Streaming video is now commonplace in the United States and many places abroad, but as recent as five years ago, there was a debate about whether Netflix would become HBO faster than HBO would become Netflix. Netflix was a DVD rental company working to become a streaming juggernaut and HBO was a premium cable network working to become a streaming juggernaut. With the HBO Go and HBO Now products on the market and Netflix no longer marketing their DVD to rent service, it’s clear that the two have met each other in the middle.
When it comes to Blockchain Smart Contract Platforms, the two getting the most attention these days are Ethereum and EOS. Although there are more competitors to come, the two comparable measures appear to be 1) scalable technology and 2) governance structure. Each of the two platforms has made progress with each of those, but to an extent are also struggling. Although they may not become so analogous as Netflix and HBO, it looks like both platforms will need to move across the spectrum toward each other to support their lofty goals.
Ethereum saw its first trouble with scalability in December 2017, when CryptoKitties launched to a manic crypto audience. After months of successful ICOs being processed on the chain, this scenario of one working DApp causing unusually high fees and slow transactions was a wake up call to the industry and has lead to a major push by Ethereum developers to find better scaling solutions. This includes a number of upgrades, including figuring out how to move from a Proof of Work system to Proof of Stake, a project codenamed “Casper,” and a process known as Sharding, which would make it so that nodes and servers only maintain part of the database, rather than storing every transaction, like they do now.
However, trouble reared its ugly head again this week, as one Asian exchange’s coin listing voting system caused a similar issue as did the ‘Kitties. According to MyCrypto‘s twitter account (see all ten parts of the thread here):
2/ This exchange apparently has come up with a mind-numbingly despicable voting mechanism that, quite literally, incentivizes Sybil attacks. ?https://t.co/w6ZifFk5bj
— MyCrypto.com (@MyCrypto) July 3, 2018
Once again, the actions of one application was able to render the entire system unscalable. While EOS does not (yet) suffer from this issue, they are working through a separate set of challenges.
EOS launched with a Delegated Proof of Stake system and has consistently been producing blocks every 0.5 seconds and has seen a maximum transaction per second volume of 592 (Ethereum’s maximum has been doing approximately 20). Its not the tens of thousands of transactions per second possible with Visa, but it is still far more than Ethereum at this point.
However, EOS is not without technical hiccups, experiencing a brief stoppage and is currently facing rising RAM costs, as speculators have entered the market driving up the price for the resource that developers will use as memory for their DApps of the future. Block.one’s Dan Larimer, from the team that built the EOS software, wrote that he believes that the cost of RAM will come down with scale. Evolution, a team of EOS developers, has proposed a more active solution to the issue, but any new policies would come under governance scrutiny.
EOS has come under fire recently as the software launched with twenty one block producers operating the network, an unratified constitution, and an arbitration system that was not strongly defined. This lead to the arbitration arm, the EOS Core Arbitration Forum (ECAF), issuing an order for up to 27 EOS accounts to be frozen. The rationale was that these accounts held tokens that had been stolen from the original holders in phishing attacks. This brings up a moral quandary because although the community would like to return stolen tokens, what precedent does it set that ECAF can do independent investigations and order on-chain changes?
Some might say that if the Block Producers have a way of reversing fraud, they should. Detractors of the order would argue that this kind of process is not decentralized enough and that the coins should be gone for good, like they would be if Ethereum tokens were phished. Even Dan Larimer weighed in with a “the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t” attitude, writing:
“As much I would like to see the previous key holders receive their tokens back, I feel that the precedent established by such intervention would do more damage to the entire EOS ecosystem than the money they receive. At this point I would recommend that the EOS block producers campaign on making a charitable donation to the cause of helping these people out. It would be far cheaper for the EOS community to resolve these issues by way of community donations than by setting precedent of producer intervention.”
That’s a lot to sort through for this nascent chain and making rational, intentional decisions to create a culture that supports decisions with code appears to be the direction they are moving toward.
Kind of like how Ethereum acted during the “DAO Hack” and how it currently operates…
Ethereum’s governance structure has seemed unclear at times, especially when it came to the Ethereum hard fork following the loss of funds due to a poorly written smart contract. Proponents of 100% decentralization make it seem like anyone around the world can mine, run nodes, develop solutions, and have an equal impact on the future of the chain.
In reality, a recent podcast taped at the Ethereal Summit gave a bird’s eye view into a more democratic and social process carried out by a number of influential groups and members. On Unchained with Laura Shin: Live From Ethereal: Eep! How Should Ethereum Be Governed?, Ethereum researcher Vlad Zamfir and GovernX founder Nick Dodson shared their experience with Ethereum’s governance process.
The first thing that they mentioned is the Ethereum Improvement Proposals process, “which describe standards for the Ethereum platform, including core protocol specifications, client APIs, and contract standards” and allows any developer to propose an improvement. However, they said that once a proposal is drafted, it then becomes a game of networking with political and social capital in order for the proposal to be considered and approved. The podcasters shared that it is currently the role of one man, Hudson Jameson, to coordinate and set the agenda for the Ethereum All Dev Calls, in which new proposals are considered.
Vlad and Nick went on to note that EIP code editors, including Jameson, are empowered by the Ethereum Foundation to hold this roles, even though the Foundation does not make the decisions themselves (they noted that if Vitalik Buterin wanted to put a hard cap on the number of ETH, he would likely be met with enough dissent to stop that change).
Although they do not mention how many developers are on these All Dev Calls, it doesn’t seem that much different than the process EOS is using to bring Block Producers together. Where things started to diverge is the concept of on-chain governance and what is decided based on code. EOS kicked off with an attempt at strong on-chain governance and is looking like they may have to back off of that somewhat.
After listening to the podcast and having had studied the launch of EOS for Blockchain Beach, it sounds like both communities want the same things, are going about them in some similar ways (and some different), but the biggest thing is a difference in the communication style (plus Ethereum having a four year head start).
We will soon see how each group needs to shift their philosophy and way of communicating their vision in the name of progress to create platforms and networks that can support global applications.