Cardstack’s Advantage: A Conversation with Chris Tse and Token Club
Read Chris’ interview with China’s Token Club, livestreamed to an audience of over 49,000
There is no mass market decentralized Internet yet— today’s dApps are fragmented, hard to build, and hard to use. That’s what Cardstack aims to solve, using a shared framework that gives makers the tools, features, and connections to create a decentralized app ecosystem that’s more than the sum of its parts.
On his most recent trip to China, Cardstack Founding Director Chris Tse met with major blockchain media Token Club to explain the vision.
The following has been edited and condensed from the original transcript. The original video can be viewed here.
First of all, please introduce to us Cardstack.
Cardstack is making it easier for developers to build very powerful, mass market-ready decentralized apps, or dApps. The way we do this is that we understand (with my experience building blockchain-based businesses, like Monegraph and Dot Blockchain Music) that the blockchain is a small percentage of what is necessary for the full-stack application that people can use.
From that experience, I realized — what are the common components that would be needed for people to build blockchain application dApps — not in two years, but in two months? Those parts that we can provide as Cardstack would become an accelerator for a future project that wants to take advantage of the blockchain. And that’s what we provide: toolsets for a developer to build dApps much faster than is currently done in the custom world.
What are the uses of cards? What are the advantages of cards? Why were you inspired to create cards?
I think cards are basically smaller units of interaction than an app. We spent about 15 years working on apps: everything is fullscreen, you have an icon on your home screen or you have a tab on your browser or you have a desktop app that you launch. And I think WeChat was the first one to say, “What’s a mini-app look like?” Within the WeChat app, there are smaller apps. A card is even smaller than that.
So a card app is much more composable, almost like a widget. Now imagine the chaining of card applications as connecting each one to a different ecosystem, different token, different blockchain. A card just allows much more composability, where the parts of decentralization can be brought together in different ways, even sometimes beyond the intent of the original creator of that blockchain.
What inspires me is that I love the creativity that people use when they create using software that is given to them. They orchestrate and they make workflows based on what apps they have on their phone or their computer. If we make that composition so much easier and integrate crypto, more people are going to be willing to compose.
I think a card-based user interface really is appropriate for decentralization, because I’m asking each protocol and each blockchain project to create an interface for your blockchain in a small, embeddable thing and give it away, put it in a catalog, and allow developers, maybe even power users, to compose new applications that you hadn’t even thought of. And that type of composability is going to allow us to increase the adoption and the impact of the parts that are being built right now in the decentralized world. And it’s not going to be required that one company put it all together. The community can mix and match these cards to build the workflow they need that you didn’t even think of.
And that excites me because it taps into much more of the community creativity than one company’s vision. And Card UI is the unit, the shopkeeping unit (SKU), that allows this composability. So we think it’s an important thing that we get right, and get the abstraction and encapsulation right. And we are going to go and try it out and see if people like smaller apps that they can put together versus one big app that does everything.
Cardstack wants to provide a one-stop-shop for blockchain apps, implying cross-chain operations are required. How will you take on this challenge?
There are two parts to that. One part is that cross-chain operations are already done every day. When you go to any centralized exchange whether it’s Binance or Huobi, they have a software infrastructure where the same trading interface is connecting through wallets for obviously Bitcoin and Ether and ERC20, but also many, many different chains like Zilliqa or whatever they might have.
So there are teams building proprietary software connecting their kind of trading interfaces to the various wallets. We are building that for not trading, necessarily, but for utility. So we have an open source plugin system where any blockchain that can be brought into Cardstack and sharing this user experience is just like a driver or a plugin. And we can build it as the foundation.
Any team that says, “Hey. We have a blockchain. I would like to use Cardstack as my development tools for my developers,”all they’d have to do is build the plugin. And then, you share in all the authentication, all the notification, all the indexing features so we can search the blockchain history. That is shared across all the blockchain that reflects their data in that Cardstack Hub, which is a data fusion and routing tier.
So I think we have spent a lot of time building that middleware, that indexing and curating layer so that every blockchain that gets into Cardstack can be programmed by end-users and end-developers in a very consistent way. That’s step one.
Step two is that once you have this unified data layer where all the blockchain data are now looking more same than different, because the plugin evens out the difficulty, and it connects through the native code — then you can build and use our card-based user interface. Imagine componentized chainable steps that allow you to interact with an ERC20 payment, then followed by staking model on a Tezos chain, then followed by something on Cardano. And that could be three steps, each one going to different plugins, but it’s one workflow, one thread for the end-users. So that user experience synthesis requires the backend, the middle synthesis with the plugins.
We’ve done the backend synthesis, now we’re starting to create a toolkit so the developer building the apps don’t have to build the whole website and every single button. They just have to build the unit of information that they can kind of add to a catalog. That catalog allows the end-user to chain and create new workflows together.
I see that as the collaboration model for dApps, not everybody trying to own the whole screen, the whole browser, the whole app, but contributing a part, allowing the blockchain to interoperate throughout backend framework, as well as a frontend composability.
And that’s why Cardstack is a full-stack project. We’re not just solving some developer pain point. We’re trying to combine those solutions with the end-user composability to make it much easier for that type of interchain operation to happen at the end user level. Because people expect really simple tools, we want to have that show up on their mobile phone.
What is Cardstack’s edge over other ecosystem projects?
We think that there is a utility model in blockchain that allows users to use the app they want and be able to have a true multi-chain experience where they don’t have to deal with any — not like 10 tokens to be dealing with 10 changes, but only one token. We’re the only ones using our token as a payment mechanism to simplify the use of token ecosystems for average users, which I believe is our main edge.
A lot of these tools still are essentially wallets, so you have different tokens, ERC20. Within Status or Coinbase Wallet you have different tokens connected to one app. And you still need to have tokens in the wallet to be able to do things. Sometimes the wallet they unify on the seed on some of the blockchains you mentioned, but they’re not solving the problem. Most end-users don’t want to deal with tokens when they’re using a decentralized app. You don’t want to deal with 10 different currencies if all you want to do is WeChat Pay someone.
So the idea here is that Cardstack is really about working on the hard problem to vastly simplify the first one, two, three, four, five steps before someone can use a decentralized app and participate in a token ecosystem. Very few people are working on the payment aspects being a prevention of adoption. So by using delayed-settlement, I can buy $100 worth of CARD using fiat currency. But I can’t take it to Huobi and trade it. I can only use it. I can only give it back to the network. That way it makes it possible for new consumers to get onto using the Cardstack software without even knowing that they’re actually buying and selling cryptocurrency.
We are the only ones working on this, and that gives a huge advantage because the influx of cash coming into the Cardstack ecosystem becomes the influx of cash coming into crypto, and then if we become the framework where that cash flow comes, it provides a lot more liquidity especially to and from fiat to the exchanges that we work with and partner with.
The fact that we work on this smooth onboarding, including the payment of the services we use, the utility you incur both on the blockchain and on the cloud, makes us a very unique and interesting option as we look beyond trading as a primary use case, to where utility and trading work together to build this exciting ecosystem for all blockchain. Hopefully, Cardstack will be an on-ramp or gateway for that adoption.
How will Cardstack take on Ethereum’s congestion issues?
It’s something we spent a lot of time thinking through even before we wrote the white paper. Because we understand the value of the Ethereum network, the liquidity of ETH and the ease of getting an application built on top of Solidity in all the different technology.
But we are certainly aware that if we were to build a mass market adoption dApp platform, every click that a user does converts into a transaction of Ethereum, and that even with all the scaling and sharding and the Plasma chain it’s not enough to support a million users on-chain.
We’ve always seen Cardstack as a layered architecture. And on the blockchain layer, Ethereum is really about the staking model which is CARD token becoming a prepaid model for say, “I have $100 of value staked away, and now I can use up to $100 worth of these centralized services.” That’s all we do.
We then build a separate sidechain or chain using another type of Delegated Proof-of-Stake or sharding-based blockchain that meters the actual usage and that’s not on directly on Ethereum. But when you are done with the interaction, we can then figure out how much side chain interaction needs to be settled back out on Ethereum and then distribute a token periodically. So we are a delayed settlement system and that allows us to use Ethereum for the liquidity and for the ability for you to build that core value equation for the prepaid kind of payment model, and then use other blockchains and even higher-level layer protocols like general state channels. You can call that layer three.
These layered architectures are all part of the Cardstack solution — and the developers don’t see that they’re building a layer one, two, and three. Our software framework makes it easy for you to build for those things. With that said, we’re going to begin with Ethereum as the starting layer, and as the technology matures and as we can bring in new toolsets from other teams, we can then improve the scalability.
Or better yet, as Cardstack scales, we will not be taxing the Ethereum blockchain with the incremental transaction volume. Those are the works we are planning to do with a sidechain or Plasma chain, and that’s what we want to leverage. The innovation that’s already going in both in Ethereum and beyond to make our scalability happen responsibly to the crypto ecosystem.
It’s common for ecosystem-oriented blockchain projects to go through long development cycles. How does Cardstack plan to onboard dApp developers effectively?
But I think the aim that we have in building our development toolkit is to make sure we can demonstrate to the developer what type of application they can build. And then give them the recipe, the open source codebase, of those applications and say, “Extend it. Customize it. Make it better. Make it your own.”
The idea is to give the developer almost an entire working application that they can deploy to the end user that only requires them to customize one to two percent and add the logos. That’s what would hook the developers and make them say, “Hey, I’ve got something working for my customers or my users, and now I want to go deeper. How do I customize it even more? How do I add the dApps of my choice? How do I make this function richer?”
And then we will add more documentation based on what is needed for them to feel like they can make the Cardstack application more appropriate, more customized for their audience.
I would learn from what’s going on in broader open source ecosystems like WordPress or Drupal or Magento. There are a lot of good examples that we can evolve from, and that’s our approach — to apply that modularity as a way to not just teach people how to build, but give them a finished product much faster.
When will Cardstack launch the official product?
We had already shipped a minimum viable product, so that when we conducted our token generation event (TGE) we were using our own software, our own plugin to Ethereum, and our own plugin to a KYC system to verify passports and documentation. We also had our own hosting environment built on our own system.
So we actually already achieved a working software product prior to the token distribution. Since we started our project in 2014, we’ve added 31 different plug-ins. The Ethereum plugin is a newer one, but it’s a really important one because it allows to not only connect to our own smart contract for the CARD token, but also the same framework allows us to connect to any other token. Let’s say we want to build a Cardstack application on top of our prediction market. We can connect to Augur or Rep, and that could be built today using the Cardstack Framework.
Because we invested three years prior to the TGE to software development, our timeline was much shorter. We just released a roadmap a couple of days ago to our English-speaking community. We’re working on translating it for the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese communities. And we expect that by the end of this year, we would have an end-user application that allows users to tap into multiple blockchains using the same core architecture we release as part of our MVP to be able to allow people to experience what a Cardstack application would be. So our investment prior to the TGE and the fact that we are a long-term project leading up to this point gives us a tremendous time advantage.
What do you have coming up in China?
I think it’s important for us to be a truly international project, and we formed the foundation in Switzerland. We like the structure of the compliance regime over there, because it allows projects to really tap into the international market because Switzerland’s well-trusted as a place of finance, and banking, and such like that. Cardstack is certainly achieving that type of anchor in Switzerland, but the users are all around the world.
I think there’s a tremendous amount of growth in China because it’s not just about trading, which is obviously something that a lot of the volume is coming from the Chinese-speaking, greater China community. But it’s really the speed of growth in thinking about the next wave of software. It’s now happening more so in China than even in Silicon Valley. It used to be like, you copy something in Silicon Valley in China. Now Silicon Valley people are visiting Beijing and Guangzhou and then coming and copying features and bringing it to the US and other parts of the world.
I also understand that the growth of the crypto ecosystem is going to, for the first time, blend the software from China and the East and the architecture and the visions from the West, but it’s going to move a lot faster. It’s not going to move at the speed of Europe, which is quite slow. It’s going to move the speed of Shenzhen. So I am very bullish on the growth of software, but more importantly, I don’t believe there is Chinese software and Western software because there’s only one Bitcoin. There’s only one Ether.
These cryptocurrency technologies are merging our world in a way that has not happened even in Android, and iPhone, and WeChat, and WhatsApp, versus Facebook. Those are still quite separate. So I’m extremely bullish on the blending, especially with open source and open ecosystem. And that’s why I see that the tools we build in Cardstack will be equally applicable when a Chinese company wants to build a new crypto accounting system, they can tap into Cardstack the same way a New York-based bank taps into those same cards, the same plug-ins, to build their own asset management solution.
I think that sharing that we use has not happened before. It’s only enabled through cryptocurrency being universal and open source software being universal. We tap into both of those communities, create a usability layer, and the sensibility around the architecture, and have a team that comes from both the East and the West. And then with our kind of working together as a community, I think we can achieve what wasn’t be able to achieve in the last 10 years, which is bringing East and West even closer together. And hopefully, being educated both in Hong Kong and in New York, I can serve as a little bit of the bridge to bring those two worlds together.
- From Speculation to Utility by Founding Director Chris Tse
- Growing a Healthy Software Ecosystem by Lead Developer Ed Faulkner
- The Future of Cardstack: A Conversation with Chris Tse and Huoxing Caijing
- The Cardstack White Paper
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