Interledger Foundation executive director Briana Marbury speaks with Ayden Férdeline from POWER PLAYS about financial inclusion and advancing open payment standards and technologies that seamlessly connect our global society.
Intro [00:00:07] You're listening to POWER PLAYS, the podcast hosting conversations between policymakers, engineers, business leaders and others who are influencing the Internet's infrastructure and institutions in ways that impact all of us today. Here's your host, Ayden Férdeline.
Ayden Férdeline [00:00:29] Welcome to POWER PLAYS, presented by Grant for the Web, I'm Ayden Férdeline. Today on the show, we have the executive director of the Interledger Foundation, Briana Marbury. I'm really excited for this conversation because the Interledger protocol and the Interledger Foundation are building access to financial pathways around the world to potentially serve billions of people. I also want to be quite transparent about something. The Interledger Foundation is now the institutional home for Grant for the Web, and POWER PLAYS is a recipient of funding from Grant for the Web. But when we received this grant, Grant for the Web was administered and funded by Coil Technologies, and neither Coil nor Interledger asked for this interview. I did. And I maintained full editorial control over this product.
Ayden Férdeline [00:01:20] Welcome to POWER PLAYS, Briana. One question I always ask guests on the show is an ice breaker, and that is, what is a contrarian thought that you have about business or culture that others might disagree with you on?
Briana Marbury [00:01:36] Yeah, that's one that might get me in a little bit of trouble. But I really feel that there should be more of a sharing of profits from companies. Like, do more profit distribution rather than hoarding it all and making more money for shareholders. Give it to non-profits, give it to struggling individuals, countries. And I know in business you're supposed to want to make more money, more money, more money for the shareholders. But I don't necessarily agree with that.
Ayden Férdeline [00:02:16] I agree. Share the wealth. So let's start with the basics. You are the executive director of the Interledger Foundation. What is Interledger, and what is the mission of the Interledger Foundation?
Briana Marbury [00:02:31] OK, so let's start off. There's the Interledger protocol and then there's the Interledger Foundation. So how about I start off with the Interledger protocol, which is the actual technology? I mean, the Interledger Foundation serves as advocates of the technology. The best and most relatable way I use to describe the protocol is that it's an open source payment network for moving money from one place to another. Similar how the Internet moves data from one place to another. And one way the technology is useful is for what we call open payments. And to give you an example of what I mean by that, say we go to dinner and you pay the bill with cash and I want to split it with you, but I don't have any cash, so I have to use one of my apps to pay it. Here in the US, say you have Venmo. I have Cash App. And we cannot transact with each other unless one of us gets the other's app. But, if those apps were built on the Interledger protocol, we wouldn't need to download the other's app and we could be able to exchange money that way. And it wouldn't even have to be in the same currency. Another really cool feature of the protocol is its ability to send fractions of a cent or micro payments in a continuous manner, which can stream payments from one account or ledger to another. The way this feature of the protocol is being used at the moment is for web monetization, which is an alternative for making money for creators. Here at the Interledger Foundation, we are advocates and stewards of the Interledger protocol technology. That means that we hold things like the trademarks and patents. But we also are here to get the word out about the technology and how it could be useful for everyday use.
Ayden Férdeline [00:04:42] Just out of curiosity, is the foundation a private operating foundation or a 501c3 or another structure altogether?
Briana Marbury [00:04:49] We are a 501c3 public charity, so we're kind of a hybrid of sorts. We give out grants and sponsorships to organizations and individuals that are helping to spread the word about Web monetization and the Interledger protocol. And we also support developers, creators, whoever is helping to increase the ecosystem. And we also have a membership structure. So we're kind of a hybrid, but we are definitely a 501c3 public charity.
Ayden Férdeline [00:05:25] That's a high threshold to meet. So it's a legit public charity. The foundation is new, but the protocol itself has been around for a while, right? I'm curious as to who invented the protocol or how did it come to be?
Briana Marbury [00:05:42] Yeah, so Interledger has two cocreators. That is Stefan Thomas and Evan Schwartz. And they came up with the idea of the Interleger protocol while working at Ripple. And what happened is that Stefan noticed that it was really hard to get people paid that were in other countries and it took a long time and there were a lot of fees involved. And so they really wanted to make getting paid over the Internet as easy as it is to send data. And so that's what they set out to do. And because of that, the Interledger protocol is built very closely along the same lines as the Internet is built, so it has five layers and that's how it got started.
Ayden Férdeline [00:06:33] I presume the idea behind the foundation is to promote the Interledger protocol and not necessarily other standards or protocols. But correct me if I am wrong.
Briana Marbury [00:06:43] It really is about the Interledger protocol and its ability to transfer money, regardless of what form that comes in. So whether that is blockchain, whether that is fiat currency, meaning like USD or Thai Baht. Any type of monetary asset that can be transferred, it is about transferring.
Ayden Férdeline [00:07:08] Sure, and I think that's one of the really interesting things about the protocol and the foundation's mission. I mean, this idea of advancing financial inclusion.
Briana Marbury [00:07:18] Hmm.
Ayden Férdeline [00:07:20] I'm curious what is wrong with existing payment networks? Why don't they work for everyone? And I'm particularly interested in the work that the foundation is doing to support unbanked populations.
Briana Marbury [00:07:33] Yeah. So right now, about one third of the world or 1.7 billion people are underserved or unbanked, so meaning they don't have access to digital financial services and it's very difficult for them to transact digitally and be involved in their digital economy. Right now, there have been a lot of companies that have started to see these gaps and pop up and address the issues. Say, for instance, we do have a network in a certain country and you join that network, you are only able to transact with people in that network, kind of similar to the example that I gave earlier, if you want to transact with someone outside of that network. It's just impossible. And so the networks are really siloed. And they also charge large fees depending on where you are. Another thing is that a lot of these companies, they have very strict rules and regulations around KYC know your customer. And for that, you have to provide pictures. In order to engage in their platform you have to have picture I.D., passports and a lot of information that if you are in a poor country, you might not have a picture I.D. So we're trying to make it more accessible for people who, although they may not have access to a bank, but all of these people, 80 percent, have mobile phones. So how can we use the technology that they already have, that they're already familiar with, to be able to include them in their digital economy? And so by using the Interledger protocol to be able to connect people, whether it's with individual or individual, individual with a bank, that is what we set out to do. We really just want people to have connections where they can just transact with each other. Say, for instance, in Gambia. Right. They don't have access to be able to pay their water bills digitally. So they have to go and take hours out of their day, maybe go to the bank or use the money that they have and go pay it physically, which might take them up to half a day. And that's like time out of your day. That might be time out of, that you spend from taking time from your job. So we just want to be able to make everyone's lives easier.
Ayden Férdeline [00:10:44] Sure. I definitely see the use case there, so say I want to send or receive fiat currency using Interledger. How does that work? The foundation itself is not a financial institution. So I presume I need a digital wallet issued by a financial institution.
Briana Marbury [00:11:01] Yeah. Right now, to get on to the network, you would need to have an account with a digital wallet. Right now, the wallets that are Interledger-enabled are Gatehub and Uphold. And soon we hope to have more wallets that are Interledger-enabled. And that kind of leads me into the Rafiki project that Coil is doing that would be an all-in-one plug-in for digital wallets to run the Interledger protocol. But you get an account with the digital wallet and you are able to either accept or send out money through that wallet and that wallet is able to take any type of currency, like you said, fiat currency in any form and cryptocurrency as well.
Ayden Férdeline [00:11:55] I lived in Argentina for a period of time and I know many creatives there. The local currency in Argentina is not stable and many Argentines prefer to keep their savings in US dollars, but some payment providers that online content creators in Argentina use are forced to convert their earnings into pesos, which is undesirable, and these can also attract astronomical transaction fees of around 25% of their earnings. Something I like about the Interledger protocol is that, with the protocol and the digital wallets that you connect to it, you can choose the currency that you earn funds in.
Briana Marbury [00:12:36] Yes, yes. And that is really the idea of the Interledger protocol, because Stefan tells the story of one time trying to pay a merchant. And forgive me, I don't remember the country, but by the time they received the payment, it was an Airbnb host. By the time they received the payment, it was weeks later and they had so many fees taken out of it, they only received a fraction of what they charged for hosting. So with the Interledger protocol, you get almost immediate settlement with low fees.
Ayden Férdeline [00:13:27] That's really exciting. I'm curious about the Interledger protocol and also the web monetization proposed standard that the foundation is working on. Is this a bottom-up process? Can anyone contribute towards it?
Briana Marbury [00:13:42] Absolutely. It is an open source project, meaning that the code is open for all and anyone can work on it. With the Grant for the Web program, we have grantees that are working in a web monetization space and our community forum, but also in that community forum are just people who are interested in web monetization and have questions and want to be involved. And so anyone at all can participate as long as they're interested. And we're working. A couple of grantees are working on this, and we're also hiring a tech lead who will be joining us in a couple of weeks, to have a library of resources to make it easier to access any questions you may have. You can go to this repository and be able to and use it as a resource.
Ayden Férdeline [00:14:42] From what I understand, there are already over four hundred developers that are building on top of the Interledger protocol in different ways. I'm curious, are there any developers whose work you find particularly noteworthy or inspiring?
Briana Marbury [00:14:56] Right. So honestly, when I hear about a lot of the work that the developers and even creators are working on, it's just so inspiring. And I'm really excited to see the projects that they come up with. So it's really hard to choose a couple. But one that really stood out for me was Embrace All Kittens. What it is, is a web monetized game online that teaches children how to code. And it is especially targeted towards girls ages eight to 14, and if you know, like the tech space, it tends to be male centric and only about 20 percent of developers and coders are women. So I think getting girls involved at an early age will help to increase the ecosystem, which is one thing that the Interledger Foundation is about, is trying to make the space more diverse. Another one, I was just on a community call with Grant for the Web grantees and Enclave Games for game development is another one that that stands out to me because a lot of people right now, how they get paid are through ads and paywalls. But a lot of people are implementing ad blockers, so that disrupts their revenue streams. So if they implement web monetization and they get paid for the seconds that people are on their games, their website, then that just introduces another model for them to be able to monetize their work.
Ayden Férdeline [00:16:49] Can we talk about that web monetization challenge for a moment? What I think you're referring to is Coil, which I think of as like Netflix for websites. So you pay a monthly subscription fee for a browser extension. You visit websites like normal, and at the end of the month, Coil remunerate all of the creatives whose content you viewed proportional to the amount of time you spend consuming that content. It's a different model to, say, Patreon or Substack, where there's more friction and you have to go out of your way to intentionally support a creator.
Briana Marbury [00:17:22] Yeah, so you have, like you said, Substack, Patreon, ways for creators to start getting more of a subscription base and what Coil does, it's a little different because it operates on the web monetization platform. So the way it works is you pay a fee of like five dollars a month. And as a creator, you can sign up for Coil for free. And me, as a subscriber to Coil, if I come to your website, every second that I spend on your website, you get streamed a micropayment. And I think that's a great alternative or addition to sites like Patreon, because if I subscribe to your site on Patreon and I subscribe to another person's site and another, those subscriptions start to add up. And before I know it, I'm paying fifty dollars a month and I have to decide, like, who am I going? This is too much for my budget. Who am I going to remove? But with Coil and web monetization you don't have to do that. So every second that I spend on your website, you get a micropayment stream to your account. So I think it's a great alternative. Or like I said, in addition to, the revenue models that you have right now. And the other great thing about Coil is that it doesn't collect your information. So it really respects users privacy. If you go to a site that has ads enabled, they're collecting your data. Right. And so if you go to another platform, you have to look at these ads that pop up that you might have searched for. And so you don't have to worry about that with when using Coil.
Ayden Férdeline [00:19:25] Regarding the web monetization standard, are there any restrictions on what content can be web monetized?
Briana Marbury [00:19:32] No, there are not restrictions on content that can be web monetized. There are not restrictions. But of course, you have to observe standards like you can't do a lot of hate speech and things like that. But other than that, you can really speak about whatever you want to, which is not the case with some of the other platforms that determine whether your work is web monetized depending on if they feel their viewers or their sponsors will like the subjects that you talk about. So say, for instance, you talk about Covid and this particular sponsor says, if you talk about Covid, we're not going to pay you because our listeners don't want to see that. So you might get a million views on a video that you produced about Covid, but you won't get paid for your work. And with Coil, that doesn't exist.
Ayden Férdeline [00:20:40] That's great. I know that there are a lot of creatives on YouTube that find their content is demonetized rather arbitrarily because perhaps they produce the content in a language that YouTube does not offer advertisements for. Or perhaps they have used a word that YouTube's algorithm has arbitrarily decided could cause brand damage if an ad appeared alongside it. And these can be common dictionary words like Taiwan or Palestine. Are there any restrictions, though, on who or how Interledger can route out packets of money? I'm thinking maybe this is something that the digital wallets take care of, ensuring compliance with sanctions and anti-money laundering legislation?
Briana Marbury [00:21:22] Yes, that is correct. That's at the wallet level. So the Interledger is just one person saying, two people agreeing that they want to pay, one person wants to pay the other. And it is the infrastructure of how the payment gets from one place to another. As far as the requirements, I spoke earlier about the KYC know your customer, anti-terrorism, that is up to the wallets to take care of because the wallets are the ones that have to get the monetary licenses with their various countries. So yeah, that is at the wallet level.
Ayden Férdeline [00:22:07] We should note that the foundation is very new. You've been around a year. It's a startup, but what will you be working on developing over the coming year?
Briana Marbury [00:22:18] Yeah, so we really want to continue to build the ecosystem. We will continue to give grants for innovation, people who build on the infrastructure. We will build out other programs around financial inclusion and how do we get people involved in their digital economy. It's really just about continuing to build the ecosystem around open payments, around Web monetization and just expanding that ecosystem.
Ayden Férdeline [00:22:50] And how are decisions made by the foundation? I'm curious about the governance structure. Who watches over your programmatic activities? Do you work in the open and have public consultation processes to invite feedback on how to improve and build out your programs?
Briana Marbury [00:23:05] Yes. So we have a board for the foundation that's made up of experts in the payments world and the Grant for the Web program, which was originally under Coil, has moved under the foundation since its founding and the Grant for the Web program has their own executive council that makes decisions about how the program is going to go. And steers the strategy of the program. At the foundation level, we're looking at building out an advisory council. And that includes people from not only the payment sector, but people who have expertise in marketing, people who have expertise in financial inclusion, and we also have a technical steering committee that looks at some of the priorities of the protocol and how we can improve them and what we should be working on.
Ayden Férdeline [00:24:13] Rafiki, you mentioned this at the very beginning of our conversation, and I should have followed up then, but I didn't. I apologize. But, Rafiki, what is it?
Briana Marbury [00:24:23] So right now, to get on the Interledger protocol for companies that really I really want to get involved in this, how do I do it? How do I get on? There's really only two ways to get involved. It's either have someone host you like Coil or through Gatehub or Uphold. So what Rafiki is going to do oh, and I will say in addition to that, it is expensive. Right. It takes a lot of engineering resources to be able to get onto the protocol and to maintain it. So what Rafiki is going to do is make it an all-in-one plug in. Kind of like a plug and play. Right. So it's going to make it easier for organizations to be on the protocol, stay on the protocol and be able to interact with the network. And that is a project right now that Coil is developing. But I will say that it is open source and anyone can make comments, test it out. I'm sure they'll have a testnet pretty soon. Once it's up and running, they'll be a bug bounty so we can go in and we encourage developers to go in and say, OK, what do you find here so we can fix it? I'm really, really excited about it because that will give us a huge chance to be able to expand the network.
Ayden Férdeline [00:25:49] Absolutely. That is really exciting. So if someone wants to contribute to Rafiki or perhaps they're really interested in contributing to the Interledger protocol itself because it's not tied to any one company, blockchain, currency, anything like that, how can they get started? How can they become involved in helping contribute to it?
Briana Marbury [00:26:12] Yeah. So if you go to our website, Interledger.org, there is a tab for developers and that will give you all the information that you need to get started. There's also a repository on GitHub for Interledger and for Rafiki. So for Rafiki on GitHub it is GitHub.com/CoilHQ/Rafiki and for Interledger it's GitHub.com/Interledger.
Ayden Férdeline [00:26:49] Great. Well, this has been fascinating. Briana, thank you very much.
Briana Marbury [00:26:53] Thank you.
Outro [00:26:54] This has been POWER PLAYS. POWER PLAYS is a production of ETUNU. The guests on this program speak only for themselves and the views expressed are not necessarily aligned with those of ETUNU. Copyright 2021 ETUNU Corporation. All rights reserved.