July 25, 2023 5:00 AM
Review - EthCC Week 2023 in Paris
Within the lingo of the cryptocurrencies & blockchain community, the 'build' market attempts to put a positive spin on the market prices of tokens dropping significantly for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. The hope is that people are again focussed on what the technology actually does or can be built to do as opposed to the (over-)hyped narratives around it.
EthCC (Ethereum Community Conference) took place last week from Monday to Thursday in Paris. Together with this conference countless numbers of side events, meetups parties, hackathons took place as well throughout the week and going into the weekend, which often are full-blown conferences in their own right. The Stack Report was there in Paris as well to understand what new ideas are bubbling up in this 'build' phase for the envisioned blockchain-based de-centralized internet. So read ahead, although far from exhaustive, this is a high-level rundown of some of the ideas floating around in Paris during the week of 15 to 23 July, 2023.
Although the idea has been around, the concept of intent-centric architecture is starting to get broader traction and gets mentions in various contexts.
In an EthCC talk by Adrian Brink this was further explained in detail: The 3rd generation is intent-centric
For the most part so far, applications built on blockchain systems are transaction-based. Applications enable users to construct a variety of transactions which are then signed and compiled in the next block on the chain. The nodes in the blockchain network then execute the transactions, resulting in ledger state changes.
Even though this seems like a clean data flow, there are various limitations and not directly apparent drawbacks to this approach. Firstly, to construct a transaction that will execute successfully you need to be aware of the current state of the ledger, or likely multiple ledgers in a multi-chain and roll-up scaled network, which is a lot of data to keep track of. On top of that, transactions are picked up by block builders who have the opportunity to change the order of transactions within a block, which means they have some opportunity to manipulate the state of the ledger with other signed transactions before your transaction gets included. This leads to front-running opportunities and other types of attacks. An entire industry of MEV (Miner Extractable Value) research and solutions has evolved around these opportunities.
The thinking behind intent-centric architecture is to decouple the life-cycle of a transaction in a couple of steps. Firstly, the user expresses their intent, which is described in terms of how the user would like to see the ledger state change. This intent is in itself signed and possibly even sent on-chain depending on the architecture or through various off-chain channels. The intent is then picked up by a counterparty who can match the intent with their own intent and construct a transaction that will enact the state change. Resulting in a more explicit marketplace of transaction execution where the economics within the system again intended to drive towards user value as opposed to MEV.
Rather than explain the full concept in more detail, from the Anoma Docs:
An intent, so named because it conveys an intention, is a message sent by a user describing a preferred state of the system. After a user sends an intent, two phases take place: counterparty discovery and settlement. In the counterparty discovery phase, network participants examine and match compatible intents, forming transactions which enact particular state changes. Transactions then enter the settlement phase for ordering, execution, and confirmation by consensus, after which users can read the updated state.
But it is not just at EthCC that the topic came up, also on the Modular Summit side-conference a further definition of intent was given (not by accident by another Anoma team member):
An intent is a commitment to a preference function over the state space of a given system.
Dutch auctions for DeFi trades
During EthCC 2023, the UniswapX protocol was announced, which can be roughly summarized as a Dutch auction system for DeFi trades. Instead of putting in a transaction to AMMs directly or through a router, you put in an intent to trade. This is then broadcasted through various off-chain channels, enabling searchers to find the most optimal moment to trade.
With this approach, it is actually an implementation of an intent-centric architecture. It is not the first implementation of this approach, with ideas of off-chain intent-broadcasting already mentioned in white-papers such as 0x six years ago in 2017 and an Eth research forum post in 2018. With the position of Uniswap in the industry, there is a larger possibility for this to become the broadly adopted standard.
The protocol also includes the possibility of trades to bridge multi-chain and rollup state changes. Bringing events from one chain to another to resolve cross-chain trades. Bridges become oracles, attesting that a trade on one chain has happened to unlock the funds for the trade on the other chain.
View the announcement during EthCC by Hayden Adams in his talk: Onchain trading
And read the UniSwapX whitepaper: whitepaper-uniswapx.pdf
Big beefy Roll-ups on Tezos
On the day following EthCC, the Tezos community had their by now second incarnation of the TezDev developer conference. The core development teams of Tezos have been working on a roadmap towards roll-ups for scaling as well, this was the year where these could get demoed in real life. Accompanying the demos there was plenty of discussion on what kind of architectures are then enabled by roll-ups.
On that question, one of the co-founders of Tezos, Arthur Breitman proposed his vision of big beefy roll-ups. Instead of having many so-called 'app-chain' specific roll-ups, the proposal is to have one big roll-up that various parties still publish their smart contracts to, but that can be used for all kinds of applications. A key enabling decision early on in the Tezos architecture is that its roll-ups are WASM-based. This means that any programming language that can compile to WASM can be used to write smart contracts. (This includes Solidity, the language used for Ethereum smart contracts, which can also compile to WASM.)
The key concept for this vision of big beefy roll-ups is composability.
Composability has been a proof-point already for blockchains and also Tezos. Through on-chain smart contracts and a global state, distributed teams and even individual developers are enabled to permissionlessly build on top of each other.
Think of a smart contract blockchain as a potential place to integrate with other pieces of software. As a programmer when writing software you can integrate other pieces of software by for example importing a package or code library into your own codebase, or by calling an API to leverage data from another platform. Smart contracts published on the same chain propose a similar concept that actually gives you both data and code composability within a single 'virtual' compute environment.
On The Stack Report, you can see this composability in action in the Transaction Flow sections on our Tezos smart contract dashboards.
Watch the talk by arthur here: Tezos 2.0: The Next Era of Rollups - Ultra High Throughput | TEZDEV 2023
And the panel discussion on The Current State of L2s.
Wallets, user identity, account abstraction
In these still technological exploration phases of the development of blockchain systems, the user experience largely revolves around the cryptograhic actions of generating keys and signing transactions. These keys, hashes and actions gain meaning by encoding higher-level concepts. Other tech stacks show that end users largely want to interact with those concepts, rather than the underlying tech. When you open a social media app you immediately get a feed of content thats compiled through a large stack of technologies, database queries, machine learning models, etc. But you don't see any of that, you just see the content.
The 2021 NFT craze was a big experiment in leveraging a blockchain hash to create 'sign value' around online identities. At the same time this was still based on relatively risky technology where accounts were fully based on owning a single private key for most users. A persons identity is a very fluid and emergent concept, it is time that builders start to think about capturing this with learnings from the past two years.
Vitalik talked to the History of Account Abstraction. Running through various ideas for how to construct accounts with further security properties.
More on the UX side, there was the talk that delves in to how to potentially create The Invisible Wallet. It's still an open question for the design of the blockchain experience, s the wallet a core UX module or will it disappear into the application experiences?
Then there is still the issue of the mixed metaphor of the 'Wallet' apps that exist today. A wallet in the blockchain sense doesn't actually 'hold' any of the tokens, it merely displays the blockchain registrations of your account address in various smart contracts that have registered the users account address as owner of a token.
More commercially, the experimentation for brands to establish connections with customer identities through blockchain-based wallets is actively being explored. On Tezos this year the McLaren F1 Collectibles are getting a high level of engagement. At EthCC Mcfarland talks through how blockchain enables a 'connected CRM' for brands.
Is this the crypto punk vision of the future web though? Users publishing their data on open blockchains for all to see, for brands to scrape legally? Giving up privacy within the Digital Identity Trilemma.
Real-world* use case: Game shards
Editors note: Actually, digital games are virtual worlds
Gaming and blockchain is still a puzzle to be cracked with new attempts. The pitch remains the same, the tech has further developed.
From an end-user experience a game is often a total artwork, with visuals, interaction and sound designed fully together for a specific experience. But the top most influential games have often been more than that, a modding platform, map editors, abilities for plug-ins and extensions. The most successful games have been platforms for user-generated content.
It is again the promise of permissionless interopability. Before, it was only the game engine and some of the game assets, blockchain enables the various levels of the game state to be shared and extended.
With scaling possibilities of roll-ups, the amount of game state that can be realistically published 'on-chain' becomes meaningfully larger. Allowing for experiments and pitches such as this: World Engine: Horizontally Scaling Rollups With Shards
Other random observations
- What to do with all the jargon, NFTs, sharding, DeFi?
- Of course there is an AI cross-over.
- Smart contract triggering stable diffusion
- Dogfooding blockchain in IT /w decentralized compute
- Attempts to envision real-world end-states
- Tech stack for privacy-first smart contracts
To conclude, within this 'build' market the social layer maintains its momentum. The builders continue with protocol design, standards and technology development around blockchain, further mapping out the possibility space of decentralized technologies. Ideologically driven, looking for real-world use cases.