The Next Wave
We’ve gone through two major cycles that have resulted in a significant explosion of the number of cryptocurrencies in existence. The first being Bitcoin, which has led to many forks, ranging from small configuration changes such as Litecoin to innovations of much bolder magnitude such as Dash and Decred.
The second movement came post-Ethereum, which spawned dozens of Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) based cryptocurrencies and thousands of protocols based on the ERC20 standard that was initially proposed in late 2015. This has resulted in many impactful tooling improvements for the EVM ecosystem and an exponential increase in cryptoeconomic experimentation. These waves of evolution have initiated a better understanding of complex systems working in the great breadth and depth of the developer mindshare. The community has stuck primarily with Ethereum thus far. One could argue that these new EVM based cryptocurrencies are a loose form of sharding for the greater blockchain ecosystem in and of itself, especially given the ways in which implementation bridges allow networks to hop in between any of the EVM based protocols.
The main challenge for most EVM based protocols is finding a value proposition compelling enough to excite existing blockchain developers to work on them and grow the market to a point where new developers are willing and able to onboard, using the new tools. On top of that, the development environment for EVM based protocols is incredibly immature — which is why we’re seeing other protocols choose existing frameworks and programming languages to leverage their platforms.
The Developer Experience
As a self-taught iOS developer, when I first learned to code, I knew nothing about how databases worked. I stumbled across a product called Parse, now completely open source. Parse was magical. It took one line of code in my iOS application, and all I had to do was do a simple object.save in my code and voila, I had full database management in my application through their intuitive dashboard.
With reason, we spend a lot of time in the cryptocurrency industry worrying about the experience for the end users of applications. What about the developer experience? Not enough thought is going into the experience for developers and how that is stunting growth.
Before Ethereum, it was immensely difficult to contribute anything of practicality to Bitcoin, and those forking into innovative versions of it were few and far between. Due to explosive growth, as shown in the graphic above, any traditional web developer who has the chops to learn how to write a smart contract can now build something that leverages the blockchain in a novel way.
This was not possible in the early days.
Still, becoming a blockchain developer is difficult. To date, writing smart contracts requires a dev to learn Solidity, OCAML, or C++ in current blockchains. Soon, we’ll be able to build with WASM-compatible programming languages and Java. The bar to build a decentralized application is gently lowering towards a nice equilibrium. This is critically important because there needs to be as wide a net as possible to bring new developers into the ecosystem.
At time of writing there are a total of 2114 listed applications on State of the Dapps. By comparison, there are over 2.1 million applications on the iOS App store as of March 2018 and over 2.5 million Android applications in the Google Play Store. Both app stores saw incredible growth immediately but by no means was it an overnight success. It took years for the needed infrastructure to mature before the iOS App Store flourished. Not only that, the store was largely an accident — Steve Jobs initially pushed for web applications. It took over a decade’s worth of experimentation and improvement through cellular service and devices to reach the perfect moment of the mobile application explosion in 2008.
We are seeing the same critical infrastructure being built today in the dApp world. This includes layer 2 scaling solutions, interoperable chains, sharding and developer tools. All of these aspects make up the next generation of computing and application platforms. As builders, we need to actively pursue maturation, for the developer experience to achieve the point where anyone can build on any blockchain.
Enter the AVM
While AION was originally released using the FastVM (a modified version of the EVM), the transition to releasing the Aion Virtual Machine (AVM) built on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) will attract engineers with the ability to program on this novel framework from the start, and build the next wave of decentralized applications.
The AVM will allow anyone to write a smart contract in the Java programming language and utilize the massive, mature toolset that is available for the most popular programming language in the world. The ability for a developer to walk into an existing, comfortable development environment while learning how to leverage the blockchain will open the floodgates. As a mobile developer myself, it is difficult to overstate the fundamental importance of this as it relates to the potentially game-changing implications.
There are an estimated over 6 million Android developers in the world. The ability to create a full stack, decentralized application without a traditional backend that reaches over 2 billion active Android devices is incredibly powerful. AION is laying the groundwork that empowers any person’s ideas to have an immediate reach and impact that can grow exponentially.
Our goal as an industry should be to enable any developer to easily leverage the blockchain as another tool in their toolbox.
Our lives will be governed by hundreds or thousands of blockchains in the future. We have only taken a few steps forward in this adventure thus far. We want to enable the creativity of millions of engineers, product people, and designers the world over. Let’s give the option for builders to use decentralized systems — thereby reducing costs and creating new business models that break away from today’s status quo, and into the next wave.