Holochain: Agent-centric alternative to blockchain for web apps

Hello all,

I want to start a conversation about Holochain. It is an alternative to blockchain being developed as part of the larger Ceptr project.

In case any readers are not familiar with blockchain, it is essentially a technology that allows for people who don’t know or trust each other to be able to agree on the validity of digital transactions. The original blockchain protocol was, of course, Bitcoin. Since then, more complex uses for blockchain have been developed, most notably Ethereum, which provided smart-contract capabilities, and there have been a slew of projects trying to build all sorts of decentralized applications using blockchain, even social media platforms.

In my understanding, as a layperson interested in tech, the Holochain people see blockchain as fundamentally flawed for most applications, because it is “data-centric” with an emphasis on universal consensus, rather than agent-centric, with an emphasis on individual perspectives and sovereignty.

Therefore, they structure their data chains not as one monolithic chain that is held identical by all nodes (data-centric), but as individual chains maintained by each user (agent-centric). The validity of each chain is verified using the same technology as bittorrent - distributed hash tables (DHT). These differences mean that Holochain can do all sorts of things that blockchain cannot currently do.

For a currency built on Holochain, the number of transactions per second is essentially limitless (as far as I can tell, as a non-tech person), because it only requires the two transacting parties to sign-off on the transaction and broadcast it to the DHT. It is also orders of magnitude more efficient, and does not require any environmentally disastrous brute-force mining algorithms.

For applications built on Holochain, it means that each user, or community of users, can choose which features they want to have in their installation. Instead of being subservient to the decentralized consensus, each user is empowered to choose how they want to play in the application space. I’m not fully clear on how this works, but it has been explained to me that this allows for a kind of natural evolution of application designs, as individuals/communities choose which features they wish to support. Holochain, and it’s overarching project Ceptr, is supposedly inspired by natural eco-systems in this way.

If anyone is interested to learn more about this project, I suggest reading their documentation here. I should clarify that Holo is not the same thing as Holochain. Holo is the first application they are building on top of Holochain. It is an incentivized, distributed web application hosting ecosystem (like if Amazon Web Services disbanded into a million individuals, each earning credits for the hosting they provide). Holo is intended to make Holochain applications more accessible for the average user, who may prefer to access distributed web applications in the way they are already familiar with - via a regular web browser - rather than hosting a full Holochain node and running their applications that way.

I am extremely curious to know what people think of this project. Personally, I’m very excited about its potential to disrupt the status quo in terms of providing fully decentralized alternatives to web applications like Facebook, and in terms of empowering people to take back control of their data and online experience. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, critiques.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated in any way with Holochain or Holo. I participated in Holo’s Indiegogo campaign (regular link, or referral link, you choose) and will be running a few hosting nodes (anyone can run a node on their own machine, provided they are comfortable setting it up themselves on a Linux machine). I am also planning to participate in the upcoming Holo ICO campaign.


Where does their community brainstorm? How are people discussing its use in decentralization of community formation, and other uses oc Ceptr? Holo as first service doesn’t seem very relevant to human tech, though possibly other uses of these ideas could be.

You can chat with the developers and with members of the community at https://chat.holochain.net

I find it to be a very welcoming and encouraging place for brainstorming, critique, and questions. They even have a chat channel specifically to discuss local permaculture, which believe me, is incredibly rare in a community related to any kind of crypto technology! It is truly a special community in that regard.

The way I see it, Holo/Holochain are the building blocks for much more interesting possibilities. The creators of Holo have some experience designing local currencies, They speak of money as a one-dimensional, very limited form of “current-see”, or way of seeing the flow of important information that can help groups of people to collaborate and make important decisions. I think they will leverage the experience they have supporting communities with local current-sees to propose other ones on Holochain that could be more widely used. Honestly I don’t have the experience or understanding to know how this would work, but I have heard them speak of current-sees related to housing, healthcare, electricity, and food.

And, of course, it is an open-source project to which anyone can contribute. Because of the distributed/decentralized nature of Holochain, someone could build a new kind of social network that gives each user total control of their personal data, rather than ceding control of this data to Facebook to sell to advertisers as they please. It would also give control to the user to decide if/how to change how their app works, rather than being at the mercy of Facebook engineers who make decisions and design algorithms that affect the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour of billions of people, in terms of the type of information they see on a daily basis. That’s just one example.

In terms of Ceptr, I am still at the beginning of learning about it. It’s pretty beyond my understanding at this point, but is very intriguing. From the little bit that I know, I get the sense that they are trying to build protocols and systems to allow much more organic and rich information flow between devices, almost like turning the web into a giant brain of interconnected neurons. But that may be way off, I don’t really know. If you have done some reading on it, or watched any videos and have any thoughts, I’d be curious to hear them.