What in Ethereum ecosystem excites me

This was originally published in Weekly Thing #237 as the featured link, but I’m also publishing it here for easy reference.

As the creator of Ethereum I was very interested in reading about Vitalik Buterin’s take on what he is excited about in the space. While obviously being a promoter of Ethereum, Vitalik is also a reasonable critic and has a track record of highlighting problems or limitations. He starts with that…

We’ve also come closer to identifying fundamental limits of the space. Many DAOs have had a fair chance with an enthusiastic audience willing to participate in them despite the inconveniences and fees, and many have underperformed. Industrial supply-chain applications have not gone anywhere. Decentralized Amazon on the blockchain has not happened. But it’s also a world where we have seen genuine and growing adoption of a few key applications that are meeting people’s real needs - and those are the applications that we need to focus on.

Hence my change in perspective: my excitement about Ethereum is now no longer based in the potential for undiscovered unknowns, but rather in a few specific categories of applications that are proving themselves already, and are only getting stronger.

Many people (including me!) have said that blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. I think that was a fair assessment a number of years ago. The space has evolved in significant ways, which is partly why I prefer to refer to the solution space as “crypto”, and not blockchain. I tend to not love the Web3 term either, as it is often placed in opposition to Web2 which is incorrect in my opinion. My own “tinkering” in the space has been to be a user, a builder, and see what I can do with it in my own hands.

Summary of Buterin’s list:

  1. Money
  2. DeFi
  3. Identity
  4. DAOs
  5. Hybrid Apps

My list would be the same, but I would probably change the order with Identity being on the top.

Some thoughts of mine using Vitalik’s list:

Money

Money will be digital. I think we are well beyond the tipping point on this. I don’t think paper money should disappear, but having digital cash is too powerful to ignore. The innovation here will continue to happen in smaller and less developed economies, but will come everywhere.

Unlike wealthy countries like the United States, where financial transactions are easy to make and 8% inflation is considered extreme, in Argentina and many other countries around the world, links to global financial systems are more limited and extreme inflation is a reality every day.

I think bound to this future is a multi-currency world. Something that will be new as well to wealthy countries. The power to be able to move a variety of currencies directly wherever I want is huge. Simple stuff, like paying for a designer directly with a designer in another country by sending USD Coin with no intermediary is incredible. Stablecoins are also a critical unlock here to allow for more average, everyday transactions. Vitalik’s overview of different types of stablecoins was interesting to me and got me looking at RAI closer.

My hope and belief here is that this is all additive. It isn’t a replacement, but in addition to. Will credit cards go away? No, they provide a debt tool and protection against fraud since the funds move slowly.

Blending fiat and digital, along with a variety of stablecoins as well as traded currencies, will allow people to use different tools for different jobs, and give more freedom and choice to how we transact with others.

DeFi

An observation about finance that isn’t limited to crypto. It tends to get wildly complex and have hidden leverage that results in unsustainable returns, that eventually blowup. We’ve seen this in DeFi, we’ve also seen it in traditional finance. We’ve also seen a ton of fraud in DeFi, which we’ve also seen in traditional finance.

The use cases Vitalik lists here are interesting. I would add to them that access to simple financial capabilities, particularly debt, via smart contracts is a boring but very powerful tool.

I’ve been lending for 15 years on Kiva and have ben part of 258 loans so far. I’m a fan of Kiva and the basic thesis of microlending. However, it is a complete and total black box. I have to trust Kiva, and their field partners, and just cross my fingers that this all works. This entire thing could be rebuilt in so many better ways.

Another good example here is Endaoment which I used to create a donor advised fund on-chain and fund in minutes using my browser.

The key with this space is to keep it boring and simple.

Identity

How the crypto ecosystem has approached identity is surprisingly one of my very favorite things. It is important to note that in crypto identity is often aligned with a wallet, and you can have any number of wallets. I love the fact that you can build up multiple identities and could even bind those all to one person. The ecosystem is the win here.

When I log on to Blockscan chat, I sign in with Ethereum. This means that I am immediately visible as vitalik.eth (my ENS name) to anyone I chat with. In the future, to fight spam, Blockscan chat could “verify” accounts by looking at on-chain activity or POAPs. The lowest tier would simply be to verify that the account has sent or been the recipient in at least one on-chain transaction (as that requires paying fees). A higher level of verification could involve checking for balances of specific tokens, ownership of specific POAPs, a proof-of-personhood profile, or a meta-aggregator like Gitcoin Passport.

I like what Reddit is doing here as well. Reddit is slowly moving avatars and their own reputation system into crypto, and doing it with either a wallet that they manage for you or you can provide your own.

You can see reputation forming here with a combination of systems like Reddit Karma, and then layering on POAP tokens as well.

If you take a look at the POAPs that I have it gives you a clear sense of me, at least in some dimensions of my life.

I agree with Vitalik’s assertion that Privacy is a key issue that has to be addressed here. However, I would put user experience even higher, which isn’t on his list. This stuff is wonderful for geeks, but is far too difficult for average users to pull off. I think Rainbow is ahead of the pack here. Using Rainbow you can buy an ENS name right in your wallet and manage your profile, in addition to seeing your various POAPs.

Additional to identity, I think we are going to see attestation added here through signing and other cryptographic proof. How do you know that the text you are reading was actually written by me? Well, you can trust that nobody was in the middle. But if I digitally sign it with my thingelstad.eth wallet, and you can attest that wallet is me, you can know for sure.

DAOs

I think there is a lot of potential in DAOs. I’ve described them as a means of organization collective action. Vitalik’s definition is more specific.

Most generally, a DAO is a smart contract that is meant to represent a structure of ownership or control over some asset or process.

I’m a token-holder in multiple DAOs, mostly in the Noun ecosystem but also in Ukraine DAO, Elf DAO, and others. For me DAOs have been filled with as much disappointment as excitement, but I still think there is a huge potential here.

Vitalik’s thoughts on DAOs are much deeper than my own. I would like to consider small DAOs and how that could enable new things.

My favorite DAO example would be a neighborhood solar collector. Using a DAO you could remove much of the trust and governance requirements. if 80% of the households in a neighborhood wanted to collectively setup a solar collector, a DAO could be created to hold the treasury, pay for the installation, provide maintenance, take votes on improvements and changes, and pay the members out as needed. That could be a big enabler of “collective action”.

My bad taste with DAOs today is that nearly all of them vote with tokens, and that means that many DAOs are controlled by a small number of mega token holders. LilNouns DAO, which I have 2 of, is dominated by a handful of people that hold large collections and they effectively control the votes. Governance models need to evolve greatly for DAOs.

Hybrid Apps

Using crypto technology to solve just part of the solution for an existing service is a great use case. I think these will lag though as they need significant adoption of crypto via primary use cases to power these secondary ones.

In conclusion, this list is what makes me excited about the Ethereum landscape. There are other valuable things happening in crypto, but these use cases have a lot of potential, and are not easily solved using other approaches.

Jamie Thingelstad @jthingelstad

This work by Jamie Thingelstad
is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»