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AMA Highlights — NEAR Protocol

By Daniel Dal Bello, Director.
November 29, 2020–11 min read.

On Thursday 19 November, we welcomed Aliaksandr Hudzillin and Matt Lockyer from NEAR Protocol into the Hillrise Group Telegram chat for an AMA. Aliaksandr is the Head of Business Development, and Matt is an Engineer.

Alternative layer-1 protocols are beginning to emerge, releasing mainnets and building momentum. New architecture is becoming increasingly relevant with Ethereum’s current drawbacks.

NEAR is a contender in the layer-1 arena with their platform built by an open-source collective including some of the brightest minds in the space. NEAR allows developers to rapidly build highly scalable, low cost, decentralized applications compatible with the EVM.

In this post, we have compiled key questions and answers from the event.

Daniel Dal Bello
Welcome to you both and thanks for coming along for this chat. We have been looking forward to having you along for literally months now and I think the timing is great as the layer-1 architecture conversation is more relevant than ever.

We would like to start with some introductions to yourselves and your roles at NEAR!

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
I am Aliaksandr Hudzilin, but people call me Sasha. I’ve spent last 2+ years (since NEAR started in August 2018) on talking to lots of developers and app builders (~350 of them), which both informed our product strategy and allowed us to bring initial adoption to NEAR. I also host podcast and help run an incubator & accelerator called ‘Open Web Collective’.

Matt Lockyer
My name is Matt Lockyer, I have a background in UX research and software development, been in Blockchain and Ethereum community since mid 2017 and I’m a huge fan of the emerging art, games, NFTs and applications being built on NEAR and other blockchains right now! Super excited for the future!

Daniel Dal Bello
Sasha, since the inception of the idea of NEAR in 2018 you have attracted a large cohort of very prominent and bright people/companies.

As Head of Business Development — what are some of the most interesting or unique opportunities that you’ve come across, and potentially have been able to take advantage of/collaborate on?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
We’ve been able to check our assumptions on what’s important to the market to begin with! We’ve actually started on premise that this space needs scalability and that’s it (and our team was well positioned to solve it, having built sharded databases at MemSQL), but then we learned from the market that another giant pain point is actually usability, the missing component that’s required if you want to bring mass adoption to blockchain apps.

Since then, we’ve completely re-imagined how usability directly on protocol level is done (as it relates to onboarding, how transactions are handled, and how accounts work).

Daniel Dal Bello
We have recently seen a massive uptick in the use of NFT’s for either art, games or even privileges within a blockchain community. Most of these are Ethereum based and come with certain restrictions based on fees and the Ethereum network.

How are you tackling NFTs at NEAR?

Matt Lockyer
Well the fees are pretty ridiculous right now on Ethereum. At the peak of DeFi craze it cost more than $100 to mint 1 NFT. Some people were buying NFTs for less than the gas fees!

We have a standard NEP4 that is well received so far. But we welcome more community feedback all the time.

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
I think with the gas prices rising across the board, NFT projects were the ones who were left priced out actually. We’ve been talking to several NFT teams in space (e.g. Known Origin, Rarible, Mintbase, SuperRare) and understanding their needs, and building for them.

I think NFT space is at its infancy, and we will start seeing crossover of ideas between NFTs and DeFi, and long term I think NFTs will become a backbone for creating reputation systems.

We will see ‘Google being applied to the world at large’, where you will be able to see guilds, everyone’s contributions, how to work on ideas together via NFTs. An early example of this is the reputation system at Gitcoin.

Daniel Dal Bello
I’ve noticed that you have been/are working with Zed. Have there been any interesting insights into blockchain-based gaming and NFT’s that you’ve gained from this collaboration?

Matt Lockyer
The Zed work has been interesting so far. It’s been hard to learn a lot about UX because they are running custodial wallets right now and paying the fees on behalf of users. I think that’s a good way to have clean UX and onboard users.

The real learning will begin when we start to work more closely with them on migrating those users into NEAR Wallet users and dealing with the UX around fees and transactions.

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
I’ve actually wrote on blockchain gaming before and I think the space is very challenging for few reasons:

  1. You need to have diverse cross-functional team in order to make a game (it takes couple years and requires a lot of resources).
  2. You need to be able to balance out compelling gameplay with new a primitive that blockchain brings to the table — an open economy.
  3. There are very little success stories just yet (SkyWeaver being the main one) and it’s hard for investors and everyone else to fully appreciate what will be possible.

My personal favorite in this space is HashRush, because of how phenomenal their gameplay is. I played Warcraft as a kid, and I’d love to see more hardcore strategy games coming back to forefront of the gaming space.

Daniel Dal Bello
I think it would be great to talk in some detail about your ‘Guild’ initiative that you are quite actively working on. As I understand it, a Guild is essentially a community… very much like this one here — so we could have a Hillrise Guild for example.

Essentially you are wanting to create these user-driven communities that support the NEAR ecosystem and the guilds and their members can earn token-based rewards. Could you talk to us about the vision and future of this initiative?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
Yep, and actually a better person at NEAR to talk about Guilds would be Nima since he is focused on this part of the puzzle.

I think of Guilds as interest-based affiliations and people join them for few reasons. One could be shared common values and could be for learning. For example, if you’re new to blockchain space, you’d be able to join a “token economics” guild and start learning there.

The focus on NEAR there will be less pronounced.

Daniel Dal Bello
That’s a good point because they aren’t necessarily supposed to be all focused on NEAR right?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
Yep, very little of them will be focused on NEAR. A lot of them would focus on various NEAR projects though.

For example, there is one guild called “Createbase” which is full of NFT fans, and I think of this group as more loosely affiliated to Mintbase than NEAR.

Matt Lockyer
One of the Guilds starting from the NEAR Foundation is going to be administering the grants program. The Guild is starting informally now, but will be moving on-chain and will soon incorporate a wider membership of the NEAR community.

Daniel Dal Bello
To follow-up on an earlier question, as NEAR is a true permissionless ecosystem, does working on this project feel very different from your previous work in other industries?

Can you take away any significant up or downsides to working on something with such a distributed and diverse group of people?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
I think building in public and with community is very different from let’s say building a company in Silicon Valley.

The key differences being:

  1. Everything is open. Anyone can join our Discord and watch our progress. Anyone can contribute directly or indirectly.
  2. There is an ownership aspect of it, where early contributors can actually get skin in the game. This is contrasted to say early Uber drivers who didn’t have a skin in the game for Uber from a corporate perspective. You could think of it as “exporting Silicon Valley to the world”.
  3. Over time, you pass full ownership to the community.

Matt Lockyer
That’s a great question. While I definitely share the “ethos” behind decentralization and permissionless systems. Something at the end of the day needs to be built and for that decisions must be made. I welcome NEAR’s approach of “just build it”.

While we do waste some resources building many things ourselves and could get better at inspiring, training, and motivating another wave of Web3 developers, I also believe that we’re leading by example.

Out of all the other projects out there, I do feel as though we have developers in house with the ideas, energy, enthusiasm to not only train and teach but to build and inspire. Look for many more videos, hackathons, tutorials being externalized from the near-core team in the coming months.

Daniel Dal Bello
In one of the NEAR blogs back in April, a drop-off rate of 95–97% was mentioned for the average blockchain-based application. In addition, the issues of a very small developer base and a lack of traction or simply put ‘real-world use-case’ was mentioned.

The proposed solution for easier onboarding was ‘Linkdrop’ — an easy tool for creating referral links. How has usage adoption for Linkdrop been thus far?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
We actually haven’t seen people using it just yet (since we launched literally a couple weeks ago).

It’s also important to mention that we are good friends with the LinkDrop team and they’ve seen a lot of successful examples of these campaigns happening in Ethereum ecosystem.

Matt Lockyer
We have a very successful “Red Card” gifting program going on right now in China. I am asking for a link and some details (not my project). But essentially this is LinkDrop powered!

Daniel Dal Bello
Curious to hear both of your thoughts on this topic.

In the current environment there are many premier layer-1 networks trying to compete with Ethereum. Notably those like NEAR and Polkadot. Some are using Ethereum’s drawbacks and inherent limitations as the premise for their marketing and communications and others simply work towards an interoperable future.

How does NEAR position itself in the whole ‘ETH killer’ conversation which we’ve seen for quite some time now?

Is the future a monopoly platform or is there room for everyone?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
We definitely do not see ourselves as an ETH Killer, although I do know that journalists and others in community like to use this term to put people at odds with each other or bring more eyeballs to their articles.

We engage in close collaboration with the ETH Research team including Vitalik Buterin, Danny Ryan, and Justin Drake).

We’ve done many things together, like:

  1. We were the first team to fully detail how the Eth2 chain will work — based on our conversations with the team.
  2. We’ve done multiple ‘whiteboard sessions’ with Justin Drake. The most recent comparing NEAR’s design to Eth2 design.
  3. We’ve done panels with Eth2, Polkadot, and Cosmos teams discussing cross-chain futures. This feels like only the beginning of the dialogue and it will take couple years for the team to align on standards and incentives.
  4. We are starting to fund development of Eth2, since we rely on some parts of OpenEthereum.

I think the future is definitely multi-chain and different chains will play to their strengths and unlock different use cases. We see this as continuation of the trend of enabling different things, with Bitcoin being the one enabling ‘Open Money’, Ethereum being the one enabling ‘Open Finance’, and NEAR the one enabling the ‘Open Web’.

“I think the future is definitely multi-chain and different chains will play to their strengths and unlock different use cases. We see this as continuation of the trend of enabling different things, with Bitcoin being the one enabling ‘Open Money’, Ethereum being the one enabling ‘Open Finance’, and NEAR the one enabling the ‘Open Web’.”

Matt Lockyer
NEAR is not positioning itself as an ‘Ethereum Killer’. We like Ethereum and all the liquidity and assets that exist there. There are very passionate people and creators with amazing talent and we want to help preserve that.

At the same time we have to be honest that Ethereum has its limitations in it’s current form and while layer-2 offers great solutions, they also contribute to some congestion and these issues like chain-bloat.

We hope people see us as a viable option to either start their projects, or migrate some assets to. From there we can continue to be symbiotic with Ethereum, moving assets back and forth across the Rainbow Bridge when it makes the most sense for the apps and users.

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
Another thing to mention about Ethereum: when NEAR just started, I’ve done a quick analysis and realized that Vitalik produced one blog every 4 days on average for 3 years. While flying around the world on a plane. He literally created a river of movement from nothing.

Daniel Dal Bello
Curious to talk about some of the names and startups working within your ecosystem — one being Torus Labs which we can see on your website. We really like what they are doing with their seamless login wallet, compatibility environment and options for user logins with Google, Discord etc.

Can you talk to us about their involvement with you or any of the other names listed? Aave, Chainlink, Maker, and Balancer.

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
There is a project with each of these names and some viable MVPs. The real proof will be when users and liquidity come to take advantage of those early efforts the NEAR team put into building these examples!

We have a Chainlink demo, Balancer demo running EVM inside a NEAR smart contract for example. Now with Rainbow Bridge coming we can actually move assets and use these projects on NEAR.

Daniel Dal Bello
We have previously mentioned the blockchain-based game Zed, which utilizes NFT’s. The Near ecosystem also sports NFT’s in the form of digital art (snark.art) and issuance (Mintbase). There is also your previously written article about the distributed music streaming platform Audius. As you seem to be involved in this space for some time — where do you see the future of NFTs heading generally?

Aliaksandr Hudzilin
One of future directions I am excited about is that NFTs will become reputation systems (badges), which will allow us to understand which people and communities contribute over time and enable them to be rewarded accordingly. These will enable mechanism designs not possible prior in the crypto-space.

Matt Lockyer
When content creators start minting and fans start collecting and owners of NFTs start minting ownership shares of various platforms and protocols, we’re going to see an explosion.

Gen Z has yet to really come on board and TRUST matters a lot to them, since they’ve traditionally been priced out of housing, banking, etc.

We will see many more experiments, but transparent, fair, ownership protocols for content creation (what is really “culture creation”) will ultimately strike gold and lay the foundation for a whole new economy and fiat inflows from Gen Z. This will also quickly “age up” to Millenials and so on.

Hillrise Group supports ambitious Web3 startups with early-stage venture capital and fundamental research.

NEAR allows developers to rapidly build highly scalable, low cost, decentralized applications compatible with the EVM.

Connect with Hillrise Group



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