Critical Thoughts on Ethereum’s Unbundling, Stack and Marketing
What if the Ethereum Foundation kicked-up a notch their marketing?
That is a question that I and many others have wondered about.
That said, the urgency in closing that gap is compensated for, because Ethereum’s marketing is not just about centrally orchestrated marketing communications. It’s because the vastly decentralized Ethereum ecosystem is doing its own marketing via the thousands of widely distributed contributing entities. That largely compensates for a lack of strong marketing communications from the Ethereum Foundation.
The Ethereum Foundation could have done a better job earlier in its life. But they haven’t, and that’s water under the bridge. They didn’t know how to do that because their DNA is technical and decentralization-focused. They’ve always wanted to do the minimum required from a central entity. They never considered themselves to be the center of the ecosystem (although it was its very spark), but rather its catalyst. With that in mind, they didn’t appreciate the value of centrally orchestrating communications at the professional level (despite my repeated recommendations they do so when I was advising them). They also never understood that you need to also communicate in non-technical terms to a non-technical audience about Ethereum. Instead, they kept focusing on serving the needs of developers, and letting the rest take care of itself.
On the positive side, that technical focus resulted in an incredible ground-swell of support from developers around the world, culminating very quickly in Ethereum becoming the largest single blockchain community, by orders of magnitude larger than the next one. The size and vibrancy of Ethereum meetups and hackathons around the world is the envy of other blockchain projects.
On the flip side, this has also resulted in Ethereum being the subject of unrebutted public attacks from competitors, detractors, and other actors, each with a variety of motives. When you are the leader, you will be attacked. There is no way to escape that reality. The #2, #3 players and other contenders have to try harder, and they need to exploit a certain weakness that the market leader has.
Many other chains that came after Ethereum were me-too chains. They typically emerged by anchoring themselves on a perceived Ethereum technical weakness (e.g. speed, consensus method, governance or other). To enter the market, they have to centrally orchestrate, over-communicate, push and shove their way into the market, pound their chests, and shout from the rooftops and on social media.
And there are scores of Ethereum detractors who propagate fear, uncertainty and doubt, perhaps because they are more vested in other platforms, so they start to say negative things about Ethereum. EOS, TRON and Tezos and/or their supporters routinely take shots at Ethereum, directly or indirectly.
Let’s take this article titled “The Unbundling of Ethereum” where the author goes to great lengths positing a (weak) theory that Ethereum pieces are being unbundled, resulting in a weakened core and increased competition.
The irony of this headline is that the unbundling of Ethereum is actually a feature, not a bug, and it is benefiting Ethereum more than harming it. The facts are that Ethereum is becoming more modular and open, with interoperable pieces adding to it at a variety of layers around and above its core. As a result, Ethereum is growing and scaling via a layered approach, independent of its core. In essence, Ethereum is becoming modular, and that is a more accurate depiction than to say that it has become unbundled.
The double irony of this situation is that- the same author of the above article, after implying that Ethereum is losing ground, has recently invested in a startup (dfuse) that originally was developing for EOS, and now they are adding Ethereum because they have to. What goes around, comes around.
As it turns out, Ethereum’s ace is its Stack. The Ethereum Stack is potentially its biggest feature, and a primary reason for its continued growth and adoption that continues to dwarf that of other platforms, due to its diversity and richness. The Ethereum Stack is the collection of tools, technologies and capabilities choices that blockchain developers first dive into. It is not as rigid as other more mature technology stacks, but it is there and offers good choices, not being too simple nor overly complicated either.
The reality is that the Ethereum market lead is real. Much of the blockchain technology innovation starts on it and grows with it. Ethereum dominates DeFi for example. And they still dominate the smart contracts market, although it is not really a market of its own. Some Ethereum competitors are trying to re-define the playing field by saying that the battle is one of “smart contract platforms”, in essence pushing down the importance of the entire stack and the inherent Layer 1 infrastructures, but this is not just a battle for better smart contracts.
Five years into its ICO launch, Ethereum has garnered a panoply of achievements. Its decentralized teams of developers have settled into a regular cadence of progress, despite the many inherent inefficiencies they get often criticized for. While many other chains are barely launching, Ethereum is rather focused on improving itself via Eth 2.0, and has more than 5 years of experience under its belt. Ethereum Research is a good reference point for the leading edge work that is taking place, and what they publish gets followed by the rest of the industry.
Conventional wisdom tells us that poorly marketed great technology can easily lose against better marketed, but “good enough” technology. But Ethereum is more than just a piece of technology. It’s an entire movement of passionate and committed developers and believers that are like a powerful army that is marching on, and benefiting from the proverbial rolling ball effect.
In part due to its lack of strong central marketing (and in part due to the extreme decentralization of activities around Ethereum), it is challenging to discover all the activity related to it. Week in Ethereum News and ConsenSys Signal are the best weekly sources that aggregate what is actually happening in and around Ethereum. Even their editors have an increasingly challenging task of collating all this information. If Ethereum only knew what Ethereum knows!
So, how do you attack something that is so decentralized? It’s not so easy, because you need multiple attack points, by the thousands. I’m not talking about technical attacks, but marketing ones. The multiple nodes redundancy that is inherent to the Ethereum infrastructure network has a parallel in marketing attack redundancy. So, what if you claimed that Ethereum is not good at something or that it had a weakness? There are 2,000+ other companies around it that are doing a variety of work that strengthens Ethereum, and they are each marketing their way into the world, directly or indirectly. It is becoming more and more difficult to attack the whole Ethereum ecosystem because it has become antifragile on its own. Therefore, Ethereum’s strength is not its center, nor its Foundation. It is its network, technically and people-wise.
Ethereum has become the reference backbone for decentralized applications, just as Bitcoin is the backbone reserve cryptocurrency. Polkadot’s and Cosmos/Tendermint’s success will depend and piggy-back on Ethereum’s growth and footprint. Perhaps second to Bitcoin, Ethereum is also the most used forked private/enterprise chain (not counting Hyperledger which is more like a blockchain-as-a-service), and its sidechain options are expanding and growing (e.g. Loom Network or POA Network). If anyone is going to figure out the next workable DAO, it will likely be on Ethereum. And Ethereum doesn’t fall short on the currency front. From a liquidity and availability perspectives, ETH is second to Bitcoin in utility and usage, and you will not be faulted for accepting ETH as a form of B2B payment in financial deals for large ticket transactions.
Do I wish that the Ethereum Foundation would improve their marketing communications? Of course, I do. But sadly, I don’t believe they can, therefore they won’t, and we should move on with that fantasy.
Does it pain me to see repeated attacks on Ethereum going unchecked and un-rebutted? Of course it does.
In my opinion, the Ethereum Foundation should rebut every stupid article or wannabe pundit that comes out saying inaccurate things about Ethereum, and they should keep talking about Ethereum’s strengths in a non technical language, i.e. speak to the market of non-developers influencers out there.
Unfortunately, the Ethereum Foundation’s obliviousness to criticism have sent people to hedge their bets against Ethereum’s potential failure, by supporting other types of projects.
Yes, the Ethereum Foundation can do better, and sometimes it appears to be dysfunctional, or not transparent enough. We should stop thinking it is fixable. In my opinion, the Ethereum Foundation we have is the one we will get for the foreseeable future.
Look at how the Ethereum Foundation runs its flagship conference, DevCon, now in its 5th edition. DevCon doesn’t open with a glittering show, like the Apple-copied event that EOS did in Washington, D.C. when they launched a Facebook-copy social media app. DevCon is as raw as it gets to reality: it is a reflection of the Ethereum ecosystem. The organizers don’t go out of their way to give you polished or glitzy stage shows. The participants in the Ethereum ecosystem are hard at work, with their noses to the grindstone. They proceed without undue fanfare, and they are self-indoctrinated believers.
Ethereum is blowing it from a marketing perspective, and to some extent their project management, work coordination and priorities are not always popular. That’s ok, because the market is more than compensating for it.
When I first became involved in crypto almost 6 years ago, I started by studying Bitcoin (prior to Ethereum’s ascent), and one of my first blog posts was titled: “Bitcoin is Messy. Let’s Fix it”.
The process of blockchain related decentralization and its nemesis Ethereum are messy. We have no choice but to embrace it, with an old cliche: Bless This Mess.