New Kid on the Blockchain

UPDATED at 7:45 pm ET on 9/17/2018 with new information. See the end of the post for details.

It's my time to go crypto.

I've followed blockchain technology, principles and trends for years without getting involved, but now have couple of reasons to get real: A new blockchain-based journalism project is about to launch, and my employer, Quartz, just launched a new cryptocurrency newsletter.

It also seemed perfect for my practice of beginning new things repeatedly.

The inspiration

Earlier this year, friends Manoush Zomorodi and Jen Poyant left their public radio jobs to join a new journalism … thing … called Civil. I had heard snippets about Civil, and started listening to Manoush's and Jen's podcast, ZigZag, part of which attempts to explain it.

After weeks of being pretty confused, I think I get it. Here's my attempt: Civil is a system designed to foster and reward quality journalism in a decentralized way, in contrast to platforms like Facebook and Google upon which so much journalism rests today.

The system’s backbone is the blockchain-based Civil token, abbreviated CVL. Holders of tokens can start news organizations in the system, challenge the membership of other news organizations in the system and/or cast votes when such challenges arise.

I have no idea if it will work. But I’m interested, and I’d rather participate than watch from the sidelines. So I’m willing to give it a whirl and okay with losing a little money in the process.

To participate, I just needed to buy some CVL ... though it turns out there's no just about it. But that's okay, too.

The ingredients

Here’s what I actually needed to participate:

The recipe

My immediate goal was to acquire some CVL tokens.

Quick note: I'm talking about real money here and — spoiler — there was a moment when I lost a bunch. So please don’t take my experience as gospel or even 100 percent accurate; I’m a beginner at this, and imperfection is part of the plan.

With that out of the way, I essentially followed the path in this graphic on the Civil home page ...

... which is described in more detail in this PDF.

I learned a ton along the way. Here were my steps.

Got a Token Foundry account

First stop was at Token Foundry, the site from which I will get CVL tokens. My steps at this point were:

  • Started the sign up process.
  • Studied this PDF about how it all works, what the risks are and how I shouldn’t toy with large parts of my net worth.
  • Took a quiz to make sure I actually understood all of those things.
  • Passed the quiz!
  • Uploaded a photo of my passport to prove I’m me. This was not my favorite step, but I knew it would be coming and also that it was required.
  • Took a selfie with my laptop camera.
  • Waited for the email saying I was legit and was verified as me.
  • Got the email, and was good to go.

Registered for Civil’s token sale

Getting CVL wasn't going to happen for a few days because they don’t go on sale until September 18. But I needed to register ahead of time on the Token Foundry site. Here were my next steps:

  • Went to the Civil project page.
  • Read the constitution
  • Read the white paper
  • Read the four uses of CVL tokens
  • Read all of the other material on the site (some of which I knew from the ZigZag podcast).
  • Clicked “register.”
  • Took yet another quiz specific to Civil, which included the contract into which I enter by buying CVL tokens. This was pretty key, because here I learned that I can't sell my tokens to just anyone; they have to be Civil-approved. Also I can’t sell CVL unless I actively participate in the Civil system by, for example, voting.
  • Passed the quiz!
  • Declared my intent to buy a specific dollar amount of CVL tokens.

The upshot is that this cryptocurrency isn't designed as a way to get rich quickly. Fortunately, that’s not my goal here. Also I’m bad at that always.

Got a Coinbase Account

On to a new website, Coinbase, where I will turn real dollars into blockchain-based cryptocurrency — in this case Ethereum tokens, which is abbreviated ETH.

I need ETH to buy CVL.

[Note: Since writing this post, instructions on the Civil PDF were changed to suggest using Gemini to buy one's ETH instead of Coinbase.]

Here's what I did at Coinbase:

  • Signed up for a Coinbase account.
  • Set up two-factor authentication.
  • Provided a picture of my drivers license, front and back, using my laptop’s camera.
  • Got verified as me, which took about a minute.
  • Linked a debit card to the account.
  • Looked into my bank account to find two tiny withdrawal "holds" and reported them back to Coinbase to confirm my account.

At this point I was ready to inject real dollars into the process.

Set up Metamask

But neither Coinbase nor Token Foundry is where I’lll actually buy, sell or exchange tokens. That happens in Metamask.

Metamask is a browser extension that added a little fox icon to my browser's toolbar.

Clicking the fox opens a window where I can buy Ethereum and, later, exchange Ethereum for CVL tokens. It is also the temporary "hot wallet" where I’ll store my Ethereum and CVL tokens. (For long-term storage, I'll use a “cold” hardware wallet.)

So here’s how I set up and used Metamask:

  • Installed Metamask from the Chrome plug-in site.
  • Made a Metamask account.
  • Read all about how to avoid being scammed by fake Metamask windows. 
  • Got a list of 12 words that constitute the passphrase for my Metamask wallet -- and, per the instructions from Token Foundry, decidedly did not photograph nor store these electronically anywhere. I put pen to paper, and then put paper in a safe deposit box.
  • Then, inside the Metamask window, clicked "buy" and instructed Metamask to use my coinbase account, and the debit card stored there, to buy some Ethereum.

And it didn't work.


Turns out I was trying to buy too much. I knew the limit for debit cards was $300, so I entered $300. But it failed.

I tried $299. Also failed.

I figured out that there were some transaction fees that were putting me over the limit. So I tried $250.

At this point, my bank was probably on high alert, and declined the transaction. (I later confirmed this as correct when I had to ask my bank to un-block my card.)

So I gave Coinbase another debit card, which promptly got declined. I was clearly setting off alarms everywhere. (Again, confirmed.)

Finally I tried linking a bank account directly to Coinbase. The instructions say this can take up to seven days to go through, which was okay because I was still more than a week out from the CVL token sale. But since my bank was on the Coinbase list of banks it can readily talk to, it worked right away.

I went back to the Metamask window and yet again tried to purchase Ethereum, this time using my bank account.

And it ... worked?

The sale went through, it said, but there was no deduction in my bank account and no Ethereum in my Metamask wallet.

But there was Ethereum in my Coinbase account. Maybe this was the 7-day wait?

I went to bed.


The next morning I had an email from Coinbase saying they couldn't move the Ethereum into my Metamask wallet, but explained that I could do it manually. When I went to do just that, the Ethereum was already sitting pretty in the Metamask wallet.

And it had already dropped in value by $25.

In the days it has taken me to put together this blog post, my Ethereum lost -- and then recovered -- $100 in value just waiting for the CVL sale. As the excellent Quartz headline writers point out, the cryptocurrency markets had suffered a “severe faceplant.”

It's good that I’m not in this for the money.

Now I wait

So I'm set, I think, for the sale on September 18.

That day I hope to get some CVL and get involved.

To be continued ...

UPDATE as of 7:45 pm ET on 9/17/2018:

Since going through these steps, the PDF I was following was changed to suggest users buy their Ethereum (ETH) at Gemini instead of Coinbase. This paragraph in the PDF suggests Coinbase may hold onto newly-purchased ETH for up to 30 days:

From what I can gather, according to the last page of the PDF, the key is that I need ETH in my Metamask wallet when you buy CVL tokens:

How the ETH gets into one's wallet, it seems, can vary. So I think I'm still set. 

Casino tokens photo from the Mauquoy Token Company via flickr. Other photos are screenshots from Civil and Metamask.

1 response
Thanks for sharing, this is the best overview I've read so far.