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An interview with Shammah Chancellor about his new project: Stamp
(If you're only interested in the interview and would rather not read my long introduction, feel free to scroll down to the second half of this article.)
244 years ago today, America declared its independence from Britain to become free and independent states. Every year, people in the US celebrate this national holiday with fireworks, barbecues, and parades, but do we still consider the United States of America the land of the free and the home of the brave?
With the advent of the internet and the huge corporations that were built on top of it, it has become easier and easier to track every facet of our lives. From where we go, to who we associate with, even down to the thoughts we have throughout each day.
And though we continue to celebrate our freedoms every fourth of July, it's not hard to see that our freedoms are slowly being taken away as the government works with big corporate to increasingly monitor its citizens.
We know this is happening already because in 2013, a CIA employee and subcontractor named Edward Snowden leaked evidence that revealed the numerous global surveillance programs already in place. Some might say these programs are necessary for national security and to protect us from terrorists. But where do you draw the line of what's considered a threat versus what is not? To put it in different terms, if I was to question the state in any way, does that make me a threat?
Having grown up in the US, I always took my right to free speech for granted. This was probably because I didn't have anything to say, at least nothing that I'd consider a threat to the state. I was just another dude who went to work every day, paid his bills and his taxes on time, while trying to make it in the world. I never thought about how the system worked, or what was wrong with it, or how it might be improved. I figured it was up to the politicians and big corporations to figure it all out for me.
Then I discovered Bitcoin Cash, and I started thinking about things I had never thought about before. Like how money works, and who controls it, and what that means. For the first time I found myself afraid to speak on certain things, not because of what my friends or colleagues might think, but out of fear of what the state could do. I'm not talking about something as dramatic as what happened to Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, but maybe my words get me flagged by the IRS for an audit, which isn't the end of the world but something I'd rather not have to endure.
And this is the problem. The fact that we are being monitored limits our freedom of thought and our freedom of expression. You might think twice about entering something into a search engine, or posting something on Facebook or Twitter. This limits our ability to communicate and explore ideas, and this is why I am so excited by Stamp, the new Bitcoin Cash project being developed by Shammah Chancellor, aka @micropresident.
Stamp is still in its early stages and only available on testnet, but the interface already looks polished and many features like group chats and nested messages have already been deployed. Here's a screenshot to give you an idea of what the interface looks like. (Apologies to "heidi" for sharing our chat.)
According to his Github page: "Stamp is a prototype of a layer-2 private messaging and payment system on Bitcoin Cash. It implements stealth+confidential transactions on top of Bitcoin Cash using layer-2 protocol technologies."
My understanding of Stamp after trying it out is that it's a wallet that allows you to send and receive encrypted messages. These messages are then decrypted in the wallet using a private key associated with a BCH public address. And since only you and the people you're talking to have the private keys to decode the messages, no one else can see those messages unless they gain access to the keys themselves. You wouldn't have to worry about the government or big tech spying on everything you say or do. And since this an open source project, people all over the world can run the Stamp protocol, so that much like Bitcoin Cash, the system can be distributed without having a central point of failure.
But greater privacy is only one facet of Stamp. The fact that it is built on top of Bitcoin Cash means it can also be used for all kinds of payments while simultaneously maintaining your privacy. Imagine having the ability to pay your bills, make purchases, or send money to friends and loved ones all through the same application.
You can also set what's known as your "Stamp Price" so people have to pay you to see their messages. This can filter out spam as well as messages from potential scammers. Being on Telegram, I'm occasionally contacted by people attempting to scam me. If I was using Stamp, I'd be able to force these scammers to pay me just to read their messages.
I'm sure there's plenty more to Stamp that I'm just not able to see yet. There's also the issue of scalability. Once Stamp launches, the more popular it gets the more transactions it will create. Note that the messages themselves aren't stored on the blockchain, but by requiring you to send a transaction for each message means the Bitcoin Cash network might potentially be flooded with transactions in a short period of time. This would require BCH to scale several orders of magnitude beyond what's already planned in the roadmap. The question will be how much we value our privacy, and what messages we deem worthy of making private.
I have no idea if Bitcoin Cash is ultimately going to fail or succeed, but it's projects like Stamp that keep me excited for the future. I look forward to seeing how this project develops and want to thank Shammah for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you're interested in trying Stamp out for yourself, join the Stamp Community Group on telegram to learn more: https://t.me/stampchat
First, Stamp is the name of the wallet that uses a number of backend protocols. These protocols are a suite called “CashWeb,” with the vision being that everything online is powered by Bitcoin Cash. Fundamentally, CashWeb is powered via standard web technologies: Websockets, JWT tokens, HTTP/2. The idea being to make it easy for non-cryptocurrency developers to integrate with.
CashWeb is a 3 tier network. The first tier being Bitcoin Cash. The second tier is a “keyserver” network, which is used to look up, in a cryptographically secure way, important information about a Bitcoin Cash address. The third tier is a messaging system (called relay servers) which allows wallets to pass, encrypted, structured messages between them.
When you add a contact to a Stamp wallet, it reaches out to a keyserver and requests your contact information. This is then verified, and used to determine which relay server they accept messages on. Once your wallet has this information, it can start exchanging structured, encrypted, messages between itself and another user.
What's your overall vision for Stamp?
My hope is that Stamp, and similar wallets, end up being a replacement for your web browser and messaging client. I understand that these have been done before with things like Netscape Communicator. However, I think that there have been fundamental shifts in terms of what users expect from an interface. I also believe that they did a poor job in terms of UX.
My hope is that Stamp and compatible wallets provide a seamless identity experience across all your internet access. In your sidebar, you’ll have both your friends, your group chats, and websites (think dApps) you use.You will no longer have passwords, nor will you ever need to enter your credit card information again. All your payments will run on Bitcoin Cash, your identity will be your Bitcoin Cash address, and all your payments and communication will be encrypted and private. Stamp will give you the ability to easily switch between pseudonymous accounts so that you cannot be tracked online.
When did you first conceive the idea for Stamp?
That’s a complicated question. I started out using the internet when everything was decentralized via federated servers. I’ve been watching, with dismay, as slowly these services were slowly centralized. So, I’ve been interested in open source and decentralized protocols for various types of communication for almost 20 years.
Stamp, and really the CashWeb protocol suite, started coalescing in my mind shortly after I started working on Bitcoin-ABC. When working on cryptocurrency protocol development, it becomes apparent that while UTXO-based protocols are better for scalability, they require significantly more complex wallets. And, in order for those wallets to support the full breadth of possible use-cases for cryptocurrency, you need a layer-2 network.
Shortly after, I started reading the original content about RPoW, and that idea clicked for me. We could use cryptocurrency together with a Layer-2 network to enable not only advanced wallet functionality, but all sorts of decentralized, and censorship resistant, communications.
How long have you been working on Stamp?
The first line of code was written around June 30th of 2019. At the time, I had an open source grant to work on cryptocurrency related projects, and I believed the biggest need was to build out the software for a layer 2 network that wallet developers could use. Unfortunately, my grant ended, so that’s slowing down progress.
When do you expect Stamp to launch on mainnet?
That’s a tough question. Stamp is unique in that it does not (only) use an HD wallet. It does this because of privacy concerns. Right now, the information required to spend your Bitcoin Cash is stored in a combination of a stealth wallet, and an HD wallet. This means that simply entering your wallet seed is not sufficient to restore your Bitcoin Cash. It also requires that your storage server be online, and still have your messages.
We will not be launching on mainnet until we are confident that there is no way that users can lose funds. The main items we are working on are highly-available remote storage for the wallet, local backup functionality, and the ability to automatically shuffle all of your coins into an HD wallet. These three features will ensure user funds will not be lost.
If someone is interested in helping to fund Stamp development, where can they donate?