Augur is finally live.
The decentralized platform for betting on real-world predictions was one of the first applications built on top of the ethereum blockchain, and its creators sold "reputation" (REP) tokens for over $5 million in 2015 – a time when few were talking about "ICOs" or "utility coins." A public beta version of the platform came out the following year, and its team published a revised version of its white paper in January.
Now, the Forecast Foundation, the not-for-profit behind Augur's development, has announced the launch of the long-awaited platform, which was accompanied by the release of the final version of the Augur application as open-source software.
The years-long delay in reaching this point may have been frustrating for token holders, but it has allowed the Augur team to aggressively vet their code through internal audits and a generous bug bounty program. Notably, Augur offered $200,000 for bugs that qualified as "critical" (though the team hasn't announced any rewards larger than $5,000).
The project has good reasons for being so circumspect.
As Tom Kysar, operations lead at the Forecast Foundation (which was created to support Augur), told CoinDesk in February:
"We'll probably be the largest and most complex application to be attempted to be deployed on ethereum."
At the same time, he added, "Once Augur is live on the mainnet" – that is, once it's live on the ethereum blockchain – "we have no more control over Augur than anyone else does."
So, the risk that a serious vulnerability could cripple a complex decentralized application like Augur aren't just academic. After all, the entire DAO saga – ICO, launch, hack, ethereum fork and ensuing divisions – unfolded in the time between Augur's token sale and its launch.
How it works
Augur allows participants to bet on anything.
As long as the outcome can be verified in the real world, users can create a prediction market for anything from ether's price, an election in Brazil or the outcome of Iceland v. Argentina in the World Cup.
What distinguishes Augur from a traditional betting market is that no single party sits in the middle, meaning that users are likely to pay lower prices.
Removing the centralized intermediary from a betting market presents a problem, however: how to bring dispersed, financially interested parties into agreement about the actual outcome of the predicted event?
In Augur's system, the creator of a prediction market designates a "reporter" to vet the outcome. This designated entity puts down a deposit of REP tokens, which they lose if they incorrectly report the outcome and other REP holders challenge them. The reporter is compensated through fees.
Day-to-day betting is not done in REP, but in ether, the native token of the ethereum blockchain (though, eventually, the plan is to support other ethereum-based tokens). Users can buy and sell shares in particular predictions, which are priced according to the likelihood the market attaches to each outcome.
More than just cheap bets
Augur's white paper argues that fees on the platform will go "as low as market forces can drive them," providing those placing bets with an attractive alternative to current offerings.
The platform will also likely be difficult for governments to block or censor if, as Kysar argued, no single party is in control of it – even the Forecast Foundation. That could make Augur appealing in jurisdictions where sports gambling is illegal, for example.
Augur's creators see it as more than just a rival to gaming sites such as Paddy Power, though. The project's website suggests its usefulness for forecasting – whether elections or quarterly product sales – and hedging against high-impact, low-likelihood events such as natural disasters.
Forecast Foundation co-founder and senior developer Joey Krug summed up the team's ambition last year, when he wrote:
"If Bitcoin gave us decentralized currency and Ethereum brought decentralized computation, Augur will enable a decentralized financial system."
Before Augur can overhaul the global financial system, though, it has to attract users.
Kyle Samani, co-founder and managing partner of the cryptocurrency investment fund Multicoin Capital – which he said does not currently own any REP tokens, but is following the project closely – told CoinDesk that the Augur team wants a "slow and steady" launch – nothing "loud [and] crazy."
"Not sure how much demand there will be," he continued, given that "they are not doing mainstream consumer marketing."
That said, if demand does materialize, Augur could put considerable strain on ethereum, according to Corey Miller, an investment analyst at cryptocurrency investment firm BlockTower Capital.
Echoing Kysar, Miller said Augur would be "the most complicated dapp to ever launch on ethereum."
But he added:
"Ethereum doesn't handle complicated so well."
In Miller's view, even modest demand for Augur could lead to a situation similar to the one caused by CryptoKitties at the height of its popularity, when the ethereum network slowed to a crawl and transactions became inordinately expensive.
In other words, the launch could turn out to be loud and crazy after all.
Ribbon-cutting via Shutterstock