The weekend of 13-15 November 2020 saw the first ever Odyssey Momentum event. This was an online mass collaboration aiming to reimagine what a typically physical event, such as a hackathon, looked like in the pandemic era. Occurring over 49 hours and featuring 105 teams, 21 challenges and more than 2,000 participants, Odyssey Momentum took place completely online.
It also saw the premiere of Cherrytwist, a self-hosted open source challenge management platform that gives ecosystems the power to manage their innovation challenges, community, grants and projects portfolio effectively. Cherrytwist is backed by a non-profit foundation of the same name and supported by Jolocom self-sovereign identity (SSI) technology.
The problem that the Cherrytwist platform seeks to solve is a timely one. Not just for this online-only outing of the well-regarded Odyssey events but also for the wider world. That is, that any challenge, being a problem to be solved or overcome, requires diverse skills and talents to collaborate, making step by step progress towards the end goal. The team brought together to do this will need to share knowledge and expertise, communicate and feedback. They will need to interact, working from the same shared context and agreements in a trusted environment.
TL;DR – Managing complex challenges is, well, challenging. Currently, they tend to be managed in an ad-hoc way, with meetings held via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, collaborative copy created on Google Docs, spreadsheets shared via email and so on.
Taking a highly decentralized and fully open source approach, Cherrytwist offers a platform for managing challenges in a neutral way. Its vision is to enable a vibrant community that comes together, giving everyone the opportunity to fully contribute to the complex challenges we face today. Additionally, it seeks to unleash the potential for innovation that comes when all team members can build on, refine and improve each others’ contributions.
The Cherrytwist Foundation is led by Rutger van Zuidam, who also runs the Odyssey hackathons, Neil Smyth, technical director at the YES!Delft Digital Hub, and Shell’s former chief digital officer, Rene Honig. It was their shared belief in the need to find a better way to organise society that drove the establishment of the foundation in June 2020.
Since then, progress has been rapid. This was primarily driven by the goal of hosting the Odyssey Momentum event on top of the Cherrytwist platform. With that achieved, participants in Momentum were given the freedom to continue to collaborate effectively after the event, by having persistent and shared representation of all the hackathon’s challenges.
Before work started on Cherrytwist, however, its guiding principles needed to be set. Foremost among these were that it needed to be Web 3.0 powered but Web 2.0 compatible. To put this in very simple terms, that means it would work for anyone now, using accounts, logins and so on, but that it would be ready for the re-decentralized Internet, running self-sovereign identities behind the scenes.
Cherrytwist aims to help the transition from the current centralised reality for digital identities, smoothing the path to the self-sovereign future. To do this, the platform was designed with SSI in mind, not only to leverage its capabilities for Web 3.0 but also because such a structural change is not something that can be retrofitted. It has to be foundation.
After evaluating SSI options, Cherrytwist chose to integrate our Jolocom SDK into its software to enable SSI-based identity. As a result the Cherrytwist platform is designed so that all the key entities within or engaging with Cherrytwist will get their own SSI, be they individual users or groups, projects, challenges and so on. These identities will be used to execute all the key actions taken within Cherrytwist, such as committing to a project.
As everything within Cherrytwist is identified using SSI logic, and every interaction happening uses SSI, this creates a trail of past events, exchanges and transactions that can be accumulated by each identity. That then creates a higher level of control over the whole challenge-solving process.
Initially the platform will manage the identities in a guardian role, acting when authorised. For now, this role is only there out of necessity. Wider society is not yet using SSI. But the sooner the platform can hand over responsibility for the digital identities to the identity owners the better say Cherrytwist – and so do we.
Cherrytwist is very much set up to make sure that it’s the users themselves who are in control. When starting to address a challenge, users will define the challenge within an ecoverse – essentially a hosting environment for challenges. And the vision is that there will soon be many ecoverse instances, each hosting their own challenges. Any organisation is free to create its own Cherrytwist instance. It is open source, after all.
This means there is no central player who needs to be trusted or counted upon and that, because this is an open source and community driven development, it’s very safe and very accountable. Plus, you will always be able to see who’s been interacting with your challenge – who was involved and who was doing what when – creating transparency about who’s contributing what.
In short, Cherrytwist gives its users full data ownership. Once initiated, the platform becomes yours to create a fully decentralized challenge environment.
Throughout the journey so far, we’ve been helping the Cherrytwist Foundation as it has formulated its approach to SSI, facilitating the integration of the Jolocom stack and supporting through regular calls and technical guidance. Further, we have been able to leverage our network and connect Cherrytwist with other initiatives looking to ease the transition to a self-sovereign future.
For us, this whole experience has been a great opportunity to showcase our work at so highly regarded an event as the Odyssey hackathons, and in such an ambitious endeavour. It’s also a perfect way to show how easily the Jolocom stack can be integrated, setting the foundations for SSI-enabled interactions. And finally, it’s been a privilege to be such an integral part of so big a project, particularly one that will be unveiled to so influential an audience.
UPDATE: The hackathon has now been and gone. We’re extremely pleased to report that Cherrytwist was successfully launched and well received. Interested parties can read about the winning solutions to the Odyssey Momentum challenges and, in particular its Self-Sovereign Identity In Action challenge. And, if you want to part in the next one, here’s the Odyssey invite on Discord.
In the meantime, however, here’s what Cherrytwist’s Neil Smyth had to say about the event. “We’re delighted that we were able to launch Odyssey Momentum last Friday. It was an intense few hours leading up to the launch but seeing it up and live and the people collaborating in the environment was awesome. So was the fact that we could leverage the micro-services architecture to make 30-plus updates over the next 48 hours, to enable more and more of the platform functionality – all without downtime! A major step forward in online mass collaboration!”