In 2017 and 2018 the initial Livepeer project roadmap was laid out, largely through two posts: the Livepeer Network Phases which communicated a series of protocol upgrade milestones, and Livepeer’s Path to Decentralization which shared a vision for progressive decentralization across network stake, technology, and governance. Here we are years later, and through some lenses much of these roadmaps have been accomplished, demonstrated by a useful video infrastructure network powering streaming applications at scale, with a widely distributed user and LPT ownership base. Some verticals of the roadmap are a work in progress, such as the evolving governance structure and the continuing expansion of the network’s capabilities beyond initial adaptive bitrate transcoding. Other aspects of the roadmap ran up against the changing realities of what users valued in an open video infrastructure, the boundaries of current web3 scaling and trustlessness, or were just plain incorrect. Either way, we’ve reached a higher level of maturity of the project, have a lot of exciting work ahead, and the roadmap and technical vision are due for a post which summarizes what’s currently in the pipeline, and what potential lies ahead.
Before getting into the details of the technical vision, I would like to make one thing clear: The Livepeer Network will only be valuable if it is providing enormous utility as a video infrastructure to real world streaming applications. Real usage from paying users informs what features the network needs to provide, helps focus product development, drives fees that incentivize and bootstrap the supply side of the network, and serve as great examples that can attract web2 and web3 streaming applications to evaluate and select Livepeer infrastructure. Livepeer, Inc, the company, will continue building products and services on top of Livepeer that help video developers adopt the technology, and drive demand into the network. Ultimately there will be many different services and apps that route streams into the network, and it may not be necessary for the core team to focus so much attention on this, but in 2021 it remains a top priority. This will help validate Livepeer as perhaps one of the best web3 infrastructure protocols when it comes to real usage and real world impact within the $70B video streaming industry.
One of the strongest signals that the team has observed during its initial efforts in serving the streaming market is that both the Livepeer economics and ideology meet the explosive new creator-driven streaming market very well. Creators who are looking to monetize their time, entertain, and form strong economic relationships with their viewers are flocking to vertical specific streaming platforms outside of the ad-supported big tech platforms. These new streaming apps need affordable and scalable global infrastructure, and Livepeer wants to be the network that they build upon from day 1.
Expanding Core Technology
The Livepeer network as it exists today performs one type of work very well: adaptive bitrate video transcoding. This is an important, hard-to-scale, compute heavy task that developers of video streaming platforms need to use in order to ensure their streams can reach every user regardless of device type or connection speed. But the Livepeer project invests heavily in research, and our research team has already shown through proofs of concept that the same GPUs which perform transcoding on Livepeer, are capable of many more exciting video processing tasks in parallel, which add tremendous value to creator-centric streaming platforms. Many of these, but not all, are AI-based tasks well suited to the GPUs, and include:
- Scene classification — is this video adult content, violent content, or rights-infringing content such as pirated Premier League soccer? Every streaming platform that reaches any level of scale has to deal with the challenges of identifying this in livestreams in real time, and without AI assistance they are left with tremendous costs of human-centric moderation which struggle to achieve the protections they need to provide their viewers.
- Object recognition — highlight a specific object in the stream to make it clickable or include Metadata. This can be incredibly useful in creator-centric e-commerce applications or interactive games.
- Song-title detection — one of the top reasons that streams get shut down and users get deplatformed from large streaming sites is because of inadvertent or intentional music appearing in the background of streams. Vertical specific platforms can handle the appropriate licensing and rights management on the backend, if given the ability to identify the songs being played in real time while the streams are being processed — another task potentially well suited to Livepeer.
- Video fingerprinting — For some use cases, proving that a user is viewing content exactly as originally published without tampering and proving ownership are growing increasingly important. While processing video, Livepeer can generate 1000’s of digital fingerprints, such that from any small sample of a stream, it can be proven to be part of the unique original copy — an application that not only proves tamper-correctness, but also enables video-as-NFT. Doing so will require L2 scaling and trustworthy decentralized storage, but is possible in the near-stage evolution of web3.
- Video-stack expansion — the world’s open video infrastructure vision requires more than just processing. The global Livepeer network can be a great bootstrapping tool for additional video-workflow centric elements such as global ingest, global origin network, and peer coordination for P2P delivery, reducing load on CDNs.
Much like transcoding, many of the above services are very computationally expensive and cost $5+/hr per live stream through traditional cloud services, yet can be performed far more cost effectively through the open Livepeer marketplace. While it is a long way to go from research proof of concept to functioning on a decentralized production network, many of the above possibilities are within reach. Livepeer prioritizes largely via user validation — seeking scaled streaming platforms as design partners who would benefit from the above features, to help guide development and ensure that a successful impact is delivered. The process typically goes from:
- Internal research proof of concept
- Design partner demo and proof of concept
- Integrate into open Livepeer software
- Map onto Livepeer network.
In addition to many of these ambitious capability enhancing features, Livepeer is of course continuing to strengthen the core — focusing on reducing latency, increasing reliability, providing better geographic coverage at scale, and iterating on the transcoding features necessary to serve more and more scaled production streaming applications.
Ultimately, we believe that the world’s best open video software and services, running atop the world’s most affordable and scalable open infrastructure, is a strong combination. As a project, we need to collectively run at this ambitious goal.
Ushering In Decentralization
One of the Livepeer Project’s core values is practicality — we want to be sure that no matter how grand our vision, we are always delivering utility today to real world users. While that has largely meant serving web2 streaming platforms to date, the tides are beginning to shift. With web3 infrastructure now being buildable across many different key projects, many of these new creator-economy platforms are going to be built on decentralized technology and use decentralized monetization mechanisms like internet-native money, tokeneconomics, and NFTs to create sustainable platforms that align the interests of creators, consumers, and the platforms themselves. With video being at the center of the way the world communicates, works, and entertains, Livepeer is the streaming layer that these platforms need to exist in an open and viability-enabling way, and we’re working hard in the blockchain world to ensure we can live up to this promise across a variety of tracks:
- Layer 2 Scaling — The high cost of leveraging the Ethereum network means that various roles in the Livepeer network become challenging to participate in cost effectively at certain levels of low scale. This is harmful to decentralization, and layer 2 scaling is needed to address it. This is an active research track, being prioritized urgently, and I am optimistic that we will see tremendous progress in the months ahead.
- Preparing for a multi-chain world — There are an emerging number of developer ecosystems building in the new multi-blockchain world. The ones that aspire to enable applications will need a streaming layer, and while Livepeer will likely always be anchored to the Ethereum ecosystem on the supply side, users should be able to access an open video infrastructure from anywhere — especially those users building web3 enabled applications.
- A piece of the buildable web3 stack — As mentioned above, web3 infrastructure is now viable across layers like storage, indexing, bandwidth provisioning, and compute. But to truly be useful to developers, these pieces need to be put together, and developers need useful tools and starting points. Livepeer will spend time and resources collaborating with other top projects to help usher in the internet’s next phase of scalable infrastructure. Look for many of these initial applications to serve the numerous projects, teams, and DAOs building in the space themselves.
- Governance — Livepeer’s decentralized governance roadmap, published last year, is nearly complete technically. The community has the pieces in place to move towards a binding on-chain voting system when it deems ready, but of course that is only the beginning. The community needs to continue to focus on guiding the evolution of governance, especially as the network considers taking on new capabilities and expanding its addressable universe of potential users and stakeholders.
- Continue driving dual mining user experience — Many of the node operators on Livepeer’s network are running GPUs that may or may not be concurrently mining cryptocurrency. This value proposition is very strong and ensures a high capacity of GPUs on the network. However the user experience needs to improve so that miners can jump in and get started on Livepeer with low friction. Continue to look for research and development on pools, mining software integration, and educational materials that help tap into this community.
- Bringing more robust & efficient verification methods to production — Trusting the work performed by an anonymous set of node operators comes with its own tradeoffs across economic security, computational costs to validate, and realtime trust. These functions vary across use cases, and for each capability the network enables, research and development work is required to ensure fully decentralized networks can be used with confidence.
Doing This Together
One thing that we saw during the previous years was that the Livepeer core team built much of the node specific video technology, but the community built much of the supply side tools and utilities to help node operators and delegators participate in the network. In the recent months, as usage has picked up across the network, many video developers themselves have become Livepeer token holders, and have begun to contribute to the video ecosystem.
To take on the possibilities of the roadmap above, the community will have to coordinate and drive forward efforts on independent tracks. Those who are interested in governance can get highly involved and drive the LIP process. Those from the mining ecosystem should tinker with software and guides for dual mining and share the results back to the community. And video developers should jump in to collaborate on integrating Livepeer into open source video software that can drive usage to the network. If you’re not sure where to get started, best to drop into the Discord and say hello. With web3 emerging, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to work on an ambitious project that seeks to be a key element in the internet’s next act.