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Bob The Magic Custodian



Summary: Everyone knows that when you give your assets to someone else, they always keep them safe. If this is true for individuals, it is certainly true for businesses.
Custodians always tell the truth and manage funds properly. They won't have any interest in taking the assets as an exchange operator would. Auditors tell the truth and can't be misled. That's because organizations that are regulated are incapable of lying and don't make mistakes.

First, some background. Here is a summary of how custodians make us more secure:

Previously, we might give Alice our crypto assets to hold. There were risks:

But "no worries", Alice has a custodian named Bob. Bob is dressed in a nice suit. He knows some politicians. And he drives a Porsche. "So you have nothing to worry about!". And look at all the benefits we get:
See - all problems are solved! All we have to worry about now is:
It's pretty simple. Before we had to trust Alice. Now we only have to trust Alice, Bob, and all the ways in which they communicate. Just think of how much more secure we are!

"On top of that", Bob assures us, "we're using a special wallet structure". Bob shows Alice a diagram. "We've broken the balance up and store it in lots of smaller wallets. That way", he assures her, "a thief can't take it all at once". And he points to a historic case where a large sum was taken "because it was stored in a single wallet... how stupid".
"Very early on, we used to have all the crypto in one wallet", he said, "and then one Christmas a hacker came and took it all. We call him the Grinch. Now we individually wrap each crypto and stick it under a binary search tree. The Grinch has never been back since."

"As well", Bob continues, "even if someone were to get in, we've got insurance. It covers all thefts and even coercion, collusion, and misplaced keys - only subject to the policy terms and conditions." And with that, he pulls out a phone-book sized contract and slams it on the desk with a thud. "Yep", he continues, "we're paying top dollar for one of the best policies in the country!"
"Can I read it?' Alice asks. "Sure," Bob says, "just as soon as our legal team is done with it. They're almost through the first chapter." He pauses, then continues. "And can you believe that sales guy Mike? He has the same year Porsche as me. I mean, what are the odds?"

"Do you use multi-sig?", Alice asks. "Absolutely!" Bob replies. "All our engineers are fully trained in multi-sig. Whenever we want to set up a new wallet, we generate 2 separate keys in an air-gapped process and store them in this proprietary system here. Look, it even requires the biometric signature from one of our team members to initiate any withdrawal." He demonstrates by pressing his thumb into the display. "We use a third-party cloud validation API to match the thumbprint and authorize each withdrawal. The keys are also backed up daily to an off-site third-party."
"Wow that's really impressive," Alice says, "but what if we need access for a withdrawal outside of office hours?" "Well that's no issue", Bob says, "just send us an email, call, or text message and we always have someone on staff to help out. Just another part of our strong commitment to all our customers!"

"What about Proof of Reserve?", Alice asks. "Of course", Bob replies, "though rather than publish any blockchain addresses or signed transaction, for privacy we just do a SHA256 refactoring of the inverse hash modulus for each UTXO nonce and combine the smart contract coefficient consensus in our hyperledger lightning node. But it's really simple to use." He pushes a button and a large green checkmark appears on a screen. "See - the algorithm ran through and reserves are proven."
"Wow", Alice says, "you really know your stuff! And that is easy to use! What about fiat balances?" "Yeah, we have an auditor too", Bob replies, "Been using him for a long time so we have quite a strong relationship going! We have special books we give him every year and he's very efficient! Checks the fiat, crypto, and everything all at once!"

"We used to have a nice offline multi-sig setup we've been using without issue for the past 5 years, but I think we'll move all our funds over to your facility," Alice says. "Awesome", Bob replies, "Thanks so much! This is perfect timing too - my Porsche got a dent on it this morning. We have the paperwork right over here." "Great!", Alice replies.
And with that, Alice gets out her pen and Bob gets the contract. "Don't worry", he says, "you can take your crypto-assets back anytime you like - just subject to our cancellation policy. Our annual management fees are also super low and we don't adjust them often".

How many holes have to exist for your funds to get stolen?
Just one.

Why are we taking a powerful offline multi-sig setup, widely used globally in hundreds of different/lacking regulatory environments with 0 breaches to date, and circumventing it by a demonstrably weak third party layer? And paying a great expense to do so?
If you go through the list of breaches in the past 2 years to highly credible organizations, you go through the list of major corporate frauds (only the ones we know about), you go through the list of all the times platforms have lost funds, you go through the list of times and ways that people have lost their crypto from identity theft, hot wallet exploits, extortion, etc... and then you go through this custodian with a fine-tooth comb and truly believe they have value to add far beyond what you could, sticking your funds in a wallet (or set of wallets) they control exclusively is the absolute worst possible way to take advantage of that security.

The best way to add security for crypto-assets is to make a stronger multi-sig. With one custodian, what you are doing is giving them your cryptocurrency and hoping they're honest, competent, and flawlessly secure. It's no different than storing it on a really secure exchange. Maybe the insurance will cover you. Didn't work for Bitpay in 2015. Didn't work for Yapizon in 2017. Insurance has never paid a claim in the entire history of cryptocurrency. But maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe your exact scenario will buck the trend and be what they're willing to cover. After the large deductible and hopefully without a long and expensive court battle.

And you want to advertise this increase in risk, the lapse of judgement, an accident waiting to happen, as though it's some kind of benefit to customers ("Free institutional-grade storage for your digital assets.")? And then some people are writing to the OSC that custodians should be mandatory for all funds on every exchange platform? That this somehow will make Canadians as a whole more secure or better protected compared with standard air-gapped multi-sig? On what planet?

Most of the problems in Canada stemmed from one thing - a lack of transparency. If Canadians had known what a joke Quadriga was - it wouldn't have grown to lose $400m from hard-working Canadians from coast to coast to coast. And Gerald Cotten would be in jail, not wherever he is now (at best, rotting peacefully). EZ-BTC and mister Dave Smilie would have been a tiny little scam to his friends, not a multi-million dollar fraud. Einstein would have got their act together or been shut down BEFORE losing millions and millions more in people's funds generously donated to criminals. MapleChange wouldn't have even been a thing. And maybe we'd know a little more about CoinTradeNewNote - like how much was lost in there. Almost all of the major losses with cryptocurrency exchanges involve deception with unbacked funds.
So it's great to see transparency reports from BitBuy and ShakePay where someone independently verified the backing. The only thing we don't have is:
It's not complicated to validate cryptocurrency assets. They need to exist, they need to be spendable, and they need to cover the total balances. There are plenty of credible people and firms across the country that have the capacity to reasonably perform this validation. Having more frequent checks by different, independent, parties who publish transparent reports is far more valuable than an annual check by a single "more credible/official" party who does the exact same basic checks and may or may not publish anything. Here's an example set of requirements that could be mandated:
There are ways to structure audits such that neither crypto assets nor customer information are ever put at risk, and both can still be properly validated and publicly verifiable. There are also ways to structure audits such that they are completely reasonable for small platforms and don't inhibit innovation in any way. By making the process as reasonable as possible, we can completely eliminate any reason/excuse that an honest platform would have for not being audited. That is arguable far more important than any incremental improvement we might get from mandating "the best of the best" accountants. Right now we have nothing mandated and tons of Canadians using offshore exchanges with no oversight whatsoever.

Transparency does not prove crypto assets are safe. CoinTradeNewNote, Flexcoin ($600k), and Canadian Bitcoins ($100k) are examples where crypto-assets were breached from platforms in Canada. All of them were online wallets and used no multi-sig as far as any records show. This is consistent with what we see globally - air-gapped multi-sig wallets have an impeccable record, while other schemes tend to suffer breach after breach. We don't actually know how much CoinTrader lost because there was no visibility. Rather than publishing details of what happened, the co-founder of CoinTrader silently moved on to found another platform - the "most trusted way to buy and sell crypto" - a site that has no information whatsoever (that I could find) on the storage practices and a FAQ advising that “[t]rading cryptocurrency is completely safe” and that having your own wallet is “entirely up to you! You can certainly keep cryptocurrency, or fiat, or both, on the app.” Doesn't sound like much was learned here, which is really sad to see.
It's not that complicated or unreasonable to set up a proper hardware wallet. Multi-sig can be learned in a single course. Something the equivalent complexity of a driver's license test could prevent all the cold storage exploits we've seen to date - even globally. Platform operators have a key advantage in detecting and preventing fraud - they know their customers far better than any custodian ever would. The best job that custodians can do is to find high integrity individuals and train them to form even better wallet signatories. Rather than mandating that all platforms expose themselves to arbitrary third party risks, regulations should center around ensuring that all signatories are background-checked, properly trained, and using proper procedures. We also need to make sure that signatories are empowered with rights and responsibilities to reject and report fraud. They need to know that they can safely challenge and delay a transaction - even if it turns out they made a mistake. We need to have an environment where mistakes are brought to the surface and dealt with. Not one where firms and people feel the need to hide what happened. In addition to a knowledge-based test, an auditor can privately interview each signatory to make sure they're not in coercive situations, and we should make sure they can freely and anonymously report any issues without threat of retaliation.
A proper multi-sig has each signature held by a separate person and is governed by policies and mutual decisions instead of a hierarchy. It includes at least one redundant signature. For best results, 3of4, 3of5, 3of6, 4of5, 4of6, 4of7, 5of6, or 5of7.

History has demonstrated over and over again the risk of hot wallets even to highly credible organizations. Nonetheless, many platforms have hot wallets for convenience. While such losses are generally compensated by platforms without issue (for example Poloniex, Bitstamp, Bitfinex, Gatecoin, Coincheck, Bithumb, Zaif, CoinBene, Binance, Bitrue, Bitpoint, Upbit, VinDAX, and now KuCoin), the public tends to focus more on cases that didn't end well. Regardless of what systems are employed, there is always some level of risk. For that reason, most members of the public would prefer to see third party insurance.
Rather than trying to convince third party profit-seekers to provide comprehensive insurance and then relying on an expensive and slow legal system to enforce against whatever legal loopholes they manage to find each and every time something goes wrong, insurance could be run through multiple exchange operators and regulators, with the shared interest of having a reputable industry, keeping costs down, and taking care of Canadians. For example, a 4 of 7 multi-sig insurance fund held between 5 independent exchange operators and 2 regulatory bodies. All Canadian exchanges could pay premiums at a set rate based on their needed coverage, with a higher price paid for hot wallet coverage (anything not an air-gapped multi-sig cold wallet). Such a model would be much cheaper to manage, offer better coverage, and be much more reliable to payout when needed. The kind of coverage you could have under this model is unheard of. You could even create something like the CDIC to protect Canadians who get their trading accounts hacked if they can sufficiently prove the loss is legitimate. In cases of fraud, gross negligence, or insolvency, the fund can be used to pay affected users directly (utilizing the last transparent balance report in the worst case), something which private insurance would never touch. While it's recommended to have official policies for coverage, a model where members vote would fully cover edge cases. (Could be similar to the Supreme Court where justices vote based on case law.)
Such a model could fully protect all Canadians across all platforms. You can have a fiat coverage governed by legal agreements, and crypto-asset coverage governed by both multi-sig and legal agreements. It could be practical, affordable, and inclusive.

Now, we are at a crossroads. We can happily give up our freedom, our innovation, and our money. We can pay hefty expenses to auditors, lawyers, and regulators year after year (and make no mistake - this cost will grow to many millions or even billions as the industry grows - and it will be borne by all Canadians on every platform because platforms are not going to eat up these costs at a loss). We can make it nearly impossible for any new platform to enter the marketplace, forcing Canadians to use the same stagnant platforms year after year. We can centralize and consolidate the entire industry into 2 or 3 big players and have everyone else fail (possibly to heavy losses of users of those platforms). And when a flawed security model doesn't work and gets breached, we can make it even more complicated with even more people in suits making big money doing the job that blockchain was supposed to do in the first place. We can build a system which is so intertwined and dependent on big government, traditional finance, and central bankers that it's future depends entirely on that of the fiat system, of fractional banking, and of government bail-outs. If we choose this path, as history has shown us over and over again, we can not go back, save for revolution. Our children and grandchildren will still be paying the consequences of what we decided today.
Or, we can find solutions that work. We can maintain an open and innovative environment while making the adjustments we need to make to fully protect Canadian investors and cryptocurrency users, giving easy and affordable access to cryptocurrency for all Canadians on the platform of their choice, and creating an environment in which entrepreneurs and problem solvers can bring those solutions forward easily. None of the above precludes innovation in any way, or adds any unreasonable cost - and these three policies would demonstrably eliminate or resolve all 109 historic cases as studied here - that's every single case researched so far going back to 2011. It includes every loss that was studied so far not just in Canada but globally as well.
Unfortunately, finding answers is the least challenging part. Far more challenging is to get platform operators and regulators to agree on anything. My last post got no response whatsoever, and while the OSC has told me they're happy for industry feedback, I believe my opinion alone is fairly meaningless. This takes the whole community working together to solve. So please let me know your thoughts. Please take the time to upvote and share this with people. Please - let's get this solved and not leave it up to other people to do.

Facts/background/sources (skip if you like):



Thoughts?
submitted by azoundria2 to QuadrigaInitiative [link] [comments]

Why i’m bullish on Zilliqa (long read)

Edit: TL;DR added in the comments
 
Hey all, I've been researching coins since 2017 and have gone through 100s of them in the last 3 years. I got introduced to blockchain via Bitcoin of course, analyzed Ethereum thereafter and from that moment I have a keen interest in smart contact platforms. I’m passionate about Ethereum but I find Zilliqa to have a better risk-reward ratio. Especially because Zilliqa has found an elegant balance between being secure, decentralized and scalable in my opinion.
 
Below I post my analysis of why from all the coins I went through I’m most bullish on Zilliqa (yes I went through Tezos, EOS, NEO, VeChain, Harmony, Algorand, Cardano etc.). Note that this is not investment advice and although it's a thorough analysis there is obviously some bias involved. Looking forward to what you all think!
 
Fun fact: the name Zilliqa is a play on ‘silica’ silicon dioxide which means “Silicon for the high-throughput consensus computer.”
 
This post is divided into (i) Technology, (ii) Business & Partnerships, and (iii) Marketing & Community. I’ve tried to make the technology part readable for a broad audience. If you’ve ever tried understanding the inner workings of Bitcoin and Ethereum you should be able to grasp most parts. Otherwise, just skim through and once you are zoning out head to the next part.
 
Technology and some more:
 
Introduction
 
The technology is one of the main reasons why I’m so bullish on Zilliqa. First thing you see on their website is: “Zilliqa is a high-performance, high-security blockchain platform for enterprises and next-generation applications.” These are some bold statements.
 
Before we deep dive into the technology let’s take a step back in time first as they have quite the history. The initial research paper from which Zilliqa originated dates back to August 2016: Elastico: A Secure Sharding Protocol For Open Blockchains where Loi Luu (Kyber Network) is one of the co-authors. Other ideas that led to the development of what Zilliqa has become today are: Bitcoin-NG, collective signing CoSi, ByzCoin and Omniledger.
 
The technical white paper was made public in August 2017 and since then they have achieved everything stated in the white paper and also created their own open source intermediate level smart contract language called Scilla (functional programming language similar to OCaml) too.
 
Mainnet is live since the end of January 2019 with daily transaction rates growing continuously. About a week ago mainnet reached 5 million transactions, 500.000+ addresses in total along with 2400 nodes keeping the network decentralized and secure. Circulating supply is nearing 11 billion and currently only mining rewards are left. The maximum supply is 21 billion with annual inflation being 7.13% currently and will only decrease with time.
 
Zilliqa realized early on that the usage of public cryptocurrencies and smart contracts were increasing but decentralized, secure, and scalable alternatives were lacking in the crypto space. They proposed to apply sharding onto a public smart contract blockchain where the transaction rate increases almost linear with the increase in the amount of nodes. More nodes = higher transaction throughput and increased decentralization. Sharding comes in many forms and Zilliqa uses network-, transaction- and computational sharding. Network sharding opens up the possibility of using transaction- and computational sharding on top. Zilliqa does not use state sharding for now. We’ll come back to this later.
 
Before we continue dissecting how Zilliqa achieves such from a technological standpoint it’s good to keep in mind that a blockchain being decentralised and secure and scalable is still one of the main hurdles in allowing widespread usage of decentralised networks. In my opinion this needs to be solved first before blockchains can get to the point where they can create and add large scale value. So I invite you to read the next section to grasp the underlying fundamentals. Because after all these premises need to be true otherwise there isn’t a fundamental case to be bullish on Zilliqa, right?
 
Down the rabbit hole
 
How have they achieved this? Let’s define the basics first: key players on Zilliqa are the users and the miners. A user is anybody who uses the blockchain to transfer funds or run smart contracts. Miners are the (shard) nodes in the network who run the consensus protocol and get rewarded for their service in Zillings (ZIL). The mining network is divided into several smaller networks called shards, which is also referred to as ‘network sharding’. Miners subsequently are randomly assigned to a shard by another set of miners called DS (Directory Service) nodes. The regular shards process transactions and the outputs of these shards are eventually combined by the DS shard as they reach consensus on the final state. More on how these DS shards reach consensus (via pBFT) will be explained later on.
 
The Zilliqa network produces two types of blocks: DS blocks and Tx blocks. One DS Block consists of 100 Tx Blocks. And as previously mentioned there are two types of nodes concerned with reaching consensus: shard nodes and DS nodes. Becoming a shard node or DS node is being defined by the result of a PoW cycle (Ethash) at the beginning of the DS Block. All candidate mining nodes compete with each other and run the PoW (Proof-of-Work) cycle for 60 seconds and the submissions achieving the highest difficulty will be allowed on the network. And to put it in perspective: the average difficulty for one DS node is ~ 2 Th/s equaling 2.000.000 Mh/s or 55 thousand+ GeForce GTX 1070 / 8 GB GPUs at 35.4 Mh/s. Each DS Block 10 new DS nodes are allowed. And a shard node needs to provide around 8.53 GH/s currently (around 240 GTX 1070s). Dual mining ETH/ETC and ZIL is possible and can be done via mining software such as Phoenix and Claymore. There are pools and if you have large amounts of hashing power (Ethash) available you could mine solo.
 
The PoW cycle of 60 seconds is a peak performance and acts as an entry ticket to the network. The entry ticket is called a sybil resistance mechanism and makes it incredibly hard for adversaries to spawn lots of identities and manipulate the network with these identities. And after every 100 Tx Blocks which corresponds to roughly 1,5 hour this PoW process repeats. In between these 1,5 hour, no PoW needs to be done meaning Zilliqa’s energy consumption to keep the network secure is low. For more detailed information on how mining works click here.
Okay, hats off to you. You have made it this far. Before we go any deeper down the rabbit hole we first must understand why Zilliqa goes through all of the above technicalities and understand a bit more what a blockchain on a more fundamental level is. Because the core of Zilliqa’s consensus protocol relies on the usage of pBFT (practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance) we need to know more about state machines and their function. Navigate to Viewblock, a Zilliqa block explorer, and just come back to this article. We will use this site to navigate through a few concepts.
 
We have established that Zilliqa is a public and distributed blockchain. Meaning that everyone with an internet connection can send ZILs, trigger smart contracts, etc. and there is no central authority who fully controls the network. Zilliqa and other public and distributed blockchains (like Bitcoin and Ethereum) can also be defined as state machines.
 
Taking the liberty of paraphrasing examples and definitions given by Samuel Brooks’ medium article, he describes the definition of a blockchain (like Zilliqa) as: “A peer-to-peer, append-only datastore that uses consensus to synchronize cryptographically-secure data”.
 
Next, he states that: "blockchains are fundamentally systems for managing valid state transitions”. For some more context, I recommend reading the whole medium article to get a better grasp of the definitions and understanding of state machines. Nevertheless, let’s try to simplify and compile it into a single paragraph. Take traffic lights as an example: all its states (red, amber, and green) are predefined, all possible outcomes are known and it doesn’t matter if you encounter the traffic light today or tomorrow. It will still behave the same. Managing the states of a traffic light can be done by triggering a sensor on the road or pushing a button resulting in one traffic lights’ state going from green to red (via amber) and another light from red to green.
 
With public blockchains like Zilliqa, this isn’t so straightforward and simple. It started with block #1 almost 1,5 years ago and every 45 seconds or so a new block linked to the previous block is being added. Resulting in a chain of blocks with transactions in it that everyone can verify from block #1 to the current #647.000+ block. The state is ever changing and the states it can find itself in are infinite. And while the traffic light might work together in tandem with various other traffic lights, it’s rather insignificant comparing it to a public blockchain. Because Zilliqa consists of 2400 nodes who need to work together to achieve consensus on what the latest valid state is while some of these nodes may have latency or broadcast issues, drop offline or are deliberately trying to attack the network, etc.
 
Now go back to the Viewblock page take a look at the amount of transaction, addresses, block and DS height and then hit refresh. Obviously as expected you see new incremented values on one or all parameters. And how did the Zilliqa blockchain manage to transition from a previous valid state to the latest valid state? By using pBFT to reach consensus on the latest valid state.
 
After having obtained the entry ticket, miners execute pBFT to reach consensus on the ever-changing state of the blockchain. pBFT requires a series of network communication between nodes, and as such there is no GPU involved (but CPU). Resulting in the total energy consumed to keep the blockchain secure, decentralized and scalable being low.
 
pBFT stands for practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance and is an optimization on the Byzantine Fault Tolerant algorithm. To quote Blockonomi: “In the context of distributed systems, Byzantine Fault Tolerance is the ability of a distributed computer network to function as desired and correctly reach a sufficient consensus despite malicious components (nodes) of the system failing or propagating incorrect information to other peers.” Zilliqa is such a distributed computer network and depends on the honesty of the nodes (shard and DS) to reach consensus and to continuously update the state with the latest block. If pBFT is a new term for you I can highly recommend the Blockonomi article.
 
The idea of pBFT was introduced in 1999 - one of the authors even won a Turing award for it - and it is well researched and applied in various blockchains and distributed systems nowadays. If you want more advanced information than the Blockonomi link provides click here. And if you’re in between Blockonomi and the University of Singapore read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 2 dating from October 2017.
Quoting from the Zilliqa tech whitepaper: “pBFT relies upon a correct leader (which is randomly selected) to begin each phase and proceed when the sufficient majority exists. In case the leader is byzantine it can stall the entire consensus protocol. To address this challenge, pBFT offers a view change protocol to replace the byzantine leader with another one.”
 
pBFT can tolerate ⅓ of the nodes being dishonest (offline counts as Byzantine = dishonest) and the consensus protocol will function without stalling or hiccups. Once there are more than ⅓ of dishonest nodes but no more than ⅔ the network will be stalled and a view change will be triggered to elect a new DS leader. Only when more than ⅔ of the nodes are dishonest (66%) double-spend attacks become possible.
 
If the network stalls no transactions can be processed and one has to wait until a new honest leader has been elected. When the mainnet was just launched and in its early phases, view changes happened regularly. As of today the last stalling of the network - and view change being triggered - was at the end of October 2019.
 
Another benefit of using pBFT for consensus besides low energy is the immediate finality it provides. Once your transaction is included in a block and the block is added to the chain it’s done. Lastly, take a look at this article where three types of finality are being defined: probabilistic, absolute and economic finality. Zilliqa falls under the absolute finality (just like Tendermint for example). Although lengthy already we skipped through some of the inner workings from Zilliqa’s consensus: read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 3 and you will be close to having a complete picture on it. Enough about PoW, sybil resistance mechanism, pBFT, etc. Another thing we haven’t looked at yet is the amount of decentralization.
 
Decentralisation
 
Currently, there are four shards, each one of them consisting of 600 nodes. 1 shard with 600 so-called DS nodes (Directory Service - they need to achieve a higher difficulty than shard nodes) and 1800 shard nodes of which 250 are shard guards (centralized nodes controlled by the team). The amount of shard guards has been steadily declining from 1200 in January 2019 to 250 as of May 2020. On the Viewblock statistics, you can see that many of the nodes are being located in the US but those are only the (CPU parts of the) shard nodes who perform pBFT. There is no data from where the PoW sources are coming. And when the Zilliqa blockchain starts reaching its transaction capacity limit, a network upgrade needs to be executed to lift the current cap of maximum 2400 nodes to allow more nodes and formation of more shards which will allow to network to keep on scaling according to demand.
Besides shard nodes there are also seed nodes. The main role of seed nodes is to serve as direct access points (for end-users and clients) to the core Zilliqa network that validates transactions. Seed nodes consolidate transaction requests and forward these to the lookup nodes (another type of nodes) for distribution to the shards in the network. Seed nodes also maintain the entire transaction history and the global state of the blockchain which is needed to provide services such as block explorers. Seed nodes in the Zilliqa network are comparable to Infura on Ethereum.
 
The seed nodes were first only operated by Zilliqa themselves, exchanges and Viewblock. Operators of seed nodes like exchanges had no incentive to open them for the greater public. They were centralised at first. Decentralisation at the seed nodes level has been steadily rolled out since March 2020 ( Zilliqa Improvement Proposal 3 ). Currently the amount of seed nodes is being increased, they are public-facing and at the same time PoS is applied to incentivize seed node operators and make it possible for ZIL holders to stake and earn passive yields. Important distinction: seed nodes are not involved with consensus! That is still PoW as entry ticket and pBFT for the actual consensus.
 
5% of the block rewards are being assigned to seed nodes (from the beginning in 2019) and those are being used to pay out ZIL stakers. The 5% block rewards with an annual yield of 10.03% translate to roughly 610 MM ZILs in total that can be staked. Exchanges use the custodial variant of staking and wallets like Moonlet will use the non-custodial version (starting in Q3 2020). Staking is being done by sending ZILs to a smart contract created by Zilliqa and audited by Quantstamp.
 
With a high amount of DS; shard nodes and seed nodes becoming more decentralized too, Zilliqa qualifies for the label of decentralized in my opinion.
 
Smart contracts
 
Let me start by saying I’m not a developer and my programming skills are quite limited. So I‘m taking the ELI5 route (maybe 12) but if you are familiar with Javascript, Solidity or specifically OCaml please head straight to Scilla - read the docs to get a good initial grasp of how Zilliqa’s smart contract language Scilla works and if you ask yourself “why another programming language?” check this article. And if you want to play around with some sample contracts in an IDE click here. The faucet can be found here. And more information on architecture, dapp development and API can be found on the Developer Portal.
If you are more into listening and watching: check this recent webinar explaining Zilliqa and Scilla. Link is time-stamped so you’ll start right away with a platform introduction, roadmap 2020 and afterwards a proper Scilla introduction.
 
Generalized: programming languages can be divided into being ‘object-oriented’ or ‘functional’. Here is an ELI5 given by software development academy: * “all programs have two basic components, data – what the program knows – and behavior – what the program can do with that data. So object-oriented programming states that combining data and related behaviors in one place, is called “object”, which makes it easier to understand how a particular program works. On the other hand, functional programming argues that data and behavior are different things and should be separated to ensure their clarity.” *
 
Scilla is on the functional side and shares similarities with OCaml: OCaml is a general-purpose programming language with an emphasis on expressiveness and safety. It has an advanced type system that helps catch your mistakes without getting in your way. It's used in environments where a single mistake can cost millions and speed matters, is supported by an active community, and has a rich set of libraries and development tools. For all its power, OCaml is also pretty simple, which is one reason it's often used as a teaching language.
 
Scilla is blockchain agnostic, can be implemented onto other blockchains as well, is recognized by academics and won a so-called Distinguished Artifact Award award at the end of last year.
 
One of the reasons why the Zilliqa team decided to create their own programming language focused on preventing smart contract vulnerabilities is that adding logic on a blockchain, programming, means that you cannot afford to make mistakes. Otherwise, it could cost you. It’s all great and fun blockchains being immutable but updating your code because you found a bug isn’t the same as with a regular web application for example. And with smart contracts, it inherently involves cryptocurrencies in some form thus value.
 
Another difference with programming languages on a blockchain is gas. Every transaction you do on a smart contract platform like Zilliqa or Ethereum costs gas. With gas you basically pay for computational costs. Sending a ZIL from address A to address B costs 0.001 ZIL currently. Smart contracts are more complex, often involve various functions and require more gas (if gas is a new concept click here ).
 
So with Scilla, similar to Solidity, you need to make sure that “every function in your smart contract will run as expected without hitting gas limits. An improper resource analysis may lead to situations where funds may get stuck simply because a part of the smart contract code cannot be executed due to gas limits. Such constraints are not present in traditional software systems”. Scilla design story part 1
 
Some examples of smart contract issues you’d want to avoid are: leaking funds, ‘unexpected changes to critical state variables’ (example: someone other than you setting his or her address as the owner of the smart contract after creation) or simply killing a contract.
 
Scilla also allows for formal verification. Wikipedia to the rescue: In the context of hardware and software systems, formal verification is the act of proving or disproving the correctness of intended algorithms underlying a system with respect to a certain formal specification or property, using formal methods of mathematics.
 
Formal verification can be helpful in proving the correctness of systems such as: cryptographic protocols, combinational circuits, digital circuits with internal memory, and software expressed as source code.
 
Scilla is being developed hand-in-hand with formalization of its semantics and its embedding into the Coq proof assistant — a state-of-the art tool for mechanized proofs about properties of programs.”
 
Simply put, with Scilla and accompanying tooling developers can be mathematically sure and proof that the smart contract they’ve written does what he or she intends it to do.
 
Smart contract on a sharded environment and state sharding
 
There is one more topic I’d like to touch on: smart contract execution in a sharded environment (and what is the effect of state sharding). This is a complex topic. I’m not able to explain it any easier than what is posted here. But I will try to compress the post into something easy to digest.
 
Earlier on we have established that Zilliqa can process transactions in parallel due to network sharding. This is where the linear scalability comes from. We can define simple transactions: a transaction from address A to B (Category 1), a transaction where a user interacts with one smart contract (Category 2) and the most complex ones where triggering a transaction results in multiple smart contracts being involved (Category 3). The shards are able to process transactions on their own without interference of the other shards. With Category 1 transactions that is doable, with Category 2 transactions sometimes if that address is in the same shard as the smart contract but with Category 3 you definitely need communication between the shards. Solving that requires to make a set of communication rules the protocol needs to follow in order to process all transactions in a generalised fashion.
 
And this is where the downsides of state sharding comes in currently. All shards in Zilliqa have access to the complete state. Yes the state size (0.1 GB at the moment) grows and all of the nodes need to store it but it also means that they don’t need to shop around for information available on other shards. Requiring more communication and adding more complexity. Computer science knowledge and/or developer knowledge required links if you want to dig further: Scilla - language grammar Scilla - Foundations for Verifiable Decentralised Computations on a Blockchain Gas Accounting NUS x Zilliqa: Smart contract language workshop
 
Easier to follow links on programming Scilla https://learnscilla.com/home Ivan on Tech
 
Roadmap / Zilliqa 2.0
 
There is no strict defined roadmap but here are topics being worked on. And via the Zilliqa website there is also more information on the projects they are working on.
 
Business & Partnerships
 
It’s not only technology in which Zilliqa seems to be excelling as their ecosystem has been expanding and starting to grow rapidly. The project is on a mission to provide OpenFinance (OpFi) to the world and Singapore is the right place to be due to its progressive regulations and futuristic thinking. Singapore has taken a proactive approach towards cryptocurrencies by introducing the Payment Services Act 2019 (PS Act). Among other things, the PS Act will regulate intermediaries dealing with certain cryptocurrencies, with a particular focus on consumer protection and anti-money laundering. It will also provide a stable regulatory licensing and operating framework for cryptocurrency entities, effectively covering all crypto businesses and exchanges based in Singapore. According to PWC 82% of the surveyed executives in Singapore reported blockchain initiatives underway and 13% of them have already brought the initiatives live to the market. There is also an increasing list of organizations that are starting to provide digital payment services. Moreover, Singaporean blockchain developers Building Cities Beyond has recently created an innovation $15 million grant to encourage development on its ecosystem. This all suggests that Singapore tries to position itself as (one of) the leading blockchain hubs in the world.
 
Zilliqa seems to already take advantage of this and recently helped launch Hg Exchange on their platform, together with financial institutions PhillipCapital, PrimePartners and Fundnel. Hg Exchange, which is now approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), uses smart contracts to represent digital assets. Through Hg Exchange financial institutions worldwide can use Zilliqa's safe-by-design smart contracts to enable the trading of private equities. For example, think of companies such as Grab, Airbnb, SpaceX that are not available for public trading right now. Hg Exchange will allow investors to buy shares of private companies & unicorns and capture their value before an IPO. Anquan, the main company behind Zilliqa, has also recently announced that they became a partner and shareholder in TEN31 Bank, which is a fully regulated bank allowing for tokenization of assets and is aiming to bridge the gap between conventional banking and the blockchain world. If STOs, the tokenization of assets, and equity trading will continue to increase, then Zilliqa’s public blockchain would be the ideal candidate due to its strategic positioning, partnerships, regulatory compliance and the technology that is being built on top of it.
 
What is also very encouraging is their focus on banking the un(der)banked. They are launching a stablecoin basket starting with XSGD. As many of you know, stablecoins are currently mostly used for trading. However, Zilliqa is actively trying to broaden the use case of stablecoins. I recommend everybody to read this text that Amrit Kumar wrote (one of the co-founders). These stablecoins will be integrated in the traditional markets and bridge the gap between the crypto world and the traditional world. This could potentially revolutionize and legitimise the crypto space if retailers and companies will for example start to use stablecoins for payments or remittances, instead of it solely being used for trading.
 
Zilliqa also released their DeFi strategic roadmap (dating November 2019) which seems to be aligning well with their OpFi strategy. A non-custodial DEX is coming to Zilliqa made by Switcheo which allows cross-chain trading (atomic swaps) between ETH, EOS and ZIL based tokens. They also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a (soon to be announced) USD stablecoin. And as Zilliqa is all about regulations and being compliant, I’m speculating on it to be a regulated USD stablecoin. Furthermore, XSGD is already created and visible on block explorer and XIDR (Indonesian Stablecoin) is also coming soon via StraitsX. Here also an overview of the Tech Stack for Financial Applications from September 2019. Further quoting Amrit Kumar on this:
 
There are two basic building blocks in DeFi/OpFi though: 1) stablecoins as you need a non-volatile currency to get access to this market and 2) a dex to be able to trade all these financial assets. The rest are built on top of these blocks.
 
So far, together with our partners and community, we have worked on developing these building blocks with XSGD as a stablecoin. We are working on bringing a USD-backed stablecoin as well. We will soon have a decentralised exchange developed by Switcheo. And with HGX going live, we are also venturing into the tokenization space. More to come in the future.”
 
Additionally, they also have this ZILHive initiative that injects capital into projects. There have been already 6 waves of various teams working on infrastructure, innovation and research, and they are not from ASEAN or Singapore only but global: see Grantees breakdown by country. Over 60 project teams from over 20 countries have contributed to Zilliqa's ecosystem. This includes individuals and teams developing wallets, explorers, developer toolkits, smart contract testing frameworks, dapps, etc. As some of you may know, Unstoppable Domains (UD) blew up when they launched on Zilliqa. UD aims to replace cryptocurrency addresses with a human-readable name and allows for uncensorable websites. Zilliqa will probably be the only one able to handle all these transactions onchain due to ability to scale and its resulting low fees which is why the UD team launched this on Zilliqa in the first place. Furthermore, Zilliqa also has a strong emphasis on security, compliance, and privacy, which is why they partnered with companies like Elliptic, ChainSecurity (part of PwC Switzerland), and Incognito. Their sister company Aqilliz (Zilliqa spelled backwards) focuses on revolutionizing the digital advertising space and is doing interesting things like using Zilliqa to track outdoor digital ads with companies like Foodpanda.
 
Zilliqa is listed on nearly all major exchanges, having several different fiat-gateways and recently have been added to Binance’s margin trading and futures trading with really good volume. They also have a very impressive team with good credentials and experience. They don't just have “tech people”. They have a mix of tech people, business people, marketeers, scientists, and more. Naturally, it's good to have a mix of people with different skill sets if you work in the crypto space.
 
Marketing & Community
 
Zilliqa has a very strong community. If you just follow their Twitter their engagement is much higher for a coin that has approximately 80k followers. They also have been ‘coin of the day’ by LunarCrush many times. LunarCrush tracks real-time cryptocurrency value and social data. According to their data, it seems Zilliqa has a more fundamental and deeper understanding of marketing and community engagement than almost all other coins. While almost all coins have been a bit frozen in the last months, Zilliqa seems to be on its own bull run. It was somewhere in the 100s a few months ago and is currently ranked #46 on CoinGecko. Their official Telegram also has over 20k people and is very active, and their community channel which is over 7k now is more active and larger than many other official channels. Their local communities also seem to be growing.
 
Moreover, their community started ‘Zillacracy’ together with the Zilliqa core team ( see www.zillacracy.com ). It’s a community-run initiative where people from all over the world are now helping with marketing and development on Zilliqa. Since its launch in February 2020 they have been doing a lot and will also run their own non-custodial seed node for staking. This seed node will also allow them to start generating revenue for them to become a self sustaining entity that could potentially scale up to become a decentralized company working in parallel with the Zilliqa core team. Comparing it to all the other smart contract platforms (e.g. Cardano, EOS, Tezos etc.) they don't seem to have started a similar initiative (correct me if I’m wrong though). This suggests in my opinion that these other smart contract platforms do not fully understand how to utilize the ‘power of the community’. This is something you cannot ‘buy with money’ and gives many projects in the space a disadvantage.
 
Zilliqa also released two social products called SocialPay and Zeeves. SocialPay allows users to earn ZILs while tweeting with a specific hashtag. They have recently used it in partnership with the Singapore Red Cross for a marketing campaign after their initial pilot program. It seems like a very valuable social product with a good use case. I can see a lot of traditional companies entering the space through this product, which they seem to suggest will happen. Tokenizing hashtags with smart contracts to get network effect is a very smart and innovative idea.
 
Regarding Zeeves, this is a tipping bot for Telegram. They already have 1000s of signups and they plan to keep upgrading it for more and more people to use it (e.g. they recently have added a quiz features). They also use it during AMAs to reward people in real-time. It’s a very smart approach to grow their communities and get familiar with ZIL. I can see this becoming very big on Telegram. This tool suggests, again, that the Zilliqa team has a deeper understanding of what the crypto space and community needs and is good at finding the right innovative tools to grow and scale.
 
To be honest, I haven’t covered everything (i’m also reaching the character limited haha). So many updates happening lately that it's hard to keep up, such as the International Monetary Fund mentioning Zilliqa in their report, custodial and non-custodial Staking, Binance Margin, Futures, Widget, entering the Indian market, and more. The Head of Marketing Colin Miles has also released this as an overview of what is coming next. And last but not least, Vitalik Buterin has been mentioning Zilliqa lately acknowledging Zilliqa and mentioning that both projects have a lot of room to grow. There is much more info of course and a good part of it has been served to you on a silver platter. I invite you to continue researching by yourself :-) And if you have any comments or questions please post here!
submitted by haveyouheardaboutit to CryptoCurrency [link] [comments]

Why i’m bullish on Zilliqa (long read)

Hey all, I've been researching coins since 2017 and have gone through 100s of them in the last 3 years. I got introduced to blockchain via Bitcoin of course, analysed Ethereum thereafter and from that moment I have a keen interest in smart contact platforms. I’m passionate about Ethereum but I find Zilliqa to have a better risk reward ratio. Especially because Zilliqa has found an elegant balance between being secure, decentralised and scalable in my opinion.
 
Below I post my analysis why from all the coins I went through I’m most bullish on Zilliqa (yes I went through Tezos, EOS, NEO, VeChain, Harmony, Algorand, Cardano etc.). Note that this is not investment advice and although it's a thorough analysis there is obviously some bias involved. Looking forward to what you all think!
 
Fun fact: the name Zilliqa is a play on ‘silica’ silicon dioxide which means “Silicon for the high-throughput consensus computer.”
 
This post is divided into (i) Technology, (ii) Business & Partnerships, and (iii) Marketing & Community. I’ve tried to make the technology part readable for a broad audience. If you’ve ever tried understanding the inner workings of Bitcoin and Ethereum you should be able to grasp most parts. Otherwise just skim through and once you are zoning out head to the next part.
 
Technology and some more:
 
Introduction The technology is one of the main reasons why I’m so bullish on Zilliqa. First thing you see on their website is: “Zilliqa is a high-performance, high-security blockchain platform for enterprises and next-generation applications.” These are some bold statements.
 
Before we deep dive into the technology let’s take a step back in time first as they have quite the history. The initial research paper from which Zilliqa originated dates back to August 2016: Elastico: A Secure Sharding Protocol For Open Blockchains where Loi Luu (Kyber Network) is one of the co-authors. Other ideas that led to the development of what Zilliqa has become today are: Bitcoin-NG, collective signing CoSi, ByzCoin and Omniledger.
 
The technical white paper was made public in August 2017 and since then they have achieved everything stated in the white paper and also created their own open source intermediate level smart contract language called Scilla (functional programming language similar to OCaml) too.
 
Mainnet is live since end of January 2019 with daily transaction rate growing continuously. About a week ago mainnet reached 5 million transactions, 500.000+ addresses in total along with 2400 nodes keeping the network decentralised and secure. Circulating supply is nearing 11 billion and currently only mining rewards are left. Maximum supply is 21 billion with annual inflation being 7.13% currently and will only decrease with time.
 
Zilliqa realised early on that the usage of public cryptocurrencies and smart contracts were increasing but decentralised, secure and scalable alternatives were lacking in the crypto space. They proposed to apply sharding onto a public smart contract blockchain where the transaction rate increases almost linear with the increase in amount of nodes. More nodes = higher transaction throughput and increased decentralisation. Sharding comes in many forms and Zilliqa uses network-, transaction- and computational sharding. Network sharding opens up the possibility of using transaction- and computational sharding on top. Zilliqa does not use state sharding for now. We’ll come back to this later.
 
Before we continue disecting how Zilliqa achieves such from a technological standpoint it’s good to keep in mind that a blockchain being decentralised and secure and scalable is still one of the main hurdles in allowing widespread usage of decentralised networks. In my opinion this needs to be solved first before blockchains can get to the point where they can create and add large scale value. So I invite you to read the next section to grasp the underlying fundamentals. Because after all these premises need to be true otherwise there isn’t a fundamental case to be bullish on Zilliqa, right?
 
Down the rabbit hole
 
How have they achieved this? Let’s define the basics first: key players on Zilliqa are the users and the miners. A user is anybody who uses the blockchain to transfer funds or run smart contracts. Miners are the (shard) nodes in the network who run the consensus protocol and get rewarded for their service in Zillings (ZIL). The mining network is divided into several smaller networks called shards, which is also referred to as ‘network sharding’. Miners subsequently are randomly assigned to a shard by another set of miners called DS (Directory Service) nodes. The regular shards process transactions and the outputs of these shards are eventually combined by the DS shard as they reach consensus on the final state. More on how these DS shards reach consensus (via pBFT) will be explained later on.
 
The Zilliqa network produces two types of blocks: DS blocks and Tx blocks. One DS Block consists of 100 Tx Blocks. And as previously mentioned there are two types of nodes concerned with reaching consensus: shard nodes and DS nodes. Becoming a shard node or DS node is being defined by the result of a PoW cycle (Ethash) at the beginning of the DS Block. All candidate mining nodes compete with each other and run the PoW (Proof-of-Work) cycle for 60 seconds and the submissions achieving the highest difficulty will be allowed on the network. And to put it in perspective: the average difficulty for one DS node is ~ 2 Th/s equaling 2.000.000 Mh/s or 55 thousand+ GeForce GTX 1070 / 8 GB GPUs at 35.4 Mh/s. Each DS Block 10 new DS nodes are allowed. And a shard node needs to provide around 8.53 GH/s currently (around 240 GTX 1070s). Dual mining ETH/ETC and ZIL is possible and can be done via mining software such as Phoenix and Claymore. There are pools and if you have large amounts of hashing power (Ethash) available you could mine solo.
 
The PoW cycle of 60 seconds is a peak performance and acts as an entry ticket to the network. The entry ticket is called a sybil resistance mechanism and makes it incredibly hard for adversaries to spawn lots of identities and manipulate the network with these identities. And after every 100 Tx Blocks which corresponds to roughly 1,5 hour this PoW process repeats. In between these 1,5 hour no PoW needs to be done meaning Zilliqa’s energy consumption to keep the network secure is low. For more detailed information on how mining works click here.
Okay, hats off to you. You have made it this far. Before we go any deeper down the rabbit hole we first must understand why Zilliqa goes through all of the above technicalities and understand a bit more what a blockchain on a more fundamental level is. Because the core of Zilliqa’s consensus protocol relies on the usage of pBFT (practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance) we need to know more about state machines and their function. Navigate to Viewblock, a Zilliqa block explorer, and just come back to this article. We will use this site to navigate through a few concepts.
 
We have established that Zilliqa is a public and distributed blockchain. Meaning that everyone with an internet connection can send ZILs, trigger smart contracts etc. and there is no central authority who fully controls the network. Zilliqa and other public and distributed blockchains (like Bitcoin and Ethereum) can also be defined as state machines.
 
Taking the liberty of paraphrasing examples and definitions given by Samuel Brooks’ medium article, he describes the definition of a blockchain (like Zilliqa) as:
“A peer-to-peer, append-only datastore that uses consensus to synchronise cryptographically-secure data”.
 
Next he states that: >“blockchains are fundamentally systems for managing valid state transitions”.* For some more context, I recommend reading the whole medium article to get a better grasp of the definitions and understanding of state machines. Nevertheless, let’s try to simplify and compile it into a single paragraph. Take traffic lights as an example: all its states (red, amber and green) are predefined, all possible outcomes are known and it doesn’t matter if you encounter the traffic light today or tomorrow. It will still behave the same. Managing the states of a traffic light can be done by triggering a sensor on the road or pushing a button resulting in one traffic lights’ state going from green to red (via amber) and another light from red to green.
 
With public blockchains like Zilliqa this isn’t so straightforward and simple. It started with block #1 almost 1,5 years ago and every 45 seconds or so a new block linked to the previous block is being added. Resulting in a chain of blocks with transactions in it that everyone can verify from block #1 to the current #647.000+ block. The state is ever changing and the states it can find itself in are infinite. And while the traffic light might work together in tandem with various other traffic lights, it’s rather insignificant comparing it to a public blockchain. Because Zilliqa consists of 2400 nodes who need to work together to achieve consensus on what the latest valid state is while some of these nodes may have latency or broadcast issues, drop offline or are deliberately trying to attack the network etc.
 
Now go back to the Viewblock page take a look at the amount of transaction, addresses, block and DS height and then hit refresh. Obviously as expected you see new incremented values on one or all parameters. And how did the Zilliqa blockchain manage to transition from a previous valid state to the latest valid state? By using pBFT to reach consensus on the latest valid state.
 
After having obtained the entry ticket, miners execute pBFT to reach consensus on the ever changing state of the blockchain. pBFT requires a series of network communication between nodes, and as such there is no GPU involved (but CPU). Resulting in the total energy consumed to keep the blockchain secure, decentralised and scalable being low.
 
pBFT stands for practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance and is an optimisation on the Byzantine Fault Tolerant algorithm. To quote Blockonomi: “In the context of distributed systems, Byzantine Fault Tolerance is the ability of a distributed computer network to function as desired and correctly reach a sufficient consensus despite malicious components (nodes) of the system failing or propagating incorrect information to other peers.” Zilliqa is such a distributed computer network and depends on the honesty of the nodes (shard and DS) to reach consensus and to continuously update the state with the latest block. If pBFT is a new term for you I can highly recommend the Blockonomi article.
 
The idea of pBFT was introduced in 1999 - one of the authors even won a Turing award for it - and it is well researched and applied in various blockchains and distributed systems nowadays. If you want more advanced information than the Blockonomi link provides click here. And if you’re in between Blockonomi and University of Singapore read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 2 dating from October 2017.
Quoting from the Zilliqa tech whitepaper: “pBFT relies upon a correct leader (which is randomly selected) to begin each phase and proceed when the sufficient majority exists. In case the leader is byzantine it can stall the entire consensus protocol. To address this challenge, pBFT offers a view change protocol to replace the byzantine leader with another one.”
 
pBFT can tolerate ⅓ of the nodes being dishonest (offline counts as Byzantine = dishonest) and the consensus protocol will function without stalling or hiccups. Once there are more than ⅓ of dishonest nodes but no more than ⅔ the network will be stalled and a view change will be triggered to elect a new DS leader. Only when more than ⅔ of the nodes are dishonest (>66%) double spend attacks become possible.
 
If the network stalls no transactions can be processed and one has to wait until a new honest leader has been elected. When the mainnet was just launched and in its early phases, view changes happened regularly. As of today the last stalling of the network - and view change being triggered - was at the end of October 2019.
 
Another benefit of using pBFT for consensus besides low energy is the immediate finality it provides. Once your transaction is included in a block and the block is added to the chain it’s done. Lastly, take a look at this article where three types of finality are being defined: probabilistic, absolute and economic finality. Zilliqa falls under the absolute finality (just like Tendermint for example). Although lengthy already we skipped through some of the inner workings from Zilliqa’s consensus: read the Zilliqa Design Story Part 3 and you will be close to having a complete picture on it. Enough about PoW, sybil resistance mechanism, pBFT etc. Another thing we haven’t looked at yet is the amount of decentralisation.
 
Decentralisation
 
Currently there are four shards, each one of them consisting of 600 nodes. 1 shard with 600 so called DS nodes (Directory Service - they need to achieve a higher difficulty than shard nodes) and 1800 shard nodes of which 250 are shard guards (centralised nodes controlled by the team). The amount of shard guards has been steadily declining from 1200 in January 2019 to 250 as of May 2020. On the Viewblock statistics you can see that many of the nodes are being located in the US but those are only the (CPU parts of the) shard nodes who perform pBFT. There is no data from where the PoW sources are coming. And when the Zilliqa blockchain starts reaching their transaction capacity limit, a network upgrade needs to be executed to lift the current cap of maximum 2400 nodes to allow more nodes and formation of more shards which will allow to network to keep on scaling according to demand.
Besides shard nodes there are also seed nodes. The main role of seed nodes is to serve as direct access points (for end users and clients) to the core Zilliqa network that validates transactions. Seed nodes consolidate transaction requests and forward these to the lookup nodes (another type of nodes) for distribution to the shards in the network. Seed nodes also maintain the entire transaction history and the global state of the blockchain which is needed to provide services such as block explorers. Seed nodes in the Zilliqa network are comparable to Infura on Ethereum.
 
The seed nodes were first only operated by Zilliqa themselves, exchanges and Viewblock. Operators of seed nodes like exchanges had no incentive to open them for the greater public.They were centralised at first. Decentralisation at the seed nodes level has been steadily rolled out since March 2020 ( Zilliqa Improvement Proposal 3 ). Currently the amount of seed nodes is being increased, they are public facing and at the same time PoS is applied to incentivize seed node operators and make it possible for ZIL holders to stake and earn passive yields. Important distinction: seed nodes are not involved with consensus! That is still PoW as entry ticket and pBFT for the actual consensus.
 
5% of the block rewards are being assigned to seed nodes (from the beginning in 2019) and those are being used to pay out ZIL stakers.The 5% block rewards with an annual yield of 10.03% translates to roughly 610 MM ZILs in total that can be staked. Exchanges use the custodial variant of staking and wallets like Moonlet will use the non custodial version (starting in Q3 2020). Staking is being done by sending ZILs to a smart contract created by Zilliqa and audited by Quantstamp.
 
With a high amount of DS & shard nodes and seed nodes becoming more decentralised too, Zilliqa qualifies for the label of decentralised in my opinion.
 
Smart contracts
 
Let me start by saying I’m not a developer and my programming skills are quite limited. So I‘m taking the ELI5 route (maybe 12) but if you are familiar with Javascript, Solidity or specifically OCaml please head straight to Scilla - read the docs to get a good initial grasp of how Zilliqa’s smart contract language Scilla works and if you ask yourself “why another programming language?” check this article. And if you want to play around with some sample contracts in an IDE click here. Faucet can be found here. And more information on architecture, dapp development and API can be found on the Developer Portal.
If you are more into listening and watching: check this recent webinar explaining Zilliqa and Scilla. Link is time stamped so you’ll start right away with a platform introduction, R&D roadmap 2020 and afterwards a proper Scilla introduction.
 
Generalised: programming languages can be divided into being ‘object oriented’ or ‘functional’. Here is an ELI5 given by software development academy: > “all programmes have two basic components, data – what the programme knows – and behaviour – what the programme can do with that data. So object-oriented programming states that combining data and related behaviours in one place, is called “object”, which makes it easier to understand how a particular program works. On the other hand, functional programming argues that data and behaviour are different things and should be separated to ensure their clarity.”
 
Scilla is on the functional side and shares similarities with OCaml: > OCaml is a general purpose programming language with an emphasis on expressiveness and safety. It has an advanced type system that helps catch your mistakes without getting in your way. It's used in environments where a single mistake can cost millions and speed matters, is supported by an active community, and has a rich set of libraries and development tools. For all its power, OCaml is also pretty simple, which is one reason it's often used as a teaching language.
 
Scilla is blockchain agnostic, can be implemented onto other blockchains as well, is recognised by academics and won a so called Distinguished Artifact Award award at the end of last year.
 
One of the reasons why the Zilliqa team decided to create their own programming language focused on preventing smart contract vulnerabilities safety is that adding logic on a blockchain, programming, means that you cannot afford to make mistakes. Otherwise it could cost you. It’s all great and fun blockchains being immutable but updating your code because you found a bug isn’t the same as with a regular web application for example. And with smart contracts it inherently involves cryptocurrencies in some form thus value.
 
Another difference with programming languages on a blockchain is gas. Every transaction you do on a smart contract platform like Zilliqa for Ethereum costs gas. With gas you basically pay for computational costs. Sending a ZIL from address A to address B costs 0.001 ZIL currently. Smart contracts are more complex, often involve various functions and require more gas (if gas is a new concept click here ).
 
So with Scilla, similar to Solidity, you need to make sure that “every function in your smart contract will run as expected without hitting gas limits. An improper resource analysis may lead to situations where funds may get stuck simply because a part of the smart contract code cannot be executed due to gas limits. Such constraints are not present in traditional software systems”. Scilla design story part 1
 
Some examples of smart contract issues you’d want to avoid are: leaking funds, ‘unexpected changes to critical state variables’ (example: someone other than you setting his or her address as the owner of the smart contract after creation) or simply killing a contract.
 
Scilla also allows for formal verification. Wikipedia to the rescue:
In the context of hardware and software systems, formal verification is the act of proving or disproving the correctness of intended algorithms underlying a system with respect to a certain formal specification or property, using formal methods of mathematics.
 
Formal verification can be helpful in proving the correctness of systems such as: cryptographic protocols, combinational circuits, digital circuits with internal memory, and software expressed as source code.
 
Scilla is being developed hand-in-hand with formalization of its semantics and its embedding into the Coq proof assistant — a state-of-the art tool for mechanized proofs about properties of programs.”
 
Simply put, with Scilla and accompanying tooling developers can be mathematically sure and proof that the smart contract they’ve written does what he or she intends it to do.
 
Smart contract on a sharded environment and state sharding
 
There is one more topic I’d like to touch on: smart contract execution in a sharded environment (and what is the effect of state sharding). This is a complex topic. I’m not able to explain it any easier than what is posted here. But I will try to compress the post into something easy to digest.
 
Earlier on we have established that Zilliqa can process transactions in parallel due to network sharding. This is where the linear scalability comes from. We can define simple transactions: a transaction from address A to B (Category 1), a transaction where a user interacts with one smart contract (Category 2) and the most complex ones where triggering a transaction results in multiple smart contracts being involved (Category 3). The shards are able to process transactions on their own without interference of the other shards. With Category 1 transactions that is doable, with Category 2 transactions sometimes if that address is in the same shard as the smart contract but with Category 3 you definitely need communication between the shards. Solving that requires to make a set of communication rules the protocol needs to follow in order to process all transactions in a generalised fashion.
 
And this is where the downsides of state sharding comes in currently. All shards in Zilliqa have access to the complete state. Yes the state size (0.1 GB at the moment) grows and all of the nodes need to store it but it also means that they don’t need to shop around for information available on other shards. Requiring more communication and adding more complexity. Computer science knowledge and/or developer knowledge required links if you want to dig further: Scilla - language grammar Scilla - Foundations for Verifiable Decentralised Computations on a Blockchain Gas Accounting NUS x Zilliqa: Smart contract language workshop
 
Easier to follow links on programming Scilla https://learnscilla.com/home Ivan on Tech
 
Roadmap / Zilliqa 2.0
 
There is no strict defined roadmap but here are topics being worked on. And via the Zilliqa website there is also more information on the projects they are working on.
 
Business & Partnerships  
It’s not only technology in which Zilliqa seems to be excelling as their ecosystem has been expanding and starting to grow rapidly. The project is on a mission to provide OpenFinance (OpFi) to the world and Singapore is the right place to be due to its progressive regulations and futuristic thinking. Singapore has taken a proactive approach towards cryptocurrencies by introducing the Payment Services Act 2019 (PS Act). Among other things, the PS Act will regulate intermediaries dealing with certain cryptocurrencies, with a particular focus on consumer protection and anti-money laundering. It will also provide a stable regulatory licensing and operating framework for cryptocurrency entities, effectively covering all crypto businesses and exchanges based in Singapore. According to PWC 82% of the surveyed executives in Singapore reported blockchain initiatives underway and 13% of them have already brought the initiatives live to the market. There is also an increasing list of organisations that are starting to provide digital payment services. Moreover, Singaporean blockchain developers Building Cities Beyond has recently created an innovation $15 million grant to encourage development on its ecosystem. This all suggest that Singapore tries to position itself as (one of) the leading blockchain hubs in the world.
 
Zilliqa seems to already taking advantage of this and recently helped launch Hg Exchange on their platform, together with financial institutions PhillipCapital, PrimePartners and Fundnel. Hg Exchange, which is now approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), uses smart contracts to represent digital assets. Through Hg Exchange financial institutions worldwide can use Zilliqa's safe-by-design smart contracts to enable the trading of private equities. For example, think of companies such as Grab, AirBnB, SpaceX that are not available for public trading right now. Hg Exchange will allow investors to buy shares of private companies & unicorns and capture their value before an IPO. Anquan, the main company behind Zilliqa, has also recently announced that they became a partner and shareholder in TEN31 Bank, which is a fully regulated bank allowing for tokenization of assets and is aiming to bridge the gap between conventional banking and the blockchain world. If STOs, the tokenization of assets, and equity trading will continue to increase, then Zilliqa’s public blockchain would be the ideal candidate due to its strategic positioning, partnerships, regulatory compliance and the technology that is being built on top of it.
 
What is also very encouraging is their focus on banking the un(der)banked. They are launching a stablecoin basket starting with XSGD. As many of you know, stablecoins are currently mostly used for trading. However, Zilliqa is actively trying to broaden the use case of stablecoins. I recommend everybody to read this text that Amrit Kumar wrote (one of the co-founders). These stablecoins will be integrated in the traditional markets and bridge the gap between the crypto world and the traditional world. This could potentially revolutionize and legitimise the crypto space if retailers and companies will for example start to use stablecoins for payments or remittances, instead of it solely being used for trading.
 
Zilliqa also released their DeFi strategic roadmap (dating November 2019) which seems to be aligning well with their OpFi strategy. A non-custodial DEX is coming to Zilliqa made by Switcheo which allows cross-chain trading (atomic swaps) between ETH, EOS and ZIL based tokens. They also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a (soon to be announced) USD stablecoin. And as Zilliqa is all about regulations and being compliant, I’m speculating on it to be a regulated USD stablecoin. Furthermore, XSGD is already created and visible on block explorer and XIDR (Indonesian Stablecoin) is also coming soon via StraitsX. Here also an overview of the Tech Stack for Financial Applications from September 2019. Further quoting Amrit Kumar on this:
 
There are two basic building blocks in DeFi/OpFi though: 1) stablecoins as you need a non-volatile currency to get access to this market and 2) a dex to be able to trade all these financial assets. The rest are build on top of these blocks.
 
So far, together with our partners and community, we have worked on developing these building blocks with XSGD as a stablecoin. We are working on bringing a USD-backed stablecoin as well. We will soon have a decentralised exchange developed by Switcheo. And with HGX going live, we are also venturing into the tokenization space. More to come in the future.”*
 
Additionally, they also have this ZILHive initiative that injects capital into projects. There have been already 6 waves of various teams working on infrastructure, innovation and research, and they are not from ASEAN or Singapore only but global: see Grantees breakdown by country. Over 60 project teams from over 20 countries have contributed to Zilliqa's ecosystem. This includes individuals and teams developing wallets, explorers, developer toolkits, smart contract testing frameworks, dapps, etc. As some of you may know, Unstoppable Domains (UD) blew up when they launched on Zilliqa. UD aims to replace cryptocurrency addresses with a human readable name and allows for uncensorable websites. Zilliqa will probably be the only one able to handle all these transactions onchain due to ability to scale and its resulting low fees which is why the UD team launched this on Zilliqa in the first place. Furthermore, Zilliqa also has a strong emphasis on security, compliance, and privacy, which is why they partnered with companies like Elliptic, ChainSecurity (part of PwC Switzerland), and Incognito. Their sister company Aqilliz (Zilliqa spelled backwards) focuses on revolutionizing the digital advertising space and is doing interesting things like using Zilliqa to track outdoor digital ads with companies like Foodpanda.
 
Zilliqa is listed on nearly all major exchanges, having several different fiat-gateways and recently have been added to Binance’s margin trading and futures trading with really good volume. They also have a very impressive team with good credentials and experience. They dont just have “tech people”. They have a mix of tech people, business people, marketeers, scientists, and more. Naturally, it's good to have a mix of people with different skill sets if you work in the crypto space.
 
Marketing & Community
 
Zilliqa has a very strong community. If you just follow their Twitter their engagement is much higher for a coin that has approximately 80k followers. They also have been ‘coin of the day’ by LunarCrush many times. LunarCrush tracks real-time cryptocurrency value and social data. According to their data it seems Zilliqa has a more fundamental and deeper understanding of marketing and community engagement than almost all other coins. While almost all coins have been a bit frozen in the last months, Zilliqa seems to be on its own bull run. It was somewhere in the 100s a few months ago and is currently ranked #46 on CoinGecko. Their official Telegram also has over 20k people and is very active, and their community channel which is over 7k now is more active and larger than many other official channels. Their local communities) also seem to be growing.
 
Moreover, their community started ‘Zillacracy’ together with the Zilliqa core team ( see www.zillacracy.com ). It’s a community run initiative where people from all over the world are now helping with marketing and development on Zilliqa. Since its launch in February 2020 they have been doing a lot and will also run their own non custodial seed node for staking. This seed node will also allow them to start generating revenue for them to become a self sustaining entity that could potentially scale up to become a decentralized company working in parallel with the Zilliqa core team. Comparing it to all the other smart contract platforms (e.g. Cardano, EOS, Tezos etc.) they don't seem to have started a similar initiatives (correct me if I’m wrong though). This suggest in my opinion that these other smart contract platforms do not fully understand how to utilize the ‘power of the community’. This is something you cannot ‘buy with money’ and gives many projects in the space a disadvantage.
 
Zilliqa also released two social products called SocialPay and Zeeves. SocialPay allows users to earn ZILs while tweeting with a specific hashtag. They have recently used it in partnership with the Singapore Red Cross for a marketing campaign after their initial pilot program. It seems like a very valuable social product with a good use case. I can see a lot of traditional companies entering the space through this product, which they seem to suggest will happen. Tokenizing hashtags with smart contracts to get network effect is a very smart and innovative idea.
 
Regarding Zeeves, this is a tipping bot for Telegram. They already have 1000s of signups and they plan to keep upgrading it for more and more people to use it (e.g. they recently have added a quiz features). They also use it during AMAs to reward people in real time. It’s a very smart approach to grow their communities and get familiar with ZIL. I can see this becoming very big on Telegram. This tool suggests, again, that the Zilliqa team has a deeper understanding what the crypto space and community needs and is good at finding the right innovative tools to grow and scale.
 
To be honest, I haven’t covered everything (i’m also reaching the character limited haha). So many updates happening lately that it's hard to keep up, such as the International Monetary Fund mentioning Zilliqa in their report, custodial and non-custodial Staking, Binance Margin, Futures & Widget, entering the Indian market, and more. The Head of Marketing Colin Miles has also released this as an overview of what is coming next. And last but not least, Vitalik Buterin has been mentioning Zilliqa lately acknowledging Zilliqa and mentioning that both projects have a lot of room to grow. There is much more info of course and a good part of it has been served to you on a silver platter. I invite you to continue researching by yourself :-) And if you have any comments or questions please post here!
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Crypto-Powered - The Most Promising Use-Cases of Decentralized Finance (DeFi)

Crypto-Powered - The Most Promising Use-Cases of Decentralized Finance (DeFi)
A whirlwind tour of Defi, paying close attention to protocols that we’re leveraging at Genesis Block.
https://reddit.com/link/hrrt21/video/cvjh5rrh12b51/player
This is the third post of Crypto-Powered — a new series that examines what it means for Genesis Block to be a digital bank that’s powered by crypto, blockchain, and decentralized protocols.
Last week we explored how building on legacy finance is a fool’s errand. The future of money belongs to those who build with crypto and blockchain at their core. We also started down the crypto rabbit hole, introducing Bitcoin, Ethereum, and DeFi (decentralized finance). That post is required reading if you hope to glean any value from the rest of this series.
97% of all activity on Ethereum in the last quarter has been DeFi-related. The total value sitting inside DeFi protocols is roughly $2B — double what it was a month ago. The explosive growth cannot be ignored. All signs suggest that Ethereum & DeFi are a Match Made in Heaven, and both on their way to finding strong product/market fit.
So in this post, we’re doing a whirlwind tour of DeFi. We look at specific examples and use-cases already in the wild and seeing strong growth. And we pay close attention to protocols that Genesis Block is integrating with. Alright, let’s dive in.

Stablecoins

Stablecoins are exactly what they sound like: cryptocurrencies that are stable. They are not meant to be volatile (like Bitcoin). These assets attempt to peg their price to some external reference (eg. USD or Gold). A non-volatile crypto asset can be incredibly useful for things like merchant payments, cross-border transfers, or storing wealth — becoming your own bank but without the stress of constant price volatility.
There are major governments and central banks that are experimenting with or soon launching their own stablecoins like China with their digital yuan and the US Federal Reserve with their digital dollar. There are also major corporations working in this area like JP Morgan with their JPM Coin, and of course Facebook with their Libra Project.
Stablecoin activity has grown 800% in the last year, with $290B of transaction volume (funds moving on-chain).
The most popular USD-pegged stablecoins include:
  1. Tether ($10B): It’s especially popular in Asia. It’s backed by USD in a bank account. But given their lack of transparency and past controversies, they generally aren’t trusted as much in the West.
  2. USDC ($1B): This is the most reputable USD-backed stablecoin, at least in the West. It was created by Coinbase & Circle, both well-regarded crypto companies. They’ve been very open and transparent with their audits and bank records.
  3. DAI ($189M): This is backed by other crypto assets — not USD in a bank account. This was arguably the first true DeFi protocol. The big benefit is that it’s more decentralized — it’s not controlled by any single organization. The downside is that the assets backing it can be volatile crypto assets (though it has mechanisms in place to mitigate that risk).
Other notable USD-backed stablecoins include PAX, TrueUSD, Binance USD, and Gemini Dollar.
tablecoins are playing an increasingly important role in the world of DeFi. In a way, they serve as common pipes & bridges between the various protocols.
https://preview.redd.it/v9ki2qro12b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=dbf591b122fc4b3d83b381389145b88e2505b51d

Lending & Borrowing

Three of the top five DeFi protocols relate to lending & borrowing. These popular lending protocols look very similar to traditional money markets. Users who want to earn interest/yield can deposit (lend) their funds into a pool of liquidity. Because it behaves similarly to traditional money markets, their funds are not locked, they can withdraw at any time. It’s highly liquid.
Borrowers can tap into this pool of liquidity and take out loans. Interest rates depend on the utilization rate of the pool — how much of the deposits in the pool have already been borrowed. Supply & demand. Thus, interest rates are variable and borrowers can pay their loans back at any time.
So, who decides how much a borrower can take? What’s the process like? Are there credit checks? How is credit-worthiness determined?
These protocols are decentralized, borderless, permissionless. The people participating in these markets are from all over the world. There is no simple way to verify identity or check credit history. So none of that happens.
Credit-worthiness is determined simply by how much crypto collateral the borrower puts into the protocol. For example, if a user wants to borrow $5k of USDC, then they’ll need to deposit $10k of BTC or ETH. The exact amount of collateral depends on the rules of the protocol — usually the more liquid the collateral asset, the more borrowing power the user can receive.
The most prominent lending protocols include Compound, Aave, Maker, and Atomic Loans. Recently, Compound has seen meteoric growth with the introduction of their COMP token — a token used to incentivize and reward participants of the protocol. There’s almost $1B in outstanding debt in the Compound protocol. Mainframe is also working on an exciting protocol in this area and the latest iteration of their white paper should be coming out soon.
There is very little economic risk to these protocols because all loans are overcollateralized.
I repeat, all loans are overcollateralized. If the value of the collateral depreciates significantly due to price volatility, there are sophisticated liquidation systems to ensure the loan always gets paid back.
https://preview.redd.it/rru5fykv12b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=620679dd84fca098a042051c7e7e1697be8dd259

Investments

Buying, selling, and trading crypto assets is certainly one form of investing (though not for the faint of heart). But there are now DeFi protocols to facilitate making and managing traditional-style investments.
Through DeFi, you can invest in Gold. You can invest in stocks like Amazon and Apple. You can short Tesla. You can access the S&P 500. This is done through crypto-based synthetics — which gives users exposure to assets without needing to hold or own the underlying asset. This is all possible with protocols like UMA, Synthetix, or Market protocol.
Maybe your style of investing is more passive. With PoolTogether , you can participate in a no-loss lottery.
Maybe you’re an advanced trader and want to trade options or futures. You can do that with DeFi protocols like Convexity, Futureswap, and dYdX. Maybe you live on the wild side and trade on margin or leverage, you can do that with protocols like Fulcrum, Nuo, and DDEX. Or maybe you’re a degenerate gambler and want to bet against Trump in the upcoming election, you can do that on Augur.
And there are plenty of DeFi protocols to help with crypto investing. You could use Set Protocol if you need automated trading strategies. You could use Melonport if you’re an asset manager. You could use Balancer to automatically rebalance your portfolio.
With as little as $1, people all over the world can have access to the same investment opportunities and tools that used to be reserved for only the wealthy, or those lucky enough to be born in the right country.
You can start to imagine how services like Etrade, TD Ameritrade, Schwab, and even Robinhood could be massively disrupted by a crypto-native company that builds with these types of protocols at their foundation.
https://preview.redd.it/agco8msx12b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=3bbb595f9ecc84758d276dbf82bc5ddd9e329ff8

Insurance

As mentioned in our previous post, there are near-infinite applications one can build on Ethereum. As a result, sometimes the code doesn’t work as expected. Bugs get through, it breaks. We’re still early in our industry. The tools, frameworks, and best practices are all still being established. Things can go wrong.
Sometimes the application just gets in a weird or bad state where funds can’t be recovered — like with what happened with Parity where $280M got frozen (yes, I lost some money in that). Sometimes, there are hackers who discover a vulnerability in the code and maliciously steal funds — like how dForce lost $25M a few months ago, or how The DAO lost $50M a few years ago. And sometimes the system works as designed, but the economic model behind it is flawed, so a clever user takes advantage of the system— like what recently happened with Balancer where they lost $500k.
There are a lot of risks when interacting with smart contracts and decentralized applications — especially for ones that haven’t stood the test of time. This is why insurance is such an important development in DeFi.
Insurance will be an essential component in helping this technology reach the masses.
Two protocols that are leading the way on DeFi insurance are Nexus Mutual and Opyn. Though they are both still just getting started, many people are already using them. And we’re excited to start working with them at Genesis Block.
https://preview.redd.it/wf1xvq3z12b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=70db1e9587f57d0c470a4f9f4523c216929e1876

Exchanges & Liquidity

Decentralized Exchanges (DEX) were one of the first and most developed categories in DeFi. A DEX allows a user to easily exchange one crypto asset for another crypto asset — but without needing to sign up for an account, verify identity, etc. It’s all via decentralized protocols.
Within the first 5 months of 2020, the top 7 DEX already achieved the 2019 trading volume. That was $2.5B. DeFi is fueling a lot of this growth.
https://preview.redd.it/1dwvq4e022b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=97a3d756f60239cd147031eb95fc2a981db55943
There are many different flavors of DEX. Some of the early ones included 0x, IDEX, and EtherDelta — all of which had a traditional order book model where buyers are matched with sellers.
Another flavor is the pooled liquidity approach where the price is determined algorithmically based on how much liquidity there is and how much the user wants to buy. This is known as an AMM (Automated Market Maker) — Uniswap and Bancor were early leaders here. Though lately, Balancer has seen incredible growth due mostly to their strong incentives for participation — similar to Compound.
There are some DEXs that are more specialized — for example, Curve and mStable focus mostly only stablecoins. Because of the proliferation of these decentralized exchanges, there are now aggregators that combine and connect the liquidity of many sources. Those include Kyber, Totle, 1Inch, and Dex.ag.
These decentralized exchanges are becoming more and more connected to DeFi because they provide an opportunity for yield and earning interest.
Users can earn passive income by supplying liquidity to these markets. It usually comes in the form of sharing transaction fee revenue (Uniswap) or token rewards (Balancer).
https://preview.redd.it/wrug6lg222b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=9c47a3f2e01426ca87d84b92c1e914db39ff773f

Payments

As it relates to making payments, much of the world is still stuck on plastic cards. We’re grateful to partner with Visa and launch the Genesis Block debit card… but we still don’t believe that's the future of payments. We see that as an important bridge between the past (legacy finance) and the future (crypto).
Our first post in this series shared more on why legacy finance is broken. We talked about the countless unnecessary middle-men on every card swipe (merchant, acquiring bank, processor, card network, issuing bank). We talked about the slow settlement times.
The future of payments will be much better. Yes, it’ll be from a mobile phone and the user experience will be similar to ApplePay (NFC) or WePay (QR Code).
But more importantly, the underlying assets being moved/exchanged will all be crypto — digital, permissionless, and open source.
Someone making a payment at the grocery store check-out line will be able to open up Genesis Block, use contactless tech or scan a QR code, and instantly pay for their goods. All using crypto. Likely a stablecoin. Settlement will be instant. All the middlemen getting their pound of flesh will be disintermediated. The merchant can make more and the user can spend less. Blockchain FTW!
Now let’s talk about a few projects working in this area. The xDai Burner Wallet experience was incredible at the ETHDenver event a few years ago, but that speed came at the expense of full decentralization (can it be censored or shut down?). Of course, Facebook’s Libra wants to become the new standard for global payments, but many are afraid to give Facebook that much control (newsflash: it isn’t very decentralized).
Bitcoin is decentralized… but it’s slow and volatile. There are strong projects like Lightning Network (Zap example) that are still trying to make it happen. Projects like Connext and OmiseGo are trying to help bring payments to Ethereum. The Flexa project is leveraging the gift card rails, which is a nice hack to leverage existing pipes. And if ETH 2.0 is as fast as they say it will be, then the future of payments could just be a stablecoin like DAI (a token on Ethereum).
In a way, being able to spend crypto on daily expenses is the holy grail of use-cases. It’s still early. It hasn’t yet been solved. But once we achieve this, then we can ultimately and finally say goodbye to the legacy banking & finance world. Employees can be paid in crypto. Employees can spend in crypto. It changes everything.
Legacy finance is hanging on by a thread, and it’s this use-case that they are still clinging to. Once solved, DeFi domination will be complete.
https://preview.redd.it/svft1ce422b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=9a6afc9e9339a3fec29ee2ae743c07c3042ea4ce

Impact on Genesis Block

At Genesis Block, we’re excited to leverage these protocols and take this incredible technology to the world. Many of these protocols are already deeply integrated with our product. In fact, many are essential. The masses won’t know (or care about) what Tether, USDC, or DAI is. They think in dollars, euros, pounds and pesos. So while the user sees their local currency in the app, the underlying technology is all leveraging stablecoins. It’s all on “crypto rails.”
https://preview.redd.it/jajzttr622b51.png?width=700&format=png&auto=webp&s=fcf55cea1216a1d2fcc3bf327858b009965f9bf8
When users deposit assets into their Genesis Block account, they expect to earn interest. They expect that money to grow. We leverage many of these low-risk lending/exchange DeFi protocols. We lend into decentralized money markets like Compound — where all loans are overcollateralized. Or we supply liquidity to AMM exchanges like Balancer. This allows us to earn interest and generate yield for our depositors. We’re the experts so our users don’t need to be.
We haven’t yet integrated with any of the insurance or investment protocols — but we certainly plan on it. Our infrastructure is built with blockchain technology at the heart and our system is extensible — we’re ready to add assets and protocols when we feel they are ready, safe, secure, and stable. Many of these protocols are still in the experimental phase. It’s still early.
At Genesis Block we’re excited to continue to be at the frontlines of this incredible, innovative, technological revolution called DeFi.
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None of these powerful DeFi protocols will be replacing Robinhood, SoFi, or Venmo anytime soon. They never will. They aren’t meant to! We’ve discussed this before, these are low-level protocols that need killer applications, like Genesis Block.
So now that we’ve gone a little deeper down the rabbit hole and we’ve done this whirlwind tour of DeFi, the natural next question is: why?
Why does any of it matter?
Most of these financial services that DeFi offers already exist in the real world. So why does it need to be on a blockchain? Why does it need to be decentralized? What new value is unlocked? Next post, we answer these important questions.
To look at more projects in DeFi, check out DeFi Prime, DeFi Pulse, or Consensys.
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Bitcoin (BTC)A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.

Bitcoin (BTC)A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.
  • Bitcoin (BTC) is a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency that aims to function as a means of exchange that is independent of any central authority. BTC can be transferred electronically in a secure, verifiable, and immutable way.
  • Launched in 2009, BTC is the first virtual currency to solve the double-spending issue by timestamping transactions before broadcasting them to all of the nodes in the Bitcoin network. The Bitcoin Protocol offered a solution to the Byzantine Generals’ Problem with a blockchain network structure, a notion first created by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta in 1991.
  • Bitcoin’s whitepaper was published pseudonymously in 2008 by an individual, or a group, with the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”, whose underlying identity has still not been verified.
  • The Bitcoin protocol uses an SHA-256d-based Proof-of-Work (PoW) algorithm to reach network consensus. Its network has a target block time of 10 minutes and a maximum supply of 21 million tokens, with a decaying token emission rate. To prevent fluctuation of the block time, the network’s block difficulty is re-adjusted through an algorithm based on the past 2016 block times.
  • With a block size limit capped at 1 megabyte, the Bitcoin Protocol has supported both the Lightning Network, a second-layer infrastructure for payment channels, and Segregated Witness, a soft-fork to increase the number of transactions on a block, as solutions to network scalability.

https://preview.redd.it/s2gmpmeze3151.png?width=256&format=png&auto=webp&s=9759910dd3c4a15b83f55b827d1899fb2fdd3de1

1. What is Bitcoin (BTC)?

  • Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency that aims to function as a means of exchange and is independent of any central authority. Bitcoins are transferred electronically in a secure, verifiable, and immutable way.
  • Network validators, whom are often referred to as miners, participate in the SHA-256d-based Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism to determine the next global state of the blockchain.
  • The Bitcoin protocol has a target block time of 10 minutes, and a maximum supply of 21 million tokens. The only way new bitcoins can be produced is when a block producer generates a new valid block.
  • The protocol has a token emission rate that halves every 210,000 blocks, or approximately every 4 years.
  • Unlike public blockchain infrastructures supporting the development of decentralized applications (Ethereum), the Bitcoin protocol is primarily used only for payments, and has only very limited support for smart contract-like functionalities (Bitcoin “Script” is mostly used to create certain conditions before bitcoins are used to be spent).

2. Bitcoin’s core features

For a more beginner’s introduction to Bitcoin, please visit Binance Academy’s guide to Bitcoin.

Unspent Transaction Output (UTXO) model

A UTXO transaction works like cash payment between two parties: Alice gives money to Bob and receives change (i.e., unspent amount). In comparison, blockchains like Ethereum rely on the account model.
https://preview.redd.it/t1j6anf8f3151.png?width=1601&format=png&auto=webp&s=33bd141d8f2136a6f32739c8cdc7aae2e04cbc47

Nakamoto consensus

In the Bitcoin network, anyone can join the network and become a bookkeeping service provider i.e., a validator. All validators are allowed in the race to become the block producer for the next block, yet only the first to complete a computationally heavy task will win. This feature is called Proof of Work (PoW).
The probability of any single validator to finish the task first is equal to the percentage of the total network computation power, or hash power, the validator has. For instance, a validator with 5% of the total network computation power will have a 5% chance of completing the task first, and therefore becoming the next block producer.
Since anyone can join the race, competition is prone to increase. In the early days, Bitcoin mining was mostly done by personal computer CPUs.
As of today, Bitcoin validators, or miners, have opted for dedicated and more powerful devices such as machines based on Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (“ASIC”).
Proof of Work secures the network as block producers must have spent resources external to the network (i.e., money to pay electricity), and can provide proof to other participants that they did so.
With various miners competing for block rewards, it becomes difficult for one single malicious party to gain network majority (defined as more than 51% of the network’s hash power in the Nakamoto consensus mechanism). The ability to rearrange transactions via 51% attacks indicates another feature of the Nakamoto consensus: the finality of transactions is only probabilistic.
Once a block is produced, it is then propagated by the block producer to all other validators to check on the validity of all transactions in that block. The block producer will receive rewards in the network’s native currency (i.e., bitcoin) as all validators approve the block and update their ledgers.

The blockchain

Block production

The Bitcoin protocol utilizes the Merkle tree data structure in order to organize hashes of numerous individual transactions into each block. This concept is named after Ralph Merkle, who patented it in 1979.
With the use of a Merkle tree, though each block might contain thousands of transactions, it will have the ability to combine all of their hashes and condense them into one, allowing efficient and secure verification of this group of transactions. This single hash called is a Merkle root, which is stored in the Block Header of a block. The Block Header also stores other meta information of a block, such as a hash of the previous Block Header, which enables blocks to be associated in a chain-like structure (hence the name “blockchain”).
An illustration of block production in the Bitcoin Protocol is demonstrated below.

https://preview.redd.it/m6texxicf3151.png?width=1591&format=png&auto=webp&s=f4253304912ed8370948b9c524e08fef28f1c78d

Block time and mining difficulty

Block time is the period required to create the next block in a network. As mentioned above, the node who solves the computationally intensive task will be allowed to produce the next block. Therefore, block time is directly correlated to the amount of time it takes for a node to find a solution to the task. The Bitcoin protocol sets a target block time of 10 minutes, and attempts to achieve this by introducing a variable named mining difficulty.
Mining difficulty refers to how difficult it is for the node to solve the computationally intensive task. If the network sets a high difficulty for the task, while miners have low computational power, which is often referred to as “hashrate”, it would statistically take longer for the nodes to get an answer for the task. If the difficulty is low, but miners have rather strong computational power, statistically, some nodes will be able to solve the task quickly.
Therefore, the 10 minute target block time is achieved by constantly and automatically adjusting the mining difficulty according to how much computational power there is amongst the nodes. The average block time of the network is evaluated after a certain number of blocks, and if it is greater than the expected block time, the difficulty level will decrease; if it is less than the expected block time, the difficulty level will increase.

What are orphan blocks?

In a PoW blockchain network, if the block time is too low, it would increase the likelihood of nodes producingorphan blocks, for which they would receive no reward. Orphan blocks are produced by nodes who solved the task but did not broadcast their results to the whole network the quickest due to network latency.
It takes time for a message to travel through a network, and it is entirely possible for 2 nodes to complete the task and start to broadcast their results to the network at roughly the same time, while one’s messages are received by all other nodes earlier as the node has low latency.
Imagine there is a network latency of 1 minute and a target block time of 2 minutes. A node could solve the task in around 1 minute but his message would take 1 minute to reach the rest of the nodes that are still working on the solution. While his message travels through the network, all the work done by all other nodes during that 1 minute, even if these nodes also complete the task, would go to waste. In this case, 50% of the computational power contributed to the network is wasted.
The percentage of wasted computational power would proportionally decrease if the mining difficulty were higher, as it would statistically take longer for miners to complete the task. In other words, if the mining difficulty, and therefore targeted block time is low, miners with powerful and often centralized mining facilities would get a higher chance of becoming the block producer, while the participation of weaker miners would become in vain. This introduces possible centralization and weakens the overall security of the network.
However, given a limited amount of transactions that can be stored in a block, making the block time too longwould decrease the number of transactions the network can process per second, negatively affecting network scalability.

3. Bitcoin’s additional features

Segregated Witness (SegWit)

Segregated Witness, often abbreviated as SegWit, is a protocol upgrade proposal that went live in August 2017.
SegWit separates witness signatures from transaction-related data. Witness signatures in legacy Bitcoin blocks often take more than 50% of the block size. By removing witness signatures from the transaction block, this protocol upgrade effectively increases the number of transactions that can be stored in a single block, enabling the network to handle more transactions per second. As a result, SegWit increases the scalability of Nakamoto consensus-based blockchain networks like Bitcoin and Litecoin.
SegWit also makes transactions cheaper. Since transaction fees are derived from how much data is being processed by the block producer, the more transactions that can be stored in a 1MB block, the cheaper individual transactions become.
https://preview.redd.it/depya70mf3151.png?width=1601&format=png&auto=webp&s=a6499aa2131fbf347f8ffd812930b2f7d66be48e
The legacy Bitcoin block has a block size limit of 1 megabyte, and any change on the block size would require a network hard-fork. On August 1st 2017, the first hard-fork occurred, leading to the creation of Bitcoin Cash (“BCH”), which introduced an 8 megabyte block size limit.
Conversely, Segregated Witness was a soft-fork: it never changed the transaction block size limit of the network. Instead, it added an extended block with an upper limit of 3 megabytes, which contains solely witness signatures, to the 1 megabyte block that contains only transaction data. This new block type can be processed even by nodes that have not completed the SegWit protocol upgrade.
Furthermore, the separation of witness signatures from transaction data solves the malleability issue with the original Bitcoin protocol. Without Segregated Witness, these signatures could be altered before the block is validated by miners. Indeed, alterations can be done in such a way that if the system does a mathematical check, the signature would still be valid. However, since the values in the signature are changed, the two signatures would create vastly different hash values.
For instance, if a witness signature states “6,” it has a mathematical value of 6, and would create a hash value of 12345. However, if the witness signature were changed to “06”, it would maintain a mathematical value of 6 while creating a (faulty) hash value of 67890.
Since the mathematical values are the same, the altered signature remains a valid signature. This would create a bookkeeping issue, as transactions in Nakamoto consensus-based blockchain networks are documented with these hash values, or transaction IDs. Effectively, one can alter a transaction ID to a new one, and the new ID can still be valid.
This can create many issues, as illustrated in the below example:
  1. Alice sends Bob 1 BTC, and Bob sends Merchant Carol this 1 BTC for some goods.
  2. Bob sends Carols this 1 BTC, while the transaction from Alice to Bob is not yet validated. Carol sees this incoming transaction of 1 BTC to him, and immediately ships goods to B.
  3. At the moment, the transaction from Alice to Bob is still not confirmed by the network, and Bob can change the witness signature, therefore changing this transaction ID from 12345 to 67890.
  4. Now Carol will not receive his 1 BTC, as the network looks for transaction 12345 to ensure that Bob’s wallet balance is valid.
  5. As this particular transaction ID changed from 12345 to 67890, the transaction from Bob to Carol will fail, and Bob will get his goods while still holding his BTC.
With the Segregated Witness upgrade, such instances can not happen again. This is because the witness signatures are moved outside of the transaction block into an extended block, and altering the witness signature won’t affect the transaction ID.
Since the transaction malleability issue is fixed, Segregated Witness also enables the proper functioning of second-layer scalability solutions on the Bitcoin protocol, such as the Lightning Network.

Lightning Network

Lightning Network is a second-layer micropayment solution for scalability.
Specifically, Lightning Network aims to enable near-instant and low-cost payments between merchants and customers that wish to use bitcoins.
Lightning Network was conceptualized in a whitepaper by Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja in 2015. Since then, it has been implemented by multiple companies. The most prominent of them include Blockstream, Lightning Labs, and ACINQ.
A list of curated resources relevant to Lightning Network can be found here.
In the Lightning Network, if a customer wishes to transact with a merchant, both of them need to open a payment channel, which operates off the Bitcoin blockchain (i.e., off-chain vs. on-chain). None of the transaction details from this payment channel are recorded on the blockchain, and only when the channel is closed will the end result of both party’s wallet balances be updated to the blockchain. The blockchain only serves as a settlement layer for Lightning transactions.
Since all transactions done via the payment channel are conducted independently of the Nakamoto consensus, both parties involved in transactions do not need to wait for network confirmation on transactions. Instead, transacting parties would pay transaction fees to Bitcoin miners only when they decide to close the channel.
https://preview.redd.it/cy56icarf3151.png?width=1601&format=png&auto=webp&s=b239a63c6a87ec6cc1b18ce2cbd0355f8831c3a8
One limitation to the Lightning Network is that it requires a person to be online to receive transactions attributing towards him. Another limitation in user experience could be that one needs to lock up some funds every time he wishes to open a payment channel, and is only able to use that fund within the channel.
However, this does not mean he needs to create new channels every time he wishes to transact with a different person on the Lightning Network. If Alice wants to send money to Carol, but they do not have a payment channel open, they can ask Bob, who has payment channels open to both Alice and Carol, to help make that transaction. Alice will be able to send funds to Bob, and Bob to Carol. Hence, the number of “payment hubs” (i.e., Bob in the previous example) correlates with both the convenience and the usability of the Lightning Network for real-world applications.

Schnorr Signature upgrade proposal

Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (“ECDSA”) signatures are used to sign transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain.
https://preview.redd.it/hjeqe4l7g3151.png?width=1601&format=png&auto=webp&s=8014fb08fe62ac4d91645499bc0c7e1c04c5d7c4
However, many developers now advocate for replacing ECDSA with Schnorr Signature. Once Schnorr Signatures are implemented, multiple parties can collaborate in producing a signature that is valid for the sum of their public keys.
This would primarily be beneficial for network scalability. When multiple addresses were to conduct transactions to a single address, each transaction would require their own signature. With Schnorr Signature, all these signatures would be combined into one. As a result, the network would be able to store more transactions in a single block.
https://preview.redd.it/axg3wayag3151.png?width=1601&format=png&auto=webp&s=93d958fa6b0e623caa82ca71fe457b4daa88c71e
The reduced size in signatures implies a reduced cost on transaction fees. The group of senders can split the transaction fees for that one group signature, instead of paying for one personal signature individually.
Schnorr Signature also improves network privacy and token fungibility. A third-party observer will not be able to detect if a user is sending a multi-signature transaction, since the signature will be in the same format as a single-signature transaction.

4. Economics and supply distribution

The Bitcoin protocol utilizes the Nakamoto consensus, and nodes validate blocks via Proof-of-Work mining. The bitcoin token was not pre-mined, and has a maximum supply of 21 million. The initial reward for a block was 50 BTC per block. Block mining rewards halve every 210,000 blocks. Since the average time for block production on the blockchain is 10 minutes, it implies that the block reward halving events will approximately take place every 4 years.
As of May 12th 2020, the block mining rewards are 6.25 BTC per block. Transaction fees also represent a minor revenue stream for miners.
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