Builder Spotlight: Trajan
by Claire Topalian on August 22, 2022

Ragnar Lifthrasir is the Founder of Trajan, a reputation and identity platform that’s key infrastructure for the Stacks community and Web 3.0 networks. When Ragnar became increasingly frustrated with sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, he started brainstorming how professional representation could be different on Web3.

In our conversation below, we talk about the vision and philosophy behind Trajan, the different problems that the project aims to solve, and the future of social capital and identity.
Claire:
For those who aren’t familiar, can you share what Trajan is all about, and your vision?
Ragnar:
Trajan captures the best in people and organizations, then turns it into an immutable, public record. This record is a tool to create prosperity and greatness.

Trajan creates crypto credentials to build a comprehensive reputation of merit, which becomes a decentralized identity that generates crypto assets.

Trajan solves problems of Web 2.0 reputation and identity platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor while unlocking powerful new functions using Web 3.0 technology with the Stacks blockchain. Identity, skills, experience, education, and character are one of a kind; they're non-fungible. Trajan enables individuals and organizations to turn these unique traits into crypto credential-based identities and assets using non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptographically signed actions, and the blockchain naming system (BNS).

Endorsement NFTs
Users can give and receive NFTs called "Medals" that function as skill and character endorsements. Part of a Trajan profile is a gallery of Medals showcasing the user’s reputation.

Patron NFTs
A user's collection of Trajan Medals displays their value, which they can leverage into Trajan "Patron" NFTs. These are NFTs that users can mint and then sell to raise funds or gift to their supporters. Users can grant holders of their Patron NFTs with various perks. The value and utility of Patron NFTs can increase as the user's reputation and network grow.

Cryptographically Signed Actions
Trajan is a native web wallet application. With their crypto wallet, users validate their identities, mint, and send NFTs, and control their data. In addition, users can give or receive written recommendations. Unlike LinkedIn, Trajan users cryptographically sign the recommendation using their Stacks wallet.

Credibility Network and Decentralized Identity of Merit
By combining NFTs, cryptographically signed statements, and the BNS, Trajan generates verified credentials. As more users join Trajan and affirm each other's identity and credentials, Trajan becomes a credibility network and platform for decentralized identities of merit. In addition, the Trajan network and identities enable pseudonymous users to build a reputation and identity not possible with LinkedIn or Glassdoor.
Claire:
What stage is the company in right now? 
Ragnar:
We just completed our private alpha testing. We’re trying to go live on Mainnet in about 1 month. Our users are just testers right now, and we’re talking with some Stacks companies to get them on board. We’ve been pretty quiet about things - we’re under the radar right now; we want to release our software first and then invite people to join. 
Claire:
What problem are you tackling with your project? What inspired you to address this problem?
Ragnar:
We’re solving the problems of reputation systems like LinkedIn and Glassdoor. As a Web 2.0 company, LinkedIn creates products that are its users. As a Web 3.0 application, Trajan creates assets that its users own. For example, on Web 2.0, companies, skills, and character endorsements are just words on a screen. With Trajan, those endorsements are NFTs on an immutable blockchain.

Additionally, we solve the problem of credibility on Web 2.0. Trajan is a crypto wallet-native reputation and identity system. Trajan uses crypto wallets rather than usernames and passwords to instill greater credibility into your reputation than LinkedIn or Glassdoor. Who endorses you means as much as what they endorse.

When someone writes you a recommendation on Trajan, they sign it with their web wallet. The sender signs the transaction with their wallet when you receive a Trajan medal. This Trajan signing feature cryptographically proves the source of endorsements. These endorsements carry more weight than traditional ones because Trajan is a network of cryptographically verified users and endorsements. Trajan is a credibility network. Potential employers, investors, or customers can confidently verify the credibility of those who endorse you by viewing all the endorsements those people have given to others.
Claire:
What functionality does your work unlock for users/stakeholders?
Ragnar:
Trajan unlocks two main functionalities. The first is NFTs as credentials and digital assets based on reputation. The second is using cryptographically signed messages and transactions as a basis for a robust digital identity.
Claire:
How can users sign up for Trajan? What's the process like?
Ragnar:
It's pretty simple to use. You sign up with a web wallet, but you don't need to have any funds in your wallet. From there, you can create an account - again, without owning any currency - most transactions are paid for already on Trajan. Once you have a profile, you can have your skills endorsed and receive recommendations that are turned into digital assets that are forever recorded on a Blockchain.

Having all your skills turned into digital assets, presented visually, you start to see yourself as an investment. People can research and verify you, knowing that all the information is transparent, accurate, secure. In a way, you turn yourself into an NFT. Lots of people at great at what they do, but they might not be well-connected.
Claire:
This sounds like a great way to address classist issues in the professional world.
Ragnar:
Yes. In my own experience, I wasn't personally well-connected - and I don't look like your typical "successful" guy who is getting promoted. I'm different from the tech-oriented guys as well and grew up surfing in Southern California. I've done a lot of manual labor in my life, ride a dirt bike, camp in the dessert... but with Trajan, I can present my skills without the typical social image biases weighing me down. Trajan helps to put you in your best light for hiring, potential investors, teammates.
Claire:
Can you share more about your experience working on your project? Any learnings or noteworthy pivots?
Ragnar:
I summarized my first version of Trajan in a 25-page whitepaper that I wrote for myself. When I look back on it, I cringe a bit because I was much too ambitious and unfocused compared to what Trajan is now. Some of the credit goes to people in the Stacks community who provided early feedback. I also want to say that the Stacks Foundation’s grant allowed us to put in the necessary time and effort to build our MVP. Finally, I want to thank Will, Jasper, and the team.
Claire:
How did you first get involved with the Stacks ecosystem?
Ragnar:
Going back to 2011, I became interested in Namecoin, a sort of predecessor to Blockstack, now Stacks. Namecoin is a fork of Bitcoin that provides a censorship-resistant top-level domain .bit.

Blockstack is built on the work of Namecoin. I was intrigued by having a domain name system and online identity built on a blockchain. Fast forward, I came back to Stacks in 2021 when I came up with the first concept of Trajan. I searched for a platform that would allow me to mint NFTs and link them to a decentralized name space. After doing a deep dive on several blockchains, I landed on Stacks. Stacks has the best combination of security, interoperability with Bitcoin, and smart contract functionality. 

In 2022 I joined the Stacks Discord, where I asked many questions and met some great people. Through Will Corcoran at the Stacks Foundation, I connected to Jonathon Hammond, an experienced Stacks developer. After we discussed my idea for Trajan, Jonathon agreed to be my technical cofounder. We applied for and received two grants from the Stacks Foundation to build the Trajan MVP.
Claire:
Out of curiosity, where did the name "Trajan" come from?
Ragnar:
Trajan comes from the monument "Trajan's Column." Trajan was arguably the best Roman emperor, around 100 A.D. To memorialize his accomplishments, Trajan's Column was built. Wound around the column are scenes of his accomplishments, including two wars that he won. You can go to Rome today and see this column.
Claire:
Are there any updates/announcements coming up that readers can look for?
Ragnar:
Our big update is working towards our public launch.

Trajan is crypto credential infrastructure for Stacks. We’re reaching out to many Stacks companies to share how Trajan can integrate with their applications to build trust and reputation in their communities. The recent “rug pull” by the founder of the Minotauri NFT project demonstrates the need for Trajan.

Finally, we’re working on a system to verify the identity of users. As an example of the issues with LinkedIn, the CEO of Binance, the largest cryptocurrency exchange, tweeted,

LinkedIn has 7000 profiles of "Binance employees", of which only 50 or so are real. I wished LinkedIn has a feature to let the company verify people. So, many "hey I am responsible for listing" scammers on LinkedIn. Be careful.


Trajan can ameliorate the issue of fake profiles by verifying organizations such as Binance, who can then issue a "proof of employment" NFT medal to their employees. Additionally, Trajan enables pseudonymous users to build a reputation and identity not possible with LinkedIn or Glassdoor.
Claire:
Where can we send readers to learn more?

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