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Author Topic: feedback wanted, a new perfect industry for Bitcoin  (Read 2416 times)
chaord
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September 13, 2010, 06:55:44 AM
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In a private discussion with Noagendamarket, we stumbled across what we feel might be the perfect identifying (eg, intrinsic use value) for a system like bitcoin.  As mentioned in some other posts, typically the only industries that one can think of which truly value decentralization, anonymity, etc are porn, gambling, and drugs.  These are not mainstream friendly industries Wink  However, what Noagendamarket and I realized is that there is a perfect industry in dire need of something like bitcoin...and it's been under our noses the whole time!  Drum roll please:  education!

While education (and I'll speak more to this in a bit) is the overall industry, the actual product/service that I think bitcoin would be perfect for is an educational escrow and digital title service.  Think about it, with advances in cryptography (digital certificates) and a decentralized, yet publicly audit-able system like bitcoin, it's the perfect combination to start building a true free-market in education!  The service I'm proposing would remain completely content/course agnostic and be purely responsible for escrowing an internal educational currency (bitcoins) and proof-of-learning certificates (digital certs) between students and teachers.

First let's talk about the escrow service.  IMO, as long as there is a teacher and a student willing to pay that teacher we have a market.  While I do not propose to know the outcome of a pure free market, I can speculate that a free market in learning would have some serious improvements over the current educational landscape.  For example, I'm not a cryptographer.  Most of what I know about encryption and hashing I have either learned from these forums or I have merely read about.  That being said, if Satoshi himself offered to teach an online class on cryptography I would be ecstatic.  At a very basic level, I envision the following:
  • A mentor/teacher lists some information about a course that he would like to teach to any customers
  • Additionally, if the market has not given the teacher enough brand equity (reputation) yet, the teacher can post a teacher's deposit in escrow. In addition to paying their own student fees, students (and maybe other third party auditors) then would decide how much of the teacher's deposit he "earned back"
  • Students could bid on slots in the course.
  • Courses could be as short as one test (multiple choice reading comprehension) or as long as a couple years, on any subject.  It doesn't matter.  Reputation of courses/teachers will be reflected in prices and popularity.
  • Anyone can be a teacher! Anyone can be a student!
  • The market might figure out a better mechanism...this is just an example Wink

Example: I want to teach Calculus.  I have no formal teaching credential from the state, but I sure as hell could teach someone calculus over the internet.  In fact, I'm so confident in my ability to teach you calculus, that I will even match your student fee 100%.  That means that at the end of the course, you would get to decide how much of my "deposit" I get back.  If I turn soft and just pass you without teaching you the material, you might give me all of my deposit back...but my reputation as a teacher (and therefore the price I can earn per course) will surely suffer.  Additionally, no third party curriculum agency would vouch for me.

Essentially this results in a system where all parties have something on the line, in a good way.  Teachers are truly investing in their students.  Similarly, students are investing in their teachers.  It's a win-win.  Poor teachers would be weeded out, and logically so would (and should) incapable students (or they will merely take different classes that they will do well in....the market will adapt).

So, many of you may be thinking to yourself, "how will teachers make sure that their students are qualified?" or "what about unqualified rich students who just keep buying their slots in classes?."  The answer to this, lies on the "digital title company" side of the proposal.

When a student completes a course (to the teacher's satisfaction) he is awarded a digital certificate of completion.  Similar to the bitcoin blockchain, I envision this as a pseudonymous publicly auditable asset that the student owns from that day forward. Of course, as the market evolves there would be curriculum committees, and other auditing committees that would help teachers build a brand, maintain grading standards, etc.  Depending on how the market evolves, the certificate of completion (eg proof-of-work) might actually be signed and awarded by a committee rather than the teacher himself.  Additionally, now the foundation would be layed for pre-requisite certificates.  For any course that a teacher wants to teach, he could list pre-requisites (certificates) that the students must possess first.

The bottom line, IMO is that we could utilize the properties of bitcoin (opensource, decentralized, auditable, pseudonymous, etc) to develop the first platform for a true free market in learning.  This would probably be popular with homeschoolers and corporations alike because they can play directly into the market, rather than sit on the sidelines observing bureaucrats screw it all up Wink.

I hope I have done an ok job explaining how I think this could be the industry identifier necessary to get bitcoin over the hump and into mainstream.  If I have not, please let me know and I'll give examples of how it could work.

I would love some feed back on this, because I'm very much considering trying it (startup, business plan, try to get funding, etc).  I realize that the "title" aspect of it is outside of bitcoin's current scope, so that is something that would be developed separately.  However, is bitcoin currently capable of handling complicated escrow payments and such (multiple signatures necessary to release escrow)?

Looking forward to hearing what you guys think.
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jgarzik
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September 13, 2010, 07:29:02 AM
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The digital-cert-for-education idea is fantastic.

Application of bitcoins is secondary to that primary idea, IMO.

Jeff Garzik, bitcoin core dev team and BitPay engineer; opinions are my own, not my employer.
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September 13, 2010, 11:07:21 AM
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The digital-cert-for-education idea is fantastic.

Application of bitcoins is secondary to that primary idea, IMO.


Bitcoin was just the value used to describe transfer of value,and its easy to move around without needing banks involved. The real value of bitcoin lies not in its implementation but in its principles - those being proof of work and security.



chaord
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September 13, 2010, 03:26:20 PM
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The digital-cert-for-education idea is fantastic.

Application of bitcoins is secondary to that primary idea, IMO.


Yeah, I mean basically I'm proposing an education related verisign, combined with a bitcoin escrow service.  What do you think about the free market aspect of it? eg, where both teachers and students have something on the line?

Additionally, like Noagande mentioned, what we're trying to focus on and emulate here is Bitcoin's "proof of work" idea but in a more human-centric sense rather than a machine proof-of-work.  That being said, other concepts from bitcoin, IMO are still valuable, such as decentralization, yet still publicly auditable, opensource, etc.
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September 13, 2010, 06:40:58 PM
 #5

Interesting idea. How about encoding grades in the certs? A teacher could judge, based on the cert, to accept a student who is willing to learn (show by many high grades) and who is just trying to get certs ("just passing" grades).
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September 13, 2010, 06:52:29 PM
 #6

Bootstrapping problem:  gotta certify the teachers Smiley

Jeff Garzik, bitcoin core dev team and BitPay engineer; opinions are my own, not my employer.
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September 13, 2010, 07:03:45 PM
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Bootstrapping problem:  gotta certify the teachers Smiley


Also the proposed "committees" might become to powerful and bureaucratic after some time, who
is going to keep them in line? Committees are already some sort of centralisation... what you might not want.
chaord
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September 13, 2010, 07:25:32 PM
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Yeah...I mean if this were to take off and became the de-facto standard for continued education (or homeschooling), I think there would be agencies that would pop up for all sorts of certifications:  grades, identity, attendance, etc.  It also works for mentoring relationships.  A top-notch business person could open slots for a couple "apprentices."  Depending on the type of apprentices (rich, poor, educated, uneducated) he wants, he could publish pre-requisites.  Those pre-requisites could be anything from "grade certificates" to "sign-off from my secretary" (who, incidentally has her own seal).

However, certificates alone are not enough.  Theoretically twitter, facebook, or linked-in could easily allow their users to "give" certificates to people they trust.  What I am trying to do here is couple it with a market, and a publicly auditable market at that.  This has the effect of allowing participants to ascertain the true value of a certificate...whether that be from a college level course, or an endorsement from a well known business professional.

I picture these certificates stored as XML, but perhaps with their own extension.  At any time, anyone should be allowed to check the validity of a certificate (prove that it is not counterfeit).  I also feel like, if you have the public key of another individual you should be able to see all the certificates that individual has earned (or at least the ones he makes available for public viewing).

The biggest difference between Verisign and what I am trying to do is that Verisign doesn't hide the fact that they are in the encryption business.  On the other hand, I want to merely make viewing, verifying, and earning these unique digital certificates as "laymen friendly" as possible.  Sure, it's using some advanced stuff, but it also needs to be intuitive and friendly.

A couple other thoughts/concerns:
  • would there be certificate farming? eg, would some people set up whole new identities, enroll in  classes, be good students, and then sell their pseudonyms to a rich student who want to skip the pre-reqs?  Personally, this doesn't seem all that bad to me.
  • what are the risks for a company acting as an educational escrow/cert authority while remaining agnostic to the content of the courses and such?  I feel like a government might not like me proxying educational payments between a radical muslim offering to teach his followers for a fee
  • So, in light of the above, I feel like it is necessary, like bitcoin, to be opensource, decentralized, and foster competition amongst the escrow/title companies

Bootstrapping problem:  gotta certify the teachers Smiley


Also the proposed "committees" might become to powerful and bureaucratic after some time, who
is going to keep them in line? Committees are already some sort of centralisation... what you might not want.

Yeah, I imagine that some existing institutions (universities, department of education, etc) would try to impose their committees on the system.  However, since this is a free market and there is no reason that a competing, more streamlined, and just as reputed committee couldn't form.  I think some level of bureaucracy is probably needed in education.  However, the market will be good at keeping that level of bureaucracy to a minimum Wink.

Also, what do you guys think about the whole "teacher's posting collateral" idea? I feel like this would be a great boon for the program.  Subject matter experts can offer their expertise, and if they are not very well known (or in a field the market doesn't know about) or have no followers they can post teaching collateral (or their sponsoring company/committee could if they are a part of one) which would give the market some initial confidence in them.  In my mind, I'm picturing a system that once again makes it lucrative to be a good teacher and share your knowledge with willing learners.

[Edit:  There is also no reason why some of the "courses" and "teachers" couldn't merely be "content" and "servers," much like automated tutorials.  An automated photoshop tutorial (with an small test at the end) could serve as a pre-requisite for a graphic design course.
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September 14, 2010, 02:05:17 AM
 #9

   Thanks chaord for outlining this better than I can.We both believe in the market knowing the correct course to take and as such the service will be payment agnostic and course agnostic. This is a true free choice in what you or your child can learn and from who they learn it. The government should compete with private certification companies at a minimum. If a certification company becomes bloated and beauracratic they will be unable to compete in this free market.Our fees will be a bare minimum so there is full value instead of wasting 80 per cent of your money on administration.
   
   Another thing is that private cert companies are often times a lot stricter on what guidelines and qualifications teachers need. If you look at private companies over time such things as Underwriters Lab spring up which are third party testing facilities. Best practices and standards develop of their own accord because there is a need for them to. This system is not only restricted to online courses it can also be used in a physical location by tutors and so forth. face to face learning can be done anywhere it does not have to be a government indoctrination centre!

    I have many ideas about making this system go viral which I wont go into here. 
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September 14, 2010, 04:04:57 AM
 #10

Looking forward to hearing what you guys think.

Sounds great!  I can teach jazz saxophone.

"We will not find a solution to political problems in cryptography, but we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years.

Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled networks, but pure P2P networks are holding their own."
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September 14, 2010, 04:07:16 AM
 #11

So, how and who is going to implement this?

chaord
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September 14, 2010, 04:25:02 AM
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So, how and who is going to implement this?

I am offering to head up this project from the business and organizational structure perspective.  Of course there are certainly some areas that I lack the expertise to pull off all of the technical stuff, so a community approach, at least initially might be helpful.  

If we are serious about doing this, I think some strategic questions are rapidly approaching.  I started researching the competitive landscape today.  There are many companies and organizations that focus on internet-centric learning (http://edufire.com, http://www.collegeboard.com, http://p2pu.org/, http://www.uopeople.org, http://http://academicearth.org/).  Now the problems I have with these is that a) they are either state affilliated or b) they issue certificates AND content, thereby making them not content agnostic or c) they are not academically competitive (from a reputational standpoint)

I think that ideally what we would do is create the cert infrastructure as an open source project with a well documented and easy to use web API.  We then form an escrow company that implements the API and also offers to assist content providers in implementing the API into their offerings.  

[Edit:  Ideally I feel like a copy of issued certificates should be stored on a P2P datastore?
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September 14, 2010, 06:03:14 AM
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 I have a VPS I am using for a separate project that this can be hosted on.
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September 14, 2010, 04:05:31 PM
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So, who is going to teach?

Anonymous
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September 15, 2010, 12:45:37 AM
 #15

So, who is going to teach?

Well its a free market system for education. Education Escrow just matches anyone wanting to teach with anyone wanting to learn.
As chaord says it is agnostic on the course content. The teacher can submit their course and the requirements for the students. The part we need help with is how the cryptography will work. Can you have a block chain of pgp keys that you can add to over time as you get qualifications?


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