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Re: Open Wallet Foundation (and how it might fail)

From: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2022 10:30:50 -0400
Message-ID: <CAMBN2CTnk0oxAJSHZR0=JD9UWWQip+U04Qdb0+O0Xr=Q2GnKBA@mail.gmail.com>
To: W3C Credentials Community Group <public-credentials@w3.org>
On Tue, Sep 20, 2022 at 9:25 AM Orie Steele <orie@transmute.industries> wrote:
> I'm confident that we can keep things aligned, and you can count on me to point out risks very publicly if I see something harmful emerging.

I'm not as confident about alignment. We have all been through this
before, with W3C VCs, ISO mDL, IIW, RWoT, Sovrin, Hyperleder, DIF,
ToIP, and now OWF. Every time one of these new "Foundations" pops up,
it dilutes focus in the technical specification work and ultimately
slows things down. It is, also, inevitable -- innovation and
standardization are chaotic.

I've spoken with DanielG about my concerns here, so this will mostly
be a repeat of what I conveyed to him a few weeks ago, after attending
one of the OWF meetings.

To start, I believe DanielG (and others that are trying to put OWF
together) have their hearts in the right place. The vision is
compelling, which is effectively "We don't want a proprietary
Apple/Google wallet duopoly to take hold, like has happened for mobile
payments." Almost no one wants that. So, yes, most everyone is excited
by that vision to come together and defend an open wallet ecosystem.
It's an excellent vision!

That said, it's the execution that matters here, and that's what seems
to be deeply flawed  with OWF (today).

OWF attempting to raise €7.5M to hire a team of software developers to
build NEW open source software components for digital wallets feels
very misguided when there are already companies building open source
software for digital wallets. Starting from scratch and asking those
that have already invested millions of dollars in open source software
(like Digital Bazaar) to now invest in yet another NEW open source
infrastructure and an untested team is the sort of high risk gambling
that gives even the most seasoned entrepreneurs pause.

I say this as one of the inventors, architects, and standards editors
for a variety of these "digital wallet" technologies -- the "digital
wallet" protocols/technologies/standards are not ready yet. If you
want technical input from industry experts, there it is -- you're
trying to implement a series of things that are rapidly moving
targets, you're trying to implement all of them simultaneously, and
you're trying to fund a team that is not deeply intimate with all the
ways those targets are moving.

We're still trying to stabilize these standards, so any investment in
a NEW open source digital wallet core is going to churn heavily for
the next year or two. Even more worrying are some organizations
claiming to have stabilized digital wallet protocols as "ready to go"!
Do not believe that for a second -- nobody is ready to go -- that goes
for the mDL protocols, OIDC4VC, VC API, DIDComm, all of them -- high
churn, expect heavy changes over the next year or more. We will get
there, in time, but not this year or possibly next. All of this takes
far longer than any of us want and distractions (like OWF) make things

The "open source digital wallet libraries" also presume that you can
get away with a handful of software libraries -- or a single/dual
stack; you can't. These technologies need to be implemented in
multiple languages to be immediately useful to software developers...
you can claim that "we only need to implement in
Rust/Wasm/Javascript/Java" because you're just trying to get to 75%+
of the market, but it rarely happens that way (unless you can hide
everything behind an HTTP API... which you can't with most digital

> I don't think there is any cause for concern right now, other than ensuring that OWF has enough stakeholders to lift off in a way that is useful.

I don't see how OWF helps dig the trenches that we need digging in the
next several years. We need more people to pick up a shovel and
implement across multiple languages, help with test suites, and other
"boring" work that OWF will need to actually be successful. Until that
stuff stabilizes, OWF will be in a holding pattern waiting for the
standards work around digital wallet protocols to stabilize.

When we look at where that €7.5M/year is best utilized, it would be to
fund the people already building and releasing the standards, open
source libraries, interoperability test suites, and other things that
are necessary foundations for an open wallet ecosystem. If OWF
redirects that money, instead, to starting from scratch with a new
team (or picking winners), it's just helping to suck even more oxygen
out of the room which only helps ensure the failure of the initial

I hope OWF takes all of the above as constructive criticism. I do want
it to succeed, but not at the expense of slowing things down by
splitting everyone's attention. We absolutely need help, just not the
sort of help that has been proposed by OWF to date.

-- manu

Manu Sporny - https://www.linkedin.com/in/manusporny/
Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
News: Digital Bazaar Announces New Case Studies (2021)
Received on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 14:31:39 UTC

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