FOAM Investment Thesis

Placeholder is an investor in FOAM.

Location services are critical to the global economy, but GPS infrastructure is surprisingly fragile, the data layer is effectively a Google monopoly, and personal location data logged and sold without user consent. To help solve these problems, FOAM is building a decentralized location services network which (1) reduces our reliance on GPS satellites, (2) provides open access to key metadata such as geocoding and points-of-interest, and (3) guarantees permissionless access and user agency through the use of open standards.

With such lofty ambitions, it’s reasonable to ask why we need this particular kind of infrastructure. Beyond addressing the market structure challenges above, FOAM will first service the growing ecosystem of blockchain applications that today have no way of interacting with location services. A smart contract on Ethereum simply cannot pull data from Google Maps to build a decentralized ride-sharing platform, or rely on simple GPS (which is so easily spoofed) to coordinate a supply chain using IoT. Decentralized location is a key piece of developer infrastructure, and in our view a prerequisite to a world where smart contracts interact with the physical world.

Starting with the data layer, the protocol standardizes location data formats for the smart-contract world, and leverages cryptoeconomic incentives to create an open, shared database of location data that is accessible to everybody. Today, you can “stake” FOAM tokens to register points of interest on the map, as I’ve done with our office in Manhattan as well as my favorite restaurant in Santo Domingo, where I’m from. All this information is preserved on the Ethereum blockchain, which makes it accessible to other Ethereum smart contracts that can benefit from the same data.

Buche’Perico Restaurant  – highly recommended if you’re in the area!

Buche’Perico Restaurant – highly recommended if you’re in the area!

The number of tokens you stake behind a point determines its visibility on the map: the more you stake, the more the point persists as you zoom out. But because FOAM uses a TCR staking model, it also creates a potential reward for cartographers who take it upon themselves to verify that each entry is accurate.

If you find an issue with any point on the map, you can challenge its existence by staking tokens against it. A voting process follows, and if the FOAM community finds you in the right, you are rewarded the amount of tokens you staked in the challenge – which is subtracted from the stake behind the incorrect point. As a result, those who create points on the map are incentivized to do so correctly [1].

The incentive to add points to the map comes from (1) desire to advertise what matters to you, in line with why most businesses want to be displayed on Google Maps, and (2) adding value to the map in the form of better data. As more tokens are staked to create points they are pulled from the “float”, making them illiquid and unavailable to trade. This driver of scarcity, in aggregate, should support the value of FOAM tokens, especially if the utility of the map grows to the point where staking one’s ground becomes a business imperative.

The aforementioned staking process is what FOAM calls static proof-of-location, referring to points on the map that don’t move. While still experimental, in its first 5 months, FOAM’s 1,200+ token holders have staked over 40 million FOAM behind almost 8,000 points on the map, according to data collected by Blocklytics.org. FOAM is one of the first TCR curation models in the wild, and is certain to evolve over time as more data comes in. Already, the early statistics provide a promising window into how it’s doing.

2019-02-06_FOAM Staking.png
2019-02-07_302_FOAM New Map Points.png
2019-02-06_FOAM Point Outcomes.png

The second layer of FOAM, dynamic proof-of-location (DPoL), is under active development, and deals with figuring out the position of moving things using a terrestrial network of independent radio beacons. This is the infrastructure which aims to address some of the issues with GPS. The goal is to create an alternative network which not only tells you where you are, but can provide a blockchain-backed record of where you’ve been. This is increasingly important as people continue to exploit the fragilities of GPS to game software that relies on location. Further, it’s a necessary piece of infrastructure for smart-contract systems, which are even more susceptible to being gamed.

With DPoL “location miners”, called zone anchors, work together to offer not only a real-time view of where you are, as GPS does, but also a permanent, encrypted record of your location stamped on the Ethereum blockchain – which GPS cannot do. In exchange, zone anchors are paid for their service in FOAM tokens.

The links above do a good job at explaining the principal concepts behind dynamic proof-of-location, which relies on commodity radio technology that is readily available today. The more important challenge is scaling a large enough network of radio beacons to provide reliable and global location services. This is another area where FOAM’s cryptoeconomic models come into play, using a combination of mining rewards and another staking mechanism called signalling, which distributes mining rewards geographically based on community input.

Signalling involves staking FOAM tokens across a particular area in order to signal demand for zone anchors. Mining rewards are then weighted and distributed based on the ‘heatmap’ formed by signals, allowing FOAM token holders to determine the coverage of dynamic proof-of-location. Once an area is sufficiently covered by zones, the mining algorithm will begin underweighting that area and prioritizing rewards to areas with signals that have yet to be pioneered by zone anchors. About a third of the FOAM token supply is reserved to incentivize the early deployment of zone anchors through mining rewards, similar to how Bitcoin incentivizes miners through block reward inflation.

For example, I staked 5,000,000 FOAM behind a signal with a 5km radius around our office. All the orange dots represent signals other FOAM users have dropped around New York City. Given the high density of other signals in the area, it’s probable that we’ll see some of the early infrastructure emerge in this area before the others.

FOAM New York Signals

But I also staked another 5,000,000 FOAM in the center of Santo Domingo, with an adjacent 1,000,000 FOAM signal in the Colonial Zone, which is my favorite part of town. By doing so, I’ve created an incentive for a local community of FOAM enthusiasts to emerge to claim a guaranteed share of future mining rewards.

This is one of the most interesting elements of the FOAM: rather than a single company making decisions as to where to deploy infrastructure, the entire community can vote with their dollars as to where it should go – and those who actually deploy it can do so with a greater sense of whether their investment will be worth it. This is one of crypto’s greatest experiments in decentralized infrastructure deployment.

There’s a lot going on in the FOAM universe, making it difficult to capture in a single post. But one of the best things about the team is their discipline and commitment to the community. The blog stays up-to-date with the latest developer updates, conversations are rich on discourse, and the project’s Twitter feed is full of related information and events. After a very busy 2018, FOAM is off to a great start.

[1] This happened to us the first time we registered Placeholder on the map. Another user found a mistake in our entry, and staked 80 FOAM against ours. They were correct, and as a result we lost 80 FOAM and had to register the point again with more accurate information.