Hyperledger’s Next Act: A Blockchain Bridge to China
If blockchain is done right, borders will begin to disappear.
Immutable, shared ledgers of transactions and goods could come to serve as a reminder that everything we grow, build, buy and sell comes from the same tiny planet.
But this future is far from guaranteed, and the various blockchain developer groups competing to bring it to life have so far struggled to involve talent from all over the world in this global vision.
Blockchain consortium Hyperledger, for example, was initially founded with support from companies in almost exclusively Western nations. Yet, the consortium has grown this year to include more than 20 members headquartered in China and 10 from Japan and South Korea, with a spattering of members from other nations represented as well.
With that success, Hyperledger executive director Brian Behlendorf has faced a new challenge, creating a system that allows information to flow between its multilingual members as seamlessly as data on a blockchain.
The answer, he hopes, is called the Technical Working Group China, and if a proposal he is currently writing is accepted by the members, it could help bridge multiple cultural gaps around the world.
“If we build these systems right, they can help us cross-borders and using a common technology platform to do that helps us get there faster.”
The trick Behlendorf will try to navigate is to create a community that strengthens the Chinese firms’ sense of belonging by making it easier for them to connect, without accidentally turning that bridge into a barrier between them and other members.
Of the companies now headquartered in China, several are startups that specialize in blockchain. But two recent members are also the largest.
The privately held Shenzhen-based electronics firm Huawei joined in October after generating $60bn in revenue last year. Further, in September, another privately held firm, Beijing-based Wanda Group, became Hyperledger’s first China-based premier member after generating an annual income of $38.8bn.
In theory, the more companies that participate, the greater the network effect each would enjoy.
While Hyperledger’s China contingent has grown, it is not alone.
Nationally, Chinese investors and financial institutions have moved this year to embrace blockchain, even as the government sends mixed signals.
On 11th May, Chinese firms joined together to form the ChinaLedger Alliance, and by the end of that month, 31 firms had partnered to create the Financial Blockchain Shenzhen Consortium. Both groups were designed to help China reap greater rewards from blockchain efficiencies.
Then, days after the launch of the Shenzhen group, Shenzhen-based Ping An became the first financial institution in China to join New York-based R3CEV blockchain consortium.
But the push to build a financial infrastructure that crosses borders also includes work with business on public blockchains.
Less than a month later, blockchain startup Circle announced a $60m Series D investment led by Beijing-based IDG Capital. The investment was positioned as a way to expand the company’s efforts into China.
It was against that backdrop that Hyperledger’s executive director sent the first email proposing what he dubbed, the Technical Working Group China.
On 26th October, Behlendorf wrote that the formation of the group could serve as “a bridge” between the global Hyperledger community and the greater China region.
Reaction to the proposal has been positive, Behlendorf said.
In a technical steering committee meeting last Thursday, he further advanced the idea, explaining that the group should consist of 11 people including co-chairs who might take turns attending the English-language technical steering committee meetings.
If the proposal is passed, the co-chairs will likely be comprised of volunteers, he said. A member of the Technical Steering Committee from Huawei volunteered himself in a public listserv to help bridge the gap between the communities and help bridge language barriers.
“It’s not just about asking questions and getting support, it’s got to be about helping those developers become actual contributors to the project,” Behlendorf told CoinDesk. “What we get in terms of intellectual property contributed will more than pay off.”
More than language
Of course, it’s not just language that separates some of the Chinese members of Hyperledger from other members of the community. There’s a lot of distance too.
Another member of Huawei spoke up in perfect English during the meeting last week to say he didn’t think language would be nearly as big an issue as the time-zone differences.
Another possibility currently being discussed is a rotating presence of various chairs on the weekly Technical Steering Committee call.
Already, product manager Zhibei Yu of Hyperledger member, Yunphan Group, confirmed to CoinDesk the firm intends to volunteer to participate, calling the working group a “brilliant idea.”
The founder and CEO of early Hyperledger member, Shanghai-based Bitse, says his company hasn’t experienced issues with collaborating across borders. But nevertheless, sees value in the initiative.
DJ Qian told CoinDesk the group would be especially beneficial as a way to integrate new members to Hyperledger’s own unique multinational culture.
“We think this will be an excellent onboarding tool for the new Chinese members,” said Qian. “This will help accelerate the progress of this global blockchain effort.”
Feet on the ground
Currently, Hyperledger’s executive director is writing up a formal proposal which he intends to present to the group today for a formal vote.
If all goes well, the group should be formed in time for Hyperledger’s first China hackathon, tentatively planned for 7th and 8th January 2017.
One of the hackathon organizers from Wanda Financial Group, also addressed the group during the meeting. He said he expects “every member” will participate in the hackathon.
Now, an unnamed company that specializes in helping foreign companies find professionals in China is working with a recently hired Hyperledger sales and accounting manager to help expand the consortium’s presence.
“We see that team growing.”