Ethereum has just announced its Ethereum Community Fund (ECF) grant program, an initiative launched by a collection of major players in the Ethereum world that is designed to accelerate the development of blockchain infrastructure apps and services. The stated aim of the ECF is to bring about “an environment where teams and ideas can thrive, grow, and collaborate to become essential and functioning pieces of the broader Ethereum ecosystem.”
All of this raises the question of what exactly we mean when we talk about “blockchain ecosystems” and how they are built. Well, here’s an analogy for you: blockchains are like roads.
Just as there’s no single type of road (regular highways, motorways, backcountry dirt tracks), there is no single type of blockchain. Each one is purpose-built for its own ends. Not only that, but roads have a system of independent elements that come together to enable the whole ecosystem to function smoothly and reliably: traffic lights, police enforcers, toll roads, gas stations and so on. So it is with blockchains.
When we talk about a “blockchain ecosystem,” we’re talking about the parts that constitute the whole, how they interact with each other and how they interact with the outside world.
The Bitcoin ecosystem, for example, boils down to four parts: the users sending and receiving payments, the miners generating the cryptocurrency, the investors buying it, and the developers that monitor and maintain the whole thing. No single part of the equation works without the others being there too.
In any event, a series of ingredients must work together well to keep a blockchain project operational. We’re going to take a look at the pieces that constitute four major blockchain projects that are up and running today.
Despite the blockchain industry still being very young, we can already single out some major non-Bitcoin blockchain infrastructure projects: Ethereum, Waves, Stellar, NEO, NEM and a handful of others.
Ethereum was proposed by Vitalik Buterin in 2013, crowdfunded with 30,000 BTC in the summer of 2014 and launched a year later in 2015. Its core feature is “smart contracts,” which run automatically and exactly as coded, without any possibility of downtime.
Ethereum is not the only platform that uses smart contracts. NEO runs decentralized software in a manner similar to Ethereum, and in fact is trying to position itself as the “Chinese Ethereum.” The difference is that NEO apps are written in popular programming languages like Python, whilst Ethereum relies on its own custom Solidity language. Additionally, NEO lets users digitize certain assets and track them on its blockchain, making it simple to trade them as users see fit. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry — one Redditor with a computer science degree confessed even he has a hard time understanding it.
In contrast to Ethereum’s focus on the developer community, the Waves platform focuses on mass adoption. Founder Sasha Ivanov’s vision was to create a platform different from existing blockchains and more focused on real-world applications.
Products and services include a multi-currency wallet, the ability to raise funds for the development of projects through token issuance and an integrated decentralized exchange, none of which requires any expertise in blockchain technology to use. It is this ease of use and simplicity that Waves believes will benefit a wide range of businesses and so open up the blockchain economy for any organization of any size, in any sector.
Stellar is a blockchain-enabled payment network designed to move money across borders easily. This is facilitated by people voluntarily running Stellar servers on their computers, each containing a complete copy of the Stellar ledger and synchronized every two to five seconds. The more people running these nodes, the stronger the network becomes.
NEM is a blockchain platform for managing assets like currencies, supply chains, notarizations and ownership records. It found some mainstream success in late 2015 when a pair of Japanese banks began to implement it in their businesses. NEM’s ecosystem breaks down into two components: the nodes that make up the NEM Infrastructure Server (NIS) and the clients that interact with those nodes.
Exchanges and Token Launching Tools
Every blockchain project of note has a similarly robust ecosystem under its hood, and they almost always include a decentralized exchange. These might be developed by the core project team, the community or other developers.
Consider NEO’s NEX exchange, which merges blockchain with off-chain matching technology to complete complex trades quickly. Stellar’s SDEX exchange is designed to find the cheapest rates between any two digital assets, making it more affordable to trade crypto. EtherDelta is one of the decentralized exchanges used for trading Ethereum’s ERC20 tokens; it readily integrates with hardware wallets, or users can create a wallet…