Are you wondering why it is taking so long for blockchain to become as ubiquitous as AI or IoT? One of the biggest stumbling blocks (pardon the pun) is that Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, and the vast majority of other blockchains are proprietary ecosystems (walled gardens) that cannot easily share data or exchange value with other blockchains. This is not a new problem, but there are new, well-funded solutions emerging with exciting roadmaps that point to explosive growth in the near-term. Here’s a quick overview of some projects that have my attention.
An Example Problem
For a variety of reasons, exchanges do not list every cryptocurrency and every wallet is not compatible with every kind of token. So, if I want to exchange CoinA for CoinB, I may have to go to an exchange where CoinA and CoinC trade, and exchange my CoinA for CoinC. Then, go to an exchange where CoinB and CoinC trade, and exchange my CoinC for CoinB. This is time consuming and expensive. Look at how many trades (and associated transaction fees) are involved. To expand this example, you can substitute NFT for CoinA, and your digital wallet for CoinB, and think about how to take digital custody of (or trade) an NFT.
Some Early Solutions
Early solutions such as “atomic swaps” solve part of this problem using time-bound smart contracts called HTLCs (Hash Timelock Contracts). But there are several problems with atomic swap exchanges (Google “double-spend attacks” and “Uniswap” if you want to dig a little deeper).
There are a few very clunky cross-chain bridges available. If you want to understand just how much knowledge is required to implement a cross-chain bridge between Ethereum and Polygon (which are considered highly compatible), have a look at the payout schema for ethermine.org, the second largest ETH mining pool. With all due respect to my 87-year-old mother, she’s not going to go through this process to save a few GWei and neither is any other average consumer. (BTW, Polygon is the rebranded Matic Network and its goal is to be Ethereum’s internet of blockchains. Clearly, they have some work to do.)
Cross-chain Projects to Watch
Which brings us to the cross-chain projects that have my attention. Importantly, I have zero financial interest in any of the following projects. I am not offering financial advice and I am not a licensed financial advisor. Trading cryptocurrencies poses considerable risk of loss. If you are considering investing in crypto, please consult a licensed financial advisor.
Cosmos calls itself, “The Internet of Blockchains – an ever-expanding ecosystem of interconnected apps and services, built for a decentralized future.” Along with its ATOM cryptocurrency, Cosmos offers the Inter-Blockchain Communication Protocol (IBC) which is an open-source framework for building multi-asset public Proof-of-Stake (PoS) blockchains, like the Cosmos Hub, as well as permissioned Proof-Of-Authority (PoA) blockchains.
Cosmos has pre-launched a decentralized exchange (DEX) called Gravity. They are calling it the “most advanced interchain DEX.” The exchange uses a modified AMM (Automated Market Maker) model they call an “Equivalent Swap Price Model.” I’m watching Cosmos and the dozens of projects overseen by the Swiss non-profit Interchain Foundation very carefully.
Wanchain calls itself a, “Multi-Blockchain Financial Superhub – the world’s most advanced blockchain interoperability platform.” Sound familiar? Like Cosmos, “Wanchain provides the economic infrastructure for developers to build super financial applications that span multiple blockchains and communities.” In practice, Wanchain features ring signature-based private transactions and a wide-range of decentralized cross-chain functionality. Its DEX is called WanSwap AMM. With their EVM-based toolset, Wanchain wants to become a central player in cross-chain DeFi.
Polkadot says that its tools enable “cross-blockchain transfers of any type of data or asset, not just tokens. Connecting to Polkadot gives you the ability to interoperate with a wide variety of blockchains in the Polkadot network.” In technical terms, Polkadot is a Layer-0 protocol that allows you to build custom blockchains (parachains) which interoperate with all the other Polkadot parachains. Is Polkadot’s approach a winning strategy? Their success to date says they may be on to something.
Blockchain Interoperability, Scalability, and Usability
One clear path to an interoperable, scalable, usable crypto/Web 3 universe is cross-chain compatibility. These are just a few of the hundreds of cross-chain projects I have seen in the past year or so. And every day we hear from a handful of new startups that have “cracked the cross-chain code.”
There is rarely a silver bullet, but the short history of the web has taught us that after the shake-out the online world only allows for a few culturally separated giants. Will the decentralized world follow that path or will we see multiple interoperable protocols? Get ready. The battle for your heart, mind, and crypto wallet is just beginning.
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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.