A data-driven review of the actual usage of smart contracts: “traffic,” “users,” & “revenue”
In a seminal 1994 essay, Nick Szabo defined a smart contract as “a computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.” Since then, smart contracts have become one of the most important arcs of the crypto story, with Ethereum leading the way.
As Fred Wilson noted (in response to Warren Buffet’s Bitcoin critique):
Ethereum and EOS are smart contract platforms that allow developers to create decentralized applications (Dapps in the vernacular of crypto)… I believe smart contracts are the most important innovation we have yet seen in crypto.
At Blockspur, we analyze on-chain data. We have previously shared our work analyzing Tether’s blockchain and the actual privacy usage of ZCash. Most recently, we’ve been working on measuring Ethereum’s smart contracts.
Our Approach: Ranking Smart Contracts
Because Ethereum smart contracts are essentially programs that run on the blockchain, our goal is to measure them the way websites or apps are measured. For the centralized Internet, services like Alexa and AppAnnie rank websites and apps by metrics such as traffic, users, and revenues. For a growing ecosystem like that of smart contracts, rankings can be especially useful for calibrating relative importance and identifying breakout trends.
To devise a ranking system for Ethereum smart contracts, we looked at every smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain and measured its “traffic,” “users,” and “revenues.”
For a smart contract, we represented “traffic” by the number of valid transactions, “users” by the number of unique addresses transacting with the contract, and “revenues” by the amount of ETH received. We also represented the concept of a “developer” by the unique address creating the contract.
Since its inception, over 1.7M smart contracts have been created on the Ethereum blockchain by over 66K unique developer addresses. Of the 1.7M contracts created, over 500K are “active” contracts that have had “traffic” in the form of transactions.
Over 8.5M “users” have used smart contracts by conducting 100M+ transactions with these contracts. The number of transactions has grown steadily, with over 12M transactions in May 2018. The 8.5M unique addresses are just over 28% of the nearly 30M addresses that have initiated transactions on the Ethereum blockchain.
Please note that the model of a unique address as a “user” is admittedly imperfect. A real user can generate new addresses for new transactions, the same way that a single Internet user may use multiple browsers or devices. Anecdotally, most Ethereum users do not generate new accounts for contract transactions. One reason may be that doing so is currently inconvenient using software like Metamask.
So how vibrant is an ecosystem of 500K “active” contracts, 66K “developers,” and 8.5M “users”? As an apple-to-orange comparison, about a year after the App Store launch, the iOS platform had about 85K apps, 125K developers, and 50M active devices.
When it comes to transaction value, since inception, smart contracts have received over 400M ETH from other accounts. At USD$500/ETH, this is over USD$200B in present day value. To be specific, this number includes the sending of ETH from user accounts to contract accounts but excludes the transfer of non-ETH tokens via contracts. The majority of the transfers are generated via deposits to exchange contracts and purchases of tokens from sale contracts.
Smart Contracts Rankings
First Killer App: ERC20
Unsurprisingly, ERC20 token contracts are dominant on the charts. For the most recent month (May 2018), over half of the top 100 contracts by transactions are ERC20 tokens, reaching hundreds of thousands of uniques via millions of transactions.
Regardless of the ultimate value of the underlying assets, it is clear that as a tokenization mechanism, ERC20 contracts on Ethereum have found product/market fit.
One of the most popular ERC20 tokens is EOS, the much-hyped platform whose mainnet recently went live, ranked #3 by transactions and #2 by uniques. It has consistently been on the top 10 lists for transactions and uniques since July 2017. This token is sold by EOSSale, a contract that has received over 1.4M ether and is ranked #1 by revenues.
Because ERC20 tokens have distinct characteristics, we added ERC20 filtering to our rankings, so that token contracts can be included or excluded.
The most popular non-ERC20 contracts include decentralized exchanges, peer-to-peer marketplaces, and games. The #1 most popular contract by transactions is for the decentralized exchange Idex, and the #4 most popular by transactions is a contract originally deployed by the decentralized exchange EtherDelta.
A few months ago, dissatisfaction with EtherDelta’s service resulted in a developer forking the front end of the service into a new exchange called ForkDelta, while is still using the original EtherDelta contract.
This example is illustrative of the disruptive power of smart contracts (and blockchains in general). An ethereum dapp can be loosely thought of as a website or application that is powered by one or more “APIs” in the form of smart contracts. Developers forked EtherDelta by building a new website on top of an EtherDelta smart contract, without needing permission from anyone else. This fork is so successful that ForkDelta’s website is about to overtake EtherDelta’s in traffic.
In a centralized system, this scenario would never occur. If a user is unhappy with Wells Fargo’s website, she’s stuck with it. Even if she were to use Wells Fargo’s APIs to craft a new site, Wells Fargo is in a position to cut off API access anytime.
The power of decentralization also be seen in Cryptokitties, the much talked about collectibles dapp. Cryptokitties is a centralized website that is powered by multiple smart contracts with distinct API functions: (1) ownership (ranked #16 in transactions), (2) sales auction (ranked #82 in transactions), (3) siring auction (ranked #750 in transactions), and (4) gene science.
Because these smart contracts are decentralized, it is possible for developers to build other dapps that take advantage of Cryptokitties’s “APIs” without needing permission. Examples include KittyRace (ranked #1,197 in transactions), a racing game that uses cryptokitties as avatars, and KittyHats (ranked #2,381 in transactions), which implements “stickers” in the form of fungible ERC20 for these non-fungible cats.
In today’s crypto markets, the metric of choice is market cap. But just as a dot-com’s market cap on Yahoo Finance did not necessarily signal its actual traction, neither does a cryptocurrency’s valuation on Coinmarketcap.
In the long run, what matters is usage: transactions, users, and value. By measuring and ranking smart contracts, our goal is to surface the fundamentals that reflect true adoption of this early but disruptive technology.
You can check out our data yourself on Blockspur.