We sat down with the man who recently won the city of Austin’s Bloomberg grant
Factom hosted its first ever hackathon, challenging participants to utilize the Factom blockchain, to create more streamlined and paperless solutions for industries, which rely heavily on paper processes.
Matt York and his team took First Place with their winning demo- Project Zoo, an application designed to streamline pet medical records solving for time, money and the verification process for traveling overseas with pets.
But, Matt’s success didn’t stop there!
A couple of weeks later he joined team Compass for the Austin’s Mayors Challenge, this time tasked with using blockchain technology to vouch for identities of the homeless. His team’s model built on Factom’s blockchain also won First Place and an opportunity to compete against 35 other US cities for a chance to win the City of Austin a Bloomberg grant.
Excited to see the successful and versatile uses of Factom’s blockchain to solve real world problems we had to sit down with Matt and have him reveal the secret to his success and the details behind his experience working with the Factom blockchain.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started working with blockchain technology?
My background is as a programmer. I had first heard about blockchain while working at a video game studio. One day at lunch a co-worker asked if I wanted to go with them to Fry’s Electronics to buy a video card to mine Bitcoin. The technology intrigued me and I began mining Lite Coin to understand how the blockchain process worked.
Later in 2014, I started working on a side project that lets you program against the blockchain without targeting any specific blockchain. I found a way to use Petri-Nets to write program that is not only compatible with any blockchain, but is also able to publish event data to the chain in a way that is meaningful.
What attracted you to enter the Factom Hackathon?
I have been really excited with the results from my side project. If I am assuming the program I developed can work against any blockchain, I wanted to be able to show others the success of my method. Factom’s hackathon seemed to provide a great opportunity to share my program and show why this is an improved approach to coding event data.
The application of your side project generated great success with Project Zoo taking first place. How did you come up with the idea to work with pet medical records as your use case?
My wife is a veterinarian; she is always sharing cases of the paper processes involved with pet records, specifically with pet certifications to travel internationally. The process involves a lot of documentation related to mandatory waiting periods and vaccines. Often times people will just forge the required form because they didn’t plan far enough out. I thought it would be a good application for blockchain because it not only digitizes the paper form, but it secures the vaccine records to the blockchain.
How well did your side project integrate with Factom’s blockchain and did you encounter any obstacles?
My development patterns seem to map really well to Factom’s API. Factom is created to be more data centric, less about smart contracts, and more about putting data on the blockchain in and auditable and verifiable way. There seemed to be a really good mapping between the pattern I was trying to use and the pattern that Factom provides.
Factom has this idea of multiple chains and with each entry a brand new chain is created. I was able to take the methodology of Petri-Nets from my side project, which describe a series of events that can happen, and publish that with the creation of a new chain. In doing so, I was able to create a smart contract that lives on top of Factom’s blockchain without having an execution engine like Ethereum.
It was sort of a breakthrough moment for me, as I finally was able to publically show and explain the effectiveness of my model.
Your team also took first place in Bloomberg Philanthropies: Mayors Challenge for Austin using Factom’s blockchain. Why made you decide to use Factom’s blockchain verses using another blockchain?
The Mayors Challenge was about developing a system using blockchain that could vouch and manage identities of the homeless. We needed to provide a solution that the end user could and would want to use.
Andrew, my teammate from Factom’s hackathon, was leading the charge in the Mayors Challenge and had a vision for how he wanted to build-out the solution and so it wasn’t my initial intention to inject Factom.
We initially had intended to use Hyperledger, but were finding it cumbersome to set-up. Because I had previously bridged the gap between my side project and Factom’s blockchain, I knew that we we could achieve a solution in the time we had during the hackathon, and the decision was made to pivot to Factom’s blockchain because of its ease of integration.
Having back-to- back wins utilizing your side project has to feel encouraging! What comes next for your side project? Do you have any plans to further develop either of your winning prototypes?
I would eventually like to expand upon Project Zoo and develop a really good practice management software for veterinarian clinics. Inherently, those processes are easy to distill down into an event oriented format. Most of the work is centered around scheduling things that are going to happen and capturing them into electronic medical records. I feel that actually has a good application for the blockchain.
As for the Mayors Challenge, we won’t know if we won the Bloomberg grant until October. If we do win and they decide to use our technique, I will definitely try to be involved in helping them plan and execute the design. I think it is a good avenue to go and down and I hope I can continue to work with them.
Lastly, it’s exciting to see the successful implementation of Factom’s blockchain being used to solve a variety of real world problems. How do you see the future of Factom and its use of blockchain technology?
I think I have to echo the beliefs of the CEO Paul Snow in saying that something like Factom is needed and will evolve to be a standard blockchain in the future. I feel if I can apply what I developed independently to have commonalities with Factom, that it reinforces the idea that what they are doing is probably a really good design solution and solves a real problem.
A solution like Factom, has an advantage over something like Ethereum, because it is not as opinionated on how you do the execution; by focusing more on how to secure the output and place it on the blockchain. The immediate short term benefit of the blockchain is that it is easy to integrate with and the long term benefit being it’s not necessary to maintain code out on the blockchain.
I also find the whole authority node set-up very interesting. Factom is not only experimenting on the technological front but, it also seems their organizational structure is really cool and experimental.
The whole idea of using federated node operators, is a unique concept for building a bridge between old business structures and what we think new business structures might look like when blockchain is evolved. To see a company like Factom creating utility in a way that some of the other coins aren’t is one of the coolest things about Factom right now.
We would like to congratulate Matt with his success at the Factom Hackathon and Mayors Challenge and for taking the time to share with us the amazing ways in which he was able to utilize the Factom blockchain!
To view a draft of the whitepaper explaining the problem Matt York’s event sourcing tool solves click here.