Can We All Stop Pretending That Solana Is in Beta?

You can't target mass adoption through storefronts and smartphones while also claiming to be a work-in-progress when things go wrong.

AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2024 at 8:24 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 9:08 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2024 at 8:24 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 9:08 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconFeb 6, 2024 at 8:24 p.m. UTCUpdated Mar 8, 2024 at 9:08 p.m. UTC

Solana, one of the fastest growing blockchain networks, experienced severe disruptions early Tuesday morning. Engineers responded quickly, beginning work before 6 a.m. ET, to push out a patch needed to restart the halted chain. But it wasn’t until approximately 10:00 a.m., when validators collectively controlling 80% of staked SOL had updated to a new version of Solana’s source code, that the network began humming again.

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This is not the first time Solana has gone down. It has seen at least one major crash that severely affected block production every year since 2021 — with some outlets counting at least 11 total disruptions over the past two years, including minor events. The mainnet network is often said to be running in “beta,” a term that typically refers to nearly-finished software that is being tested by a select group of users before an official launch.

“Engineers from across the ecosystem are investigating an outage on mainnet-beta,” the Solana team’s incident report read. While it is true that Solana has never officially announced that it was leaving the beta testing phase, a period meant to help identify bugs and evaluate performance in real-world conditions, at this point the phrase seems increasingly like a cop out.

Solana is a fully functional blockchain with a large and committed user base. It is the fifth-largest “DeFi chain” by total value locked, representing about $1.7 billion in capital committed to the various on-chain apps. SOL, the native token, is the fifth-largest cryptocurrency at a market capitalization of nearly $42 billion. It is frequently cited as one of the blockchains with the most exciting developer communities.

There’s an argument to be made that Solana’s novel approach to blockchain architecture — it is often called a “monolithic chain” that uses a custom-built “proof-of-history” algorithm to quickly process transactions — needs time to cook before it’s fully ready to serve. There are also a number of major upgrades planned for the network to introduce greater programming flexibility and improve user experience.

But at the same time, its developer community, including the non-profit Solana Foundation, often push initiatives and projects meant to increase adoption. The foundation opened a store in the heart of New York City, for instance, to introduce passersby to the tech. Solana is also the only network to have its own custom-made smartphone (with a second, cheaper, version on the way).

A number of semi-viral apps, including STEPN, which paid people to exercise, were heavily promoted by influencers and celebrities like Sam Bankman-Fried. Outside of Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain, Solana is one of the few chains that could be said to have developed a unique trading community, with a number of homespun NFT projects and meme coins even spilling out and gaining international media exposure.

All of this is a testament to what Solana is and what is being built, as well as lead developer Anatoly Yakovenko’s charisma and leadership. The project clearly has legs, as evidenced by its Phoenix-like rebirth after the collapse of one of its principle backers, SBF.

But there is something disingenuous in saying that a project is a work-in-progress while also actively attempting to on-board the world. Especially if you genuinely believe that crypto assets have real value — otherwise you are unnecessarily putting people at risk.

It’s telling, for instance, that the term “beta” isn’t thrown around anywhere on the pre-order page for the next version of Solana Mobile's Saga phone. Instead, there’s a preamble meant to inspire FOMO about how the first edition “almost overnight … sold out” (which isn’t exactly true, unless you ignore the months leading up to a viral moment) and telling people not to “miss your chance to be an early adopter” and “maximize your chance for ecosystem rewards and giveaways.”

Under the Saga FAQ there are no statements about Solana being experimental tech, but instead questions like “how many can I order.”

There is also little indication of when Solana might exit its “beta” period. Considering that it is a live mainnet, as open and accessible as any other blockchain, with no requirements for users to submit feedback or find bugs, you could argue the term is obsolete by default. Ethereum, Zcash and Cardano all swapped out their core algorithms without disrupting service or reentering beta.

So I think it’s time to retire a term that is only ever really walked out when something goes wrong. None of this is meant to suggest Solana won’t eventually work out its kinks — and hopefully this is the last time it fails. Just own your mistakes.

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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.