Linum Labs in Prague: A technical analysis of Devcon4
An update on past experiences and key learnings
A few members from the Linum Labs team recently represented Molecule and Protea at Devcon4 in Prague. I’m afraid you’re going to have to read the rest to hear about our technical insights, favourite inspirations, and search for Darq consensus!
- Ethereum 2.0 / Serenity: Not Shasper! ;)
- Sharding: a solution to scalability, the state of the Ethereum blockchain is split into shards, reducing the load of computations.
- Casper: Serenity’s proposed Proof of Stake protocol with mechanisms to punish malicious actors.
- ENS names: the equivalent of DNS and web URLs for the Ethereum network — a short link to your personal Ethereum public address, for example, `benscholtz.stateofus.eth`. Download the Status mobile app and get your own!
The road from Devcon3 to Devcon4
Whereas Devcon3 centered around the hype of applications of blockchain for Cryptocurrencies, the Ethereans of Devcon4 matured a lot. Not only was the event incredibly well organized, but presentations centred around popular topics of interest that directly impacted the Ethereum community. Discussions included aspects of scalability, UX and DX that enables mass adoption and the responsibility that we have, as a community, to develop ethical applications and frameworks.
UX reigns supreme
This year the focus was on UX, highlighting meta transactions, human-readable account names from ENS, safe and familiar on-boarding from Universal Logins, and with an added bonus of free UX audits in the Westeria room.
With the numerous UX & Identity presentations at Devcon4, there’s a strong drive among dapp teams to bring Ethereum and blockchain to the rest of the world.
Serenity on the horizon
This year, a big announcement was Serenity, the next stage of Ethereum. As intended from the beginning, Ethereum would move from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake. This would allow for faster block times, fewer hardware requirements for nodes, and sharding via Vlad Zamfir’s Casper CBC (correct-by-construction) protocol design approach.
Sharding bridges the gap between the PoW chain and the new PoS chain. The Proof of Work consensus mechanism was a necessary, yet inefficient, step in establishing the Ethereum network, and most other blockchain networks. It has been highly criticized for its big environmental impact, using more power than certain worldwide mining operations.
Devcon4: favourite projects & presentations
Don’t solve a problem just because you can imagine it ~ Stewart Brand
A few of our favourite presentations from Devcon4:
SpankChain — A project that has the potential to change adult entertainment industry and the lives of the people within it. There’s a big focus surrounding online consent and providing banking services to the unbanked.
Universal Login SDK — A ground breaking system for the UX of dapps & account management. It can literally make blockchain technology undetectable to a Web2 user. In summary, it creates an identity contract which acts as a proxy when authenticating your devices with your dapp accounts. The user doesn’t have to worry about private keys, instead the proxy contract handles these.
ChainLink — Decentralized Oracles / blockchains with awareness. The final frontier with blockchain applications is making the connection to the real world. Want to create Uber on the blockchain? You’ll need real world traffic data. Not that you necessarily need Uber on the blockchain as Stewart Brand’s above quote mentions.
State Channels — State channels allow us to run some transactions off-chain, reducing latency and improving usability of applications, while still keeping the blockchain’s inherent value. An example of this, presented at Devcon4, was online gaming and chatrooms, both of which require low latency for a good UX. See Generalized State Channels on Ethereum for a more in depth review.
Human Centered Identity — Jonny Howle’s presentation on designing identity systems.
Sarah Baker Mills wrote a great designer profile on Jonny Howle, which you can check out while we wait for the presentations to be made public.
Fission Suite — A much needed standardization and internationalization with regards to error handling, system messages, and application messages for Ethereum. An incredible feature of the system is having the translation of messages performed on the blockchain, according to your localization.
Contributing to Ethereum & Open-Source — Danny Ryan
At least 20% of your developer’s time should be spent on building public infrastructure and resources. ~ Danny Ryan
In an ecosystem, where not only the core infrastructure, but all of the tools and frameworks are open-source, it seems only right that the teams using these resources should give back to the community. Danny Ryan discussed how to get involved in the Ethereum open-source community with one simple message, “Just get started, follow best practices, realize that the creators of open-source projects welcome collaboration and every contribution counts, including updating documentation”.
Danny recommended checking out Piper’s GitHub page for a great example of open-source development practices.
In search of the Darq
Devcon4 hosted a variety of interesting and thought provoking installations, including the HellHound team’s Darq, NFT-powered treasure hunt.
To uncover the secret party, you must venture through the 9 rings of crypto-hell. This was done via the means of 9 hidden terminals, scattered around both the Status Cryptolife hackathon as well as Devcon4.
Through the Hellhound dapp, Artifaqts, participants must scribe a confession for a crypto-sin in order to gain a piece of the puzzle.
While out hunting these clues, we stumbled across the second terminal, however, it hadn’t been set up. In an attempt to put it back up for the next piece of the puzzle, we discovered the source code for all the terminals. Having made a copy, we headed out to finish the treasure hunt. When we attempted to cover our tracks, the dapp code lead us to believe that if we had simply scanned all the QR codes in one go, that it would perhaps invalidate the reward. As this was by far the most extra ticket process we had ever come across, Ryan endeavoured to discover all the terminals, get all the meme cards of crypto-sin and figure out the whole thing manually, finally gaining the first access.
The access tokens are NFT’s stored on the Artifaqts address on mainnet.
Another treasure hunt, Coinfucius.fun, had tons of comical fortune cookies with messages ranging from, “Your penetration test was successful”, to “A smile is the private key to the soul”. On the other side of the message was 1 byte of a private key from a collection of 32 different fortune cookies.
Participants were only allowed 1 cookie before they needed to hunt down the rest. Ryan tried his hand at it, but in the end, Afri Schoedon claimed the victory!
Where to from here: user experience, society, and mass adoption
Blockchain gives people the agency to do damn near anything ~ Stewart Brand
Onboarding the next wave of developers
Not only was UX a big discussion at Devcon4, but the concept of DX came up. DX is developer experience and is a barrier to entry for developers being on-boarded from a traditional software development background.
A number of Solidity abstractions, dapp frameworks, and developer friendly tool chains were created over the last year and presented at Devcon4. Here are a few to check out and get you started:
- Embark ~ https://embark.status.im/
- Yul ~ https://solidity.readthedocs.io/en/latest/yul.html
- Formality, An efficient programming language and proof assistant ~ https://github.com/MaiaVictor/Formality
- Vyper, Pythonic Smart Contract Language for the EVM ~ https://github.com/ethereum/vyper
- Dapparatus, reusable dapp components in react: contract loader, metamask, gas, transaction ui, event parers, etc ~ https://github.com/austintgriffith/dapparatus
- Clevis, Ethereum blockchain orchestration, testing, and command line interface ~ https://clevis.io
- EthPM ~ https://github.com/ethpm
- dapp.tools, command-line-friendly tools for blockchain development ~ https://dapp.tools/
These days, a full-stack software developer needs to know how to integrate blockchain technology. In a traditional Web2.0 project, the developer could download a frontend framework, integrate UI scaffolding, connect that to a backend API provider, and have a web app up and running within an hour.
This efficient development process is all possible because of the availability of good open-source code and resources. The same process is now possible when developing dapps, and the tools above are contributing to that process.
There were some great books and articles mentioned at Devcon4 that have since been added to our reading list. Take the time to check them out.
- “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed” by James C. Scott, see Mark Koyama’s article for more! ~ Some Thoughts on “Seeing Like a State”
- “Winning with Software: An Executive Strategy” by Watts S. Humphrey
- “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society” by Eric A. Posner, E. Glen Weyl
- “A Blueprint for a Better Digital Society” by Jaron Laniere & Glen Weyl ~ seen in the Harvard Business Review
- “Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” by James P. Carse
Useful links and resources
Until next time
Devcon is no longer just a tech conference. The Ethereum community is creating a following.
There’s a lot more to it than there has been in the past. Whether you’re a UX designer, a psychology major, amateur politician, or want to be a part of the way we’re restructuring the operation of the world around us, there’s an infinite amount of opportunities for you to get involved.
Until next time, any guesses where Devcon5 will be?
We’re rooting for Cape Town, South Africa!