So who builds this thing? Where does it come from? What’s the history?
Urbit is an open-source project that anyone can work on. The Urbit Foundation, a non-profit organization, is charged with shepherding the network toward a successful future. Tlon was the first private company founded for the purposes of working on Urbit, back in 2013. Now there are several more.
These include Uqbar, Holium, Tirrel, Native Planet, and others. Beyond that, an ecosystem has sprung up around Urbit that includes funds, DAOs, and publications. And of course there are many community contributors, many of whom have received grants from the Urbit Foundation.
Let’s talk first about these individual groups within the Urbit community, then about the history of the project and how it came to be.
The Urbit Foundation was formally established in 2021 when it split off from Tlon. The Foundation runs the grants program, maintains urbit.org, the network explorer, education, and it organizes Urbit events like Assembly. Recently, the Urbit Foundation has also taken the lead on Urbit's core development.
Tlon Corporation was founded in 2013 to bootstrap Urbit. Currently it is building a hosting service and a suite of Urbit applications, including Groups, Talk, and Small Talk.
Tirrel Corporation was founded in 2021, it creates tools for creators to build their communities, share content, and make money. most notably the subscription application Studio. They also produce the Urbit desktop environment Scene.
Uqbar, founded in 2022, is working on an L2 blockchain on Urbit. Uqbar uses Urbit’s native language, Hoon, for its smart contracts, enabling developers to write smart contracts and decentralized off-chain applications that utilize them all in one language and stack. They have also produced the Urbit apps Pongo, Pokur, and Blog.
Holium, founded in 2022, builds Realm. An Urbit-backed desktop (and soon mobile) environment focused on collaborative computing. Realm allows you to create Spaces in which a group of people interact with the same applications, e.g. shared dictionary, meme library, group chat, voice chats, shared cursors, code editors, web browser.
Quartus, founded in 2022, provides custom tooling stacks for Urbit companies. They produce applications such as Keep, a recovery tool for Urbit computers and Urdl, an Urbit version of the popular Wordl game.
Zorp, founded in 2022, works on Zero Knowledge proofs of Nock.
The community of contributors and core developers has been steadily contributing to the code base since before the Urbit Foundation existed, and they're still going strong. They can primarily be found on Urbit itself, in the Urbit Community group ~bitbet-bolbel/urbit-community, the urbit-dev mailing list and on GitHub. See also The Urbit Foundation's public group at ~halbex-palheb/uf-public.
In the beginning, Urbit was just a few people with the right combination of imagination and discipline to try to rebuild computing.
The Urbit Foundation's split from Tlon becomes complete, and the Foundation organizes Urbit NYC and Assembly 2022 in Miami while launching a highly successful education project, new developer documentation and many other things. Read the Foundation's full annual report here. New Urbit companies Uqbar, Holium, Quartus, and Zorp are formed.
Tlon hosts the first Urbit Assembly and the Urbit Foundation is formally organized.
Tlon spends the year stabilizing Arvo and building Landscape.
Tlon sells about 8% of its stake in the network to accelerate Urbit development.
Urbit’s test network runs for ten months without a reboot. Tlon's private sale of address space, shared only with its mailing list, sells out in six hours — limit two per person.
The first sale of Urbit address space sells out in four hours.
Urbit has its first web interface and serves its own website.
Tlon is founded to help support Urbit development (and is < 8 people for the next four years).
Arvo, Urbit’s OS kernel, boots and the first live Urbit network is started with a command-line chat.
Hoon, Urbit’s programming language, compiles itself to Nock. Writing Hoon is much easier than writing Nock.
Nock, the foundation of Urbit, works. Coming in at 32 lines of code, that’s 1 line of code every two months.
Urbit starts as an open-ended personal project. An “independent study PhD” to reinvent computing for a network-centric world.