“It’s a really different feeling.”
That was the sentiment of Rebecca Migirov, one of many ethereum startup employees gathered in Shanghai for the blockchain platform’s second annual conference, and she was not alone in her assessment. If last year’s Devcon1 was characterized by a lightning-strike excitement, the sophomore follow-up, attendees said, was less a celebration of “underdogs” and more of an acceptance of its limitations, a chance to refine its goals.
Still, present at Devcon2 was the ambitious vision, the affirmation of the community’s belief that the blockchain can provide the Internet with a new and more radical architecture. Expressions of these aspirations, however, were more subdued, more apt to be abutted by the acceptance that in the heart of a zeitgeist, work must go on.
On stage, this could be heard in presentations by developers like Alex Van de Sande, lead UX designer for the project. In a talk on Wednesday, Van de Sande referenced his role in the creation of the official ethereum website, apologizing (if only slightly) for his now controversial description of the group’s creations as “unstoppable applications”.
Van de Sande told the audience:
“We do have some outrageous claims… I’m sorry, I put them there. [But] I’m here to explain why we still stand for every word.”
The statement cuts to the heart of the three-day conference and its events, which were colored in no small part by this summer’s high-profile collapse of The DAO. Ethereum, a project that can be loosely defined as an open-source blockchain effort inspired by (but is arguably more ambitious than) bitcoin, has seen its reputation suffer amid setbacks and in-fighting.
This year’s Devcon2 offered proof that the impact has been felt, and that not only investors lost.
“Everyone was a bit down after The DAO,” Pelle Braendgaard, lead developer at blockchain identity project uPort, explained. “For a couple months, a lot of productivity stopped.”
But as it has resumed, Braendgaard asserted that there have been positive advancements. In interviews with attendees, most reported that this loss of momentum is best seen as a pause for reflection, a sign that, despite the negative headlines, the community is capable of moving on, of achieving renewed direction and purpose.
“In the first year, everything was just smoke,” technology consultant Carlos Buendia Gallego said. “Now we’re building real things.”
Developers, developers, developers
And in a market that needs buildings, there is perhaps no more prized commodity than the builders, as the conference provided evidence that a key element fueling ethereum is its emphasis on appealing to developers.
Whereas early bitcoin conferences were dominated by CEOs, VCs and regulators, Devcon2 placed a firm emphasis on technology that was all but missing accompanying propaganda, think ‘What can ethereum do for you?’
Ample time was given to deep dives into base-level components of the network, such as the ethereum virtual machine and its smart contracting language, Solidity. In many, there was scarcely an explanation of the concepts.
Marco Streng, CEO of Genesis Mining, noted that he was struck by the conference’s focus on development, as well as the sheer number of coders that attended.
“Developers, normally, it’s not like they have the highest budgets, but they commit themselves because they’re convinced and they’re fascinated by the project. Seeing such a big conference gives me a great optimism,” he said.
SmartContract CEO Sergey Nazarov, an entrepreneur in the ecosystem since the early days of “blockchain”, reported that he was left with the feeling that there is something special about to project, something that makes it unique among the increasing number of blockchain initiatives offering similar sales pitches.
“I am starting to appreciate how developer-centric all these guys are. It filters down into people who make things. It attracts a certain mindset from all these other folks trying to make easier development tools,” Nazarov said.
That ethereum’s momentum is helping it retain a growing developer pool is not unnoticed by representatives of the conference’s sponsors, who were quick to note that they see this as a key advantage for their business, as well as their clients.
Marley Gray, director of technical strategy and business development at Microsoft, for instance, cited ethereum’s open-source community as a reason the tech giant remains committed to supporting public blockchain projects.
“You have the developer resource pool and that’s a big pain point in industries,” he told CoinDesk.
Additional statements revealed he has a strong personal alignment with the project’s larger vision.
“Internet still functions on 1970s technology. You send an email, it’s in plain text. You access a web page, it’s in plain text. Our data is leaked by companies all the time, our identities are stolen by hackers, our behavior is monetized by advertisers,” he…