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211. 30/11/2018 12:16
Developers Rally Around Ethereum 1x, A New Roadmap for Faster Scaling

An influx of research and development is beginning to form around ethereum 1x, a proposed upgrade that aims to more quickly improve the usability of the world’s third-largest blockchain.

While the exact code changes that will comprise the upgrade have yet to be settled, active discussions suggest a myriad of different proposals could be activated by June 2019, should a final proposal ultimately be formulated, proposed and approved by users of the ethereum network.

Still the plan, first reported by CoinDesk last week, is in its early stages of development.

Indeed, there’s even been a suggestion by Afri Schoedon, release manager for the Parity ethereum client, to release the upgrade on its own, separate blockchain network. Nevertheless, there are many voices contending ethereum 1x ought to be activated on the existing blockchain – and soon.

Originally thought to be an addition to an upgrade called ethereum 2.0 – ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin has referred to it recently by an older name “Serenity” – the roadmap for this upgrade changed in June to include new design specifications that are projected to delay activation.

As explained to CoinDesk by Schoedon, developers are now more certain ethereum 2.0 will not go into production before the year 2020. According to Schoedon, developers “started panicking and saying, ‘Hey we really need to find intermediate solutions’” – creating the impetus for new ideas able to be implemented in the near-term.

And though ideas for ethereum 1x may “sound too radical or controversial” for now, Schoedon said that the goal is to discuss any and all ideas inclusively with community stakeholders such that “none of the upgrades will be controversial in the end.”

With plans for ethereum 1x originally discussed during in-person meetings at an ethereum developer conference, Devcon4, earlier this month, certain members of the community were disgruntled at the lack of public involvement. Still, the controversy has been set aside for now with the creation of public forumsto openly discuss ethereum 1x.

In addition, meetings to coordinate efforts on this proposed upgrade are expected to proceed under Chatham House Rules, meaning public disclosure of the content of discussions must exclude speaker attribution.

With the intent of encouraging open discussion among developers, the first of these meetings will occur tomorrow at 14:00 UTC.

“We need to to be very sensible about how we do this,” Schoedon told CoinDesk, adding:

“We need to be very inclusive with everyone in the community and be very open and transparent about talking about all the ideas and discussing what might be the best approach.”

A big state

According to meeting minutes from earlier discussions at DevCon4 published by Dan Heyman, the program director of ethereum blockchain development group PegaSys, there are currently four different working groups tasked with advancing ethereum 1x.

One of these groups, led by ethereum core developer Alexey Akhunov, is leading the effort to introduce storage rent to the ethereum platform. Storage rent is a mechanism discussed by developers in detail back in March. Its purpose is to curb the growth of the ethereum “state” – otherwise understood to be all of the active applications and accounts operating on the blockchain network.

Given the fast acceleration of decentralized applications (dapps) built on ethereum through smart contracts – self-deploying lines of code – the amount of data being stored on the blockchain to support these contracts is also increasing.

This presents an issue for new users wanting to participate in the network by deploying software called nodes that download and maintain a full copy of the active blockchain state.

The larger the state, as Akhunov told CoinDesk, the longer it takes for new computers joining the ethereum network to download such copies and maintain them.

Adding to this, Schoedon estimated the size of ethereum blockchain data to be currently sitting at around 125 gigabytes, with the active running state of the network being roughly 10 gigabytes.

“It’s growing at a pace that we’re probably looking at 200 or 300 gigabytes of chain data by end of next year and a massive state,” said Schoedon.

As such, the proposal to charge a fee to users who are storing smart contract data on the blockchain is aimed at mitigating the speed at which the ethereum blockchain is currently growing and thereby ensure accessibility of the network for all users at least in the short-term.

However, this is not the only proposal currently being discussed among developers. An alternative proposal suggests moving certain portions of smart contract data off-chain. This would effectively push the responsibility of data storage to dapp developers.

The mechanism – called “stateless clients” – to facilitate off-chain smart contract data would be simpler to implement than storage rents, Akhunov concedes.

Still, there are concerns with this proposal as it relates to how dapp developers share and update off-chain data.

“I have a problem with stateless clients at the moment. People think they are actually easier to implement and they are easier to implement in terms of protocol upgrade,” said Akhunov. “But they will be much harder for the dapp developers to support.”

Hand-in-hand

In addition to storage rent, another 1x-focused group is exploring proposals to archive old information stored on the blockchain in a bid to relieve the pressures of a growing state.

But outside of ethereum’s data storage mechanisms, a third team of developers – called “the simulation group” – aims to “analyze the issues that happen through the blockchain when block size grows or when the latency increases,” Akhunov said.

This is particularly relevant due to code optimizations that have increased the speed of block propagation on ethereum presently. As a result of new blocks being relayed throughout the network more quickly, ethereum miners are also expected to be able to add in a greater number of transactions per block and collect a larger amount of transaction fees.

Akhunov said that studies suggesting exactly how much more the maximum amount of transaction fees collected by miners – called the “gas limit” – are few and far between.

“There are only a few studies that have been done to analyze how blocks propagate through the network and what would happen if you raise the gas limit,” said Akhunov.

Some of the development efforts going into ethereum 1x are focussed on running simulations to test higher gas limits, given that it’s a key area of research around the wider progress toward relieving scaling pressures faced by the network today.

As such, ethereum 1x – outside of addressing issues to do with blockchain state size – is also expected to feature improvements to transaction throughput on ethereum. Indeed, the two issues go hand-in-hand in the context of supporting more network activity.

According to Akhunov, ethereum 1x is an “ensemble” of different proposals that are only effective when deployed together.

He told CoinDesk:

“We want to solve these problems together and not just one thing. It has to be solved as an ensemble rather than one thing at a time.”

Out of the box

The dovetailing nature of the groups also covers the fourth working team, which is looking into decreasing the cost of smart contract deployment. The idea is that such efforts could lead to ways to balance out a potential increase to smart contract storage costs with proposals like the rent one.

By putting forward an early implementation of eWASM – a new virtual machine that processes smart contract code – ethereum developers aim to leverage the new technology and create so-called “precompiles” more easily.

Precompiles are commonly deployed smart contract operations that are optimized to run natively on ethereum for a fixed fee, or gas cost. And as Akhunov explains, there are currently only a handful created on the ethereum network.

But the demand is high for more to be added to streamline smart contract development.

With a “limited number of people in the core development team,” Akhunov admits that “if we try to start implementing all the precompiles people are asking for, we’re never going to be able to do anything else.”

One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to developing precompiles is deciding what a fair gas cost for a particular smart operation should be.

Normally, developers create formulas to gauge the energy and time precompiles take to execute. But through leveraging the eWASM engine, this process of pricing is done automatically.

As Akhunov highlighted:

“The eWASM engine will do something called metering. It will meter the operation and it will charge exactly as much gas as being consumed by the operation.”

Predicting the construction process of precompiles to get much “easier” for ethereum core developers through the technology, Akhunov also added that once fully-tested, “the plan is to open eWASM for all smart contract developers.”

Indeed, the longer-term goal is to do away with the need to create precompiles all together. Among other benefits to smart contract developers, the eWASM engine as previously reported is expected to run all smart contract operations at native network speeds and efficiency.

Still, until that future is realized, etheruem 1x is envisioned to sustain the ethereum network with what Parity developer Afri Schoedon calls “out of the box” solutions.

And while all these solutions are projected to be activated on “a very accelerated timeline,” Schoedon highlights that, on his part, no concrete action will be taken until a “broad consensus in the community” is reached.

212. 30/11/2018 09:39
Fidelity Looking to Expand Digital Asset Trading Beyond Bitcoin and Ether

Fidelity Investments is looking to expand its institutional crypto asset platform to include trading services for the top five to seven cryptocurrencies by market capitalization.

Revealed today at the Block FS conference in New York, the news came in response to a question from CoinDesk posed to Tom Jessop, head of Fidelity Digital Assets, on what other cryptocurrencies may be added to the platform, to be launched next year.

Last month, the buy-side giant announced it would be launching a separate company, Fidelity Digital Asset Services, at the time stating that it would be offering custody and trading services for bitcoin and ether, the cryptocurrency that powers the ethereum blockchain.

“I think there is demand for the next four or five in rank of market cap order. So we will be looking at that,” he said.

Jessop explained that Fidelity is taking a customer-driven approach for now and that its 13,000-plus institutional clients are interested in bitcoin and ether because they make up a large part of the current market cap.

“I think when it comes to security tokens or tokens that are likely to be deemed securities, we are waiting for that space to develop,” he explained, going on to say:

“We have had some interest but we don’t think it’s a groundswell of interest, so our focus is really on the top, call it five-seven, before we start building capabilities for the tail. But I think it will come.”

Fidelity has spent four to five years of R&D in the space and has a long view of the crypto asset class and the underlying technology’s potential, which Jessop compared to the exponential sweep of the internet.

He acknowledged that digital assets have not had a great run this year, pointing out that, a year prior, the run-up in prices saw Fidelity’s charitable crypto donations vehicle garner some $70 million in contributions.

“It was a great story and a great source of donations,” Jessop added.

213. 29/11/2018 09:50
WATCH: SEC Chairman Jay Clayton’s Full Consensus: Invest Interview

What do you get when you put the chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in front of an audience of crypto insiders? An applause line, a word of warning and an analogy about theater tickets.

Jay Clayton took the stage Tuesday afternoon at the CoinDesk-organized Consensus: Invest conference in midtown Manhattan. In a lively conversation with investor Glenn Hutchins, Clayton shared his thoughts on what protections are still needed before the SEC issues key approvals relating to cryptocurrency trading.

Though his remarks on the SEC’s determination that bitcoin does not have the attributes of a security drew applause, Clayton also delivered a quip aimed at startups funded via initial coin offerings: “Get your act together.”

He added:

“If you finance a venture with a token offering, you should start with the assumption that it is a security.”

Clayton’s Tuesday remarks offered hints about what lies ahead for the SEC, with the regulator ramping up recent actions against ICO startups and denying demands for an approved bitcoin ETF.

214. 28/11/2018 11:43
Tether Says Customers Can Once Again Deposit and Redeem Fiat

Tether Ltd., the controversial issuer of the tether stablecoin (USDT), which aims for parity with the U.S. dollar, announced Tuesday that it would reopen account verification for new customers and enable customers to redeem tether for fiat currency directly through its platform.

“Tether is able to return to its original vision of having a wallet for creating and redeeming directly on its own platform without having to rely on a third party,” the company said in a post on its website. “This update allows the immediate withdrawal of Tether to fiat (1:1), with the ability to acquire coming soon.”

Notably, withdrawals will be subject to a high minimum of $100,000 and significant fees.

Tether’s white paper says that token holders are able to redeem their USDT directly for dollars, which the white paper says the company holds in bank accounts at a one-to-one ratio with outstanding USDT tokens.

Questions about Tether’s access to stable banking partners – and the lack of a full audit, which the company had promised – have caused an erosion of confidence in the the token’s fiat backing, leading the exchange rate to break dramatically with the dollar at one point in mid-October.

Tether is now banking with the Bahamas-based Deltec, which the company noted in Tuesday’s announcement.

The direct redemptions promised in the white paper came to an end following a November 2017 security breach. However, restrictions on deposits and withdrawals had been in place since April 2017, when Wells Fargo stopped providing correspondent banking services to Tether’s Taiwanese banking partners.

While transactions from the Tether website were halted following the November 2017 breach, the company encouraged buyers “to use the services of any one of a dozen global exchanges to acquire or dispose of Tethers for either USD or other cryptocurrencies.”

Since that time, customers have been able to deposit USDT to the Bitfinex exchange – which has overlapping shareholders and management with Tether Ltd. – and withdraw fiat, although many customers have complained that they waited weeks for their money to arrive.

Some gave up and cancelled the withdrawals, transferring their USDT to another exchange, such as Kraken, which offers a USDT-USD trading pair. Following persistent complaints from customers regarding delayed withdrawals, Bitfinex announced new fees for large or frequent fiat withdrawals.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Tether said that withdrawals and deposits would be subject to minimums of $100,000 and 100,000 USDT, respectively.

It also detailed fees for depositing or withdrawing fiat from the platform. Depending on the size of the withdrawal, fees range from 0.4 percent (or $1,000, if greater) to 3 percent. Customers can only withdraw fiat once per week, and higher fees will be charged for those withdrawing more than once per month.

For deposits of any size, fees are a flat 0.1 percent.

Bitfinex trading pair

Bitfinex also made an announcement related to tether on Tuesday, saying that customers would be able to trade USDT directly for dollars through a trading pair. It also announced a trading pair for euros and the euro-linked EURT.

Bitfinex called this policy “Tether neutrality.” The policy appears to amount to allowing the rate at which USDT can be redeemed through Bitfinex to float according to market conditions.

Whereas previously the rate of exchange was locked in at $1 to 1 USDT – because the exchange only allowed deposits and withdrawals – Bitfinex will now offer direct trading pairs.

Across all major exchanges, tether’s market value hit its lowest level on Kraken in mid-October, briefly trading for just $0.85.

215. 27/11/2018 10:20
Employees Say Startup Civil Hyped Crypto Returns, But Failed to Pay

Civil was supposed to create a more transparent and democratic model for journalism. But so far, journalists working on its platform have yet to receive all of the compensation they say they were promised when hired.

According to several current and former employees of news organizations sponsored by the blockchain startup, Civil told journalists in its 18 newsrooms around the U.S. that the CVL cryptocurrency – which, when issued, was supposed to comprise part of their pay – would probably end up being worth several times more than the estimated valuations mentioned in meetings and reported in tax forms.

Yet lackluster demand caused Civil to cancel a public sale of the tokens last month. Now, the reporters have no idea if or when they’ll be paid the tokens that were supposed to be part of their compensation.

Meanwhile, the platform, conceived as a collaborative network where readers would pay for quality journalism and journalists would earn money for content, remains unfinished. The newsrooms, which employ dozens of journalists, are operating normally, but without the tokens originally meant to provide a compelling value-add for users.

“Civil can talk all it wants about creating a new future for media, but the reality is it’s being built by putting journalists into debt,” said Jay Cassano, who left the Civil news outlet Sludge on Nov. 8 because, he said, undelivered tokens made up roughly 70 percent of his salary for five months.

“I had to borrow money to pay my rent and student loans,” Cassano told CoinDesk.

Civil CEO Matt Iles disputes the current and former employees’ claims.

“We didn’t promise anyone tokens would be worth any specific amount,” he told CoinDesk. “Anytime we discussed potential token value with newsrooms, we made it clear we were making estimates and that there was risk involved.”

Iles counters that Civil took steps to discourage the kind of frenzied buying that could have driven up the price of CVL, had the tokens been issued publicly. He told CoinDesk:

“Civil’s consumer token framework restricts liquidity and volatility as a means to ward off speculators and ensure that people buying CVL do so because they want to participate in the network.”

Indeed, Civil used a rigorous know-your-customer process and partnership with the exchange startup AirSwap, which created a means to restrict access to CVL purchases.

But according to Cassano and other insiders, employees were told a different story about the expected price of CVL.

Internal hype

Specifically, according to Cassano, Civil told reporters working with its sponsored news operations that the CVL token they would be partially paid in could be worth around $0.75.

However, on tax documents, the tokens were valued at a fraction of a penny. Iles would not comment on that difference.

“They kept hyping it up internally to keep us in line, saying they were even going to exceed that valuation,” Cassano said. “Iles, at one point, said he expected the tokens to double or quadruple in value compared to what was written in our contracts.”

A second Civil reporter, who still works at one of the newsrooms sponsored by the startup, told CoinDesk the startup’s leadership “absolutely” talked up the token’s growth potential to employees.

“The expectation was they were going to be able to get rich off of it,” the source said.

According to this insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, days before the token sale flopped, Civil addressed reporters’ concerns about it by saying that crypto “whales” would buy up unclaimed tokens to help the startup reach its threshold goal.

Iles denied making any promises but acknowledged that the company tried to get large investors involved when the sale languished.

“As the sale wound down, it was obvious to everyone that the only way to meet the goal would be to attract large-scale token buyers… of course we were still working hard to bring in major buyers during the final days,” Iles said. “We communicated our ongoing efforts on this front, but there was never any promise or guarantee made.”

The failed token sale forced Civil to refund investors $8 million, including $1.1 million worth of CVL purchased in September by the partner company ConsenSys, which is spearheaded by Civil’s primary investor, Joe Lubin.

While Iles confirmed that Lubin was promptly reimbursed, reporters at Civil newsrooms say they don’t know if they will ever receive the token portion of their compensation packages.

Iles confirmed a Quartz report that he will eventually own 5 million CVL, whenever they are distributed.

When tokens?

As for when that is expected to happen, Cassano and an insider say they haven’t been given a timetable, despite Iles’ statement to the contrary.

“We’ve communicated target dates to the newsrooms and plan to confirm details in the next few weeks,” Iles said. “We will not share those dates publicly before speaking to them.”

Furthermore, Iles said Civil has an active GitHub project for an open-source application and publishing platform, often garnering dozens of contributions a week.

The controversy about employee compensation at Civil raises different legal questions than those that usually come up in the discussion of tokens, which usually center around whether initial coin offerings (ICOs) are unregistered securities.

Preston Byrne, a partner at the law firm Byrne & Storm, P.C., told CoinDesk that different laws might apply to private offerings via employee contracts rather than strictly public offerings.

“There are things that you can be given or possess that increase in value but aren’t a security,” Byrne said. “You’ve got to pay your people and you’ve got to be honest with them, otherwise different questions arise.”

Byrne also added that the legal questions surrounding tokens will be driven by specific facts and circumstances. In the case of CVL, the public investors were reimbursed, meaning Civil may not have anything to worry about from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or from investors.

“There is a provision in the securities laws that allows anyone that has participated in a sale of unregistered securities [to] extinguish its liability to those persons by affording them the right to rescind,” Byrne said.

He concluded:

“With regards to employees, it depends on how they acquired the thing and whether they are deemed to be part of the offering.”

 

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