Can Ethereum maintain its position as the leading smart contract platform in the nascent blockchain industry?
Panelists engaged in a fiery discussion to consider that very possibility on Friday at the Ethereal Summit in Brooklyn. But, by the end of it, the whole thing more or less devolved into a classic debate of how well Ethereum stacks up against the reigning crypto king, Bitcoin.
This is becoming the PC versus Apple question of Web3.
In terms of smart contracts, the panel generally agreed that Ethereum has a clear first-mover advantage. That competitive advantage is akin to Microsoft-level dominance in its hey-day, said Tom Shaughnessy, Cofounder and principal at Delphi Digital. “It’s Ethereum’s race to lose.”
Ethereum’s best shot at sustaining that dominance is to become singularly focused, said Ryan Selkis, Cofounder and CEO of Messari. The goal should be to become the “DeFi Chain,” he said. “That’s the winning outcome for Ethereum.”
But what about scalability? Problems with throughput? None of that matters, said Selkis. “You might not be able to trade digital cats, but who gives a shit?” Ethereum developers are the Athenians, he said, but there are hungry Spartans at the gates. Best not to take your eyes off the prize.
So, fine. Focus on DeFi and it’s game over. But what Ethereum’s value as a cryptoasset? Will ETH ever really catch up to BTC? Where should investors put their money?
Tanner Hoban, director of ConsenSys Capital, put in plainly. “If I had the choice, I can tell you what I wouldn’t put it in, and that’s Bitcoin,” he said. Holden believes Bitcoin’s economics aren’t sustainable and mining will lead to greater and greater centralization and environmental concerns. Bitcoin got people in the door, said Shaughnessy, and it’s comparatively easier to understand than other crypto assets, but the things being built on Ethereum are going to be more valuable in the long term.
Selkis, playing the role of a bitcoin maximalist, strongly disagreed. A balanced portfolio is the more prudent approach, he said, but gun to his head, “it’s 100 percent bitcoin. Because I have kids.”
The migration to Ethereum 2.0 poses considerable risk, said Selkis, and it’s going to be a while—likely not completed until early 2021 at the earliest, he said. Besides, as smart contracts begin to be transferred to interoperable blockchain platforms like Cosmos and Polkadot, there’s a risk that a “good deal of value bleeds out of Ethereum,” Selkis said.
And the air left the room. The crowd here is, after all, predominantly of the Ethereum tribe.
Selkis then fended off attacks from the ETH maximalists on the panel, going toe to toe with Hoban and Shaughnessy on proof of work, versus proof of stake, and their respective defenses from 51 percent attacks.
But none of that should really matter for the future of Ethereum, said Selkis. ETH shouldn’t try to complete with BTC. It isn’t a battle that can be won, or even attempted, he said.
Stick to programmable money, advised Selkis, there’s trillions of dollars at stake. And that should be good enough.
But since when is good enough ever really good enough?