Guest blog: Tim Boeckmann, Mailchain

· 5 min read
Guest blog: Tim Boeckmann, Mailchain

Mailchain, founded in 2021, aims to revolutionize decentralized identity and communication with its services, including Vidos and the Mailchain Communication Protocol. These offerings streamline management of, and interaction with, decentralized identifiers (DIDs), ensuring secure, efficient, and compliant operations across various industries, simplifying the integration and adoption of decentralized identity technologies.

What is Mailchain, and how did it come into existence? 

I always had a passion for startups. In 2016 I joined the team at AWS (Amazon Web Services) that helps startups with technology and go-to-market strategy, for example by introducing them to other AWS customers. 

The blockchain landscape was evolving at the time and my soon-to-be co-founders (who I met at AWS) and I started tracking the space closely. We noticed that it wasn’t possible to communicate privately between blockchain addresses without providing an additional piece of information, like an email address. So we sent some encrypted messages with the transaction data as an experiment. 

This grew into a side project. It was open source and had quite a few contributors, but we realized we needed something more scalable that wasn't dependent on blockchain protocols, with the associated gas fees and speed constraints. 

So, in 2021 we set out to build Mailchain, a protocol that enables people to communicate privately using any blockchain address. 

With our SDK, developers can easily add web3 email to their own projects and applications, allowing them to engage with their users in a truly web3 way.

It’s an interesting strategy to focus on upgrading email with web3 capability. Why did you choose this route? 

There are over 3.9 billion active email users today. Each user’s inbox paints a rich picture of who they are. It stores their online actions, communication habits, spending behavior, even their thoughts, ideas, and feelings.  And everybody wants to keep that information private.

‍Web3 on the other hand is underpinned by the principles of decentralization, privacy and digital property rights, using wallets and blockchain addresses as identities. But there’s no native way to communicate privately using these addresses. The workaround is to use another communication channel, whether that’s email, instant messaging or social media.

With Mailchain, users enjoy the privacy and other benefits of a digital identity wallet without needing to leave their email inbox. For instance, people can authenticate with a Web3 application by clicking a link in their inbox. Upon clicking the link, the system creates a self-signed Verifiable Credential (VC). The app knows who should be signing it, and is able to verify the user. 

This use case came from a customer who needed to prevent Zoom-bombing (unauthorized intrusion into a private video conference call). Another use-case is universities selling remote courses. They don’t want people who are not enrolled joining the sessions, or others joining on behalf of those who are enrolled — particularly when it comes to exams. 

How did decentralized identity become part of the Mailchain story? 

We wanted to enable the community, so we open-sourced as much of the codebase as we could. 

We started to see people using Mailchain for authentication, and realized identity was vital to what they were trying to achieve. These developers needed tools to manage user identities. It was early in the adoption cycle and there were a lot of gaps. 

We also started hearing people talking about DIDs (Decentralized Identifiers) and VCs (Verifiable Credentials).  We saw a pattern between VCs and our previous work with NFTs. So, we went deep into the W3C standards and looked at how they were being used in the real world. 

At the time, we didn’t know if we wanted to put people’s Mailchain IDs on-chain. We were looking for a standard way to construct the IDs and convey related attributes, such as the authorized senders for a blockchain address.  

Over time, we saw an opportunity to converge on a standardized approach. We also wanted to extend what we built to help other developers in the ecosystem, so we created Vidos, a suite of managed services to help people building with DIDs and VC related applications. 

Tell us more about the tools you’re building, and how they promote adoption, and interoperability, of decentralized identities

Our first service is the Vidos Universal Resolver. DID resolution forms a core part of any interaction with VCs and needs to be reliable and performant. It’s also something that developers and ops teams shouldn’t need to spend time deploying and managing. The service takes away this burden so deploying a resolver is simple and just requires adding the API details to an application.

The service comes with uptime guarantees and offers granular policy and permissions features, helping organizations meet their own availability and compliance requirements. 

This helps organizations who are not just issuers (of credentials such as course certificates and educational qualifications). They may also need to verify other credentials (such as proof of identity, age, etc.), which potentially involves resolving DIDs on multiple networks and services. 

We also have other services coming later in the year that will facilitate credential verification with similar compliance and logging features. 

You mentioned go-to-market strategy as an area of personal interest. Can you tell us a bit about your own strategy? 

The DID resolution and Mailchain audiences are different. For Vidos, we’re working with enterprises and closing some gaps where technology is not available today. Mailchain is largely feature complete. 

Vidos is a good fit with Mailchain because there’s strong interest in enabling Web3 communication, whether that’s machine-to-machine messages triggered by blockchain transactions or certain types of business communication. 

We need to ground this in the real world, so developing SaaS (Software as a Service) products to move the entire ecosystem forward is what we think is most important right now. 

I’d like to think that building on W3C standards ensures we don’t get ruled out of any geographic  markets. The DID resolver is intended to be multi-region. Customers can already deploy into the UK and EU. We will stand up services elsewhere, as needed. 

What market signals do you see? 

The market never moves fast enough for an entrepreneur! But we’re seeing strong signs. It’s becoming a priority for enterprises to see how they can move beyond identity federation.  Regulatory change and fraud are also encouraging supply chain actors and financial institutions to look at how they can use decentralized identity. 

We’re seeing this pop up in different places, for example it’s good to see LinkedIn verifying humans on the platform. There are certainly tail winds. 

What is the value of DIF membership to Mailchain? 

We’re hoping to collaborate with industry participants, to make sure what we build is right for the use cases we’re targeting, starting with the Vidos Universal Resolver for DIDs, as well as to learn from others building in the space. 

We also want to contribute back to what’s a very useful and sensible set of standards, whether that’s ideas in the working groups and/or contributing packages or libraries.

It’s a great time to be involved in DIF. The standards are reaching a stage where they are mature enough. The opportunity is now!