away from a peer-to-peer paradigm, “when revenues of that application were lower, the peer-to-peer technology greatly reduced costs over the course of the application’s development toward a mature platform with stable, sustainable revenue.”
To facilitate this goal Eris Industries has two core tools for building Dapps and DAOs; The Distributed Application Server, Decerver; and The Makers’ Blockchain Design, Thelonius.
Thelonious is Eris Industries’ customizable, smart-contract enabled, smart-contract controlled blockchain design and one component of the Distributed Application Software Stack. Derived from the Ethereum protocol, but built to meet differing design goals, Thelonious gives developers the control to define their own state-of-the-art blockchain. Unlike Etherium, Thelonious blockchains do not require the use of Altcoins like Etherium’s Ether. In fact, Thelonious is not meant to be one blockchain, but millions of them, each made for specific applications.
The full platform also includes two supporting tools, the Smart Contract Package Manager, and a tool for Putting the Contract Into Smart Contracts.
The Eris Package Manager (EPM) allows smart contract developers to deploy and test packages of smart contracts to their blockchains, and interact with them once deployed. EPM is both a tool for smart contracts and for blockchain management. It is the first developer tool explicitly built for the Distributed Application Software Stack and can be most easily analogized as git, but for blockchains.
The Eris Legal Markdown system (ELM) is the backbone of the Distributed Application Software Stack’s legal compliance strategy. When combined with EPM and the Decerver, ELM provides an ability to link real world contractual provisions to smart contract architecture. Users will be able to benefit from the enforceability of real world contracts, as well as the automation of smart contract frameworks.
Kuhlman and Byrne, two of the three primary team members at Eris, are lawyers who appear to be taking a very careful approach to how they make DAOs not only function, but exist as fully legal entities that are recognized in a court of law.
“Data-driven interactions are not exempt from legal norms and procedures, and platforms capable of operating within existing legal frameworks will be profoundly useful to businesses and individuals alike.”
– Eris Industries website
To create a fully distributed application or organization with these tools, a developer needs to download the relevant packages from ErisIndustries.com, add the desired parameters, and then set up the first few computers that make up the network.
“When you look at the blockchain as an application-specific data structure which is designed to be administered, most of the problems with public, unadministered, fully-decentralised systems can be designed away. The key word here is design.”
According to Byrne, Eris Industries have applied the tools to create a streaming-video application with a bitcoin payment module; a marketplace for developers and software purchasers to negotiate agreements; and an employee shift-management platform.
As a software stack for developers, Eris Industries is not focused on producing services. Byrne elaborates, “Obvious other applications we’ve thought about, but haven’t spent much time on for various reasons are version control and collaborative working, clearing and settlement, front-end consumer banking, and social networks and other P2P communications. IoT is also in play”
With these tools, Eris Industries has created a platform that both allows for the creation of new decentralized apps and services, as well as enabling legacy institutions to re-tool with Blockchain solutions. As the Eris website states, “We are working with a number of corporations to discuss how our technology can improve their businesses.”