On October 19, 2020 an audio recording of the interview with Alexander Filatov was published on our blog. Polina Vishnevskaya was the host, the link to the original post can be found here. In this article you will find the transcription of the audio recording. Welcome!
Alexander: Good afternoon.
P.: Alexander, glad to meet you!
A: Yes, Polina, very pleased.
P: Have you read the questions?
A.: Yes, I ran through them..
P.: Excellent! Let’s start then. To begin with, I want to introduce you to everyone who will listen to our podcast. This is our first interview, and we chose you as a guest for it, since you are one of the founders and managing partners of TON Labs. We think that this will be an incredibly valuable interview, an incredibly interesting one, and we decided to conduct it in Russian. I think we can start now. The first question is: can you please tell us why you got interested in TON even before Pavel Durov publicly announced it?
A.: I have been observing for a long time so-called “exponential technologies” and I consider blockchain one of the brightest of them, the one that should make a serious contribution to changes in our community. From my point of view, from the point of view of many people, the decentralization of the Internet is lost due to the way large IT corporations use user data and centralize the main activity on the Internet. In fact, this is a big and serious problem. Blockchain is one of the solutions. Historically, there has been no technical platform to do this with such a high level of user experience (called User Interface / User Experience – UI / UX) that it would provide the same level of experience as with simple applications, with simple information systems. The emergence of TON, in fact, solves this problem strategically, that is, a backend appears which is able to give users the opportunity to work in a decentralized way with a decentralized ecosystem. And it provides the same user experience that is available in centralized systems. Here, in fact, lies one big idea that interested me.
P .: Okay, thank you very much for your answer. The next question, which interests not only me, but also, I think, everyone who will listen to this podcast: do you personally know the Durov brothers?
А .: I do, it’s not a secret. TON Labs had a technical partnership with Telegram, there is a lot of public information that TON Labs actively helped with TON debugging, with the refinement of documentation, because the company has noticeable human resources. Therefore, this technical partnership is a pretty well-known public fact.
P .: Okay, thanks. We are also interested in what was your reaction after the announcement that Durov would not launch TON?
A .: You know, as in the joke about mixed feelings – that’s about the same. Seriously, I certainly think the entire community would prefer Telegram to launch TON and TON Labs to launch TON OS. But, maybe, on the positive side, it is worth mentioning that the approach to launching the protocol that the community has chosen in May after Telegram’s decision to abandon the project is to some extent noticeably more decentralized. Therefore, this is definitely an advantage of this project. It seems to me that the challenge that remained after Telegram left the project, in terms of the user base, the community managed to solve quite elegantly – by implementing a system of partnerships. Partnerships provide content for the ecosystem so that users can do something, and they provide the users themselves. At first, it will be a one-way path, when users will go from the partner to the Free TON ecosystem through one of the frontends – Surf or some others – but at some point the ecosystem will be large and will be able to provide users to the partner. And then I think that the partner flow and the growth rate of Free TON will increase even more.
P .: Good. One of the readers of our blog sent the following message: TON Labs made a great contribution to the development of the original TON, namely bugs and tools for the TON blockchain. And now completing Free TON is the main goal of TON Labs. Is that so or not? Please give your comments on this statement.
A .: There are two questions here. First question: as I said, TON Labs was created specifically to support the TON project and for debugging, and contributing to the documentation, and developing TON OS itself. TON OS contains more than 2 million lines of optimized code. The blockchain itself is about half a million, that is, TON OS is 4 times larger in terms of the code. Therefore, we do not conceal it, we are very proud of this, TON Labs has no other projects. That is, the mission of the company and its founders (and our whole life in recent months or even years) is 100% Free TON. We have no other projects.
P: This is great. You have already answered the next question – does TON Labs do anything other than Free TON – obviously not. Right?
A .: Yes, of course. If the readers look at the positioning document, the consensus document that the community has chosen, then they will know that we position the network as a decentralized Internet. And you can’t create a decentralized Internet and enter into competition, albeit indirectly, with Facebook, Google and Apple and other centralized systems, without giving 110 or even 120% of your time and efforts to this project.
P .: Yes, I understand you. The next question concerns the internal environment of TON Labs: how many people work at TON Labs, do you have any kind of office?
A .: TON Labs now has about 60 employees. Actually, this is a stable figure which lasts for more than two years already. Recently, we have slightly increased the number of staff due to the serious workload that fell on the company in May, because, as a reminder, we had only had to support the project in terms of TON OS deployment before it all. When we de facto had to become the core developer of the network, the key infrastructure, the load increased dramatically, so we strengthened our team in several technical positions, DevOps, and in business development as well. We don’t have an office. The company, I believe, was piloted under the name “decentralized team”. I’ll be honest: I used to be skeptical, like a person who had a personal office for about 20 years. But I am delighted with this experience. Here’s the bottom line: as soon as you open an office, you become attached to something. Even if you open in San Francisco, London, Moscow, Berlin – even on an intuitive level it is psychologically difficult to recruit people elsewhere. You start hiring people, including engineers and programmers in this city, so that they could go to the office. Therefore, it is not so much a question of the cost of an office, but more like an opportunity to hire people where the price-quality ratio (with a focus on quality) is optimal. For example, I can say something not really publicly known – 5 World Programming Championship finalists and 2 World Programming Champions work at TON Labs. That is, it is impossible to hire these people in one city or even one country. These people are scattered in different places. Therefore, if you set the task to hire the best talent, then the decentralized model is the only model that allows you to do so. Offices are anchor points that we avoid. There are known risks of a decentralized approach: it is that the team is not so cohesive, but TON Labs does retreats every year. We have a lot of things with which people, let’s say so, touch each other – someone sends pizza to someone, someone sends flowers for somebody’s birthday, that is, there are many different ways to make relations a little warmer and closer. And so TON Labs has a rather complex system of planning and organizing work, which, it seems to me, allows you to work with greater or at least no less efficiency than people in the office. We use Notion, Discord, and other environments that allow us to solve problems of planning, control, motivation, and so on.
P: So this is your first experience of working in a decentralized community, right? Have you encountered this before?
A .: My personal experience or for TON Labs?
P.: Your personal, yes.
A .: For me it’s the first one. I have always worked in fairly vertical large companies, but now I am mastering the approaches of decentralized work and decentralized teams with delight and enthusiasm. And most importantly, a decentralized community in Free TON. This, I believe, is the next level.
P .: Yes, I completely agree. You said before that you had been skeptical about the decentralized model. Why were you so inclined and what exactly made you change your mind?
A .: I wasn’t talking about it in the context of the decentralized community that we are building in Free TON, I spoke specifically about the TON Labs company: 60 people deal with the issues of motivation, control, social involvement of people, understanding each other, some more social dynamics … Yes, there was no turning point, this thing has been working since the first day, and I say with pride and confidence that in my head the decentralized approach to teams is fully validated. To be honest, I don’t see any serious drawbacks in this. We have to meet periodically, we have retreats once a year, a comprehensive 360-degree assessment. That is, we have it all, but at the same time people work where it’s comfortable for them, we have employees living in like 7 countries. Therefore, there are no problems, all formal communication is in English. Despite the fact that the share of Russian-speaking people is large, easy integration of non-Russian-speaking people is needed – all streams, all documentation are in English.
P .: Good. Our next question: there are a lot of comments about Governance 2.0 in chat groups. Can you please tell us why it is unique?
A .: I will tell you briefly, because for sure this is not our last podcast, there will be my colleagues and other members of the community who, perhaps, can cover more niche issues. At the level of the big picture, the quality of the decentralized community largely depends on the fact that governance issues are maximally automated and completely decentralized. That is, the essence of Governance 2.0 compared to Governance 1.0 is that there are a certain number of people who vote for the distribution of tokens, that is, these are the original members – plus now we will separately talk about the phenomenon of sub-governance, this is a very large topic, I suggest talking about it separately. At the level of decentralized governance / sub-governance, it is a set of people chosen on merit basis. Governance 2.0 is a transition to the system where all token holders vote. The system is so automated that it excludes human influence both in terms of errors and in terms of anything called bias – of some kind of sympathy and preference, even at the intuitive level. It should be mechanically automated labor – this is, in fact, the main fundamental difference. As for sub-governance, since we have touched upon it, this is the second major element. This is not quite a formal part of Governance 2.0, it is a parallel stream, when autonomous teams formed by interests or geographically distributed which take on some topic. We now have 10 SG, more are on their way. 9 of them are functional and one is pilot geographic in South Korea. It is with great pleasure that I watch governance creep into pieces in a good way. Hopefully, in the future there will be SGs for SGs and at some point, and even some theoretical centralization point will be completely absent. It will be real Tao in the most advanced sense of the word, when the community controls itself and there are no strong opinion leaders, no one centrally influences decision-making. This is everyone’s dream, I am delighted to see how it is slowly materializing.
P .: Yes, that’s great. And the next question: how, in your opinion, is Free TON different from other blockchains, for example, Polka Dot?
A.: Good question. There are, I believe, three fundamental points of differences. The first, which is most often talked about, is certainly important from my point of view, but I will leave the details for my colleagues who will come to the next podcasts. Everyone knows that Free TON has an extremely powerful system thanks to dynamic sharding. It gives the speed and performance of the network that is needed in order to support, like a decentralized backend, any use cases and any business dynamics. That is, the first one is speed and even performance, which is a more accurate word, the throughput. TON has a much more complex and advanced virtual machine, and everything in the system happens through smart contracts, and its own design is such that almost any logic of any complexity can be implemented through smart contracts. This is by no means possible in any other blockchain. In some of them – I don’t want to name them – there are no smart contracts at all, and these are fairly well-known blockchains. Therefore, the first block is technical, which breaks down into performance and the ability to sew any logic into a smart contract. The other two are less obvious, but, from my point of view, they are the most fundamental. In terms of technology it is open source, so I think, one way or another, all blockchains will slowly be dragged from the bottom up in terms of network performance and, if possible, implementation of complex logic in smart contracts. But the other two, I believe, are absolutely unique advantages of Free TON. The first, which we have already discussed, is decentralized governance, which begins to grow like a snowball, pulling in more and more people. This is the only way to build something global. The closest analogy, as a phenomenon, is Wikipedia as a self-organized community. It has its own nuances and bureaucracy. I hope Free TON will not repeat the mistakes that other decentralized systems have made, and will beсome an easy, very easy self-updating system. That is, the first is productivity and business logic, the second is the opportunity to involve the global community, every week we have a new active national chat. By the way, when I say “us” I always mean the community. One of the latest ones is Mexican, which didn’t even exist three or four weeks ago. It is one of the most vibrant chat groups right now. So what I love to do is to support all these communities and help them, where appropriate, with advice or just provide practical help. I work with the African community, helping them to make their own sub-governance, which is difficult for a continent with several language groups and a large number of countries. Therefore, governance is the second major block. The third big block is a simple idea, a business model, that there was no ICO and no token sale in Free TON, there are no investors. Accordingly, this is the point of, shall we say, potential speculative interest. There are no centralization elements, instead, as we know, 100% of tokens are in the process of being distributed to three groups: the first group is validators – 5%, the second group is developers – 10%, and the third is partners with a user base, preferably with a large one, and with some potential content: games, fintech, something else as we grow. Accordingly, the idea of distributing tokens to partners for added value in the form of content, in the form of users or in the form of some kind of reputation element is, I believe, an absolutely unique feature of Free TON, which will allow us by design to grow into a community with no less than a billion users. This will create an opportunity for us to become the first truly decentralized ecosystem that operates on the principles of no user data abuse, on the principles of complete centralization and autonomy of management, on the principles of full transparency that are inherent in the blockchain in the form of decision making. Here are the cornerstones that Free TON stands on. There are some smaller nuances, but these three are fundamental, like three elephants on which, according to the legend, the world stands. This is the performance of the network, decentralization and autonomous governance, or community management, to be more precise, and it is the partner program that will bring a large number of users and content, and do it with the best adoption of the ecosystem.
P .: Okay, thank you very much for your answer. The next question: what is your vision regarding the development of Free TON – will we see the formation of a new Ethereum or even more? Let’s say, with a perspective of about 1-2 years.
А .: I have great respect for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other fundamental elements of the international blockchain structure. Therefore, I definitely do not want to criticize anyone or somehow compare. Each story is unique though. The only thing I can state is, again, the uniqueness of the business model of distributing tokens in exchange for added value on the network. This is a unique feature that, on a fairly short horizon, will attract millions of users, I think, by the end of the year. On some slightly longer horizon – tens of millions of users, then hundreds. I think that no blockchain ecosystem in the world, by virtue of its design and business model, is able to do this, because it simply does not aim at it. In this regard, this is a big difference. If I remember correctly the last quarterly report of Ethereum (for the second quarter), it had 1.3 million active users – but this figure can be beaten by Free TON by the end of the year, given that 12 partnerships have already been signed, and every day 2- 3 new partnerships. Today I haven’t even looked, but judging by the chats, there are already 3 new partnership proposals in one day. Again, it’s like a snowball. This flow will increase, the community will become more selective in its approach to partnerships. As the user base grows, this will attract larger partners, so, again, the closest analogy is snowballing. At some point, the network effect will be achieved, when a critical mass of users appears and, accordingly, there will be a change in the quantity and quality of the network state. I hope we will reach it on some fairly short horizon. As for me, I don’t have any vision of Free TON, I shouldn’t have one. It should be decentralized in the community. DeFi Sub-governance should form its own piece, SMM Sub-governance – its own, national SG – its own. The only thing that is done by the partners who launched Free TON are 2 fundamental interventions: I don’t want to repeat myself, but this is a community-driven blockchain and this is the absence of any token sales that immediately introduce an element of speculation. That is, unlike all this, Free TON is about technology, it is about decentralized management and governance, and this is about adoption. That’s it. There is no speculative element in Free TON, and this is very cool, I think. Very refreshing for all blockchain ecosystems.
P .: So, our next question is: in your opinion, can Free TON face such problems as, for example, the disconnection of the global Internet, 51% attack, or some other factors that you consider dangerous?
А .: It is difficult for me to imagine disconnecting the Internet from a technical point of view, but if this happens, it will affect not only Free TON, but the rest of the Internet. As for the 51% attack – again, I’ll leave all the nuances for your subsequent calls with the more technical members of our community – the blockchain design makes this attack tricky. As the ecosystem grows, so does the number of transactions and the cost of the network, this attack continues to become more expensive. The cost of transactions decreases as more validators are added, we will have it in the next two or three weeks, and as the amount of online activities increases. This attack will become more expensive and technically very difficult to implement. I’ll leave the rest of the details to my colleagues. As for other possible complications, I believe that Free TON has already passed the point of primary breaking of the ice on two topics: decentralized governance and partnerships. In the future, it is already a question of self-scaling of these two things. But it seems to me that we have passed the turning point, when it is definitely no longer a centralized management system and when partnerships have gone by themselves, and are not being pulled up by TON Labs or someone else who launched this blockchain on May 7. If I and other active members of the community in the first days after the launch could read and control everything, now I see only 2-3 percent of network activity, and every day this figure drops. At first it was a little scary, but on the other hand, this is our dream.
P .: Yes. The next question: is there a chance that Pavel Durov or someone from his main team will join the project?
A .: Well, this is a question rather for Pavel Durov. But drawing conclusions based on public sources, they really closed this project, no one has any doubts. Telegram is focused on developing its own ecosystem, and I do not believe that it will join Free TON in the short term. The chance that they will someday join this project is the same as the chance of Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook, Cacao, Reddit, Airbnb, Uber and other large ecosystems with a large user base. Here I would not single out Telegram in any way, because I see no prerequisites for a different attitude towards partnership with Telegram than with other potential partners. Of course, everyone respects their contribution, the contribution of Nikolai and the rest of the team to the development of the code. This contribution is noted in the Declaration of Decentralization, on the basis of which Free TON was launched on May 7th. But, apart from deep respect for the development of a complex complex product, there are no other prerequisites for a special attitude to Telegram. But I can see that in terms of the set of values, Free TON and Telegram are quite similar, because Telegram does not monetize its user data and does not plan to do so. Telegram is very sensitive to user data, just like Free TON, so in terms of values we are similar, but nothing more. Personally, I do not believe in the imminent Telegram joining Free TON. This partnership model, which we are now observing and implementing as a community, will allow us to gain a large number of users quickly enough. The partnership with World Chess, which reaches 150 million users who play regularly and 600 million who play less regularly, in my opinion, is by far the most ambitious blockchain use case in blockchain history. Nothing like this has ever been written by anyone. When implemented, it will be a powerful backend for intelligent online games, perhaps not even just chess. This will be a serious demonstration of the power of Free TON as a backend.
P: Our next scheduled interview will be with a World Chess representative! So it will be very interesting, I think. Our next question: will it be possible for Telegram to join Free TON as a partner?
A .: I have never immersed myself in the Telegram settlement. As far as I heard, there is a point about the fact that the Telegram needs to be coordinated. Again, I repeat, I myself have not read this settlement, because I have other things to do. Perhaps there are restrictions on the Telegram side, but on the Free TON side, of course, there are no restrictions on partners. These can be partners from any country, and no one filters it. Partnership proposals are laid out, the community discusses them, if this application has added value for the ecosystem and the number of tokens they ask for in return is adequate (well, or they then change the body of the proposal to the community based on the feedback), then any partners, wherever they are, whoever they are can join the network. Of course, within the framework of potential sanctions and ethical restrictions. I think the community will listen carefully to how this is happening with the current set of partnerships.
P .: Okay, thanks. What, in your opinion, is the project lacking the most?
A .: In fact, this is one thing, maybe 2. This is a larger number of development teams. There are already quite a few of them, I do not know how many, but there are already dozens, perhaps even hundreds of teams, judging by the contests. But of course, more are needed in order for content to appear in order to accelerate the adoption of the blockchain among ordinary users. Second, there are even more activists. There are already a lot of them, judging by the rate of growth, but more activists are needed to join SG or just some kind of activity on the network and accelerate growth. But the bottleneck is the developers. Therefore, one of the things in Free TON that, I hope, will convey to the global community is the implementation of the concept of a decentralized Internet. Developers will come not only from other blockchains, but also from big IT. When the teams that are now sharpened on Facebook or other large user platforms come, then not only the ice will be broken, but large icebreakers will plow and break pieces of ice.
P.: I agree with you. And finally, I would like to know what you would like to wish the community?
A.: I want to wish the community to join this, I will say loudly, the largest experiment in the history of the Internet and one of the largest social and technical experiments in building an autonomous decentralized community. It seems to me that such stories are not born every day, so join this revolution (in a good sense), which will allow the Internet to become decentralized again, as it was in the early 90s. And transparency – for example, an Austrian team recently proposed a transparent charity partnership. It seems to me an excellent use case, because if a person donates their money to charity, then they want it to be spent in a rational way. The transparency benefit of blockchain seems to me to be very good for charity. This is just an example of how this project can improve this world. Therefore, my wish to the community – join, it is fun and interesting here.
P .: Thank you very much for your time. I think this is an insanely valuable podcast. Moreover, it is the first one. So we are very grateful to you for taking your time and sharing such a volume of interesting information.
A .: I am also very pleased, Polina, thank you.