I spent last week at a Dagstuhl seminar on permissioned blockchain (thanks Mic for getting me the invitation!). If you aren’t aware what this is, it is basically an unstructured week at a German castle in the middle of nowhere talking about research problems in a particular area of computer science (in this case, permissioned blockchain). So, basically it’s nerd camp for adults—your mileage may vary, but I thought it was really fun.
As you all might expect, Hyperledger came up quite a bit in discussions. In fact, Fabric seemed to be the most talked about (and built upon) system. I had no idea that there were this many people across the world in academia working on things related to Hyperledger (it seems to be the case that blockchain papers are being sent to a very wide variety of conferences so it is hard to follow). In particular, Hyperledger has captured a lot of interest in the database community which I did not expect or know about until last week. The fact that Hyperledger has caught on in parts of the academic community was really encouraging. Some of the academic work included direct building on Hyperledger (like the fast Fabric paper—one of the authors was there), while other work used, say, Fabric, as a way to test the performance of new algorithms. For instance, multiple people reported BFT algorithm tests in terms of Fabric performance.
However, there were some notable issues: pretty much all of the participants didn’t know how to contribute their work back to Hyperledger! Those that had contacted people found the contribution process difficult, thought it was hard to get started, and didn’t know who to talk to about issues in the process. Many of these people were not just coming with algorithms on pencil and paper—they had modified versions of, say, Fabric running with their implementation changes, and performance numbers to boot! Several groups said that they tried to get involved and contribute, but one or more hurdles stopped the process.
It struck me as particularly wasteful that we did not have an efficient way to get these folks involved in Hyperledger. Given that many of these research groups already had working code, it seemed like it should be easy to incorporate these changes, but it wasn’t happening. In particular, I think this was due to the fact that most people had never worked with an open source organization before and were not aware of how things worked.
With this in mind, I’d like to suggest we create a forum for Hyperledger research-related activities. I’m not sure whether this should be a working group, SIG, or something else entirely, but I think we should have a biweekly (or perhaps monthly) meeting where researchers could talk about their work and get feedback on how to contribute the results of their research back into the Hyperledger code bases. In addition to helping researchers contribute code, we could potentially do more: we could have engineers talk about interesting problems they face that might be good for research, and researchers present solutions to problems (or efficiency/security improvements) that could be implemented to improve the various Hyperledger projects.
I asked people at the seminar if they would be interested in joining something like this, and roughly half of the 30 participants expressed interest in joining. So I think we would have a pretty substantial crowd.
What do people think about this? Does anyone have any suggestions on how to best implement this idea? Again, it seems very wasteful not to help these researchers (and potential contributors) get involved.
Thanks a lot for your time, and have a great day.