Ethereum is not just a technological platform for building global decentralized applications; it is also a global decentralized community, with many independent community members and teams from many countries working together toward a common goal with little centralized coordination. 以太王国 goes into depth on the human side of the Ethereum ecosystem.
When I first started working on Ethereum, what I had in mind was something quite simple: to build a platform that contains a programming language, allowing all kinds of blockchain-based applications to be built on top. Initially, my thinking started from financial contracts, as this was the key application of the blockchain projects I was working on before Ethereum, but it soon expanded to domain name systems, decentralized storage systems, and that further ultimate ideal: decentralied autonomous organizations (DAOs). But what I did not realize at the time was how the Ethereum platform and community would itself prove to be the test-bed for a large and significant global experiment in making decentralized governance actually work.
Learning from experiences in Bitcoin and the challenges that came out of the Bitcoin network depending on a single dominant client (Bitcoin Core), one of the earliest decisions in Ethereum was to aim for a multi-client network, where nodes could run one of several software packages designed to implement the same protocol. The goal of this was to ensure that no single development team could easily “capture” the governance of the network, and that consensus among a diverse group would be required to implement changes. The research and development teams were also decentralized out of necessity: we had developers in the United States, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Romania and China, and I am sure there are countries that I have missed. This led to a structure where the large team was split into smaller teams, and each team had a high degree of autonomy. Additionally, Joseph Lubin soon left the Ethereum Foundation and started Consensys, a company that would then develop many applications for Ethereum, and participate in many ways in the ecosystem’s evolution. In terms of number of people hired, Consensys would soon outgrow even the Ethereum Foundation itself.
Over the next few years, this decentralized structure would prove to have many benefits. It gave space for many people in the community to come in and help make the Ethereum ecosystem better, whether by writing code, researching, building applications, writing or whatever else each person is best at. Most of the work done on Ethereum is done by people outside of the Ethereum Foundation, and bringing so many people together in a traditional “startup” fashion would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding - and even then, people would not have been as motivated. Many newer blockchain projects, often launched in Silicon Valley, often take a much more corporate and money-driven approach to creating a blockchain, thinking that this “pragmatic” attitude will let them overtake Ethereum with “top talent” and greater efficiencies. However, such projects seem to repeatedly get delayed or fail, and have difficulties growing beyond a small community.
But at the same time, there are also challenges. The DAO hack, where an attacker discovered a bug in a major application running on Ethereum that allowed millions of dollars to be stolen, would prove to be the Ethereum community’s first major test. Should the Ethereum protocol be modified one time to reverse the effects of the hack, rescuing the funds inside one application, or should we refuse to make any modifications, showing a strong commitment to the protocol’s neutrality? The first option won out, but not before considerable arguments within the community, some of whom would leave to create Ethereum Classic (ETC).
Soon after, focus switched to building out a major upgrade to Ethereum, called Ethereum 2.0, which would replace Ethereum’s proof of work mining algorithm with a much more efficient system called “proof of stake”, and simultaneously increase the chain’s scalability. Many details had to be worked out: How would the transition work? How to trade off between simplicity and efficiency? What roles would different nodes in the network have? How would development be funded?
Building a completely new paradigm for the development of an ecosystem is not an easy challenge. But the Ethereum community is already rising up to the challenge, and the techniques that it has developed may soon have lessons for the world outside the blockchain space as well.
Vitalik Buterin （Ethereum Founder）