Announcing the Samsung NEXT Stack Zero Grant recipients
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Announcing the Samsung NEXT Stack Zero Grant recipients

Last November, we launched the Samsung NEXT Stack Zero Grant, a non-equity program to support early-stage teams building decentralized technologies with funding, expertise, and access to the Samsung NEXT network.

The Stack Zero Grant was born out of our belief that, as an industry, we must support the volunteers and researchers who are building the infrastructure of the future.

During the application period, we received proposals from more than 100 teams. The quality of projects was great across the board, which made narrowing down our selections difficult. However, we were eventually able to choose nine submissions from groups working on several different areas across the decentralization space.

The selected teams cover a wide array of technologies, from low-level libraries to decentralized social networks to privacy tools. The one thing they all have in common is that they use decentralization technology to empower individuals and communities.

The projects are:

Mapeo, by Digital Democracy; and PeerMaps are two teams providing tools for decentralized editing, distribution, and syncing of mapping data. Our always-connected world has facilitated the rise of centralized services that make use of our computers and smartphones as dumb terminals. It can be easy to forget that there are entire communities that could still benefit from technological tools, yet are unable to rely on an internet connection to access a centralized mapping service. These peer-to-peer tools allow indigenous tribes in South America to map the territories that are fundamental to their society, providing a stark reminder of what decentralization can help accomplish.

Mastodon is a federated social network, akin to a decentralized Twitter that allows anyone to run their own server. Created by Eugen Rochko, it’s the first decentralized social network to really take off at scale. Mastodon instances have become a haven for people looking for a more personal, focused exchange in a network where they are considered participants and not just advertising targets. It’s built on a W3C-recommended standard called ActivityPub, so each instance can communicate with other instances, or with other federated applications.

This is a good segue into Spritely. Christopher Lemmer Webber is the co-editor and co-author of the now-ubiquitous ActivityPub protocol. While it provides a great framework for creating, updating, and deleting content across applications, it doesn’t provide any standardised mechanism for secure authorisation. With Spritely, Webber will work on extending the protocol in a backward-compatible manner, while at the same time building tools and applications that showcase its use. This will enable developers to build applications that enable richer interactions through a federated standard.

The Dat Project is the umbrella for a series of libraries enabling peer-to-peer communication, such as Hypercore (an append-only/Merkle tree combination) and HyperDrive (a peer-to-peer distributed file system). It also maintains and supports the Dat protocol, which combines properties of Git and IPFS into a unique distribution mechanism. The team has been quietly working on libraries for more than five years and its tools have enabled others to easily start their own decentralized projects.

The ZoKrates team is building a toolbox to enable the creation of zkSNARKs, a family of zero-knowledge proofs, in a standard way across the blockchain ecosystem and beyond. Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKP) enable you to prove statements about data without revealing the data itself, enhancing user privacy. However, these proof systems are extremely complex and difficult to use. ZoKrates exposes a simple domain-specific language whose syntax is close to Python’s, which simplifies ZKP development and makes it easier to program and reason. In turn, this makes it easier to create privacy-preserving applications, both on- and off-chain.

The final technical grant went to Katzenpost, which is conducting research and writing libraries for mix networks. The team is building tools with the goal of preventing passive eavesdropping that is able to detect who is communicating with whom, while at the same time providing reliable out-of-order delivery. While moving to a decentralized world, we believe approaches that help defend a user’s privacy against metadata analysis will be fundamental.

We’re also supporting two teams with opportunity grants:

she256 is a movement dedicated to increasing diversity and breaking down barriers to entry in the blockchain space. It has an approach to inclusion that focuses on mentorship, education, and community, accomplished through a global mentorship program, various workshops, and an annual conference that features groundbreaking research and innovation.

Simply Secure supports practitioners who are putting people at the center of trustworthy technology, by providing workshops for user experience designers, researchers, and developers. It runs workshops and mentors security practitioners, helping to ensure that technology puts people at the center of privacy, security, and transparency.

We are happy to be able to contribute to these teams and can’t wait to see how they continue their great work this year. To stay up-to-date on all future Stack Zero and Samsung NEXT news, subscribe to our newsletter or use our RSS feed.

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