This is the story of how we built an open source company that specializes in developing the identity, data, and compute protocols for the future of the Internet.
Fission’s co-founder and CEO, Boris Mann, has been on the Internet for a long time. As one of the first 1,000 bloggers in the world, Boris loved being able to publish content online but recognized the challenges to making self-publishing possible for everyone. Running a server under your desk at home, installing software on the command line, and generally having the necessary technical know-how is neither realistic nor equitable.
Discovering the Drupal open source content management system and its worldwide network of contributors was an eye-opener: here was software and more importantly community working on making it possible for anyone to publish online. Boris became an active contributor, including helping to organize events that grow from 40 people to 1000s of Drupalcon attendees, and helping to form the Drupal Association.
At the same time, large proprietary software companies, like Microsoft, were working hard to retain their market position. They viewed open source software as a dangerous competitor and adopted internal policies to thwart the advancement of FOSS.
Boris continues to advocate for and share open source code, data, and community principles. Building better together, so that people can have more control and agency of technology for better communication and collaboration online and off.
Brooklyn became deeply involved in the local meetup scene, running multiple communities across many topics. She became involved in international functional programming and distributed systems conferences after she ported the Haskell standard library to Elixir. (It later tuned out that functional data structures are a great fit for IPLD).
Eventually, Brooklyn decided she wanted to return to startups, and was hired by a company based out of San Francisco. She and her Vancouver co-worker rented a desk from Boris's co-working space, which is how they met!
Brooklyn went on to do consulting work for Facebook, Uber, Kickstarter, and many others. After writing the same boilerplate for the nth time and fighting with k8s, she started to feel that there must be a better way. She began early designs of things that would eventually find their way into Fission.
After a couple of years away travelling as a digital nomad, she she returned to Vancouver in 2017. She joined Boris as principal engineer at a company working on Ethereum-based, legally compliant infrastructure. Brooklyn then focused on writing a formally verifiable smart contract language that was also human-readable (so that a lawyer could review the code).
Excited by the potential of a backend as a service, aka the "world computer" of Ethereum, Boris and Brooklyn together founded a company called SPADE ("Special Projects and Decentralized Engineering") and received an important grant from the ConsenSys Tachyon program to work on Ethereum Status Codes, which were later renamed FISSION Codes. They were one of only two companies to receive an open-source grant (the other being WalletConnect).
While building FISSION Codes, both Boris and Brooklyn started to recognize that the real challenge for both Web2 and Web3 was the increasing complexity of putting together full stack applications – plus the devops needs of running such apps. Except now, these problems were compounded by complex security needs and a more fervent demand for user control and agency. Users had been burned by Web2 exploitation and were becoming more discerning and knowledgeable about how their privacy was being compromised.
While the Web3 of blockchain, decentralized web, and p2p components were new and everyone was learning, all of the same challenges of needing to gain all of the increasingly complex skills of full stack app development and deployment were there.
After spending time on core Ethereum development & community building, our cofounders asked themselves:
What if some of the emerging concepts of Web3 – advances in distributed systems, cryptography, and self verifiable data structures – could make it dramatically easier for front end developers to build apps, without having to become full stack developers and devops experts.
And so Fission the company was born: building an edge stack with identity, data, and compute components that enables front-end developers to build local-first apps while respecting user privacy and agency.
In a Web2 stack, to put an app online, you need to run a server to hold user data. All of this data is visible to the people that run the service, and the incentives are typically to lock the users' data into the service. Never mind scaling and devops server management.
In prototyping, front end developers use dummy data in the browser without having to worry about setting up a server.
What if they could make that much simpler prototype development capable of running the production data? It would make development much easier for developers, and data wouldn't have to leave the device! By default, it would have to respect user agency.
Fission (as it is now known) became a member of the Protocol Labs Network and started to build on top of the IPFS protocol. This direction would lead to the inventions of UCAN (decentralized user auth) and WNFS (user file system on top of IPFS with encrypted private data).
Today our front end developer SDK has evolved its storage solution into an overall data solution. We are working on a far-edge database called Rhizome to be added to the mix. We continue to iterate and collaborate with others on UCAN and other decentralized identity tools and have done an initial release of the final piece of our edge stack: content-addressed computation on IPFS with the InterPlanetary Virtual Machine (IPVM) specification.
Our commitment to community building and open-source development is unwavering, and we look forward to continuing to grow and collaborate within this robust and exciting ecosystem.