The tinkering ratio of output can be improved to yield more mainstream products
I’m writing this critique with a deep and long historical perspective on Ethereum because I want Ethereum to succeed better. I’d like its ecosystem to get stronger. I’d like its apps and services to be more useful. I’d like its end-user experiences to be on par with what the mainstream consumer expects.
At a time when many other L1 blockchain infrastructures are struggling for growth, Ethereum has a chance to clean up and solidify its position as the preeminent blockchain infrastructure.
Whether changes happen or not depends to a great extent on what the Ethereum community does or doesn’t do. There is a limit to what the market can do to pick up the pieces and innovate on top of what is handed to them.
This comes at a time when a large part of the Ethereum community is getting ready to re-assemble in Waterloo where the first ETH Global event took place six years ago. I participated in that event, wrote From Waterloo to Zug, Retracing Ethereum’s Journey and made a presentation chronicling the then-emerging Ethereum ecosystem.
I’d like to talk about what Ethereum can do better. So, I’m going to focus on some parts that could be improved, in order to maximize Ethereum’s potential.
There is no need to extol Ethereum’s strengths, as you all know them. But sometimes your strengths create a weakness. So we can start there.
One of Ethereum’s strengths is the diversity of its ecosystem and how much development activity there is around it. It is undoubtedly the most vibrant laboratory for blockchain innovation.
However, that strength has become a weakness because there is too much TINKERING in that ecosystem.
Tinkering is not bad because it can lead to great things as you iterate. But when I said “too much tinkering”, I meant on a relative basis.
Tinkering as a ratio of output can be improved. This means that we don’t necessarily need less tinkering, but we need more tinkering that results in fully deployable and usable solutions. And not just at the technical level. We need more end-user applications with user-friendly, mainstream-appeal types of applications.
If your tinkering doesn’t produce an end result, do you know what happens?
Other chains take your half-baked ideas and they add the last mile to it, and they deliver something usable. Sounds familiar?
One of the drawbacks of too much tinkering is that we tend to forget about tuning the end-user experience.
Of course, the first level of the Ethereum ecosystem is mostly comprised of developers, and that’s a great thing. Developers typically work on infrastructure or they work on services for other developers to build applications on, or they work directly on applications.
The part that needs the most improvement is the last part, the part that touches the end user.
If Ethereum wants to be in the hands of one billion users, it needs to think more about the importance of mainstream user experiences. The mainstream user wants SIMPLICITY first, and two or three clicks to get impressed and hooked. That challenge, by the way, doesn’t only apply to the Ethereum community. It does also matter for the entire blockchain industry. I recently wrote, What The Blockchain Industry Can Learn From the Popularity of Artificial Intelligence pertaining specifically to the user experience.
Here are two related parts where Ethereum can improve.
First, the Ethereum development ecosystem needs more product managers. Product managers focus on getting the product to the market in its most usable form. Sadly, sometimes, they are the ones who realize that at one point, you need to shoot the engineers in order to get the product out. Product managers obsess about the user experience, user flows and user interactions. Product managers understand how to lay out a roadmap and prioritize features rollout accordingly.
Second, the L2 layers fragmentation is another strength-turned-weakness. L2’s have been undoubtedly beneficial to Ethereum’s scalability, but from a user perspective, the experience is not ideal, because of the switching friction. As a user, imagine if you had to switch browsers to access different parts of the web. It would be unthinkable, yet we ask Ethereum users to decide which L2 to choose from. Furthermore, we make them jump through hoops and take security risks to bridge from one network to another if they seek to move assets across L2’s.
I don’t have a solution for this fragmentation, and some believe it’s not an issue, but I do think it is. Therefore, I’m just laying out the challenge to elevate its visibility and importance. When there is less friction, there is more adoption.
I realize that the Ethereum ecosystem is obsessed with an extreme form of decentralization at all levels of the stack. But that also creates challenges, because as you unbundle various pieces in order to decentralize the system, you then need to re-bundle everything to properly assemble a solution. Then, you need a lot of coordination and making sure that many parts work together at the same level of readiness and response, and that’s not always so easily achieved.
This challenge was validated in Vitalik’s last essay, The Three Transitions where he advocates there are three essential capabilities that need to work together in Ethereum: L2 scaling, wallet security, and privacy. There is nothing new with these individual features as they were part of the early vision of the Ethereum blockchain. However, with increased decentralization, there are increasing degrees of complexity that compound when you start to implement these three prongs simultaneously.
Ethereum is approaching its ten-year mark on its original inception. It’s time that we polish the ongoing tinkering in its base infrastructure and services so that apps can prosper on top of it.
I’m looking forward to seeing more product managers and entrepreneurs drive the Ethereum ecosystem in addition to the base technology developers who are obsessed with technology tinkering.