â€œNever trust anyone over 30â€ is something they used to say in the revolutionary sixties. The Cryptocurrency Revolution doesnâ€™t have anyone over 30 to mistrust, so we need a new slogan: â€œNever trust anyone who claims to understand cryptocurrencies.â€
I certainly donâ€™t.
I think I understand the web though, or at least I thought I did until I saw the future. The future of the web is a massive global database and computer with frictionless payments, authentication, and authorization, all of it built right in.
Unfortunately, in order to fund the thing they had to disguise it as a cryptocurrency and now my mom is asking me about investing in ICOs.
I didnâ€™t realize that Ethereum was the future of web until I decided to build a â€œdistributed applicationâ€ (a DApp) on top of it. Youâ€™d think that learning that the main Ethreum client library is called web3.js would have tipped me off as to what Ethereum is really about, but I had to build a produce and then try to actually use it to understand.
Don't let the ICOs, the DAOs, the speculation -- don't let all that distract you from the real promise of this stuff.
A few months ago, Andrey and I started pairing on Ethereum projects. We found that our skill-sets meshed well for doing smart-contract security audits. In our hearts weâ€™re both more builders than breakers, and we decided to find something interesting to build.
We had interacted with enough ICOs to know that we didnâ€™t want to do anything like that. We wanted to use the technology to build something cool, but without aspirations of eating the world.
We found our inspiration in The Million Dollar Homepage, a viral hit from the 2005-era web. British teenager Alex Tew built a website to sells ad space by the pixel. Each pixel in a 1000x1000 grid cost a dollarâ€Šâ€”â€Šhence the million dollar price tag. It was the perfect inspiration, and not just because we live in a particularly nostalgic moment. The Million Dollar Homepage felt old-fashioned even in 2005. It was part of the charm.
I knew it was the perfect concept to reinvent on the blockchain, and this was before I even understood that Ethereum is the future of the web.
Imagine how youâ€™d build a clone of the Million Dollar Homepage in 2017. Youâ€™d start with a database, it would probably have a user table and a table of ads belonging to the users. Youâ€™d host that database and a web app around it somewhere in the cloud. When a user signs up, they put in their email and password, verify their email, select the adspace they want to buy, pay for the ad with a credit card, and then are able to edit the ad.
Youâ€™d probably need to implement some kind of locking, so a user can reserve an ad spot for the 10 minutes it takes them to fish their credit card out and enter the numbers.
The Thousand Ether Homepage has a fraction of the complexity. From the userâ€™s perspective thereâ€™s no emails, no password, and no credit cards. They open thousandetherhomepage.com in an Ethereum-enabled browser like MetaMask or Mist, and they can just select a space and click â€œbuy.â€ The ads they own are tied to their wallet, ready to have their contents changed.
When we first started work on the Thousand Ether Homepage, I thought that the major innovation would be that weâ€™d use a cryptocurrency for payment and a smart contract to track ownership. I didnâ€™t realize that we were building an entirely new kind of web application.
When I thought about the kinds of applications that Ethereum allows you to build, my mind would go to The DAOâ€Šâ€”â€Šdistributed applications that pay for their own hosting and use their capital to make decisions. It seems like scifi, something for the future when AIs are playing the stock market to make more paperclips.
What I didnâ€™t realize was the near-term pedestrian implications.
Ethereum lets us build web applications that donâ€™t need Stripe, don't need AWS, don't need a database, don't need usernames, and don't need passwords.
I knew that DApps were an important part of Ethereum, but it took actually building one to realize what it means.