Selling your data might ensure basic income
Working in temporary, energetic teams is the daily business of software developer and open source enthusiast Bart Roorda. Projects the Rotterdam-based co-initiator of Blockbar and CommonBike carries out are all about increasing efficiency, inventing decentralized revenue models and causing societal impact.
‘The article will be 3000 words long, right?’ asks Bart Roorda (30) after a two-hour talk in Het Nieuwe Instituut café. The blockchain expert reacts slightly disappointed after finding out it will only be a third of the length he thought it would have. Can he introduce one final project he’s working on, he wants to know. ‘We are developing the first mobile wallet by which it is possible to exchange cryptocurrency with cryptocurrency, without the intervention of a third party. That is something unique.’ What follows is a detailed explanation of his CoinCollect project.
Roorda is someone who, once he starts talking about his activities, immediately expresses his enthusiasm. He is a fast thinker who effortlessly switches between different projects and at the same time very precisely explains what it is he’s doing exactly. We soon learn a lot about the entrepreneur who started his first business at the age of just sixteen after building a website for a local bike shop. In the years that followed, his Rotterdam-based web and software company grew steadily, with about ten employees at its peak.
A ‘super-interesting’ period, says Roorda retrospectively. Being a business owner at a young age gave him vital insights to use later on in his career. That his colleagues over the course of time all developed in a different direction, turned out to be very useful lesson. ‘It proved impossible to keep offering work that exactly matched their individual development needs’, he says. Besides, as an entrepreneur he didn’t want to focus solely on growth. ‘The only way to keep serving customers who opt for really innovative solutions is scale. This implies following an almost constant growth path. Or running a company of, at least, 50 people. I did not want that.’
In 2015 he continued on his own. At that time, he was inspired by the idea that we live in ‘a period of abundance’. We are able to share almost everything we have as long as we organize it effectively, Roorda argues. That is why for the last few years he has focused on bringing together small and intrinsically motivated teams to work briefly on software projects. ‘All sorts of assignments are offered in a variety of places and ways. It is very easy to collaborate, even internationally, and especially when it comes to software.’ It is an efficient and relatively new way of collaborating, the entrepreneur says. ‘You only meet when it is really necessary.’ He focuses partly on software development, partly on the so-called swarm-organization of these projects.
Through tech meetups Roorda gets to know many of the people he will eventually work with. One of these occasions, Blockbar, he organizes together with Marja Hollander and Bart van Maarseveen. Roorda: ‘There were already a lot of meetups focused on blockchain and cryptocurrency. To have a more in depth conversation, you have to meet each other over a longer period of time. That’s why we wanted to establish a blockchain lab, similar to the previously founded Amsterdam Blockchain Lab.’ Every Friday, ten to twenty people gather in The Hague Tech – a coworking space for the local tech community – to share knowledge and experience. Roorda likes to call it ‘a movement’ of like-minded people. He regularly visits similar coworking initiatives in Utrecht and Eindhoven.
One of the ideas he gained during such a tech meetup involved bike sharing. An idea born out of frustration, it turns out. ‘If you are at a train station and there are no public transport bikes available, you want to know where the nearest rental bike is. How can you do that? The only option is to download one or more apps such as Mobike, YoBike and Donkey Republic. Next, you need to create an account, enter your credit card details and transfer a deposit.’ Too much hassle, according to Roorda. ‘You just want a single app, with a map that contains all the bikes from those companies.’
Hence, CommonBike was created. Together with Ronald Haverman, founder of the NS OV-fiets, and a small team he decided to build an app, link the APIs of Dutch and foreign bike sharing companies and create – as an experiment – a special cryptocurrency, the BikeCoin. The project was primarily intended to cause a fuss, says Roorda. At that time, city centers around the world were flooded with discarded rental bikes. One of the project’s biggest successes is that local governments have started using open source software for bicycle storage boxes at train stations. Another is the collaboration with CROW, a Dutch knowledge institute partially responsible for the development of a European open software standard for bike sharing.
According to Roorda, the open standard is nearly ready. He thinks it will help local governments to get a grip on the excesses of bike sharing, like discarded bikes in public space. ‘Those big bike companies invest millions, maybe billions, and are not necessarily open about their intentions. Local governments virtually have no influence on this aggressive ways of doing business.’ But, some cities are turning the odds. After a complete ban, Amsterdam plans to only allow bike-sharing companies that are on a white list. Which means they will have to share certain data with the municipality.
Since the introduction of Bitcoin in 2009, Roorda has been committed to blockchain and decentralized revenue models. One aspect he is particularly enthusiastic about is the use of cryptocurrencies as a reward or stimulus. For Rotterdam-based BlockLab, a collaboration between the Rotterdam Port Authority and the municipality, he recently experimented with blockchain platform Gitcoin to monetize energy data of private individuals. After a project breakdown, Roorda uploaded all of the tasks and issues to GitHub, a large software development platform. Accordingly, he linked bounties and tasks. ‘Every interested developer could participate. Once there was consensus on the completion of a task, the money was immediately transferred to someone’s wallet’, he says. The project called OEHU is still under development and open to developers who want to participate.
Overall, Roorda finds it very strange that the majority of our (personal) data still is available free of charge to commercial parties. That’s why he has his own views for future. ‘There are all kinds of blockchain-based platforms for sharing data, processing this data either anonymous or not. In my opinion, if people or companies want to have our personal information, they should pay for it.’ At some point this will provide us our basic income, he predicts.