The excitement of Holochain hatching

Viktor Zaunders
6 min readDec 4, 2020

This post is a continuation of my writings on organizing like mycelia from 2018 and viewing ourselves through the lens of signals from 2019, if you are intrigued at the end of this piece, go check them out for more depth.

Peak-a-boo! Image credit

With the latest developments, it seems like Holochain is finally coming out of its shell. I’m totally excited, let me tell you why…

It isn’t that there is now a framework for peer-to-peer transactions that enable mutual credit systems that might actually be able to handle small and frequent transactions. Although that is pretty great.

It’s not just the fact that we can soon host our applications directly on our devices and on servers that we have in our homes and workplaces (again, how the internet once was you know…) either.

What about the design focus on default interoperability and modularity? Close, but let me put it in a more living perspective.

I am multitudes

For this, we need to look at ourselves as we are, people that are in a whole bunch of groups. Many different groupings. Like a family, a local neighborhood or village, a shared interest group, a gaming community, a book club. Whatever. For many people there is a large multiplicity of groups and contexts that we live in.

All of these groups are spaces. They have behaviors that are accepted and promoted, others that aren’t. They have differing needs for coordination. They are unequally important to a person. My family is more important than my book-club. There, I said it.

We live in a bubble soup of groupings. Image Credit

So, what if we could have software that not only understands this reality, but actually helps us distinguish and improve these bubbles?

I’ll get into two examples in a moment, but just to contrast, think about how your relationship is to technology right now. Does AirBNB or Uber understand and enhance the bubbles you live in?

No, they are flat surfaces, actually, they are their own huge bubbles, their own spaces. You visit the house of AirBNB for everything AirBNB-ish. And while you are there, they set the rules, they make the calls and the payment clocks are ticking.

What about Facebook, you seem to have lots of group spaces represented there right? But are they reflective of your lived experience in the flesh? Do you have a family group on Facebook? Do you get to decide on what kind of things can be done on Facebook? Do you even decide what you see in those rooms?

Nope. These rooms of the House of Facebook are very different from the spaces that I am looking forward to inhabiting with Holochain.

Two examples

I’ll use two examples to try to convey what I am envisioning when I am working with this stuff.

The first is a community of practice, an interest group around something that I love, say Gardening for instance. This can be something like the Guilds of old where people come together to learn, share and grow in their interest and activities together.

The second is my local village, you can just as well think of a neighborhood in a city, but I am country folk so I’ll speak of that.

I’ll stick to expanding these two examples, but some other groupings I could have expanded into that might help see what I mean with this lens of bubbles are:
- a family or co-housing
- a school
- a workplace
- a sports team
- a municipality

the Guild

Coat of arms displaying a number of guilds in medieval Europe Image Credits

This group, or community, may be local but doesn’t have to be. In fact it is possibly more vibrant and diverse if it connects people from different geographical locations. This group would probably need a set of tools that include: messaging (group and one-to-one), knowledge-bases (wikis), course-ware (internal learning and offering of courses to the outside), travel arranging (visits, ride-sharing, hosting etc).

All of these tools could fit inside of the boundaries of the social group (in Holochain folky-terms these boundaries would be called membranes, as groups can be seen as social organisms).

So a group that knows itself as a group can create an interface, a digital space, where these different modular tools come together. With an invitation you could download an app and have all of that stuff there, already connected and combined in a way that fits that groups working habits.

These modules can be open-source modules like the WordPress modules you might have used, but they don’t need hosting or web-administrators due to Holochains peer-to-peer & self-hosted application architecture. This means that you don’t need any external company making decisions for you inside your bubble!

Sure, we still need some developers and decisions to be made about the code and how things should work but this can happen within a community. Like there is someone in your bubble that might know how to bake bread, there might be someone that can learn to stitch modules together.

the Village

My local bubble. Image Credits

The grouping is based mostly on the geography of the people in the group, not so much the interests. There may be many interest intersections (a couple of people from my Guild might live here but not most) but what is collective about this group is that we live in the same space and we want to be a group.

As Elinor Ostrom showed with her research of the commons, having rules, practices, governing principals and graduated sanctions, with ultimately the possibility of exclusion from a group, is central to well functioning of commons-oriented group. Our village is such a commons (although few use that terminology here, yet!).

The village needs differ from the guild, what’s more important here are things like sharing tools (sharing vehicles too maybe), provisioning for food, local exchange of goods, notifying each other about things that happen (I’ve spotted this cat here, looks hungry!), borrowing books from each other and creating events for people here.

So then you download the local village app and see tools stitched together in a way that makes sense for here. Maybe many functions are overlayed on a map and people post their addresses in this app so that we can see where we are when we are going to pick up that extra shovel or book.

With holochain we can play with composing user-experiences that are unique for each group and modifying functionality for tools within that group, without having to do that for EVERYONE. Imagine me writing Facebook to try and ask if we can change the profile sheet to include “number of fruit trees open for picking”. Good luck.

the Hatchling

The Holochain hatchling is making its way back into the wild seas of the world. Image Credit

We can now (soon) have the digital tools we want and need, host them ourselves (no Amazon web services, no Facebooks in the middle) and live lives more fully where our screens are designed to augment our physical experience, not to eat it.

In the metaphor of the hatchling that I have been referring to with Holochain, it is now time to jump out of the nest and try out our wings.

The Holo hosting network (which is a peer-hosting network based on the Holochain framework) is now running successful alpha tests with hosted chat based on Holochain. And many applications are teetering on first use. Some like the process management tool Acorn have been working for a while.

So now is a great time to learn, build and play with this newcomer in the self-hosted, fully peer to peer, next-web scene. I pretty sure you’ll get excited too!

Check out the Holochain Forum for more introductions and places to play, especially if you are a developer!

If you want more stories related to this one, again, check out the links at the top!

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Viktor Zaunders

Idea pollinator and bridge-builder with a love for networks, ecology & technology.