Exclusive Interview with Sapiens Founder Matteo Ferrari

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Following on a spotlight feature on the Sapiens Project, a decentralized academic and reputation platform intended to disrupt the academic certification system, Invest in Blockchain sits down with founder Matteo Ferrari to learn more.

What compelled you to start this project?

In May 2016 I was applying for a job. They asked me for a certified evidence of my MSc degree. I had to go to my university, print a paper version of my MSc degree certificate, put a revenue stamp on it (16 euro), scan it and finally submit it.

But it still was an auto-certification process! They had to trust the certificate I gave them or call my University for further verifications. So I started to think about a solution with a blockchain-based protocol and Sapiens Project popped up. I then started to think about the Platform Idea in order to also include a courses marketplace and a reputation platform. Like a Blockchain, I’ve built the Sapiens idea by adding new use cases and functionalities day by day as blockchain does with blocks.

What is your background, and how did you get involved in blockchain?

I’m a 29-year-old software engineer with an MSc in Computer Science at the Polytechnic University of Turin. I’ve always been passionate about technology and my fuel is my infinite curiosity for everything that is digital.

My nerd story began at 6 years old when my father (a theoretical physicist) decided to sit me in front of a PC with Mathematica (by Wolfram) software running. My first game was drawing geometric shapes on the Cartesian plane.  At 12, I was one of the first to have a broadband internet connection in my small village in the south of Italy and I started creating small websites and internet applications.

In 2010, thanks to Franco Cimatti, founder of Bitcoin Foundation Italia and one of the very first pioneers of this technology in Italy, I became aware of Bitcoin and blockchain technology. At the beginning, as many others, I was a bit sceptical.

At the end of 2011, I had the absolute revelation about the potential of this technology. Since then I have appreciated it, lived it, spread it and studied it thoroughly. Today, I take all my free time to study and to divulge blockchain technologies. I’m a moderator of Bitcoin Italia, a Facebook group with over 16k users (and we keep growing very fast!). I am firmly convinced that blockchain technology is capable of revolutionizing the world we know today.

You plan to incorporate a course marketplace. Will this mean that educational providers who sign up with Sapiens Project will essentially outsource development of their certificate’s blockchain verification system by default thanks to a built-in platform functionality? Or will there be more involved technical involvement from their side?

The final stage of Sapiens Platform will provide everything an education provider needs in order to publish its courses and all the tools necessary to issue certificates. This result will be achieved gradually: in the beginning, I will focus on the development of the core functionalities. Then, I will create wrappers in order to make core functionalities easy to use and integrate.

What other benefits will Sapiens Project offer institutions to list courses in the marketplace?

Digital badges and certifications are fun and they encourage and reward learners for their accomplishments. Gamification techniques can be used to motivate and engage learners.

Sapiens Project will provide an easy way to integrate these techniques. Institutions will be able to create their own badges and promote courses. Sapiens Platform will create a fun ecosystem that will attract new users and institutions.

How about using Sapiens as a reputation management platform? Will it rely solely on verified academic credentials, or will there be a way to verify previous employment as well?

The Reputation Platform will be the final stage of Sapiens Project. It will rely on all verified career, accomplishments or certificates that a user owns. Certificates are signals of achievement or membership.

If a user wants to have (and own) a verifiable record of his previous employment, he/she can ask his/her previous employer to issue a verifiable record by using Sapiens Platform.

Sapiens Project relies on the continued focus on academic qualifications as a measure of professional aptitude. What are your thoughts on the gradual move away from formal education, especially in the technology sector where the ability to execute is far more important than the credentials on a piece of paper?

In the last year, I noticed an increasing demand for verifiable skills through online platforms or services like Stack Overflow, open-source projects or contributions, Github or BitBucket activity, Coding Game and others.

Sapiens Project will provide tools to connect these accounts in order to link verifiable skills to users’ reports. The reputation platform of Sapiens Project will provide a cohesive report with all the accomplishments, achievements and skills that can be verifiable.

In onboarding academic institutions, how will you qualify which providers have listing merit? Will you open it up only to registered education providers, or will anyone who offers a course be able to use the service?

Sapiens Project will be open source and free to use for everyone. It means that everyone is going to be able to register an organization and directly issue certifications to individuals. For example, you could generate a badge saying “Successfully interviewed by Nadja Bester for InvestInBlockchain.com” and issue it to me. Then I can proudly show this achievement to everyone, and they can check and verify the authenticity!

Known issuers will have a set of public keys that are recognized by the community and Sapiens Platform will not make discriminations about the relative educational quality of an issuing institution. The software will ensure that the blockchain records issued are valid, verifiable and always faithfully represent which institution has issued them.

Similar projects are starting up, including one driven by MIT. Do you believe there’s room for independent developers to develop blockchain use cases alongside those driven by tech’s big names?

That’s the real power of blockchain technology: the code is there, it’s open source and free for everyone. You just need a great idea and be passionate about what you are doing in order to build something great and revolutionize the world. Vitalik Buterin is a great example.

MIT is already issuing digital certificates to their students. And this is great! Maybe in the near future, they will do it directly through Sapiens Platform.

How will Sapiens differentiate from its competitors?

There are already other projects with the same vision as Sapiens, even in more advanced states. For example, Learning Machine, with its project blockcert, already has a working software to issue certificates on the blockchain.

Sapiens will probably use the experience of Learning Machine in order to wrap a working solution on the Lisk Sidechain. What Sapiens aims to build is a platform for professionals where digital certification mechanism is only a brick of the entire project. We are going to integrate a courses marketplace and a reputation platform that will step up the certification system to a completely new and advanced level.

What do you envision for the future of this project?

I see a future where Sapiens Project will be driven by the community and it will be the main entry point for professionals and employers in order to eliminate the barriers that currently exist in the certification world. We have all the tools to do it, we just need to shape the future.

What is the incentive-based approach that Sapiens Project relies on?

It’s simple: I want to reward every contribution to the project with Sapiens Tokens (XSP). This is going to help attract new developers and involve them in the project. Contributions will bring value to the project and consequently, value to the token; it’s a self-powered spiral machine.

There will be a Sapiens Token. Can you detail what use this will serve on the platform?

Sapiens Token (XSP) will be the fuel of Sapiens Platform. In order to deploy certificates and make transactions, you are going to pay very little fees to the network and Sapiens Token is the currency that will be used.

Institutions can also accept Sapiens Tokens as membership fees or for a subscription to courses on the marketplace. Sapiens Token will be the official currency for every service provided by institutions through Sapiens Platform.

Will there be an ICO? Do you have preliminary dates?

A Crowdfunding ICO auction will be done in order to distribute tokens and finance the project and we are waiting for the Lisk SDK in order to set a date. The Lisk community is really excited about what is going to happen on the Lisk ecosystem with the release of the SDK, and we’re going to be there with Sapiens Project.

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