Working on the future of Ethereum and Dapps with Magicians — an interview with Fluence CEO

Hi, Fluencers!

This update is in some ways special since it’s not just about our project but rather the whole community. As you might know, in July Evgeny spent some time with the Ethereum working groups (known as the Magicians) and at the Dappcon. Today we’re covering some of the key takeaways from the first hands.

Q: What’s this all about, is there some problem with Ethereum?

Evgeny: There’s actually a lot of positive things going on in the developer community, but most people hear only some bits of information that don’t paint the blockchain tech as smth that could one day bring down Amazon, or Google. I’ll try to tell in more detail about the good news and serious things.

For example, the issues like DAO hack, CryptoKities, Parity freeze are surely important and helped to pinpoint certain problems. Right now it’s ok to live and work with these, but in the future they will backfire if not fixed. The goal of these sessions was to gather major Ethereum developers and projects building on its blockchain and find some possible solutions or prioritise the ones we have into a roadmap.

Q: Can you list the major themes of discussion?

E: Sure, most of the time we talked about three major topics:

  1. Ethereum governance and how it works with the community.
  2. Obstacles for the Ethereum and Dapps wide adoption.
  3. Last, but not least: Ethereum blockchain scalability and roadmap that considers these issues.

It was good to hear that our team are not the only ones and most projects struggle with same things when it comes to using Ethereum blockchain. Each of these topics has its own non trivial problems inside. Also, I was curious to confirm some of my own ideas on the use cases and where we can help with Fluence tech and knowledge.

Q: Let’s go with it, Ethereum governance — is there a problem with that?

E: Take a look back: it’s been almost nine months since Parity freeze and the issue has not been solved. While the Parity team does a great job at fixing things and mitigating the damage done, this surfaced a bigger thing: how voting, propositions, and overall governance works in Ethereum.

First attemtps to make some decisions and find a solution had been taken couple of months before at EIP0 Summit. You can find a summary on Medium.

As for the voting, right now we’re stuck with “Stake-weight” model. This means you need significant amounts of ETH to have a voice that can influence what happens with the network, where it goes, which propositions are accepted.

Unfortunately, this model suits best for exchanges since they aggregate and hold significant amounts of ETH, but ignores an enormous developer community around the Ethrereum. While the developers are the core users, the ones who incorporate Ethereum into their projects deserve the right to influence what decisions are made.

There were some really interesting propositions on how we fix this. The core idea is that we need some kind of signaling tool that all of the developers use (apparently, not everyone shows up for Twitter discussions).

Phil Luscok covered this best in his presentation (slide above), you totally should read it. You can also find some notes on the frozen funds on the official forum.

Q: What’s up with Dapps adoption?

E: Actually, what we’ve discussed there felt so important that I almost instantly shared the key ideas on Fluence’s twitter.

Right now there’re already so many great apps, but which of them people use daily? Just take a glance at the DappRadar:

What are the most used apps? Exchanges. Even Crypto Kitties have somewhat three hundred users. Why is that?

Turns out, you have to be a tech-savvy person to use Ethereum and services built on it in their current versions. Just imagine, how this feels for any user, not proficient with crypto: just to use Kitties you’d have to buy ETH, install MetaMask, understand how Gas works etc.

This introduces a significant entry barrier for the new users, making Dapps harder to adopt. Right now there’s no conventional solution to this. I think it’s just a phase. When the first computers arrived you had to be a talented mathematician AND engineer (think Donald Knuth) to use them, but since then the interfaces became simple and eye-pleasing, and user experience more rewarding. We can certainly do this.

You can dive into details of Dapps Ux and adoption challenges with this great presentation by Josef Jelacic. A video is available too:

Also, here are quite detailed notes on user logins, identity, and wallets.

Q: Ethereum scalability will soon become a meme, but what’s in there really?

E: I think, in some way it already has. This theme has a lot of details inside, when you start digging in. Here’s a list that comes in mind:

  • Low number of transactions per second. The main proposed solutions are transfer to Proof-of-Stake (the Casper project), Sharding, and Plazma.
  • Getting data from Ethereum. Necessity to trust nodes and no options for fast and flexible search through historical data.
  • Ethereum blockchain size: the bigger it gets, the harder it is to discover and retrieve historical data.

There’s been much said and written on the first issue, and I think it will be solved eventually, since the most taleted developers I’ve seen are wroking on it. But the latter two are the ones where Fluence could shine.

Let’s dive into more details. First, most dapps today rely on trusted infrastructure and its providers. For example, services like Infura — Eth nodes with a stable default API on top — that lot of people and projects use to connect to the network. Using Infura or any other nodes on top of Ethereum means you have to trust their infrastructure but this leads back to centralization. Anyway, these are OK for plain tasks but if you want to query a lot of historical data, you’d need something more complex.

A straightforward approach is EthQL language that basically allows GraphQL queries over Ethereum data. Projects like eth.events try to tackle the flexible search over Ethereum blockchain data. That is cool, but you still have to trust eth.events nodes as intermediaries.

Fluence could be a solution that would fill this void offering a searchable index over Ethereum data that makes almost any complex query possible, while being not too demanding to computational resources. And without the “trust issues” since data requests are executed on the Fluence decentralized network and are constantly verified by other independent nodes.

Regarding the blockchain size problem (already more than 4 TB) — it could potentially lead to centralization, because as it grows fewer nodes will be able to keep the whole blockchain. However, once the blockchain becomes fragmented into shards stored by different parts of the network this should not be a problem anymore. The best part is that Fluence and other solutions could be easily implemented to search and process data over shards.

I mentioned this problem of searching over Ethereum and having to trust nodes in my speech at Dappcon:

Q: Why are these discussions important?

E: For the community as a whole, or for the Fluence as a project?

Since we’re trying to build a more democratic web free from censorship, monopolies, bad actors, and governments, we’ve got to learn on our mistakes and fix them quick. The way we decide where to go on from now and the direction we choose is super important.

For the Fluence these discussions mean a lot. Being aware and confirming product hypothesis is great, but having an opportunity to directly influence the technology we will certainly incorporate and rely on in the future — not just any project can afford that.

Q: Do I get it right, that Fluence is in some way depends on Ethereum?

ED: Right now we’re looking up to Ethereum, since it’s the first and by far the most successful blockchain with an strong developer’s community around it. We’re certainly going to use it for payments and token operations by connecting Fluence network as a Plasma chain to it. But we don’t limit ourselves to just one type of blockchain. The idea is to give this choice to the developers, so they could pick which chain they want to use for their app.

Q: Thanks for the interview! Anything to add?

Evgeny: Just a big “Thank you!“ to the Fellowship of Magicians Council, Ethereum working groups in Prague, and Dappcon for having me. You had to be there to feel, what an awesome community we are.