I’m going to keep this short, straight, and to the point. I’m more excited about Ethereum today than at any point before. (This should go without saying, but I am of course talking about the technology and the ecosystem in general, not about the price of ether.) Here’s why:
Reason 1: The Ethereum 2.0 roadmap is coming together. Yes, Shasper is going to take a while longer (did anyone really expect it to be delivered on time anyway?) and yes, the spec has evolved rapidly over the past year, but my spidey senses tell me that this time it’s for real. The building blocks (Casper FFG, sharding, Beacon chain, libp2p, Ewasm, etc.) are fairly well solidified by now and we’re primarily just working out the details. Lots of incredible minds have joined Ethereum research and development lately, and many independent, funded teams are working towards an Ethereum 2.0 proof of concept implementation. I’m going to make a bold claim: there are no insurmountable challenges left. What’s left is implementation details, parameterization, testing, and shipping the code. It’s just a matter of time before Ethereum scales.
Reason 2: Maker Dao is working. I mean, holy crap! It’s actually working and the Dai supply is continually, steadily growing. Maker is complex and seeing it come to life is like watching a Rube Goldberg machine spinning up. It survived the insane bear market of the past few months, collateralization never fell to dangerous levels, and new CDPs continue to be opened. While lots of stable coin projects have been making a lot of noise over the past year, Maker shipped and just keeps on shipping. If this isn’t proof positive of what’s possible with the right set of incentives and primitives on Ethereum today, I don’t know what is. I’ve noticed people in the community beginning to use Dai regularly as a replacement for fiat. As if that isn’t cool enough already, multi-collateral Dai is verified and coming soon. This is big.
Reason 3: Wallet UX is getting better. Much, much better. Think about where we were a year ago, and look at the landscape today: imToken, Coinbase Wallet, Walleth, Trust Wallet, Cipher Browser, and Status are all usable and their UX improves by the day. In the past couple of months alone Status has fixed several usability issues including storing the login password and user pseudonyms. It’s not perfect, but it’s now actually usable. Balance Manager is live, Balance Wallet and many other amazing wallet apps are coming soon, and Wallet Connect has emerged as an open-source standard to connect mobile wallet apps to the desktop. Initiatives like the Web3 Design Principles, #WalletConf/#UXUnconf, and #OpenSourceWeb3Design are really having an impact.
Reason 4: Loom is working. They keep on shipping as well. They have a real, usable game called Zombie Battleground built on a working Plasma implementation. The entire thing runs on Ethereum and the users don’t even know it, which is kinda the holy grail. And their monetization model, replacing obnoxious in-game purchases with marketplace fees, is promising. They stand as good a chance as anyone of delivering the first smash hit, 100,000-user Ethereum app.
Reason 5: More and more Ethereum clients are being developed. The past few months have seen the introduction of Nimbus, Pantheon, and, most recently, Lighthouse, joining an ever-growing list of now more than 10 client implementations. These clients are also increasingly being developed by large, professional, well-funded teams. Each of these clients optimizes for something slightly different: Nimbus, for example, is optimized for resource constrained devices like mobile phones, while Pantheon is designed to be fully modular and is built in Java to support enterprise use cases. More clients, more developers, and more researchers means more diversity in opinion, more decentralization in research, roadmap, and development, and more resilience against a bug in any individual implementation.
Reason 6: Staking is a thing, now, and the first time you try it, it’s truly mindblowing, like minting money out of thin air. I had this experience recently when I delegated some Livepeer tokens (LPT) to a transcoder. It only takes a moment, and then you can forget it completely and come back later to collect your reward. As you can see below, I earned 11.82 LPT after staking 25 LPT for 102 rounds (around 13 weeks). That’s a 47% return over the period, or about 189% annualized. Economically speaking, earnings will decrease as more people mine and stake their tokens, but as more projects enable staking (including Ethereum itself) and as the UX improves, staking will have enormous potential to become the “savings account of the future” for millions of people.
Reason 7: Ethereum governance may move slowly and may be somewhat frustrating, but it grinds on steadily and it hasn’t broken yet. The past few months have seen tons of progress: from the birth of the Fellowship of Ethereum Magicians and #EIP0 movements, to consensus around EIP-1234 which postpones the difficulty bomb and reduces the size of block rewards, to the finalization of the rest of the Constantinople hard fork. Lively, occasionally raucous discussion continues around ASIC resistance and changing the proof of work algorithm. Nearly a year after the Parity wallet funds were locked, even the most controversial topic, funds recovery, has not irreparably divided the community. Compared to the glacial pace of Bitcoin governance (which has led to multiple forks) and the dumpster fire that is Eos governance, Ethereum governance is in fine fettle.
Reason 8: More and more excellent educational resources keep appearing. This year, Karl spearheaded the creation of Cryptoeconomics.study, a complete, free, open source online course. Blockgeeks continues to turn out mountains of excellent material. Andreas Antonopoulos is close to releasing Mastering Ethereum (which is also open source!). Chainshot lets you simultaneously learn Solidity design patterns, build a working dapp, and deploy it. Zeppelin released Ethernaut, a gamified Web3/Solidity learning platform focused on security. And Loom took the Ethereum world by storm with CryptoZombies. Collectively, these resources will introduce a new generation of developers and enthusiasts to the Ethereum technology and community.
Reason 9: Ecosystem funds are popping up faster than I can keep track of, providing Ethereum projects with plenty of alternatives to traditional venture capital. The Stable Fund, ECF, Status Incubate, EF grants, ETHPrize, and Aragon Nest all launched this year and are all working hard to route grant funding towards the best, most capable teams and projects creating the most value for the ecosystem. The grant process can still be slow and frustrating, but it is improving and I’ve recently seen lines of communication opening among the various grants teams. Similarly, bounty systems such as Gitcoin and the Bounties Network are proliferating.
Reason 10: The ecosystem is finally beginning to dogfood its own apps. We cannot call Ethereum or Web3 a success until we begin replacing the constellation of centralized Web2 apps and services that we use every day — Slack, GMail, Twitter, Reddit, etc. — with decentralized alternatives. Status recently announced that they’ll soon be replacing Slack with (you guessed it) Status itself (there’s something elegantly recursive about that, isn’t there?). ETHBerlin dogfooded a ton of dapps including Status, BRLN coin, and Zinc. Yes, many of these dapps still feel like toys and there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve performance and usability, but this is a critical inflection point nonetheless.
Reason 11: SpankChain is working and has built a thriving ecosystem. Like Loom Network (described above) SpankChain is severely under-hyped but the team continues to ship working code. They’ve deployed a live, beta cam site with micropayment tipping functionality built on their own custom state channels implementation. They recently shipped a staking system, dubbed the SpankBank. They’re close to shipping an in-house, state-channels based decentralized exchange. And, most importantly, their work is making a difference: I’ve heard firsthand from their performers about the troubles they face when banks arbitrarily shut down their bank accounts and freeze their funds, problems that SpankChain solves.
Reason 12: Last but certainly not least, there’s the Ethereum community, which has exploded over the past year. Community is admittedly a vague concept and I’m not going to try to clearly define it here, but I can say from tons of firsthand experience meeting the global Ethereum community the past year that it’s extremely healthy and continually growing. One need only attend a conference like EthCC or an excellent ETHGlobal hackathon like the recent ETHBerlin to see what I mean. The community is about more than cool technology: it’s taking on more and more of the characteristics of a fully-fledged social and even political movement. As the first “Ethereum killer” chains begin to launch over the next few months and advanced blockchain technology increasingly becomes commoditized, I feel strongly that the size and strength of the Ethereum community will continue to set it apart for the foreseeable future. It’s a community of missionaries, not mercenaries. With a few rainbows and unicorns thrown in for good measure. 🌈🦄
About the author: Lane Rettig is an independent Ethereum core developer and a member of the Ewasm team. He founded and helps run Crypto NYC, a Manhattan-based co-working space and community that strives to make Web3 technology accessible to all humans. Find him on Twitter at @lrettig.