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In Conversation with BlocSoc IIT-R

August 27, 2022

Watch Out! recently got the chance to interview members of the Blockchain Society IITR. They represented India at the MIT Bitcoin Expo 2022.

Watch Out! - As IIT-R BlocSoc is a new group, please tell us a little about what work you people do and how blockchain is different from the rest of the coding stuff?

BlockSoc - So basically, we are a group enthusiastic about blockchain technology and Web3. Our basic aim is to bring the spirit of the Web3 revolution to IIT Roorkee and beyond. We conduct open discussions, events, fun projects related to the web, NFTs, and much more. We also participate in events and hackathons. From various sections that are being organized by other colleges or other organizations, our group is autonomous and public in Web3 and is open for all.

Watch Out! - You said that BlocSoc focuses on Web3, so could you just tell us a bit more about what Web3 is and how it is different from conventional coding?

BlockSoc - If you look at the web structure just after the Internet launched, there were three phases of the Internet. First was Web1, which handles most of the static content you see. If you go to a very old website like that of the Indian Government or U.S. government, you will see a static content website page where you can only read the content but not interact with it. There is no button to interact with. Few years later, Web 2.0 launched with dynamic rendering of content. It created a revolution in the field. As dynamic content got introduced, so was tracking. From there, advertisements were introduced through which Google is earning a lot of profit. With Web 2.0, more things entered the world like subscription services and pay-based subscription services.

Just a few years back, in 2015, Web 3.0 got launched with the Ethereum blockchain. There was some work done in Web 3.0 in 2008 with the Bitcoin blockchain, but the main focus on Web3 came with Ethereum. What Ethereum did was revolutionary. It came up with the smart contracts concept. Smart contracts are a piece of code that is self-executable. If something is self-executable, you don’t have to rely on anything else. If it is a conditional code, then whenever the condition gets satisfied, the code can be executed by anyone with permission. So, this concept revolutionized how we see the Internet.

You can be anonymous on the Internet. To interact with any Web3 websites, or Web3 protocol services, you just need a single account. If you go to any website, let’s say Spotify or Medium, they will ask for your personal details or Google, Facebook, GitHub account details, basically anything that can personalize your content because they are charging the advertisement companies for sharing your personal information. Hence Web3 came with the concept of anonymity, you can interact with any protocol on the Internet and no one knows you.

Web3 comes with a thing known as trustless. Well, you can trust the code that is written. If you are sharing your information with let’s say, Google, so you are trusting Google by believing that it will not use it against you, but it is sharing that information with someone else. But this doesn’t happen in an open protocol in web3 space, and that’s how web3 protocols work.

Web3 also came up with the concept of a decentralized distributed Ledger. In Web2 system, if you want to store your data, you need servers and databases. In this system the user doesn’t pay for the database, the company does. In Web3 however, if you want to store or update your data, you have to do a transaction. In this case the user pays for the data that is related to him. But on that particular data, it is not mentioned that this data is related to this particular person. That data can be related to any 32-byte random string. That’s the idea that Web3 came up with.

Watch Out! - Coming to the MIT Bitcoin Expo 2022, can you give us a brief description of what the competition was, and the event that you participated in?

BlockSoc - It was a normal hackathon that didn’t have a problem statement. It had different tracks. For example, there was an infrastructural track, Bitcoin track, the Ethereum track where you have to make a DFA application, and inside that there were subtracks like which one has the best infrastructure, overall usability, etc. There were various winners in different tracks. It was a 30-hour hackathon. First, we were going to MIT but there were some problems with our visas. Later on, they allowed online participation as well, so we participated online.

There were a total of 16 tracks, so you have to choose a track to build your product. You have to build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that can be useful in Blockchain or it should be built on top of blockchains. It shouldn’t be a web2-based product, it should be a web3-based product or some web2-based service that is usable in the blockchain. MIT blockchain is actually the MIT Bitcoin club.These guys totally focus on Bitcoin infrastructure and how Bitcoin works. Thus, we initially thought that we are going to build a Defi protocol, but later on, we found out that we could target 4 different tracks. So we started targeting those tracks and building our project and at last we targeted 3 tracks and won in 1 of them. This was a global level hackathon, so people from all over the world participated in it. There were more than 400 participants. And out of them there total 7 winners.

Watch Out! - Well, that’s great. Congratulations to team BlocSoc. What were the hurdles you faced when you were coding for 30 hours at a stretch?

BlockSoc - So we were targeting several tracks on Axelar, Skynet, chain link oracles and usability track. One of the main components of our working was cross chain transfers. We had to focus on the cross chain thing. Initially we were thinking of doing it through the smart contract, later we got to know that one of the tracks that we were following is Axelar network SDK. They provided a gateway API which we could integrate to enable the cross chain thing. We tried using the API but it caused some problems due to limited support for chains and cryptocurrencies. That was the major hurdle in our project development so it would have been better if we were in the physical mode and the mentors would have guided us how to use it as it was our first project with SDK.

Watch Out! - Can we know more about the 16 tracks you talk about?

BlocSoc - If we go into the details of each of the tracks, it was based on each of the sponsors. One of the sponsors was Binance which is like a centralised crypto currency exchange. So if you built your project on top of Bitcoin, you have to work on a track on the bitcoin lightning network which is bitcoin layer 2 so if you built something based on bitcoin layer 2, you will be applying for that track. Our track was Axelar-SDK. Axelar is basically a secure cross-chain communication platform for Web3. It’s infrastructure enables dApp users to interact with any asset or application, on any chain, with one click. Another track that we targeted was chain-link which is the Blockchain Oracle And the track that we won was Skynet which is a decentralized storage and app hosting platform that makes it easy to join the decentralized internet movement, as a user or a web3 developer.In Blockchain, as I mentioned, there is no database but there are some services which can store your data in a decentralised way. Skynet is one of these services which can deploy your service or data and that data will be stored in a decentralised way. So it won’t be stored in a particular server, it would be stored in multiple servers.

Watch Out! - Going towards your project cross-chain payments, could you tell us more about the project and do you plan working more on the project and making it a real thing?

BlocSoc - So first I will explain what our project actually is. Bitcoin Blockchain is a currency but the Ethereum block chain on top of it has added smart contracts. Smart contracts are lines of codes that,if deployed on the Ethereum block chain, cannot be changed. Later, more block chains came into picture and now there are a number of block chains which are actually used by people,including, Avalanche, Polygon,etc. So as an investor I have my funds on different block chains or if I am a company who has to pay my employees on different chains then this is where the usability of our product comes in. Also, another thing on Blockchain are the different kinds of tokens. For example, on Ethereum Blockchain, apart from ETH, there are different kinds of tokens like USDC, DAI, etc. Different people tend to hold different tokens based on what they’re bullish on. For example, if a person holds X number of tokens on Blockchain 1 and another person holds Y number of tokens on Blockchain 2, and the first person has to pay the second person, then this where our product comes into picture. We get the token person A holds on Blockchain 1 and we give it to the person on Blockchain 2 accordingly.

BlocSoc - Blockchains are built in such a way that two blockchains cannot be connected. Therefore, we used Skynet to deploy our whole website, which is a decentralized storage and hosting platform.

Watch Out! - So now let’s shift from the competition to what BlocSoc will be doing. What are the future plans of BlocSoc as a community?

BlocSoc - So we started Blockchain Society last year on 31st October, which marks the day Bitcoin was launched in 2008. We started building on Ethereum Blockchain. We worked on a protocol and after a couple of months we started the BlockChain Society with 4 people. Then we recruited our first cohort. They are some awesome people who are really interested in this field. We trained them and shared a lot of materials with them. We also have an open community where we discuss people’s doubts and share opportunities. In Web3 your degree or college doesn’t matter. The motto is - Open for all. What fascinates us most is that if you see if there is an open source fellowship programme that releases a bunch of people from other technical clubs, they can get into. Then we pitched the idea to the Student Technical Council. We share and discuss whatever opportunities we find with people. Also recently, BlocSoc got into the finals of the ETH-India hackathon. Before that, we also won the pan-India IIT hackathon, which is a Blockchain based hackathon. And the cool thing about blockchain is it’s getting upgraded day by day. Everyday a set of new protocols and projects is launched, which is game changing. Then we discuss that particular topic, send resource materials and conduct meetings. If one doesn’t know about a particular topic then the other teaches him/her about it, so that everyone is benefitted. That’s how a community grows. One of the aims is to grow a community which is open for all. In our campus, most of the clubs aren’t open for all. Also a very few reputed colleges in India have a Blockchain Society. If you look at the Western world, their top clubs are blockchain clubs: MIT Blockchain Club, Cambridge Blockchain Society, Queens Blockchain Society. So in western culture, they supported the field of blockchain and now these clubs are their top coding clubs. So that’s what we targeted. None of the IITs have a blockchain club. In India, only BITS Pilani and VIT Vellore have Blockchain clubs. So we started out by meeting these people. We discussed their future prospects and our goals so that we could build a community for all the Indian students. If you see our discord, 40% of people are non-IITians. These people are interested in this field and are asking questions and contacting us regarding the opportunities which we share with them.

In India, a very less percentage of people are going into the blockchain field. Our aim was to increase this number. The major problem we faced was that there was no data on the Internet. Thus, we formed this community where one can share anything they find and this helps in solving doubts and benefits everyone. It also guides people where to look for information

Watch Out! - So considering the blockchain culture in India, there’s one more question that we wanted to ask. How is the culture of blockchain in India different from those in Western countries?

BlocSoc - So, if you see any Western College and compare it with India colleges, you’ll see that Indian colleges are more job specific. and less people are interested in the research opportunities and open-source development. Similarly, Blockchain clubs of the Western groups focus more on the research part. They have million-dollar grants for their research. The core of blockchain is pure mathematics and mathematics requires a lot of research. Thus, the Western clubs focus on that part whereas clubs in India focus more on entrepreneurship.

For instance, when people, in India, join the blockchain clubs, they eventually go for a start-up. No one focuses on the core research aspect of blockchain. There is ample amount of research yet to be done because this field is quite new, not even seven years old. But there exists many clubs in western colleges that are doing amazing research. Also western colleges support research which doesn’t happen in case of Indian colleges.

Watch Out! - Right. So if there are people who are interested in blockchain or get interested after reading this article,then what would you suggest or how should they go about regarding what to read or study.

BlocSoc - If someone from IIT Roorkee or any college in India wants to learn Blockchain, we recommend them to join the BlocSoc discord because there we actually keep on adding stuff for beginners as well and for intermediate people. And apart from that they can read blogs and other materials on the internet. So for now you won’t find any good courses I think but you will have to do your own research and then find the right process to grow and maybe one can also join some community to get in touch with like-minded people.

If you want to become a good blockchain developer, you need to know what blockchain is. How does a transaction take place in a blockchain? What are the different aspects of a transaction? How an EVM works. So you have to know all these things because in a blockchain, every code that you are going to deploy will cost you.

For example, currently we are working on a reputed blockchain firm and most of the time we deploy codes on Ethereum Virtual Machine. And believe me, deploying each fragment of code costs us lakhs of rupees. Like if I’m going to deploy a particular code on Ethereum, it will cost me like two lakhs rupees to deploy that code. So you don’t want to make any error in that code, as this code is immutable and you can’t change it after deploying the smart contract. So you have to know how blockchain works, what is Opcodes, what is Inline assembly language etc. So first of all you should get familiarised with the core of blockchain. After that you should find your track.

Like there are a lot of blockchains that are built using different languages like Solana, Elrond (one which you can build using Rust). Then there is Ethereum, Avalanche, Polygon, Arbitrum (one which you can use Solidity to build your DApps). So first of all get familiar with what fascinates you, which language fascinates you. After that just choose that track you are familiar with the blockchain; you are familiar with the language which is used to build on top of that blockchain. Then you can start building some simple DApps, start watching tutorials, and join some open communities. Also each and every protocol code on blockchain is open source so you can just look at that code. If you find a bug or any issue, just report them. And that’s how you can start with your journey.

Watch Out! - What are the incentives you give to students who want to join BlocSoc?

BlocSoc - There is no incentive. As we said, we are an open club. Whatever opportunity comes to us, we share that. If you see the opportunities channel on our discord, you will see like every week we post some opportunities. So we get a lot of messages on LinkedIn or emails from people who want to hire smart contract developers as interns. All the opportunities and guidance are shared in the public channel. So all the things that are going within the society are public.

If you want to apply to a certain protocol that we are familiar with, you can just ping us. We will recommend you there.

Watch Out! - Where do you think the campus junta is going to shift considering the opportunities Blockchain is giving us?

BlocSoc - People are going into the blockchain field. We can see that other technical groups are going into blockchain. And people do follow whatever happens in these groups. So people are eventually going to get into it and you will see in the future maybe the whole payment infrastructure is going to be on Blockchain.

Like if you see in the state of Karnataka they are issuing caste certificates on Blockchain. IIT Kanpur distributed graduation degrees on convocation on Blockchain. So yeah, India is getting into this field of blockchain and soon a lot of people from our campus will be in this and we are going to support them in any way we can.