This year’s Devcon was a rare treat for Ethereum and blockchain enthusiasts, and we were ecstatic to be a part of it.
The conference shined a light on a series of complex, root issues with the platform including scalability, privacy, UX and everything in the between.
As one of the major sponsors of the event, Santiment was actively involved in the conversation, and we wanted to share the best bits with you.
So we asked a few of our team members about their main impressions of this year’s Devcon; what they saw, what they learned, and what it means for the future of Ethereum:
Maksim, Santiment CEO:
At a typical large crypto event, about 80% of participants are from either marketing or sales. At Devcon, 80% were devs. That in itself was extremely refreshing, and gave the whole conference a very different atmosphere.
Scalability issues remain serious, with few prominent strategies proposed – sharding and casper to name a few. Around 5 teams are currently working on Plasma.
There are some good news and some bad news, as is to be expected.
The bad news is that the Ethereum foundation will not be able to solve the main scalability problem for at least another year. The good news is that the projects themselves are now building prototypes, and we’ll see over the next year if these solutions ‘from the ground up’ can begin to make a difference.
It’s also just so great to see more natural project-to-project collaboration emerging. In general, and even if the price doesn’t necessarily reflect that at the moment – Ethereum appears as strong as ever.
Valentin, Santiment CTO:
This year’s devcon was definitely much different from the one last year in Mexico. It was not only the place, but the vibe of the whole event felt much more calm and mature.
Last year, you could feel the excitement of the whole crypto market, which was riding the wave of the ICOs and rising crypto prices. This year it was about building things and solving real problems. So for me, the vibe was much healthier than before.
In particular, I was really impressed by the work done on zero-knowledge proofs. After studying proofs of concept done in this field, I am really optimistic about the scalability of blockchains.
Probably the most impressive thing I saw was a POC for keeping the balances of the addresses off chain, and publishing only zero-knowledge proofs that batches of updates were done properly to them on the blockchain. This approach seems to be tackling the scalability issue quite nicely, without sacrificing too much of either security or decentralization. Also, the work on zk-STARKs looks very promising and could potentially allow a very large number of updates to be fitted in a single zero-knowledge proof.
Another area that showed great progress is the user experience. The current UX of blockchains is quite poor with very complicated mechanisms for creating transactions and paying fees in ETH when working with ERC20 tokens. The universal login mechanism + meta-transactions are resolving these issues in a very elegant way and seem to provide a similar experience to logging in to a normal website (even more convenient).
After this conference, I keep thinking that we have a great community behind Ethereum, with a lot of very smart people working on complex challenges of the crypto space. Fixing some of them takes time, but I am optimistic that there is good amount of progress and some very interesting solutions proposed. I can’t wait to see where we’ll be next year!
Alexander, Santiment’s Junior Developer:
This year’s Devcon revolved around few major topics:
1. Scalability. People continue tackling the scalability issues, but in comparison to 2017, the proposed solutions seem more sophisticated.
The general idea is simple – move more data off the chain. Word of the day is Plasma. It uses state channels to scale (like BTC’s lightning network), which I think is useful for groups of users that often send funds to each other. It does have some limitations and is becoming more and more complex as new users join the channel.
Sharding is also quite popular at the moment, but there’s still lots of work to be done. I could be wrong, but there seems to be no way to perform transactions between different shards at the moment, which is very unfortunate.
2. Privacy. Looks like there are no firm solutions except zk snarks and zk starks. Both of them are quite interesting and have their own pros and cons. Lots of math and magic happens behind the scenes, and I’m curious to see where it goes from here.
3. UX/UI. Lots of people have talked about this for a while, so this isn’t a new idea. The main point still stands – people will not start using crypto (cryptocurrencies, dapps etc) in masses unless it becomes convenient and understandable.
UniversalLogin is a promising solution. It handles the problem with non-readable addresses across blockchains. Also, it allows you to have a single account for multiple networks.
*Some personal impressions. There were a few talks about the economic and social aspects of blockchain, but I expected more discussions centered around these topics.
The atmosphere is amazing. Lots of geeks in a single place which is so great. People are open-minded and ready to collaborate which gives you power. Looks like everybody’s BUIDLing so it gives me more motivation to BUIDL back in Minsk^^
Yura, Santiment’s Front-End Developer:
My main takeaways from Devcon:
Scalability is still a big problem, and Vitalik talked in depth about sharding and Casper among potential solutions. The p2p network has some inherent scalability problems, but Ethereum has plenty of resources and great engineers. At this point, we’ll have to wait and see.
Privacy. I listened to a talk hosted by Dash. The idea is to make https run over blockchain. A secure layer over ethereum. Ten years ago, regulators protested over using the secure protocol in HTTP. Now, they obligate banks and E-commerce to use https. Google does the same thing with Chrome: if the site doesn’t run https, Chrome now marks it as unsafe. Dash masternodes are largely hosted by cloud AWS services, leading to legitimate worry that government agencies could one day demand, and have access to, transaction logs.
UX. We have the worst UX in blockchains. A very interesting topic was the Universal Login made by Alex Van de Sande. Fast and very convenient way to log in the app over the Ethereum network. It looks cool, but it is still proof of concept only.
Universal login has some big benefits – you can use ENS. ENS offers a secure & decentralised way to address resources both on and off the blockchain using simple, human-readable names.
Still, universal login also has some pitfall in its own UX. The user has to remember his username in the service; if he forgets, it will be hard to reset.
Real Apps. We still don’t have any real big apps on ethereum. Crypto Kitties, you may say, but that’s a pretty simple game compared to what’s really possible. We need to change this as soon as possible, to help scale the popularity of ethereum.
What are your thoughts about this year’s Devcon? Which of the proposed solutions are you most curious/excited about? Let us know in the comments!