Horizen Interview - How ZEN is Bringing Privacy to Life
You would be forgiven for thinking that the Horizen rename of ZenCash was a mere re-branding.
However, this is actually a brand expansion. It is the first step in a number of updates and improvements that are set to supercharge the project and open it up to a whole new chapter of adoption.
While the new name will not change the underlying ZEN heritage or purpose, it is a refreshing way for the project to segue into exciting new technology. Technology that includes blockchain governance and smart contract functionality among others.
In this post, we will take a look through the updated project which will be followed by an exclusive interview of Rowan Stone, a member of the Horizen team.
Before we get to that, let's just start with a bit of history
ZenCash (ZEN) was a project that was actually a fork of fork.
The ZenCash developers forked the code of Zclassic on the 23rd of May, 2017. ZClassic actually a clone of the well known ZCash privacy coin. The main reason for the ZClassic fork was because of the controversial “founder’s fund” as well as the slow start to mining.
The ZenCash developers wanted to develop a unique privacy coin that had the zk-SNARK and shielded transaction foundation as a base. Hence, at block 110,000 of the ZClassic blockchain, ZenCash was launched.
Some of the most interesting features that set ZenCash apart from its contemporaries includes the use of end-to-end TLS encryption on the transactions. This made the ZEN transactions more secure than they would be on other chains.
You also had ZenCash's version of masternodes called their "secure nodes". These are essentially nodes on the ZenCash network that will stake their ZEN in order to take part in the governance of network by voting on important decisions.
There were also a number of other features including ZenChat, ZenHide and ZenPub which made the project that much more appealing.
Horizen Brand Expansion
On the 22nd of August, the ZenCash team announced the release of Horizen. According to a the announcement, Horizen president Robert Viglione stated that:
What initially launched as a privacy-focused cryptocurrency has transformed into a much broader and deeply capable platform that will host a variety of privacy-focused applications, including secure messaging and publishing
They therefore wanted a name that would more accurately portray their purpose of promoting the "fundamental human right of privacy worldwide".
While the new name is exciting in itself, there are a number of other technological updates and improvements that are being worked on. These include the release of a revolutionary new platform that will allow users to create their own privacy centric application.
Horizen will also join a list of partners to create a new flagship wallet. Along with their partners they also plan to introduce blockDAG protocols and a DAO based treasury system. These could aid in the scaling and governance of the network.
Interview with Horizen's Rowan Stone
Clearly, the Horizen re-brand and roadmap seems exciting. However, there a number of questions that we had for the team around the technology and future prospects of Horizen.
For that, we turned to Rowan Stone, the Business development director. He was kind enough to answer a list of our questions.
The name Horizen is much more unique than Zencash and allows you guys to shake the ZCash moniker. Can you give us a few other reasons why you settled on Horizen?
The primary reason for changing the name of the organisation was that the ‘cash’ part of our previous name was limiting and didn’t portray the status or ambitions of the project.
The new name, Horizen, reinforces that the project is forward-thinking and visionary and will broaden the horizons of what the community can accomplish in the world using the platform.
I see that two pieces of technology that you guys are thinking of implementing on Horizen are blockDAG protocols and a DAO based treasury system. Can you explain the benefits each of these could bring to Horizen.
We aim to create a decentralised ‘Apple App Store’ however there are many technical challenges to overcome before we can make that vision a reality. In our opinion, 2 of the biggest technical challenges plaguing our industry are:
1) Scaling. You can’t create mass market products on top of a chain that doesn’t have a robust scaling solution.
We have a 2-pronged approach to this problem. Our applications will be run on side chains to prevent slowdown of our main chain which solves part of the issue but the side chains still need to communicate effectively with the main chain so to ensure the whole project can scale effectively, we partnered with Blockchain R&D giants, IOHK, to explore and develop a suitable scaling solution for our main chain.8 months on, we have settled on the goal of moving to a blockDAG (block based Directed Acyclic Graph) which will enable multiple blocks to be solved concurrently and therefore will drastically increase our transactional throughput whilst also collapsing mining difficulty which we hope will help with decentralisation.
Further information about our partnership with IOHK can be found in this blog post from January 2018.
2) Governance. Community driven projects require robust governance systems to ensure that they consistently work in line with the communities best wishes and don’t succumb to constant and inefficient internal debate as has been seen in projects that have less than ideal governance systems.Once our Treasury DAO system is launched, we intend to gradually move decision making powers over to our community, empowering our users to guide the project whilst also ensuring that the project doesn’t become over-dependent on the current team.
Further info on our upcoming DAO can be found in this blog post from July 2018
You guys are also trying to create the Horizen platform for developers to create privacy enabled applications. What is the timeline for this and do you have any more specifics for us?
We aim to have SDK’s, detailed developer guides and various developer tools in place by the end of H1 2019. At present, we are working on a novel decentralised side chain solution which will run on top of our network of Super Nodes. Our side chain whitepaper will be released very soon so keep an eye on our website and social channels to find out more.
An application platform is only as strong as the infrastructure it is built upon so to support the platform, Horizen has incentivised and orchestrated the creation of one of the biggest (if not the biggest) node networks in the industry with 22,000+ active nodes.
What sort of privacy enabled applications could we eventually see being created on the Horizen platform.
Our ultimate vision is to empower users to not just own but also selectively monetise their digital footprint which we think could potentially operate as a sort of opt-in Universal Basic Income in years to come.
The penultimate plan however is to position ourselves as a leading technology platform which means opening our infrastructure up to users and developers from all around the world so that they can develop and selectively monetise all types of applications on top of Horizen.
The first 3rd party application to be built on Horizen was recently created by a German law firm who saw great potential in ZenChat, our private messaging service. They are now using their own version of it to communicate critical information back and forth with clients and between their own offices.
We’re extremely excited to see what will be built on Horizen in the future!
You mention that the Horizen platform will implement a sustainable funding ecosystem. Can you expand on this a bit more?
The Horizen funding mechanism is a little different to the norm in this industry as rather than being funded upfront with 100% of the required capital (a la ICO’s), our 2 co-founders (Rob Viglione and Rolf Versluis) provided the initial capital required to launch the project before transitioning to the highly sustainable self-funding mechanism that we still use today.
A simple way to describe that mechanism is a block reward diversion. For each block that is solved, 70% of the reward is divided among the network of miners, 10% among Secure Nodes operators, 10% among the network of Super Nodes and 10% to the treasury which pays for Engineering, BD, Marketing, Community Proposals, Events etc.
This simple yet highly effective mechanism ensures that Horizen will have a reliable monthly budget for many years to come.
In the release notes, you say that a great deal of the innovations for the Horizen release came from your community. Can you explain a bit more?
Horizen was born from the desire to build upon some of the best features from multiple projects across the industry. We spent considerable time researching and listening to feedback from a large number of different communities to ensure that we started off with a goal that not only excited us but also matched a real market demand.
As a project, Horizen constantly engages with the community and works hard to ensure that evolving needs are met. Many of the core improvements we’ve made to our wallets and node tracking software were borne from our community which is something we’re extremely proud of.
A few months ago, ZenCash suffered a 51% double spend attack. Many people attributed this to the Equihash mining algorithm and the use of rented hashing power. Horizen has decided to stick to Equihash though. Why have you decided to do this? Is there any possibility for changes to the hashing algorithm in the future?
Critical decisions like whether or not to change the hashing algorithm are a perfect use case for the upcoming DAO.
Since deciding to remain on EH200-9, we’ve seen an increase in the security of our network so I strongly believe that we made the right decision for the long term health of Horizen.
Prior to the introduction of ASIC’s by Innosilicon, Bitmain and ASICMiner, you could rent >120% of our nethash from NiceHash whereas at the time of writing this, you can only rent 43% of our nethash from NiceHash (according to Crypto51).
I personally attribute this to the reduction of GPU profit switchers using the NiceHash application which was regularly pointing a comparatively huge quantity of Sol/s to the Equihash rental market. That readily available and extremely cheap hash made it very easy to overwhelm a project with 150MSol/s of hashpower without the need for any upfront capital.
Regardless of the perceived improvement in network security, since being attacked we have developed a modification to Satoshi’s consensus which moves the incentives back in favour of being a good actor by drastically increasing the cost of an attack with a block delay penalty system. More information on this system can be found here.
Our long-term goal of achieving censorship resistance via systematic decentralisation still remains, we’ve simply decided that the best way to get there for ZEN mining is to focus on the introduction of technologies like our upcoming blockDAG which has the potential to completely collapse mining difficulty rather than playing the short game by jumping into a cat and mouse race with a variety of extremely well-funded corporations.
ZEN is currently listed on quite a few exchanges. Have you got any other exchange listings planned in the near future?
We have many more tricks left up our sleeves, keep an eye on our social channels and be sure to tune into our biweekly updates to hear the news before anyone else!
Apart from partnering with IOHK, you have also partnered with Infopulse. What specifically are they helping Horizen with?
We have 3 engineering teams who collaborate on all things Horizen:
- Core engineering, the in-house team responsible for our blockchain, partner integrations, infrastructure and management of our 3rd party engineering teams, among many other things.
- InfoPulse, our Ukrainian partners who work closely with IOHK to bring the outcomes of research papers to reality as well as helping us write and test a code for a variety of purposes.
- CryptoParticle, our crack team of developers based out of LA who help with everything from wallet development to core software improvements and deliverables.
We’re fortunate to be working with some truly great people.
Are there any other partnerships that you currently have going on or plan to enter into at some point?
Beyond Code Particle, InfoPulse and IOHK, we have 2 other partnerships that we’re very proud of:
- BitGive, a project that leverages Bitcoin & Blockchain for Global Philanthropy
- BlueFrontiers, a project that is working to create sustainable floating islands with unique governing frameworks
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the rebrand, Horizen platform or the state of the project in general.
We have been working very hard to bring a number of projects to the market, in the next 6 months you will see:
- The launch of our decentralised side chain whitepaper
- Launch of our new flagship wallet for Windows, Mac & Linux
- The delivery of our Treasury DAO system
- Release of our new mobile wallets for both iOS & Android
It is refreshing to see cryptocurrency projects that not only have ambitious plans for the future but also have a great working product that is loved by the community. Horizen is clearly an example of this.
Moreover, these updates and the broader use cases are likely to not only increase awareness for ZEN but also adoption. The Horizen platform will allow for a whole host of innovation and development of privacy centric applications.
It is also great to see that the team is extremely open and receptive to the numerous ideas and concerns from the broader community. This is something that has helped shape their current trajectory and will no doubt help them going forward.
Therefore, as the team rolls out further updates and announcements, we will keep an eager eye on the Horizen.
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Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.