Snapshot: 3Box Labs (opens new window) is focused on building decentralized data infrastructure to advance the Web3 ecosystem. Its primary project, Ceramic Network (opens new window), provides a decentralized protocol for managing verifiable data at scale, providing the trust of a blockchain with the flexibility of an event streaming system.
The impact: With 200+ apps already building on Ceramic, thousands of developers use it to manage reputation data, store attestations, log user activity, and build novel data infrastructure. Ceramic frees developers from the constraints of traditional data infrastructure, enabling them to tap into a shared data ecosystem and network effects, so they can focus on bringing their visions to life.
On Joining PLN: 3Box Labs’ relationship with Protocol Labs dates back to 2022 and their Series A round when it raised $30 million in new funding.
What's on the radar: The focus now is on scaling the Ceramic Network to handle a higher volume of data transactions, unlocking new possibilities for developers and applications. The vision is to move towards a more composable Web3 experience where users’ data becomes an asset rather than a liability.
# How it Started: A Vision for a Decentralized Data Landscape
The inception of 3Box Labs can be traced back to 2018 within the incubative environment of ConsenSys (opens new window). Danny Zuckerman (opens new window), along with his co-founders, created 3Box Labs to focus on decentralizing data management beyond financial transactions and leveraging blockchain's inherent features of trust, verifiability, and composability. They set out to develop a data infrastructure that enhances trust within application stacks. This led to the creation of Ceramic Network, a decentralized platform for scalable data management that provides a blockchain-like trusted environment for handling diverse data types.
Ceramic provides developers with a shared data network that offers verifiable trust and interoperability, allowing them to leverage reusable data models, collective network effects and modular applications so they can focus on building and growing their unique vision.
Initially, they rolled out the 3Box SDK, a toolkit for developers to store key-value data, utilizing IPFS and OrbitDB. This release garnered significant interest by interacting with prominent apps like Metamask. Nonetheless, they encountered technical constraints of the current technologies, prompting the development of Ceramic, a protocol tailored for mutable data, diverging from IPFS's immutable data focus.
Following its mainnet launch in early 2021, Ceramic has been on an upward trajectory. Since then, 3Box Labs secured a Series A funding round, with backing from Union Square Ventures, Multicoin, and Protocol Labs, intensifying its efforts to scale the ecosystem.
“We’ve spent the last couple of years focused on scaling out the ecosystem and starting to decentralize it a lot more aggressively. We now have the platform, the core protocol and network. So we can iterate on the product stack above it much faster now and we can move faster as a team and ecosystem,” said Zuckerman.
# Scaling Ceramic: Overcoming Technical Hurdles
Embarking on a venture to redefine data ownership in the digital realm is by no means a straightforward task and 3Box Labs has encountered its fair share of challenges. The overarching difficulty lies in advancing the technology to meet the promise of an open data layer for the web while concurrently serving developers in an evolving market. “The hardest thing at a very macro level is the tech. We constantly need to push the tech forward,” Zuckerman said.
The challenges amplify when the approach to solving these technical hurdles is generic or “bottoms-up,” trying to cater to every use case simultaneously. Zuckerman emphasized the necessity for a more rigorous product-centric approach, focusing on what the tech can uniquely offer to customers. By identifying and solving specific problems that are meaningful to even a small customer base, it sets a more manageable and focused trajectory for solving deeper technical challenges. This, in turn, cultivates a feedback loop from customers that will aid in building the next generation of infrastructure, pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
The promise of Ceramic has always been its potential to scale data management in a manner unmatched by blockchains, given its ability to process data transactions or events in parallel on various nodes and accounts. However, the reality was that the write throughput was limited, hindering the fulfillment of this promise.
One of the primary challenges the team faced was scaling writes on top of the IPFS stack. The team invested significant effort into working with and contributing to the IPFS codebase to push the technological boundaries further. This effort was aimed at not only addressing the encrypted data handling on IPFS but also ensuring that the tech aligns with the emerging market needs.
The team is currently working on a batch of protocol changes geared towards significantly enhancing the write throughput by an order of magnitude, continuing to position Ceramic as a compelling choice for applications seeking a verifiable event ledger to manage data.
# The Horizon: Building a User-Centric Web3 Experience
The practical implications of 3Box Labs' innovations are best illustrated through the spectrum of use cases it supports. One notable instance is the Gitcoin Passport integration that leverages Ceramic Network to provide a robust anti-sybil mechanism, ensuring unique individual representations in Gitcoin Grants rounds. By aggregating diverse proofs of individual uniqueness and encapsulating them into verifiable credentials stored on Ceramic, 3Box Labs is contributing significantly towards fostering a more reliable and transparent Web3 ecosystem.
A year from now, the expectation is to witness a more composable Web3 ecosystem, particularly at the user experience layer. Individuals, as they traverse different platforms—be it social platforms, wallets, or DeFi experiences—will have their preferences, settings, data, chat, and reputation seamlessly carried along with them. This paradigm shift aims to transform isolated app experiences into a more integrated community experience. The focus is on enabling a shared reputation system, laying down a foundation for a decentralized data infrastructure where DAOs and Web3 communities can leverage shared, delegated, and community member profile information across various applications.
Extending the timeline further, the integration goes beyond reputation to encompass a user's history of activities. Interaction with one brand or loyalty program could reverberate across other commerce sites, much like the integrated experiences offered by big-tech ecosystems today. However, the decentralized nature extends this capability to all applications, allowing them to tap into a global data ledger—with user permission—thus offering a seamless and personalized user experience without the need for each app to build its data infrastructure from scratch.
As Zuckerman puts it, the goal is to “bring that trust and that composability to the whole rest of the application stack and really put data in users’ hands and make it really simple for apps to build an ecosystem instead of in silos.”