Borderless, permissionless and free from coercion.
That’s the dream underlying web 3.0, in which unstoppable, decentralized applications (dapps) combine with web 2.0 technology, eventually corroding the power structures that traditional infrastructures encode. But that vision hasn’t come as fast as some expected or hoped, and moreover, some ethereum applications seem to even be working against that rosy vision for the future.
Outpacing CryptoKitties in cumulative volume, dapps like FOMO3D and POWH3D are leading the polls right now with high-risk gambling games that, as detailed by CoinDesk, are essentially Ponzi schemes in structure.
Larry Cermak, an analyst, described the situation on Sunday as “depressing.”
“Legitimate use cases like [decentralized exchanges] and prediction markets are not gaining any traction while scams and useless games are thriving,” Cermak tweeted.
And still what proved to be ethereum’s “killer use case” across the past two years (culminating a total of nearly $20 billion), the initial coin offering or ICO also left a stain on ethereum’s history. According to one study, a whopping 78 percent of ICO’s in 2017 are now “identified scams.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, projects that overemphasized the crypto funding scheme were turned away from attending last week’s Dappcon conference in Berlin, where the focus was on the underlying technology.
“The focus should be on the building part, not on the raising money part,” Alex Van de Sande, developer of ethereum’s mist browser and ethereum core developer, told CoinDesk. “I think if you focus too much on raising money to build stuff then you might not be the guys who are actually building, right.”
As such, the conference brought together developers and high-profile dapp projects to reinforce their goal and determine what needs to be done to make that goal a reality.
Because according to many at the event, dapps are still the key technology for moving ethereum and the blockchain industry as a whole closer to its dream of making the world a better, more free place.
Gregor Zavcer from Datafund, a blockchain-based project for allowing web users to take back control of their data, told CoinDesk:
“I think the dapp development is a new paradigm in terms of how you do everything in the open, how you connect with others, and how you also provide value, not just necessarily for the end user but for the ecosystem.”
Ambition meets reality
And those things, according to Van de Sande, are the essence of ethereum.
“Ethereum makes no sense if there are no dapps; if there are no dapps running on ethereum then it’s just another coin that gets its worth from speculating,” he told CoinDesk.
And as such, “I think our job, as ethereum developers, is to try to understand what are the dapps doing and what are the dapps not doing, what are the biggest challenges for those dapps, and we need to solve that for them. We serve the dapp developers.”
Yet borderless communication, trade, computation and organizations – there’s a known disconnect between the technologically ambitious dapp community and ethereum’s ability to handle a fully decentralized dapp that has mainstream use.
For example, CryptoKitties was lambasted when it was first launched since it garnered significant traction and caused transaction backlogs and increasing fees on the network.
Then later, it was criticized for sacrificing full decentralization for the sake of usability. And this tension between usability and decentralization – manifest by the lack of user engagement on most dapps so far – was the most troubling concern for those at Dappcon.
Benjamin Bollen from OpenST, a layer-two scaling solution for ethereum crypto tokens, said that the need for user engagement even eclipses the platform’s need to scale to keep up with market demand.
“I had to be told this many many times by business people – as a technology nerd – to really absorb this message: We need to actually get to a point where it has real value and it only has real value if there are actually hundreds of millions of people using this technology.”
He continued, saying that ethereum has piqued interest from time to time – during the ICO boom, to name one – and it’s up to the developers to make sure what ethereum is known for isn’t vaporware.
Live and invaluable
While the dapps eliciting the most conversation right now are those that most developers disregard, still there have been a number of announcements and launches this year displaying that ethereum dapps are making headway.
For instance, Golem, a decentralized computation market, launched into beta earlier this year, while the hotly anticipated prediction market Augur has been live and functioning rather well for the past two weeks.
Mobile ethereum client Status, that runs over decentralized, encrypted chat protocol Whisper, has also made substantial progress. As well as enabling transactions to occur across the chat app, Status provides an early look at some of the more exciting possibilities of the decentralized web – peer-to-peer token swaps, DAO creation apps, identity systems, social networks, collectibles and Local Ethereum.
And for some, these features are invaluable. Because Status offers a free method for communication for those who live behind strict internet firewalls and cannot access conventional social media websites, the dapp has become one that many ethereum developers point to as not just a success, but a necessity.
Speaking to that Status use case, María Paula Fernandez, communications lead for decentralized computation app Golem, said:
“We don’t realize this shit, but this is the power of a dapp. Dapps are fucking alive.”
And according to Zavcer, typical of the dapp ecosystem is that protocols overlap and reinforce each other.
“These past two days I was reminded about the notion of ‘team protocols,'” Zavcer told CoinDesk. “Teams are specializing on the aspect that they want to cover and somehow together we create these decentralized mosaics.”
Echoing that, Anna Rose, co-host of the ZeroKnowledge podcast, which takes a look at the technology that’ll power web 3.0, told CoinDesk:
“I think when there is a momentum in a scene – be it music, art or tech – you see a flourishing of ideas, buzz around certain terms. New humor, aesthetics and memes emerge. It is an exciting moment.”
Bad dapps do good?
Part of the new “humor” – a dark humor –that’s emerging from the ethereum dapp ecosystem is the concept of honesty in your bad behavior making that bad behavior somehow charming.
For instance, the Ponzi scheme games, FOMO3D and POWH3D, have several fans. One Twitter user said of FOMO3D, “Deadly combination of smart contract and psychology. Like bitconnect but honest. Simply genius.”
But overall, ethereum dapps developers have come out to criticize the games, contending that the only reason they are popular and causing a stir within the community is that they are easy builds that aren’t technologically complex, so work can go into marketing instead of development.
“Bad dapps are popular because they are the easiest to build, and due to the newness still of this technology and hype, people see dollar signs,” Fauve Altman, community manager for dapp registry and analytics site, State of the Dapps, told CoinDesk.
That said, the team behind FOMO3D and POWH3D emphasized their shared commitment to a decentralized web.
“Most of the crypto sector is nothing but unsubstantiated hype, a melting pot of impractical ideas fueled by psychologically manipulative marketing, greed and deceit. Like it or not, this is the reality of not just crypto but the majority of capitalism as a whole,” Mantso, the pseudonymous lead developer behind the games, told CoinDesk.
While the statements could be taken as tongue-in-cheek, Mantso could be onto something in that any kind of development in the field will provide the much-needed research to make the vision a reality – one that doesn’t accidentally cause harm.
As such, Mantso, rather optimistically, concluded:
“All of you are pioneers in a completely new, disruptive economic field that will undoubtedly come to flourish. This community is the breeding ground, the nurturing womb for the first, true decentralized society and economy.”