Future Tools: Keybase

Learning the how and why of alternative infrastructure

Future tools is a recurring feature of the Metaviews newsletter that (as per the request of subscriber Loren McGinnis) helps readers better understand some of the tools and services that are publicly available and provide an alternative to the Black Box society being created by Facebook, Google, etc.

For this issue let’s focus on keybase. The simplest way to sum up keybase is to say that it aspires to make encryption easy. Their slogan is “crypto for everyone!” and their goal is to enable the active and widespread use of encryption.

Encryption has become particularly important and relevant in an era of surveillance, disinformation, and decentralized computing.

On a basic level, encryption, and in particular keybase, can be used to help prove that you are who you say you are. Traditional cryptography used key signatures to accomplish this, keybase does this as well as authenticate social media accounts. Rather than wait for that blue check mark that says your account is verified, you can use keybase to confirm that a social media account in question is actually tied to and operated by you.

However encryption is also about keeping secrets, and protecting information. While you could use keybase as an online service to verify identity, it can also be downloaded as an app which then makes the benefits of encryption available to any user.

This includes secure messaging, file sharing, and online file storage (i.e. encrypted and private cloud computing). Keybase provides 250GB of free (and private) file storage.

Keybase, which was started by the co-founders of OKCupid, is often described as an alternative to WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) or Slack (popular among corporate clients), two of the more popular messaging and collaboration platforms.

Messaging, collaboration, and cloud computing are becoming essential tools for enterprise or even community organizations. Understanding where your data is and how it is used is crucial, and a platform or service that offers this for free and with strong encryption is hard to resist. It certainly begs the question as to what Keybase’s business model is.

The answer may be obvious when we remember that for most people today the word crypto is associated with money rather than privacy.

It’s not ironic that the large majority of contemporary encryption users do so out of motivation of financial gain rather than the motivation to protect their privacy or information.

Keybase not only makes it easy to use encryption, but more to the point it makes it easy to use cryptocurrency.

In cryptocurrency terms a drop is essentially a reward for being a user. In this case all you need is a keybase account and the Lumens (XLM) will be automatically deposited into your stellar wallet automatically every month.

Lumens could be considered an alternative to Facebook’s Libra initiative, which also seeks to create a cryptocurrency that is fully integrated with a chat, collaboration, and cloud platform.

The Stellar Foundation is a big funder of Keybase, after having invested an undisclosed amount in the company. Keybase’s governance structure is not entirely clear, Stellar for example did not receive any seats on Keybase’s board.

However does governance matter when crypto is involved and the project is open source?

The Stellar Development Foundation and other cryptocurrency developers are still facing potential regulation and hope that by blazing a trail before the regulatory agencies catch up they will be able to preserve whatever markets or infrastructure they’ve created. Hence the desire to give away their cryptocurrency in tandem with software that makes it easy to use, and software that already focuses on integrating with as many other platforms as possible.

Similarly the attraction to making crypto easy is perhaps the hope that when that regulation comes, it will also be easy to enable your users to flout or avoid that regulation if necessary.

Learning to use crypto is important, and understanding cryptocurrencies is also important. However understanding your potential exposure, especially when accumulating cryptocurrency, even by accident, is also important.

Thankfully you’ve got Metaviews to help. Let us know if there are topics you’d like us to delve into. Thanks to Corvin for suggesting this one.

This recurring feature is called “future tools” because it not only showcases tools that may rise in value and profile as the future unfolds, but also because understanding what they do and why will also help you in your future. Today’s focus on easy to use encryption is a good example. The more you understand how encryption works the better your future will be. ;)

Update: Keybase was acquired by Zoom?!

Jesse Hirsh

Jesse Hirsh