Banned from the Blockchain: An Ethereum developer’s tale of migrating to TRON

Hard lessons learned and hope for a truly decentralized future

Valerian Bennett
Dec 24, 2019 · 11 min read
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One year ago our team embarked on the seemingly straightforward task of porting a decentralized streaming video application from the Ethereum blockchain to Tron.

I never could have imagined what would happen next…

Tron Foundation would single out our project as competition to BitTorrent Token (BTT) and go on to erase our presence from the Tron blockchain.

It is said that anything goes on the blockchain, but dang!

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Devastated but undeterred, the POP Network team would recover and spend the next twelve months reinventing ourselves and staying focused on our mission to bring decentralized streaming to the mainstream.

This is a goal fulfilled today with the testnet launch of our Masternode torrent network for cross-platform, device independent, peer-to-peer streaming.

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Download POP Network Masternode (testnet)

If you want decentralized YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify that plays on everything from smartphones to smart TVs with a seamless user experience, then the POP Network Masternode is step one.

What follows is an insane story, even by crypto standards.

This is a story about persistence.

This is the story about an open source project targeted for destruction by a corporate competitor with infinite resources.

This is the story about a global team of die-hard believers overcoming all obstacles to launch a product built to change the world.

My name is Valerian Bennett and I am Managing Director of The Pop Network Foundation, an organization formed to encourage the creation of a new streaming economy with the values of fairness and freedom at its core.

I’ll be completely honest, before we created POP Network to migrate from Ethereum to Tron everything was turning to sh*t. I had just shut down my previous startup, PopChest, which was trying to get an Ethereum-based decentralized video streaming site to work.

It did not work.

Simpsons fail GIF
Simpsons fail GIF
Live look at a failing startup

If you’ve ever had to close a company and let go of employees it is an absolutely gut-wrenching and brutal experience. But with “Crypto Winter” upon us the only reasonable thing to do was to shut it down, cancel our ICO, and take a step back.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from hard times…if you don’t quit.

“The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.” — Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz

To learn those hard lessons, I enlisted the help of “Jacky” Ming Li, a legend in the crypto community as an early developer on Tron. We did an analysis of what we previously built and it became clear we could separate the blockchain elements from the advanced torrent network which we created for decentralized streaming. This process could also expand our capacity to include all kinds of media, not just video, and open a range of new services.

Our original idea just became exponentially bigger.

Now, we needed a blockchain fast enough to handle the high-frequency cryptocurrency transactions encompassing this new streaming economy. EOS? Steem? Roll our own?

Enter Tron.

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The fact that our peer-to-peer media streaming backbone was already built on the open bittorrent protocol seemed a natural fit for Tron considering their earlier acquisition of the popular BitTorrent and uTorrent software clients for $140 million.

Right on cue, Tron announced the $1,000,000 dApp Developer Contest to “…continue fostering innovations in the blockchain industry (and) empower developers and start-ups to develop Dapps based on TRON protocol.”

Tron Accelerator 1,000,000 USD competition
Tron Accelerator 1,000,000 USD competition

Perfect! Or, so we thought at the time.

Right away the program was surrounded by chaos, confusion, and accusations of “irregularities”. Of course, this is crypto so you’ve got to take every opinion and allegation with a healthy bit of skepticism. We thought the noise was just par for the course and ignored it.

Although our MVP submission was passed over for recognition, we got to know members of the business development team at Tron Foundation during the process. We were encouraged enough to continue working on migrating the entire platform from Ethereum to Tron.

A couple of months later, we were ready to publicly demo our Tron-based project for the first time. From a technology standpoint, we ended up creating an extension to the bittorrent protocol and called the project “bittorrentX”.

The implications of this technology are massive.

Decentralized YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify with a “crypto-invisible UX” just became a reality. No downloads or plugins for end users…just press Play and you are part of the global decentralized network.

Additionally, the protocol would allow for device-to-device streaming thus opening the door for billions of smartphones, smart TVs, and home media centers to join the network.

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Extending decentralized streaming to billions of devices — @butierm

This extension would allow any bittorrent client with an open architecture such as Transmission or Vuze to earn crypto by seeding content directly to the web. These types of clients account for ~70% of the public bittorrent network, dwarfing the “official” clients from Tron’s acquisition.

And, importantly, the extension would not force vendor lock-in the way BTT (“BitTorrent Token”) forces crypto users to run torrent clients from Tron Foundation.

Our thinking was, “We’ve just made the whole network infinitely more useful. Therefore, a rising tide lifts all boats!”

We created the BTTX token (“bittorrent eXtension”) on the Tron blockchain as a utility cryptocurrency to reward nodes for seeding. Demand would come from content creators staking tokens to upload content and consumers needing a minimum in their wallet to interact with the network.

At the time, it was possible to create a TRX-10 token (the Tron equivalent to Ethereum ERC-20) on Tronscan, the only Tron block explorer, and immediately start a crowdsale using a native function called “Participate”.

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Unfortunately, this power was being abused and exit scams were becoming rampant on Tron.

So, we proactively submitted additional “Token Reputation” information to Tronscan before any token sale took place so we could become verified providers and earn the trust of the community.

All seems to be going well and the buzz about BTTX is spreading as we release our first decentralized video demonstration using the Tron blockchain.

With thousands of video views on Twitter, clearly the demo is getting a great reception from the community with reactions like this:

https://twitter.com/CoinDonMenyon/status/1104093124442419201

Just as we are gaining traction, the BitTorrent company makes a BIG announcement about Tron and BitTorrent Token (“BTT”):

“We are developing a range of generalized BTT services, as well as preparing to open up the platform to third-party developers to allow use of the wallet and BTT in their applications.” — BitTorrent Inc.

Since we are a project with the bittorrent protocol at its core, we take the BitTorrent company announcement as a great signal to further integrate with the Tron ecosystem.

A couple of days later we get first reports that our BTTX token “disappeared”.

“SO ALL MY $BTTX TOKENS DISAPPEARED WOW GLAD THAT I WENT ALL OUT ON THIS PROJECT”

https://twitter.com/PURPLE_DIGIT99/status/1104900932452737025

How can tokens “disappear”? Was this a simple wallet issue? Some corrupt database from an API provider? It just doesn’t make sense.

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What happens if you search “bittorrentX” or “BTTX” on Tronscan?

This sets off a couple weeks of frantic communication with numerous support channels: token@tronscan.org, feedback@tronscan.org, trontroubleshooting@gmail.com, token@trx.market (now PoloniDEX), as well as Tronscan and Tronscan Support Telegram groups.

We reached out to a very well-known “Tron Influencer” and asked for help with insight into this bizarre problem. He vowed to ask his personal contacts at Tron Foundation for help. After some “informal inquiries”, he suggested we make a new token with a new symbol.

Taking this advice, we put the question to the #TronFam and held a community contest to pick the new symbol.

When we created this new token, BITX, we purposefully did not use the Tronscan “Participate” option. We simply made the token and created our own token sale contract.

The idea was that there would be no possible way anyone could claim we were a scam since the only way to get the token was to buy it directly from our website using our custom crowdsale contract and absolutely nowhere else.

Star Wars gif — I have a very bad feeling about this.
Star Wars gif — I have a very bad feeling about this.

Within hours of announcing the new symbol, we got an email from Rainberry Inc (parent corporation to the BitTorrent company).

They threatened to sue us.

The letter accuses us of intentionally deceiving customers by making misleading statements such as “makes BitTorrent better” and offers as further proof “…the fact that you are displaying the TRON logo and links on your website.”

Mind you this is all happening as Tron itself is implicated in numerous accusations of fraud. Alleged exit scams like Reyna token are still accessible on Tronscan. There is even a clone token called “Tron (TRX)” which operates freely. Both have positive reputation marks issued by Tronscan.

Yet, our tokens were banned…twice.

The second ban only took three (3) days this time whereas the first ban took twenty-one (21) days. Clearly this was not an automated process.

At this point, we concluded the ban was likely purposeful.

The result of being blacklisted by Tronscan, the only Tron block explorer, meant that any service that uses infrastructure provided by Tron Foundation would no longer show our token…which includes every Tron wallet.

The effect is that our project “disappeared” from the Tron blockchain and became impossible to further develop.

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Even though at this point there seems to be clear evidence of direct interference with our project, we still couldn’t really believe it.

Imagine if the Ethereum Foundation wanted to create a stablecoin so they banned USDT or DAI from all Ethereum block explorers. It really is unimaginable.

As a last ditch effort we asked for help from our investors at Digital Finance Group, led by James Wo. DFG is a cornerstone in the Ethereum Classic community as well as a major investor in numerous exchanges including, ironically, Circle (Poloniex).

DFG made an introduction to the top levels of Tron/BitTorrent:

  • Roy Liu — Head of Business Development, TRON
  • Justin Knoll — Head of BitTorrent and Project Atlas, TRON
  • Jonathan Yu — Business Development Manager, TRON

The Tron/BitTorrent team agreed to a conference. They initially seemed excited but before the call asked a lot of technical and strategy questions, particularly how we compare/contrast with various Tron and BitTorrent applications.

Over multiple emails we addressed their exhaustive list, with a simple request in return…

Since we clearly demonstrated a legitimate project to the top management of Tron and BitTorrent, we asked for the Tronscan ban to be lifted.

We were ghosted.

Finally, we were forced to acknowledge the unthinkable:

Tron knowingly disappeared a legitimate project from the Tron blockchain it felt was competition to a Tron Foundation-backed initiative, BTT (“BitTorrent Token”).

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It’s easy to forget all of this started just because our team wanted to build something we thought was meaningful.

We believe big centralized streaming platforms are too powerful. Platforms own the relationships (and revenue) between creators and consumers, leaving you as nothing more than the product. The negative economic and social impact of this arrangement is tragically obvious.

But now, everything is changing.

Momentum is moving in favor of content creators and their social networks. POP Network is built to help you take back the power and profits, capitalize on this radical transformation, and unleash a worldwide wave of creativity that was impossible before blockchain technology.

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In the end, being banned from the Tron blockchain may be the best thing for us…and for you.

The situation brought our core team closer together and gave us laser-focus as we’ve grown to nearly 20 worldwide contributors. We are pioneering the first Superdelegated Proof-of-Stake blockchain, an improvement on early DPoS chains like Tron. And, another interesting side-effect is happening…

POP Network is turning into a safe-haven for developers and projects that believe we need a means of decentralized content distribution that is not subject to control by one company. During this whole saga, we keep hearing from developers with stories shockingly similar to ours. As we continue building, more and more disaffected rebels are becoming POP Network contributors.

We have no illusions of what insanity this post may unlock.

POP Network has a big fight ahead to fulfill our mission as part of the movement to re-decentralize the internet. So, if you want to join us on the road to becoming the next unicorn blockchain then our community is open.

We may or may not succeed, but one thing should be clear from this story…

We. Will. Never. Quit.

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Now, back to work!

UPDATE #1: Many readers have asked how to independently verify this story. Please do this and see for yourself…

Go to Tronscan > Search “BTTX" or "bittorrentX" or "1002133” > You will get the error "Sorry, the search string you entered could not be found."Now, do a direct API search using the token ID (1002133) > https://api.trongrid.io/v1/assets/1002133

Tweets used as evidence in this story are now being hidden and Telegram accounts are being deleted. 🧙‍♀️✨🤔

We will not let this go until the truth is fully known and accepted.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Follow us on Twitter, join our Telegram, and get on our mailing list to stay informed. Thank you! 🙏

Visit https://thepopnetwork.org to learn how you can benefit from the POP Network streaming economy with Masternodes, staking, distributing content, or just streaming what you love.

Thanks for making it to the end, POP Star! 🤩🤩🤩

Building the new streaming economy

Valerian Bennett

Written by

Chief Unicorn Builder @ POP Network 🦄 https://thepopnetwork.org

POP Network

Building the new streaming economy powered by blockchain & artificial intelligence

Valerian Bennett

Written by

Chief Unicorn Builder @ POP Network 🦄 https://thepopnetwork.org

POP Network

Building the new streaming economy powered by blockchain & artificial intelligence

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