Airdrops are so 2017, free money was fun while it lasted but now when someone says free money in crypto, the first thoughts are scams and ponzi schemes. But in 2020, there is a way to earn free money, in a legitimate, common practice, and logical manner — staking.
Staking is the core concept behind the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus protocol that is quickly becoming an industry standard throughout blockchain projects. PoS allows blockchains to scale effectively without compromising on security and resource efficiency. Projects that incorporate staking include aelf, Dash, EOS, Cosmos, Cardano, Dfinity and many others.
PoW — Why change
First, let’s look at some of the issues facing Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus that led to the development of PoS.
- Excessive energy consumption — In 2017, many concerns were raised over the amount of electricity used by the bitcoin network (Largest PoW blockchain). Since then the energy consumption has increased by over 400%, to the point where 1 single transaction on this network has the same carbon footprint of 736,722 Visa transactions or consumes the same amount of electricity as over 20 U.S. households.
- Varying Electricity Costs — The profit of any miner on the network is tied to two costs, the initial startup cost to obtain the hardware and infrastructure, and more critically, the running cost of said equipment in relation to electricity usage. Electricity costs can vary from fractions of a cent per kWh to over 50 cents (USD) and in some cases it is free. When a user may only be earning $0.40 USD per hour then this will clearly rule out certain demographics based purely on electricity costs, reducing the potential for complete decentralization.
- Reduced decentralization — Due to the high cost of the mining equipment, those with large financial bases setup mining farms, either for others to rent out individual miners or entirely for personal gains. This results in large demographic hotspots on the network reducing the decentralized aspect to a point where it no longer accomplishes this aspect.
- Conflicted interests — The requirements of running miners on the network are purely based on having possession of the hardware, electricity and internet connection. There are no limits to the amount a miner can earn, nor do they need to hold any stake in the network, and thus there is very little incentive for them to vote on upgrades that may benefit the network but reduce their rewards.
I want to take this moment to mention a potential benefit to PoW that I have not seen anyone mention previously. It is a very loose argument so don’t take this to heart too strongly.
Consistent Fiat Injection — The majority of miners will be paying for their electricity in fiat currency. At a conservative rate of $0.1 USD per kWh, the network currently uses 73.12 TWh per year. This equates to an average daily cost of over $20 million USD. This means every day around $20 million of fiat currency is effectively being injected into the bitcoin network. Although this concept is somewhat flawed in the sense that the same amount of bitcoin will be released each day regardless of how much is spent on electricity, I’m looking at this from the eyes of the miners, they are reducing their fiat bags and increasing their bitcoin bags. This change of bags is the essence of this point which will inevitably encourage crypto spending. If the bitcoin bags were increased but fiat bags did not decrease, then there would be less incentive to spend the bitcoin, as would see in a staking ecosystem.
Different approaches have been taken to tackle different issues the PoS protocol faces. Will Little has an excellent article explaining this and more in PoS, but let me take an excerpt from his piece to go through them:
- Coin-age selection — Blockchains like Peercoin (the first PoS chain), start out with PoW to distribute the coins, use coin age to help prevent monopolization and 51% attacks (by setting a time range when the probability of being selected as a node is greatest), and implement checkpoints initially to prevent NoS problems.
- Randomized block selection — Chains like NXT and Blackcoin also use checkpoints, but believe that coin-age discourages staking. After an initial distribution period (either via PoW or otherwise), these chains use algorithms to randomly select nodes that can create blocks.
- Ethereum’s Casper protocol(s) — Being already widely distributed, Ethereum doesn’t have to worry about the initial distribution problem when/if it switches to PoS. Casper takes a more Byzantine Fault Tolerant (BFT) approach and will punish nodes by taking away (“slashing”) their stake if they do devious things. In addition, consensus is formed by a multi-round process where every randomly assigned node votes for a specific block during a round.
- Delegated Proof-of-Stake (DPoS) — Invented by Dan Larimer and first used in Bitshares (and then in [aelf,] Steem, EOS, and many others), DPoS tackles potential PoS problems by having the community “elect” delegates that will run nodes to create and validate blocks. Bad behavior is then punished by the community simply out-voting the delegated nodes.
- Delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance (DBFT) — Similar to DPoS, the NEO community votes for (delegates) nodes, but instead of each node producing blocks and agreeing on consensus, only 2 out of 3 nodes need to agree on what goes in every block (acting more like bookkeepers than validators).
- Tendermint — As a more sophisticated form of DBFT and a precursor to Casper, Jae Kwon introduced tendermint in 2014, which leverages dynamic validator sets, rotating leader elections, and voting power (i.e. weight) that is proportional to the self-funding and community allocation of tokens to a node (i.e. a “validator”).
- Masternodes — First introduced by DASH, a masternode PoS system requires nodes to stake a minimum threshold of coins in order to qualify as a node. Often this comes with requirements to provide “service” to a network in the form of governance, special payment protocols, etc…
- Proof of Importance (POI) — NEM takes a slightly different approach by granting an “importance calculation” to masternodes staking at least 10,000 XEM. This POI system then rewards active nodes that act in a positive way over time to impact the community.
- “Proof-of-X” — And finally, there is no lack of activity in the PoS world to come up with clever approaches and variants of staking (some are more elaborate than others). In addition to BFT protocols such as Honeybadger, Ouroboros, and Tezos, for further reading, also check out “Proof-of-”: Stake Anonymous, Storage, Stake Time, Stake Velocity, Activity, Burn, and Capacity.
Earning Your Stake
In order to understand how one can earn money from these networks, I’ll break them down into 3 categories: Simple staking, Running nodes, and Voting.
Simple Staking -
This is the simplest of the 3 methods and requires almost no action by the user. Certain networks will reward users by simply holding tokens in a specified wallet. These rewards are generally minimal but are the easiest way to earn.
Running a node -
This method provides the greatest rewards but also requires the greatest action by the user and most likely will require ongoing maintenance. Generally speaking, networks will require nodes to stake a certain amount of tokens often amounting to thousands of dollars. In DPoS systems, these nodes must be voted in by other users on the network and must continue to provide confidence to their supporters. Some companies will setup nodes and allow users to participate by contributing to the minimum staking amount, with a similar concept to PoW mining pools.
This mechanism works hand in hand with running nodes in relation to DPoS networks. Users are encouraged to vote for their preferred nodes by staking tokens as votes. Each vote will unlock a small amount of rewards for each voter, the nodes are normally the ones to provide these rewards as a portion of their own reward for running a node.
Aelf’s DPoS system
The aelf consensus protocol utilizes a form of DPoS. There are two versions of nodes on the network, active nodes & backup nodes (official names yet to be announced). Active nodes run the network and produce the blocks, while the backup nodes complete minor tasks and are on standby should any active nodes go offline or act maliciously. These nodes are selected based upon their number of votes received. Initially the top 17 nodes will be selected as active nodes, while the next 100 will stand as the backup ones, each voting period each node may change position should they receive more or less votes than the previous period. In order to be considered as a node, one must stake a minimum amount of ELF tokens (yet to be announced).
In order to participate as a voter, there is no minimum amount of tokens to be staked. When one stakes, their tokens will be locked for a designated amount of time, selected by the voter from the preset periods. If users pull their tokens out before this locked period has expired no rewards are received, but if they leave them locked for the entire time frame they will receive the set reward, and the tokens will be automatically rolled over into the next locked period. As a result, should a voter decide, once their votes are cast, they can continue to receive rewards without any further action needed.
Many projects have tackled with node rewards in order to make them fair, well incentivized but sustainable for everyone involved. Aelf has come up with a reward structure based on multiple variables with a basic income guaranteed for every node. Variables may include the number of re-elections, number of votes received, or other elements.
As the system matures, the number of active nodes will be increased, resulting in a more diverse and secure network.
Staking as a solution is a win-win-win for network creators, users and investors. It is a much more resource efficient and scalable protocol to secure blockchain networks while reducing the entry point for users to earn from the system.
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