Reflections from ETHDenver

We just got back from ETHDenver, Colorado's "full crypto" conference -- and one of our favorite events ever to have attended in the Ethereum space.

There was a lot going on at ETHDenver, but a few broad trends really came out over the weekend.

UX improvement is critical for Ethereum

One of the most important areas of development for Ethereum right now has nothing to do with Ethereum 2.0, eWASM, or anything else on the bleeding edge of the tech side.

It was good ol' fashioned user experience.

And boy, progress has been made. Here's what makes me think that the next big leap in Ethereum adoption is going to come from the UX/Design domain:

Food trucks @ETHDenver led the way for real-world usability

This was the first conference I've attended where we ate our own dogfood -- Well, we ate a wide variety of delicious food from around Colorado: tacos, sushi, pizza, gyros, and ice cream -- but we paid for that food using crypto!

Each attendee was given a small (physical) token that instantiated a burner wallet filled with $40.00 worth of "Colorado Coin". Using QR codes printed on the sides of the trucks, attendees were able to purchase what they wanted, or send their extra coin to other attendees.

One moment really illustrated how far we've come from a user onboarding perspective: I watched as a confused customer handed his phone over to the food truck operator, who showed him how to buy food using the burner wallet. Think about that for a second: The process was simple enough (and designed well enough), that a small business owner felt confident enough to walk a customer through the process of using crypto to buy a gyro.

I would be remiss not to give due credit to one Austin Griffith, who ran the Buffcoin show and made sure things ran super smooth over the course of the event. Well done, Austin!

User on-boarding for 'non-crypto' transactions

Another thread in the same category is the number of projects in the hackathon who focused on making a first transaction as simple as possible.

A newcomer to Ethereum won't have Ether. They won't want to take the time to understand what a private key is and what steps they need to take to secure it. They certainly aren't going to even try to understand what 'gas' is and where that money goes.

Taylor from MyCrypto said it best in her presentation:

Users are expecting the same simplicity from web3 that they currently experience with web2.
Talk to PEOPLE.
Build for PEOPLE.
Talk to more PEOPLE.
React to how PEOPLE use your product.
Save PEOPLE from themselves.

For the first time at an event like this, I saw a number of projects integrating with services like Portis and Fortmatic (who put up bounties for integration, FYI), which allow users to pay for their first transactions using only a phone number and a credit card.

This might go against some of the stronger "decentralization maximalist" sentiments in the Ethereum community, but we have to be real: It's these kinds of "trusty" integrations that are enabling mainstream adoption, and they need to be embraced by more projects if we want adoption to continue.

As we continue to develop our products, we need to remember many, many PEOPLE might see bugs when we (the core Ethereum fans) see features.

We at Colony have been thinking along these lines more and more, and that's one of the reasons we've chosen to roll out a one-transaction payment method for developers integrating with our platform.

Even though it side-steps some of the game-theoretic security built into a task transaction workflow, making a direct payment with reputation gain without a multi-sig approval process is something that PEOPLE have asked for, and we are building for them!

Developer Experience matters

This is my main takeaway from ETHDenver: In many senses, the whole Ethereum community is still in the middle of a massive period of bootstrapping. We're building (or #buidling) some things that enable us to build more things that enable us to build all the things.


The project that illustrates this particularly well was built in the hackathon: EthDevTools.

The concept was simple enough: It's the web3 analog to the Chrome dev tools. As a chrome extension, it will show transactions, contract ABIs, logs, and a GraphQL explorer.

When concluding the presentation, Billy Rennekamp (@okwme) said something that made me clap:

"This should have been around from the very beginning."

So much in Ethereum development right now is "roll your own" that many projects end up building different implementations of the same functional tool, or similar (yet incompatible) approaches to the same problem (like debugging and ABI generation).

Projects like ETHdevtools may not be as sexy as token-curated registries or decentralized carbon offsetting, but they are going to have a huge positive impact on the lives of developers who are building those (sexy) things right now.

Open Source enables a better developer experience

At Colony, we do our best to, whenever possible, open-source the tools we build (from scratch) in order to save other developers from having to re-do our work: Purser

We still need to improve on getting our tools out there faster, with better documentation and examples -- but we are keeping our commitment to contributing and maintaining open-source tools and infrastructure for the broader Ethereum development community.

Speaking of those open-source tools, we are super proud of Ryan and Scott, who made major progress on a command line tool for generating javascript libraries on-the-fly -- and won the Infura prize for their work!

Impact is where it's at

The final thing I noticed at ETHDenver was the number and quality of projects that submitted along the impact track for the hackathon.

This was also the first Ethereum conference (to my knowledge) that officially partnered with UNESCO:

The impact-focused hackathon projects are important. The people working on them are proving to the world that blockchain technology is not just a buzzword, but something of great potential for NGOs, non-profits, and larger impact initiatives, like the Sustainable Development Goals.

I anticipate we'll continue to see more interest and involvement in the Ethereum ecosystem for projects that not only focus on cutting-edge technology, but on solving real-world problems.

Focus on impact was one of my personal favorite highlights from the Colony Hackathon last year, and we're going to take that into consideration in planning this year's hackathon model. (stay tuned).

Last word: Bufficorns are great

This is too good not to re-post:

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