The Ethereum Smart Contract Quadrant (SCQ)
A Conceptual Tool for the Application Layer of Ethereum
This framework is a humble attempt at a conceptual framework to organize the variations of Ethereum smart contracts, as well as the different contexts they are currently used in. Arguably, an incredibly reductionist task that oversimplifies and overlooks, but could prove useful nonetheless.
The SCQ is primarily built as a conceptual tool for understanding the application layer of Ethereum and abstracting the broad idea of contracts and DApps into a single framework.
Deterministic: the contract(s) follow(s) a simple and finite business process that cannot be altered by the user/EOA.
Modifiable: the contract follows a business logic that can either be modified by a single EOA, due to varying transactions requirements and inputs or can be governed my multiple EOAs, allowing parts of the contract to be altered.
Single-User: refers to a single Externally Owned Account (EOA) engaging with a contract on the Ethereum blockchain.
Multi-platform: refers to an application layer provided by a smart contract(s) that facilitates transactions between multiple single-users (EOAs) or independent groups of single-users.
This distinction was inspired by a tweet by William Mougayar, where he originally made a classification between deterministic and governed smart contracts.
Why Frameworks Are Important
Evidently, some of the assumptions made here may not be correct, or extremely oversimplified and some contract types could be completely excluded by the framework. Therefore, the primary goal of my work on the SCQ is to adapt it based on community feedback and also pose the question if a framework like this is even possible, or useful. I do believe it can be useful though due to the following two points:
- A lot of conceptual work has been done on understanding the protocol layer of blockchain consensus systems, but the application layer is much less explored from an analytical perspective. And yet the broader community has been waiting for “the killer blockchain application” since 2012, while at the same time applications and smart contracts, their uses, users and evidently market potential are still poorly understood.
- The term smart contract is currently very vaguely applied, unclear and quite a few authors have tried to make distinctions, move away from it or clarify it. However, I believe due to its popularity the term will likely remain in our “innovation vocabulary” for years to come. Frameworks can therefore help by making necessary distinctions that allow businesses, entrepreneurs and academics to use the term more precisely and by doing so hopefully build better applications.
I look forward to any feedback and discussion in order to improve and adapt the SCQ. I’m certain there will be many fringe cases and implications I may have overlooked, oversimplified or misunderstood.