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Rein’s Experiment in Decentralized Labor: An Interview with David Sterry

Reading Time: 4 minutes by on February 12, 2016 Interviews, News
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Rein (as in “free rein”) is a decentralized labor market enabling contractors and freelancers to get together without having to rely on intermediaries in a completely decentralized way. By using bitcoin and blockchain technology, Rein allows users to form distributed teams alongside distributed management. Rein brings together technologies like Bitcoin, multisig escrow, microhosting servers, ECDSA-signed documents and balanced incentives to create a decentralized labor market. The main goal is to have the potential to grow trustless trade, improve accountability and reduce friction.

The Need for Decentralized Markets

The demand for decentralized markets has been growing ever since Bitcoin arrived, but there haven’t been many companies exploring the idea. Centralized markets are the rule these days, and so far, what we’ve learned is that these markets come and go. Contrary to this, alternative decentralized projects like OpenBazaar, or Blocktech (Alexandria) and now Rein, are trying to introduce new services governed by its own users which are completely immune to censorship.

Rein is seeking to do this and much more by using the key value proposition of Bitcoin and decentralized markets — that value that can’t be confiscated and no one can take it away from its rightful owners. Just as no-one can stop your Bitcoin payments from being confirmed, so trade in a decentralized market can’t be stopped.

Rein offers freelancers and contractors a new decentralized labor market where no one can stop you from posting a job or to accepting a job; similarly, no one can stop you either from paying for work or from getting paid.

At the moment, the platform is useable but fairly rudimentary. David Sterry, Rein’s developer, spoke with BTCMANAGER about his plans for the platform and how he envisions its role in the Bitcoin ecosystem.

On the concept behind Rein and how it works

Ever since stumbling upon Bitcoin several years ago, I’ve been looking for ways to help Bitcoin grow, and that happens on a few fronts, from developing services, to setting people up with wallets, to education. The impetus for Rein came specifically from trying to shed the hype around Bitcoin, instead trying to play to its unique strengths. Pseudonymity gives us some chance of privacy while the currency’s censorship-resistance can empower individuals in a way the world hasn’t seen thus far. Money has been information for a while, but it hasn’t truly been free-as-in-freedom. Rein is an attempt to design a labor market that respects, even amplifies, those qualities of Bitcoin to help people earn a living and allocate labor efficiently.

I want to point out that this is a very new system, and many things will change as it is used and improved. The v0.1.0 alpha was tagged a week ago, so it’s a newborn by any software or protocol standards.

The thirty-second explanation is that Rein uses digital signatures to record each step in a freelance job. Funds are held in multisig escrow until the work is done or disputes are resolved. For communication and storage, we use a population of micro hosting servers which are free at this stage but will be compensated later via micropayments. Finally, mediators are paid for their work through a new kind of multisig escrow that requires their signature.

On some of Rein’s key features

What I find most fascinating about this idea is the simplicity, if that word can be used in the same breath as ECDSA or multisig escrow. Like Bitcoin, the components have been around for years, but it is their simple combination that gives something new.

Digital signatures continue to be under-utilized so I would say that they are the most magical part of Rein. Even though you might be connected to nine malicious servers, if a tenth can pass along a valid signature that offers you a job, you can ignore the rest, verify that escrows have been funded and get on with it.

On improving the interface to make it more user friendly

The criticism is fair and appreciated. The lack of a GUI results from a desire to get something usable, even if only by programmers, out into the world as a priority over having something polished. That being said, as command line interfaces go, I actually think it’s pretty good. I spend a lot of time with git, bash, python, and scripting, and I think many who would help build Rein will appreciate the simplicity and well-documented interface.

On Rein’s potential impact on the freelancer community

A truly decentralized labor market can do quite a lot for freelancers. Nearly every platform I’ve looked at accepts or pays in fiat currency which is a problem if Bitcoin is also going to be used. Any path between fiat and Bitcoin is very attractive for fraudsters so by removing such a path, Rein lessens fraud and can reduce friction. The other main benefit for freelancers is privacy. If someone lives in a place where working online is banned or Bitcoin itself is prohibited, the privacy guards that Rein supports can ensure that those who are able can support themselves and their families.

On the importance of decentralized applications and their future use

Decentralization is probably the main overarching theme in technology over the last decade or so. Bittorrent does it with mass data. Mobile phones do it with computing. Bitcoin does it with money and truth. Decentralization is a great strategy for reliability and routing around damage but also for innovation. Like smartphones rather than centralized phone switches, decentralized apps decouple applications from a network and unleash innovation at those higher layers.

On the digital currency ecosystem and regulation

Distributed digital currency, Bitcoin, the blockchain, whatever you want to call it, is still working its way through even the early tech adopter community. I sincerely believe that like a scientific revolution, Bitcoin is going to take a generation or two to be fully realized. Part of that is just old ideas being forgotten so the new ones can, for a generation, beecome what has always been.

What are your expectations and goals for the future of the Rein?

Managing expectations is hard since, in some sense, it’s equal to predicting the future. Right now, I’m working on testability which includes giving Rein a testnet and as many unit tests as possible. This should allow us to tackle big features without disrupting ongoing transactions and help increase the pace of development. A security review would be nice as well.

Beyond that, I know that a decentralized labor market is an important idea and needs to be realized. Multiple projects are tackling this and a decentralized market needs decentralized money. I’m confident that Bitcoin and its users will benefit from the effort.

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