Shayna (00:08):

Hey, I'm Shayna.

Paige (00:09):

And I'm Paige.

Shayna (00:10):

And this is Bcc.

Paige (00:11):

Where we copy you in.

Shayna (00:13):

On internet stories.

Paige (00:14):

From around the world.

Shayna (00:22):

Hi everybody and welcome back to Bcc. This is Shayna.

Paige (00:27):

And this is Paige.

Shayna (00:28):

And today we're talking about blockchain economics. And we have some guests that we're going to chat to later about that. But before we get there, we want to get into some hot topics. And today the hot topic is about emojis inspired by the truest, the realest of the real, our Northern brother Drake and his album Certified Lover Boy, which debuted last week, two weeks ago? And it made a splash, mostly because of the album art on the cover of the album was emojis of pregnant ladies.

Paige (01:07):

Multiple pregnant lady emojis on the art cover. It was an interesting cover. And I saw that other organizations use that to their branding advantage. So everybody was using the... What is it? Nine emojis? To their branding advantage. And this actually happened around the time we were conceptualizing the podcast.

Shayna (01:30):


Paige (01:30):

One of the possible cover arts was emojis.

Shayna (01:35):

Yes. Emojis of ourselves.

Paige (01:38):

Yeah. So we got to thinking who makes emojis, who emojis, can we use them? Short answer, you do not own them.

Shayna (01:50):

Even if you make them. Okay. Tell me all about it. Because I... I'm going to tell you what my hypothesis was when we first started talking about this. My hypothesis was that, the ones for the Bitmojis and stuff like that, I thought that no, those were not things that you owned.

Paige (02:09):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Shayna (02:09):

But something that you're... Like a Memoji, a thing that you're just creating on your phone and then using that and sending between with your friends and stuff. I mean, I guess the Bitmojis are kind of like that too, but Bitmoji is in a whole separate app, I guess.

Paige (02:26):


Shayna (02:26):

I just assume that Memojis... You would own and could do whatever you wanted to with them. Hence, why Drake was also doing this, but they weren't of himself. I guess they were emojis of other things that someone else has created. I don't know. I just thought that if I made it myself, then I could do whatever I wanted with it. But is that wrong?

Paige (02:44):

That's absolutely wrong. Well, if you... Okay, I'll explain it to you. So basically there is a Unicode.

Shayna (02:51):


Paige (02:51):

It's like a universal code. All of these things and emojis. Well, the term emoji actually comes from two Japanese words. That one means picture the other means character. And emojis, you can think of them as fonts. So Apple has its own emoji kind of font and style that they do their emojis in. And they own that, copyrighted all of that. They own it. So Drake has Drake money, which is why he was able to do that.

Shayna (03:21):

He was able to buy that and say, can I use this?

Paige (03:25):


Shayna (03:25):

"Let me pay Apple some money so I can use this." That's amazing.

Paige (03:28):

Google has their own font, Samsung has their own font. So, you can think of it as a font. And they definitely own that. The way you can own emoji set is if you create your own set like NFTs. If you just... So if you use Unicode and just create your own style. So even if you want to make like a digital version of your face, smiling or frowning or all of that, you can own that. Now that I'm thinking of it, that's a great idea. And nobody steal it.

Shayna (03:58):

But wait, but isn't that what... What do you mean? If you make it as your face?

Paige (04:03):

So if I digitize my face and make an emoji set of my face, I own that because that would be in the style of me. But if I just use Apple's emoji and try to monetize that, that's copyright infringement. Because they own the set, so they don't own a smiley face, but they own that specific smiley face.

Shayna (04:24):

Uh-huh (affirmative). So I could potentially make my own squiggles or whatever.

Paige (04:30):


Shayna (04:31):

And then I could go to the people who run the Unicode.

Paige (04:36):


Shayna (04:37):

And say, "this is a thing." And then, I own that. At any time someone wants to use that for profit, then I get a cut. Is that what you're saying?

Paige (04:46):

Yeah. Essentially. You can create your own emoji set, but you can't just use Apple emojis, unless you have Drake money.

Shayna (04:55):

Well, that's the lesson for the day. Get some Drake money, do whatever you want.

Paige (05:01):

Exactly. I mean, then you think of things like Bitmoji or Memojis where it's your actual face. You don't own that either, because they own the system of generating or that style again, think of it as a font. They own that style of character. So even though the character's yours, it's their style.

Shayna (05:21):


Paige (05:21):

So you don't own that either. So I actually looked it up and I think for your Bitmoji, you cannot sell Bitmoji avatar products of you or anyone else. They actually state that in the Bitmoji dos and don'ts, but what you can do is create Bitmojis of your grandma. That was cute.

Shayna (05:39):

That's sweet.

Shayna (05:40):

Well, thank you so much. That was... It was definitely on my mind. And I learned so much just now. So thanks for covering those hot topics.

Paige (05:47):

No problem.

Shayna (05:49):

And thanks for listening. We'll be right back with some interviews with our guest.

Shayna (06:03):

Hey guys, today I'm chatting with David Johnson, who is a South Africa-based researcher and academic, who is working on blockchain and community currencies there in Sub-Saharan Africa. And we just had a really nice chat where he explained to me exactly what blockchain meant, because I needed some explanation. So, have a listen.

Shayna (06:27):

Hey David, instead of me introducing you, why don't you introduce yourself? Because I know you have a lot of titles and skills.

David (06:35):


Shayna (06:36):

And things... Yes.

David (06:37):

Cool. Hi everyone. And thanks Shayna for a opportunity to talk about what's going on with my project and who am I? Well, I was just saying, I was someone who didn't get career guidance because I'm kind of all over the place. I'm half an academic. So half of me works at the University of Cape town. I'm an Adjunct Senior Lecturer there. And I have some PhD students that are looking at all kinds of things around community networks and networking and so on. And then, I'm also a telecommunications consultant and I do all this super high level work for International Telecommunications Union and so on. But I'm also a musician. So...

Shayna (07:23):

You are?

David (07:23):

I love to compose music.

Shayna (07:25):

I didn't know this. Tell me about that. Can we find you online?

David (07:29):

Yeah, I'll send you... I've got a SoundClick and a SoundCloud. So I write film music. Yeah.

Shayna (07:34):


David (07:36):

I haven't... I'm not in any film yet, but I've written film music for a film that hopefully one day, someone will use.

Shayna (07:43):

So you wrote it in anticipation of a film?

David (07:48):

Yeah. Well, there's these sites where you can put sort of stock images and stock music.

Shayna (07:56):


David (07:56):

Like Pond5 and AudioJungle. So I put some stuff there and someone bought one my pieces.

Shayna (08:06):


David (08:06):

And so it's probably in some video of a dog catching a Frisbee or something.

Shayna (08:11):

Well, listen David, it's probably in an NFT. Or do you know about these things? NFTs?

David (08:17):

I should know more about it. I just heard... Someone said you should sell your music using an NFT. And I what like, "what the heck is that?" And I should know about it, because I'm working at Blockchain, but I haven't explored it properly.

Shayna (08:30):

I don't know. And I'm not even going to attempt to explain it, but it's... Some more things that someone just made up in their mind.

David (08:36):


Shayna (08:36):

And now people are making millions of dollars. Billions of dollars actually.

David (08:40):

Yeah. It's insane. I mean some musicians have sort of sold their life's collection of music with an NFT. Because they're not making enough music on Spotify. Well-known musicians. Yeah.

Shayna (08:52):

Well... And I've heard that there are some young people, artists and things who are selling things and paying off their loans and houses and cars. Paying off debts and living debt-free because of NFTs. So I'm like, "Hey, that works. Great."

David (09:08):

You know what? I think it's at least more valuable than just kind of pumping and dumping Bitcoin.

Shayna (09:14):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (09:15):

Which means very little.

Shayna (09:17):


David (09:17):

It doesn't add much value. So at least they're creating value, creating artists.

Shayna (09:21):

Yes. This is true.

Shayna (09:23):

This is, this is a helpful introduction then. This is a light way to come to blockchain and talking about your project, but maybe just give us sort of an overview of what you're trying to do with your research project. And if you come across any abbreviations or things you want to say, just spell them out for me. So I'm very clear on what it is that you're talking about.

David (09:50):

Yeah. Cool. I mean the formal title of our project is , How To Use Blockchain Mesh To Help Incentivize Community Owned Networks. But inside, there are terms that people will probably want to understand.

Shayna (10:05):


David (10:05):

Like, "what the heck is blockchain?" So maybe before I dive in, let me give you a quick explanation of blockchain that... And you phrased this for me. "How would I explain this to a five year old?"

Shayna (10:18):


David (10:19):

Which I thought was a super cool challenge.

Shayna (10:28):

Was is good?

David (10:28):


Shayna (10:28):

Because, I feel like a five year old when I'm reading these things. I'm like, "what? What's going on here?"

David (10:28):

And it's actually an interesting challenge for any complex technology to kind of break it down into something that a kid could understand. So I had to go at this.

Shayna (10:36):


David (10:36):

So this is the way I would say I would explain blockchain. And I come from the 80s where I loved Lego and marbles. So I'm going to use that in my metaphor.

Shayna (10:45):


David (10:46):

Okay. So imagine you've got this bag of marbles every week and every time you've got this bag of marbles, you would count the marbles and write the number on little piece of paper and a date and stick it in this tiny hole in a Lego brick. Right.

Shayna (10:59):


David (10:59):

And then every week you would get this bag of marbles and you would push the Lego brick with the number of marbles and the dates stored inside, onto the previous block. And you would keep doing this every week until you build this massive Lego block tower.

David (11:19):

So now you could see this his tower, which represents each block, represents sort of a storage of the number of marbles and the date you got those marbles. And in this giant tower, right? The problem is...

Shayna (11:34):

Okay. Yes, what's the problem?

David (11:36):

The problem is a nasty person could come at night and can steal a bag of marbles and then take out one of these blocks that stores the information about the bag of marbles that you got. So you wouldn't notice this happen because you have this enormous tower of Lego.

Shayna (11:53):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (11:54):

And you wouldn't notice that one is missing. Now, if you want to see what blockchain is, we have to modify this slightly. So imagine you have the special Lego block with this little combination code.

Shayna (12:07):


David (12:07):

In a little safe in the Lego block.

Shayna (12:10):

Uh-huh (affirmative).

David (12:11):

Every time you get a bag of marbles, now you put the same thing, the number of marbles and the date, you stick it in this little tiny safe in the Lego block. And the code that you set on the safe is based on the number of marbles.

Shayna (12:27):


David (12:27):

And the previous code are on the Lego block.

Shayna (12:35):

The block before?

David (12:35):

The block before it, yeah. You following?

Shayna (12:37):

Yes, I am following.

David (12:38):

So you have this interesting combination code, that's like a complex mathematical sum, which is based on the number of marbles and the previous code set on the previous Lego block.

Shayna (12:50):

Uh-huh (affirmative). Got it.

David (12:52):

That's the interesting part, now that there's this kind of tie in, or this dependency on the previous blocks of Lego. So now it's impossible for a nasty person to kind of steal some marbles or steal a few marbles out of the bag and change the number inside the safe.

Shayna (13:11):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (13:12):

Or take out block because if you do that and you... The sums won't make sense, because they all kind of depend on the previous sums. And that block of Lego is the blockchain.

Shayna (13:25):

David. Thank you. Thank you for explaining that to me that way. I understand it now. Thank you so much. That's a wonderful analogy for explaining blockchain. Thank you. And I can see it in my mind and it makes sense.

David (13:41):


Shayna (13:41):


David (13:43):

It actually gets a little more interesting because you actually have lots of special friends that you phone over a red telephone that also build.

Shayna (13:51):

That are also building that tower.

David (13:53):

Also building the exact duplicate tower that you have. So you phone them and say, "I got 30 marbles" and then they go write that down, put it in... Yeah. That means that if like your house burns down and you lose that block of Lego blocks...

Shayna (14:08):

Your friend has it.

David (14:09):

Blockchain friends also have a copy.

Shayna (14:12):

Wow. This is amazing.

David (14:16):

You'll hear these words like "immutable", "unchangeable permanent record". It's both because it's impossible to change it because you'll have to... Yeah. The codes are so complicated. It detects that you made a change and the fact that it's kind of duplicated everywhere. That's what makes it immutable in the sense that you can't destroy it.

Shayna (14:38):

Yeah. That's amazing. That's a wonderful analogy. And so now having that understanding, what is your project? What are you doing with that? With these towers of Legos? How are we doing this?

David (14:51):

So now what we are doing is, these tower... Think of the marbles again. The marbles now represent the community currency. They're like a currency. So, we're interested in using blockchain for tiny micropayments. And what we want to do is... So we're looking in this context of people building networks. So, we are... Especially if you're targeting community networks where people kind build their own network themselves.

Shayna (15:22):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (15:22):

But are rewarded with tiny payments. Every time they expand the network. So you think of a typical internet cafe owner. They would buy some, some link and then they would sell little vouchers, like you use in the airport, where you buy and you get a little code and you put it in your phone. We've all done that.

Shayna (15:47):


David (15:47):

But now, what we're doing is kind of encoding that into the router. So you've got to buy one of these routers, stick it up on your roof and magically with blockchain, it gets payments from the users that hook into your little wifi.

Shayna (16:06):


David (16:08):

So they would hook into your router with their phone and they would then have a little wallet, a e-wallet, a blockchain wallet.

Shayna (16:18):


David (16:19):

And when they use your router, it'll just deduct whatever the price is of internet off their little router. And it magically comes into your little blockchain wallet that you have.

Shayna (16:30):


David (16:31):


Shayna (16:31):

This is amazing. I love this. And so we don't have to pay any of our money to the telcos. It just goes to our neighbors?

David (16:38):

Absolutely. That's...

Shayna (16:38):

That's amazing.

David (16:40):

That is the key, key thing we want. So in the networks we've mostly worked in, people are spending enormous amounts of money on the mobile operators.

Shayna (16:51):


David (16:52):

Sometimes as much as 20% of the income in some rural areas in South Africa.

Shayna (16:55):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (16:57):

And that's really what we want change. We want to see people becoming owners of the network and with blockchain mesh, you can become a... Almost like a little micro ISP. You're a tiny little owner of the network that can get rewarded for putting it up, by people paying you in these small blockchain community currency payments. So that's the other word you'll hear me use, "community currency".

Shayna (17:30):


David (17:30):

Everyone knows cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, but I call it the grand casino. Everyone's just trying to make quick buck.

Shayna (17:37):

Make some money. Yeah. But listen, I have some things-- and I, somehow I missed the boat and I'm not making any money.

David (17:46):

Yeah. Well, that's the thing. It's usually a lot of people are losing. The people are making lots of money are the people have huge amounts of Bitcoin...

Shayna (17:53):

Funny how that works. Yeah.

David (17:59):

It's always like that. Anyway, so we want to create a community currency. That's not like Bitcoin and not like a grand casino.

Shayna (18:05):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (18:06):

That's really about creating a local economy.

Shayna (18:10):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David (18:10):

So this community currency, which is based on blockchain can be used firstly for internet access, but it can be used for everything for buying tomatoes at the side of the road, paying your hairdresser. And the idea is, you then create the circular economy, you get paid for internet access and then you can use that community currency to go buy some bread. And so it circulates. So that's...

Shayna (18:37):

I want to live there. I want... This is sounding like Wakanda, what you're building now, this is crazy. And where is this physically? Where are you trying this out?

David (18:48):

I've been involved in the community currency in South Africa, in Cape town for the last two years. So, that's where we're going to be trying it out.

Shayna (18:57):


David (18:58):

But we're also partnering with a group called Grassroots Economics in Kenya, that want to deploy your community network there as well using blockchain mesh. And the great thing is, they've actually been building community currencies for the last seven years. So they have this community currency that was originally based on a paper based version, which was just sort a piece of paper with a code on it, which was a physical community currency. And now they've moved it into a blockchain-based community currency that you can do payments with on your phone. And now we want to kind of merge the world of the mesh and community networks that I've been working with and this great work Grassroots Economics have done with community currencies and smooched them together and get products.

Shayna (19:56):

That's awesome.

David (19:57):

So they'll be deploying in Kilifi, in Kenya.

Shayna (20:00):


David (20:01):

Another community currency. It's a beautiful place in Kenya with stunning beaches.

Shayna (20:06):

Yes. Yes, it does. It has wonderful, wonderful beaches. Well, thank you so much, much, David. I really appreciate it. And I wish you all the best of luck and we look forward to hearing how it goes.

David (20:18):


Shayna (20:18):

And yeah, good luck. And let me know how I can be a part of that work. Yeah.

David (20:24):

Okay. Super. Yeah. And yeah, thanks. Thanks a lot for the opportunity to do this. And I really hope we see this all over the world eventually.

Shayna (20:33):


Paige (20:45):

Thank you so much, Shayna for copying me in on that conversation with David, I actually understood blockchains. I've seen multiple YouTube videos and they were confusing, but I think that the Lego example really hit home for me and it opened a door and I was like, "am I understanding tech?"

Shayna (21:08):

You are, you are understanding it. I thought it was such a great analogy, a metaphor for explaining that. And I could see my child self doing that and being like, "okay, got marbles. I'm going to write it down. I'm going to slip it in that little hole in the Lego. And then I'm going to make a tower." And then he is like, "but then somebody could steal. So you got to put a little safe with a little combination. And the combination is like the numbers you used the day before." I was like, "oh my God. Yes, exactly." It's very sophisticated, but also pretty simple and elegant.

Paige (21:39):

No. Yeah. I that's what I thought as well. Because when he was going through it, I was like, "oh well anyone could just do a Lego thing." And then I listened and more and I was like, "oh, it's like a serious algorithm to it. And it would be pretty hard for folks to steal things or like mess with stuff because of how complex the algorithm is. That keeps everything safe." I thought that was cool.

Shayna (22:04):

The one thing though that I didn't ask him about, which I'm always concerned about, is how much energy is used in maintaining that sort of system and how many computers have to be running to sort of keep all of that going. And how much data is being shared constantly to update that blockchain. So I just... I don't know. I mean, I'm sure that we'll solve that, but that is something that is always a big question for me. When I think about this kind of technology. What do you think about that?

Paige (22:35):

No. Yeah. I think, especially where it's something where it's constantly running, right? Like, so you have a copy of the Lego system. I have a copy of it. Everybody else has a copy of... Like he mentioned, God forbid something happened. Everybody has a copy, but it takes space and energy to store that, like he mentioned. That's... Yeah. I don't think I thought about that. Because the one thing I thought about was in relation to the community networks, right? So communities come together and they create their own currencies and it's tiny payments, for expanding the networks and all of this stuff. And it seems like community run finances. In my head I saw it as cutting out banks kind of, but I'm just wondering... Right now it's new and it's innovative.

Paige (23:23):

I was doing some other research and I saw communities in not just South Africa, but Kenya and the Netherlands and Brazil. Actually, this has been happening in Brazil for 20 years, community currencies first it was paper money. And now it's being converted to digital money. And I just thought, "what are banks going to think?" If this becomes the norm, what will banks do? And how will banks function? And will banks just continue to let us do this and will the government let the banks let us do this? I have a lot of questions regarding how the bank how the bank is planning on reacting to this.

Shayna (24:08):

Well, I think this is the real beauty of this project. Is not only is it circumventing traditional banking systems, it's also circumventing traditional internet service provider networks. And so it really is a community-based currency, community-based network that really has so much potential to empower local actors and to sort of take resources out of the hands of some of the bigger companies, who have a lot of those resources and Stockpile them. And puts it back into the hands of the community. And I think that's a really awesome thing. So to bring those two concepts together and try to merge them in a way, I think is really special. And I'm really curious to see. I know David is still at the sort of beginning of the project, but I'm really curious to see how he... How it does and what we learn. But I'm also not mad at the banks not having my money because...

Paige (25:12):

No. Yeah.

Shayna (25:13):

Cause right now the banks have my money and I'm not making any money off of the money that they have.

Paige (25:17):


Shayna (25:18):

The interest is pretty dismal.

Paige (25:19):

Yeah. I think once a month I'll see three more cents and I'm like, "wow, is this wealth?"

Shayna (25:28):

Well and then the other thing, which is funny and not so funny, but just talking about that is traditionally, when people or at least when I've encountered blockchain and thoughts about blockchain, it's always connected to cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin and stuff like that, which people have a lot of feelings about. I know I have a lot of feelings about that. I remember when Bitcoin on the scene and you could get it for like 5 cents. And I remember having a conversation with myself and very consciously saying, "no, I'm, I'm not going to participate in that because people are using Bitcoin to buy and sell humans on the dark web." And I was like, "I don't want to be a part of any system that is doing things like that."

Shayna (26:09):

And so I think I had some ethical objections to it. But now Bitcoins are I think like $42,000 or something crazy like that. So yeah, I think this is a really interesting example of how blockchain technology can be deployed, that isn't necessarily around speculative cryptocurrencies and trying to sort of invest money and get money out of this imaginary money. And I just, again, I really appreciate that. And I think that could go a long way to supporting internet development in the future.

Paige (26:40):

Yeah. I think that I was watching all these YouTube videos and just trying to familiarize myself with it. And I don't know, in my head as someone who's studied a lot of history in Social Science, I'm always tuned in historically. And it seems to me that we're moving into the kind of world where the community you live in is going to be extremely important because that might be the specific kind of currency you use in addition to maybe a larger, wider currency. I live in Maryland and you live in Maryland so we can trade Maryland dollars for services within Maryland. Right?

Paige (27:14):

And I think that for me, it's a more modern version of the barter system. It's like, we're going back but forward. And I think I just... From a historical perspective, I just thought that was interesting that you're exchanging goods and services for these... I guess not formal, formal, but less widely used money. Because if we're using Maryland dollars, we can only use them in Maryland. Right? For Maryland services in Maryland. I'm just interested in how this is going to play out in the long term against the falling US currency and rising other currencies. Because I think all currencies are backed by the US currency. Do not quote me on that, but it's not against gold or anything. So maybe what happens is all currency becomes backed against some digital coin or something like that. Interesting times ahead.

Shayna (28:03):

Very interesting. You're seeing... We're actually seeing some examples of some countries I know in Latin America, I think it was El Salvador that was actually accepting cryptocurrencies as official currencies in their nations. And so I think it really is going to take off in a major way, whether we like it or not. And I think innovations like David's is really important so that we don't lose sight of how we can sort of still maintain ownership and be empowered by the technology and not necessarily disempowered, that in the ways that some of these other systems work.

Paige (28:38):


Shayna (28:39):

Yeah. I'm excited. I think it's great. I think it's awesome. I would also love to be a part of a community mesh network where, my little tower on my roof is supporting me and generating currency and we're sharing things and...

Paige (28:56):


Shayna (28:56):

It's just a really lovely idea and thought to be able to do that, and sort of cut out some of the big players.

Paige (29:03):

Yeah, it is. And it's a great way to bring communities together. And there are folks on the margins that don't get left behind because it's a community led initiative. So I know that in addition to Latin America, the government of Jamaica is looking into getting a digital currency as well as the government of Nigeria. Because a lot of these are community driven, you just ensure that the least of these, if we'd like, don't get left behind. And I like where it's going.

Shayna (29:31):

Awesome. Well, I'll keep you posted on what happens with David and his investigations and we'll follow up.

Paige (29:39):

Thank you.

Shayna (29:40):

Thanks so much for listening. This has been Bcc with Shayna.

Paige (29:44):

And Paige.

Shayna (29:46):

And we'll chat to you next time.

Shayna (29:48):

Thanks for listening.

Shayna (29:50):

Bcc is supported by the Internet Society Foundation.