[Interview by Mart]
If you have been in the IOTA ecosystem for a little while you probably know Jelle Millenaar already. And in case you don’t: Jelle worked as the Lead Identity of the IOTA Foundation and is the Co-Founder and CEO of Impierce Technologies.
Tangleverse Times: How does IOTA’s Identity Solution compare to the rest of the space? Do you think it has real competition or is the feeless approach a game changer?
Jelle Millenaar: The IOTA Identity framework is in a really good shape. It is definitely one of the most easy-to-use frameworks for Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) developers currently out there. But the IOTA Foundation is a single organization with a limited budget that is building this framework, which has pros (focus and quick development cycles) and cons (Less people working on it and less input and contributions).
Frameworks like the Hyperledger projects and the Microsoft stack will remain hard to compete against, but in the end we all want to achieve the same thing. It is likely most frameworks, including IOTA Identity, should go multi-chain in order to receive significant adoption, so I’d rather position it as a cooperative relationship. Much of the work of IOTA Identity is inspired by these other frameworks and hopefully it will likewise inspire others.
The feeless aspect has been a bit less prominent with the introduction of storage deposits. At the same time, however, the stardust update created a bunch of new interesting features that puts IOTA in a good spot for being the perfect ledger for Decentralized Identifiers (DID). Layer-1 identities now have very interesting and powerful interactions with other L1 technologies on IOTA such as payments, NFTs and minted tokens.
TT: NFTs seem to be harder to integrate because of regulatory hurdles. Do Verifiable Credentials have the edge, or are there use cases where NFTs might be the better fit?
JM: Verifiable Credentials absolutely have an edge over NFTs in many use cases. Silently the technology is being adopted in significant numbers across many use cases and countries and is actively being accepted into important upcoming laws such as eIDAS 2.0.
For me the separation is as follows:
Verifiable Credentials are great for proving something about an identity that may contain Personal Identifiable Information (PII), which is protected by privacy laws such as GDPR. It lives completely off-chain and the trust is anchored into IOTA via DIDs that contain no PII, therefore it follows the GDPR laws. Examples are diplomas, licenses, proof of employment and your age. These are not things you would ever sell or trade and do contain PII.
NFTs are perfect for (potentially) frequently traded things you own. This could be an anonymous entry ticket or (fractional) ownership of tradable assets. The biggest unique selling point of NFT technology is the tradeability as compared to Verifiable Credentials but may not contain PII.
TT: The year is 2026, what is the most exciting real world DLT use case?
JM: The revised eIDAS regulation is set to be activated in 2025, likely allowing DIDs and Verifiable Credentials to be accepted across all EU member states for governmental and private sector use cases. By 2026, many organizations in both the public and private sector will be adopting the technology for authentication and proving things about yourself. I personally observe both the financial and educational sectors as front-runners for this. A verifiable CV which not just contains degrees, but rather provable individual skills, will likely make it much easier to enroll into new courses across different schools, making education across a multitude of schools more accessible for students and employees alike. Similarly, KYC and AML regulations cost the financial sector millions of euros each month. The concept of Bring Your Own Identity, could alleviate much of those costs.
TT: Do you think that DID has the potential to be used for, or at least support elections in the future?
JM: Potentially in the future. Elections are a very important process and any electronic solutions need to be air-tight. It requires absolute security and privacy guarantees. I think the technology can do it with a few innovations and more maturity, but should first be developed to work for voting in organizations like DAOs and associations. Slowly it should be tried and validated in more important voting scenarios until it becomes ready for consideration at national elections. This is at least half a decade away, probably closer to a decade.
TT: People who follow the IOTA Discord actively have noticed that you’re not a big fan of Shimmer. Do you think it was worth the effort? For example, if it helps test the Stardust upgrade and Coordicide thoroughly, does that make Shimmer worthwhile already?
JM: I am a large fan of a stable testing network for new updates such as Stardust and Coordicide. At Impierce Technologies, we will likely use Shimmer for testing purposes and appreciate the existence of the network. However, I stand behind my opinion that I don’t see a reason for Shimmer to have been given a value and to make it tradable on exchanges.
Companies that launch products on a DLT will look for stability in the network, but also in updates. The existence of Shimmer makes IOTA inherently more stable and updates can be tested on a separate network beforehand, which is great, but the obvious choice for product launches remains IOTA. Making Shimmer have value makes testing for companies on the Shimmer network actually less likely due to having costs in entering a testing ecosystem.
The original intent of making Shimmer a canary network is unfortunately missed. Making Shimmer have value does not make it attractive to hack and limit test. It actually makes it protected against hacking under certain laws as you’d be stealing value from people and organizations. Why would an exchange be ok with a hacker stealing millions of euros from them via Shimmer. Did the IOTA Foundation properly warns them and people who buy Shimmer of that possibility? If that is not the case, then Shimmer is not an environment that encourages white-hat hackers.
So for me the conclusion remains that making Shimmer have value is a mistake and will likely make community members that cheer for the IOTA Foundation lose more money due to a lack of demand in Shimmer tokens.
TT: Identity for organizations is getting mentioned a lot (recently in the walt.id presentation about login with IOTA). Is there already interest, or do many organizations hesitate because of the “crypto tag”?
JM: Identity for organizations is a part of the adoption process. Companies will have to have one to participate initially, but later on they’ll likely see the benefits on its own terms, which will lead to more corporate identities. An example of where this is important is with the recent Twitter Blue problems, I wrote a blogpost how Verifiable Corporate Identities could solve the trust issues that have arisen via Twitter, but also in many other scenarios and platforms.
There is also a significant increase in interest on this topic and digital identity in general by many European companies, but often they want to join as soon as there is some adoption. This technology really requires a snowball effect to get major adoption going.
TT: What do you think needs to happen, that crypto can be globally adopted and leave its infancy and image behind and start being recognized as the disruptive technology it is.
JM: More regulations and an increase in maturity in the companies building on the technology. The technology was created to take back control over our finances because the banks didn’t work in our interest and were considered a scam by the initial Blockchain community. Yet, the space has become the breeding ground of scams and trying to earn a quick buck over the back of others. As soon as we focus less on our own short-term gains, but focus on how the technology can be disruptive, yet additive to current systems, it will be more globally adopted. At this point, greed is running so rampant that accountability through regulations is the only way we can turn this ship around. Hopefully identity can be a part of the solution to introduce more trust and accountability in the space.
TT: For those that didn’t follow your new company Impierce that closely, could you summarize what your plans and goals are?
JM: Impierce Technologies is a natural next step for my plan to make Self-Sovereign Identity more easy to adopt. At the IOTA Foundation I set up a team to build a framework focused on developers which makes it much easier to build SSI applications. Impierce Technologies aims to do the same for users and companies. In order to make it easy to adopt the technology, we will offer an IDentity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) product for companies. Most companies don’t want to spend the budget experimenting and integrating new technologies to benefit from it, they’d rather pay another company to offer it as services. Our IDaaS product will offer that experience while we focus on maximizing privacy, security and ease-of-adoption.
Similarly, users need to have an easy way to onboard into the ecosystem. An Identity wallet, also known as a SSI wallet, is a fundamental requirement for this. Many companies want to adopt IOTA Identity technology, but simply don’t have the budget or skills to develop a whole app for the users. We want to offer an open-source and free-to-use application that works as a general-purpose Identity wallet. This means users can use their digital identity with different companies across different industries all from a single app. Not only does onboarding for users become easier, but the barrier-for-entry for companies is significantly lowered as they don’t have to develop an app themselves. We already have several companies in and outside of the IOTA community waiting to benefit from the existence of this app.
TT: What would you describe as your main audience with Impierce? Will it be focused on economic or institutional partners, or do you want to address both?
JM: Our business model focuses on corporate adoption of our IDaaS product. We expect this to be relevant for many different industries in both the public and private sector. We will initially focus on a few industries in order to start a snowball effect within them, rather than try to gain adoption everywhere at once.
Yet users are also a key part of the ecosystem. In the end you need users to attract more adoption, yet you need things to do in order to attract users. That’s why we focus on both to kick-start the adoption circle. We do believe that digital identity has to be accessible to as many people as possible, which is why we want to offer that experience for free.
TT: There are a lot of discussions inside the community, that IOTA might actually be too late to the party. Are you also worried that this might be the case, or is the overall technology disruptive enough to negate such concerns?
JM: Specifically with identity, the clock is ticking fast. Things are moving very quickly since eIDAS 2.0 was announced. I joined the Dutch EDI (European Digital Identity) working group hosted by the Dutch ministry of interior and they have trouble managing the immense interest it is generating. Hundreds of Dutch companies alone are ready to adopt the technology and IOTA needs to be ready quickly. The IOTA Identity framework still has more maturing to do and an SSI wallet is essential. Obviously Coordicide is also key.
If IOTA is to succeed and be a major player, it needs to quit being distracted and focus on what counts. Stardust is an important update, but we need Coordicide and we need more mature developer frameworks, including identity. With Impierce Technologies, we hope to breathe new life in the real-world and corporate direction and focus on one of the most important and biggest use cases that IOTA could manage in the real-world.