“Technical people don’t ask the right questions.”
– Henry Kissinger (1923-2023)
In blockchain technology, a heated debate persists surrounding the efficacy of various infrastructure layers. On X (formerly known as Twitter), proponents of Ethereum (ETH) and Solana (SOL) have been engaging in a ‘pissing contest’ debate, arguing over the merits of their respective platforms. [Here are two links to such discussions: Link1 and Link2]
These infrastructure layers are simply a means to an end, and this debate overlooks an important vision and fundamental aspiration: to become a global interoperable network of blockchains with Apps and services on top. This vision transcends the limitations of individual platforms, fostering a cohesive environment where applications and services can operate seamlessly across diverse protocols.
ETH, SOL, L1s/L2’s: Stepping Stones for Developers, Not Consumer On-Ramps
While leading blockchain protocols such as Ethereum or Solana play crucial roles in the blockchain landscape, they primarily serve as developer tools, enabling the creation of innovative decentralized applications (dApps) or augmenting Web2 ideas with Web3 capabilities.
However, blockchain protocols do not directly cater to mainstream consumers. Instead, they serve as the foundation upon which consumer-facing applications will emerge. The applications, not the underlying blockchains themselves, will act as the real on-ramps for consumers, via user-friendly interfaces and intuitive experiences.
Moving Beyond Pointless Debates
The ongoing debate between vocal Ethereum and Solana enthusiasts often delves into technical minutiae and pedantic discussions over ‘degrees of decentralization’, transactions finality speeds, scalability factors, fees, validators conditions, governance methods, etc. These debates, while intellectually stimulating, tend to forget the overarching success factor for blockchain technology: to empower individuals to become regular users of blockchain-based applications.
Prioritizing User Experience and Market Reach
As blockchain technology matures, the focus of discussion, attention, and activity should shift from infrastructure layer ‘turf wars’ to cultivating a rich ecosystem of user-friendly applications that are interoperable across the patchwork layers of the underlying infrastructure. These applications will target diverse market segments, providing tangible benefits and exceptional user experiences.
Revisiting Blockchain’s Core Principles
We should not lose sight of the fundamental principles of blockchain technology amidst the noise of the current landscape. Blockchain’s inherent value lies in its ability to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions while eliminating the need for unnecessary central intermediaries. At this point of maturity, all leading blockchain protocols effectively achieve this core objective.
Beyond the above core principle, blockchain technology also encompasses mechanism design and smart programming logic as another blockchain ‘first principle’ of sorts. While each protocol approaches this aspect differently, most have demonstrated this capability.
Consumer Indifference to Blockchain Infrastructure
The average consumer will ultimately care less about the underlying blockchain infrastructure powering their applications. Instead, they will prioritize functionality, convenience, and a seamless user experience.
The field remains wide open for imaginative mainstream consumer applications. These applications may operate on diverse blockchain platforms or even transcend blockchain entirely, utilizing the technology’s underlying principles without explicitly exposing it to users.
Let me illustrate with two examples I’m familiar with.
To the user, Blackbird looks like a restaurant loyalty application. Tucked somewhere in a corner of its technology architecture, you will find blockchain technology in the form of unique, non-transferable certificates (NFT-based) that users earn as a status symbol reflecting their customer loyalty activity. Also, in there, you will find a private currency equivalent to airline points, except that rewards gained are redeemable for restaurant perks with very low levels of transaction friction.
In the field of decentralized finance, Prime is a cross-chain prime brokerage that allows users to deposit, borrow, repay, and withdraw cryptocurrency across 8 different chains seamlessly. This sounds like a banal feature when compared to traditional finance where interoperability is taken for granted (albeit with a lot of friction). That said, Prime represents the leading edge of where interoperability exists in blockchain technology.
Let’s Embrace Interoperability and Innovation
Blockchain ecosystem players should move beyond the infrastructure layer wars and embrace a more collaborative approach. Interoperability between blockchains is paramount to achieving the shared vision of a global, interconnected infrastructure. Applications developers should focus on building innovative applications that cater to diverse consumer needs, while infrastructure layers should continue to evolve and adapt to support this growth.
Ultimately, the success of blockchain technology hinges on its ability to empower individuals through user-centric applications that deliver tangible benefits.
The future of blockchain is about the applications that empower users rather than the battle between different layers.