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There’s a new entrant in the already very crowded field of Ethereum layer-2 solutions—and this one wants to be the chain that rules them all.
Polymer today announced it has completed a $23 million Series A with investments from top-tier VCs in the crypto space, including , Placeholder, and Digital Currency Group. The company plans to use the cash to build its eponymous network, which it describes as “the first Ethereum Layer 2 that provides interoperability-as-a-service to Ethereum and its rollups.”
What that means, essentially, is that Polymer aims to be a hub, of sorts, for Ethereum and all other Ethereum-based networks, such as Arbitrum and Optimism. It’s the network you’d use to defragment the vast Ethereum ecosystem, and the one that would make sure that the financial data, assets, and applications across the ecosystem all play nice—at least, that’s the plan.
To do that, Polymer uses the Cosmos IBC protocol. Cosmos basically provides the software framework from which all manner of blockchains can be built. There are many popular Cosmos-based chains on the market today, such as Injective, Cronos, Thorchain, and the buzzy Celestia. The Polymer team thinks IBC can be to Web3 what TCP/IP was for the internet.
“There were several different organizations and universities that established TCP/IP as the internet’s standard. We’re one of those organizations trying to establish IBC as the standard for interoperability in Web3,” Polymer co-founder Peter Kim told Decrypt.
The interoperability holy grail
Polymer aims to empower developers to build cross-chain applications by introducing a “neutral standard” that can be used to deploy applications on multiple chains, without the usual headaches that this entails. The standard, according to Polymer, will allow applications on different chains to communicate with each other—without introducing new trust assumptions.
Universal communication across blockchains is hard, and users end up carrying the burden of this by being confined to only using applications that are available on the blockchain or layer-2 network they’re using at any given time. This results in users typically picking a chain where they place most of their capital and leaving it there. And this can be especially problematic in the Ethereum ecosystem.
Data can’t be passed between decentralized applications on different layer 2’s because the system “lacks a decentralized and open interoperability standard,” Polymer said in a press release. As such, Ethereum and its many rollups are the first market Polymer is focusing on.
Polymer co-founder Bo Du told Decrypt that while Polymer is still in a private testnet, he encourages builders working on interesting projects to reach out to him directly so that he can “get them building right away.” Once they’ve moved on from their private testnet, they’ll be launching a partner program to help onboard new developers.
Du will have plenty of competition though. Ethereum is littered with layer-2s, rollups and sidechains that all compete for both market and mindshare. Throughout the years, we’ve seen many Layer 1’s and 2’s make a big splash—only to fizzle out due to not being able to capture the attention of builders. There was a point in time where even Tezos was called a “ghost chain” due to its lack of developer attention. There are only so many crypto devs to go around, after all—and fewer and fewer every year, according to Electric Capital.
Blockchain interoperability is also something of a “holy grail” in crypto—and has been for some time. Competing Ethereum-based network Layer Zero has also thrown its hat in the interoperability ring, and has seen a lot of usage—although it’s largely driven by speculation that early participants will receive an airdrop.
Why neutral standards are important
Still, Polymer believes it can set itself apart from the pack by introducing a “neutral standard” that other Ethereum-based chains will then abide by.
“The reason standards are important is that any of these subprotocols can be difficult for an application developer to spec out, implement, and most importantly, do the prior two correctly,” Du told Decrypt.
In other words, having no standards in place for cross-chain operability makes building applications that facilitate it far more challenging. Developers have to essentially build everything from scratch. If you’re a developer building a cross-chain application, you need to build an integration for each chain you want to be compatible with. Without standards in place, each of these integrations looks different. Each chain integration is a new problem for a dev team to figure out.
But creating a new standard is easier said than done.
You not only need to build the product, you then need to build the social consensus from the community being addressed.
Polymer believes the best way to achieve this is through neutrality, and making it as easy and robust as possible for developers to work with. The company acknowledges that there are others out there already addressing cross-chain operability, but it believes those competitors sacrifice neutrality in exchange for simplicity or speed to market.
What’s more, both chain developers and application developers are more likely to adopt standards that are neutral and not tied to any one company. While Polymer is, in fact, a company, IBC is an open-source framework—one that has the neutrality that Polymer believes it needs in order to become the new standard for interoperability.