The Revival of Kusama

Picasso Network
Published in
8 min readNov 23, 2022

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) has seen tremendous innovation since the first smart contracts were deployed on Ethereum 7 years ago. While underlying blockchain technologies are becoming increasingly powerful and easier to use, as seen with Substrate and Cosmos, the innovation which characterized DeFi early on has begun to stall. Rather than building new applications, teams rebuild old applications atop newer tech. Yet, this does not accelerate DeFi’s focus on innovative solutions for financial freedom.

We view Substrate, specifically Kusama, as the proving ground for disruptive blockchain use cases that leverage established technology. We envision DotSama as an ecosystem dedicated to building on top of blocks, rather than a place where developers constantly build from scratch. Kusama, in combination with our Cross-Chain Virtual Machine (XCVM), will be intended to allow developers to create natively cross-chain applications on existing chains (i.e. our parachains) with existing developer tooling. Thus, developers may build between the blocks, with native interoperability and a high degree of customization, without needing to build a new chain from the ground up.

As such, it is our fundamental goal to bridge the dominant ecosystems of DeFi to Kusama and Polkadot so that developers working with our technology may leverage the proven technology of today to build the next generation of applications tomorrow.

Moving Beyond the Appchain Thesis

The appchain thesis dictates that a sovereign blockchain is most suitable for applications that wish to build on the protocol level. By choosing to build their own sovereign blockchain, developers have the freedom to customize their blockchain to a highly specific set of needs. Yet, the appchain thesis ignores the importance of composability. Sovereign chains have largely lacked interoperability. Thus, without modification, the appchain thesis furthers the issue of siloing in the blockchain space.

The introduction of the Cosmos SDK enhances the options of creating a completely new and isolated chain or an application on an existing chain; sovereign Cosmos SDK chains are interoperable with each other. For example, the traditional order book model was previously not seen as suitable for deployment on-chain. Until recently, automated market makers (AMMs) and decentralized exchanges (DEXes) have dominated the DeFi landscape. However, the ability to customize protocols from the ground up with the Cosmos SDK has allowed teams such as dYdX and Sei Network to explore this space to its full potential, creating room for new innovations to be built along these sovereign chains.

While appchains like these certainly have their benefits and place, there is also a place for leveraging existing chains and technology to create innovative applications. Specifically, this place is Kusama, augmented by Composable’s parachains and XCVM, to offer a novel solution that satisfies both sides of the appchain debate: developers are able to create highly-customized applications along our existing technology, and these applications are also natively cross-chain compatible (i.e. composable).

What Sets Kusama Apart?

Kusama stands apart from other ecosystems in its focus on community, in addition to its ability to offer highly customized applications along its parachains. The Kusama community is incredibly passionate, supportive, engaged, and eager to help onboard and educate users from other ecosystems, as evidenced by incentives such as Jay Chrawna’s WagMedia. Composable itself is honoring this commitment to the community by giving such a large portion of our crowdloan to our community. After all, the entire point of DeFi is to provide financial freedom and opportunity to users.

Moreover, as their website states, “Kusama is a network built as a risk-taking, fast-moving ‘canary in the coal mine’ for its cousin Polkadot. It is a living platform built for change agents to take back control, spark innovation and disrupt the status quo.” At Kusama’s core is the ethos “expect chaos”, an ethos which has been fully embraced by its builders and community. The Kusama Network has been tailored to facilitate rapid innovation by lowering the barrier to entry required to build using Substrate. When connecting as a parachain to Kusama, blockchain developers expect to benefit from the shared security model and powerful network effect enabled by cross-chain message passing (XCMP).

Kusama is incredibly powerful in its own right, boasting the same technology as Polkadot itself. There are benefits and disadvantages to each. Polkadot tends to be thought of as the more stable of the two networks, while Kusama teams are encouraged to:

  1. Move fast
  2. Fail fast (expect chaos)
  3. Iterate fast

For a well-established protocol that does not require much tweaking and just needs plug-and-play security/interoperability, Polkadot may be more suitable. But, for a team looking to push the boundaries of blockchain technology to build truly disruptive, community-centric, and interoperable applications, Kusama is the place to be.

Perhaps the most important aspect of building with Substrate is the ability to streamline the development process and customize your blockchain using pallets. Pallets are code modules tailored to fulfill a specific use case, and when combined, they come together to form a Substrate-based blockchain’s runtime. This allows for the creation of highly specialized blockchains that are sovereign yet benefit from the security and interoperability of the Kusama Network.

Combined, these characteristics position Kusama as a powerhouse in the interoperable yet still customizable — or in other words, modular — future of DeFi.

The Pallet Revolution

While pallets may be utilized in a similar manner to smart contracts in certain circumstances, there are some key differences since pallets are integrated directly into a parachain’s runtime environment. Generally speaking, there are inherent safety measures in place to ensure that smart contracts may not change the logic of the blockchain they are operating on. Therefore, smart contracts add an additional layer of logic on top of the blockchain’s underlying infrastructure.

Of course, there are benefits to this approach. One of the fundamental goals of Web3 is to build an open and all-inclusive environment; smart contracts fit this mold quite well as they may be deployed by anyone, regardless of experience, and nobody else on the blockchain needs to worry about the content of this contract unless they plan on interacting with it themselves.

Pallets, on the other hand, are incorporated directly into a blockchain’s runtime environment, and therefore do not share the safeguards of smart contracts. Therefore, pallets may only be deployed and modified by the parachain team themselves, or via on-chain governance providing a system is in place. While building pallets does come with some added risk, pallets allow for the highest degree of customization as they comprise a blockchain’s runtime itself.

Rust, the programming language utilized by the Substrate framework, is considered to be one of the safer and more developer-friendly programming languages. That being said, an added degree of risk is still inherent when building at the protocol level, but other precautions may be taken to ensure unsafe code is not pushed to the runtime of a parachain. For example, each of Picasso’s pallets has undergone internal peer review, external audits, and extensive QA to ensure proper operation before integration.

Picasso’s Utilization of Pallets

Picasso’s vision would not be possible with smart contracts alone. To provide cross-chain infrastructure capable of supporting communication with a multitude of blockchains, Picasso was built ground-up using pallets. This pallet offering serves as the basis developers may leverage to build new applications capable of calling into pre-existing applications across Polkadot, Kusama, Cosmos, and potentially NEAR and EVM-based chains in the future.

Parity’s modular approach to Substrate means that teams such as Picasso may build off of pre-existing pallets where possible, and create new pallets only when necessary. To further showcase the power of this modular approach, Picasso has built increasingly complex pallets which call the others to introduce new functionality. One example is Pablo, the native DEX of Picasso. Pablo leverages several of our core pallets to enable trading, bonds, and more. In turn, developers may call Pablo in their own applications.

Picasso’s Significance to Polkadot and Kusama

DotSama is one of the most active developer bases in DeFi, and is not lacking in terms of innovative minds. This is evidenced by GitHub activity, with Kusama and Dot consistently at the top of the list of the highest volume of development (see Twitter account’s @ProofofGithub’s most recent update, where Polkadot and Kusama are 2nd and 3rd on the list after Cardano). However, Kusama is lacking in terms of 2 core pieces needed by any growing DeFi ecosystem: liquidity and users.

Presently, there is a lot of sidelined liquidity in Polkadot. This liquidity could be deployed into strategies in existing ecosystems if the right bridging framework were in place. This is where Centauri comes in, first by bringing DOT to Picasso through the first trustless bridge between the 2 relay chains. Then, with DOT on Picasso, we may start building strategies around DOT/KSM. More interesting is the potential for DOT to be deployed across the NEAR, Cosmos, and EVM ecosystems. With the XCVM acting as an orchestration layer, users may participate in strategies involving DOT without ever leaving their preferred chain.

This will be intended to allow developers to connect to applications on different, sovereign blockchains and to leverage their functionality from anywhere with the XCVM. Ultimately, this means there may be no need to reinvent the wheel time and time again. Further, the ability to call into existing applications on any chain with the XCVM may allow developers to focus on creating innovative new use cases.

Without any incentive for new users to come and join, DotSama’s potential is not being realized. By bringing substantial liquidity to these ecosystems and by offering unique cross-chain strategies, Composable is able to help showcase all DOT has to offer in terms of both technology and community.

The Future of Kusama

For most projects seeking to deploy DeFi applications, brand new chains are no longer necessary thanks to the level of customization offered by DotSama parachains. Composable in particular is opening up its Kusama and Polkadot parachains for development by other projects, providing the foundational building blocks necessary for the development of highly-customizable yet natively interoperable applications.

For this reason, Kusama is suited to be at the forefront of DeFi’s next generation. We envision Kusama as a close-knit community and hub of creation leveraging existing chains via the XCVM. As a result, development may occur between blockchains as opposed to building new blockchains or simply building along one existing chain. In this manner, the strengths and opportunities of various chains may be capitalized upon from within a single protocol.

We are just starting to see the extent of innovative applications that may be built using Substrate. The rate of this innovation may be increased by tapping into what has already been built in other ecosystems and leveraging them to create chaotic new applications. This is Kusama, after all, so we better expect chaos.

Important Note: All disclosures and legal disclaimers apply.



Picasso Network

Composable Finance Founder & CEO. I write about R&D at Composable Finance. Physicist by training