How does a decentralized network of people with no clear hierarchy come together to build a world computer? The short answer is, not easily.
This is the problem facing Ethereum, currently the second biggest cryptocurrency by market cap. It has been criticized both for being too centralized—having a small number of people making decisions—and for not getting things done quickly enough. A recent report, orchestrated by SpankChain CEO Ameen Soleimani, pointed out that Ethereum was at risk of getting left behind other, faster blockchains unless it could learn to scale—and fast. To do this, he recommended clearer leadership but this was a contentious issue.
In an interview with Decrypt, Ethereum dev, Ben Edgington, said this is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater;” having too small a leadership team makes Ethereum become like other, more centralized projects, he said. On Twitter, some argued that it is already too centralized, calling it “designed by committee” or nothing more than an “elaborate scam.” But does leadership really mean a project is centralized?
Brian Norton, COO at MyEtherWallet—one of the most popular Ethereum wallets and a commonly used gateway to Web3—argued that leadership does not necessarily mean a cryptocurrency is centralized, and that Ethereum actually needs leaders in order to stay competitive.
“There’s a difference between appointing leaders and accepting the leadership of others,” he told Decrypt, adding, “The idea of taking the lead on a particular direction on the future of the network is not necessarily becoming its tzar, it’s simply taking responsibility and garnering support for achieving certain benchmarks.”
Norton backed up claims made in a tweetstorm by Ethereum developer Danny Ryan who pointed to the variety of leaders across the Ethereum ecosystem. Norton said, “A lot of the individual teams who are working on Ethereum 2.0 right now could all ultimately be considered leaders in this space. What we need now is more coordination between them and better funding.”
Funding is another contentious issue in the ecosystem. It has traditionally come from the Ethereum Foundation but it moves slowly. In a more spontaneous move, Vitalik Buterin himself donated large amounts of ETH—with the phrase “YOLO”—to several projects working on Ethereum 2.0. In Soleimani’s report, he recommended that Ethereum should use blockchain-native software consultancy Kyokan and grant-making decentralized autonomous organization Moloch going to delegate funds in future. The issue of funding is crucial because it keeps the network sustainable, and this is another thing under threat.
Norton said, “We do run the risk of not being sustainable because ultimately a decentralized network requires large amounts of people to be active contributors and if we start losing ground in that sense, projects looking to get off the ground are going to try to find alternatives. We’re going to lose valuable projects. We’re going to lose valuable contributors.”
While this is a bit of a doomsday approach, other blockchains have been appealing to Ethereum developers to encourage them to jump ship. Chief among them is Justin Sun, who has been offering grants and dapp funding for projects built on his network Tron. He has also been vocal in competing with Ethereum, from network users to more petty issues such as Twitter followers. While this hasn’t been particularly effective, the EOS community has been growing quickly as developers have taken advantage of its faster block times which are more suitable for gaming.
“I think Tron and EOS serve as wake-up calls to what we need to be able to offer but ultimately those projects do fundamentally different things to what Ethereum does. They’re both companies, for one.” Norton said, adding, “They’re privately owned. As distinct from public blockchains, they’re blockchains for public use—which is a subtle but important distinction."
He added that developers may not be ideologically committed to decentralization and may just be looking for a blockchain to build on. In that case, he said, we need to give them an alternative value proposition, namely a scalable network. But, by the look of things, that’s easier said than done.