From $72 million to $28 billion – ethereum's value has skyrocketed in 2017.
Once dismissed as just another cryptocurrency, the protocol has won praise for its persistence in charting an innovative course in technology development. Indeed, for many investors, the conversation is now bitcoin and ether first, a sign it's set itself apart from the broader asset class.
That said, roadblocks remain between ethereum and its goal of fulfilling its value proposition and becoming a "world computer."
It's against that background that programmers and enthusiasts from around the world are descending on Cancún, Mexico, this week for the protocol's flagship developer conference, Devcon. An annual event, Devcon3 sold out back in July and features 128 sessions over the course of its four-day program.
There to present will be several of the platform's most prominent technologists, including ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Name Service (ENS) developer Nick Johnson and Cornell University professor Emin Gun Sirer, who will no doubt speak to the network's pressing issues.
A look at the schedule shows that ethereum developers have their heads down on a variety of projects aimed at bringing the platform to fruition, with perhaps scalability and privacy emerging as the big touchpoints.
Can't make it to Cancun? The Ethereum Foundation is streaming the entire conference live.
With that in mind, CoinDesk has compiled its list of the top six talks to watch:
1. Casper the Friendly GHOST: A correct-by-construction blockchain – Vlad Zamfir
Perhaps the most-anticipated of ethereum's projects, Casper looks to completely rewire how ethereum works.
Vlad Zamfir, who leads ethereum's more experimental research into proof-of-stake, is one of the best-equipped to speak to this topic, but he's also known for holing up and not chatting much about his research. So, this talk could shed some much-needed light on how far along the research actually is.
Along those lines, Zamfir told CoinDesk that he will be "publishing a lot of information" about his approach to proof-of-stake in the near future, without giving specific details on what's to come.
2. Scaling Ethereum Smart Contracts – Joseph Poon
While moving the network to proof-of-stake is touted as a way to increase the efficiency of the network, it's not a silver bullet for ethereum.
To support the number of users that Google and Facebook support – companies that ethereum developers want to one day replace with decentralized applications – the network will need to scale immensely.
With ethereum nearly at its limit already, off-chain scaling is a hot topic as well, and Joseph Poon, the co-creator of leading bitcoin scaling solution Lightning Network has an idea for ethereum.
He'll be presenting on Plasma, an off-chain scaling solution that takes some inspiration from Lightning.
3. Designing Maximally Verifying Light Clients and Sharding – Vitalik Buterin
Vitalik Buterin is sure to draw a crowd, and this session looks to add onto the scaling discussions by speaking on two budding technologies he's been researching.
One is light clients, which are a type of ethereum node that stores less ethereum data, making nodes run more efficiently. The second is sharding, a theoretical way of splitting up ethereum so that users only need to carry a slice of the blockchain history, again an effort to make using the network less cumbersome.
With a good amount of power as to the path the network will take, Buterin's ideas could be a sign of things to come on ethereum in 2018 and beyond.
4. Mist: Towards a Decentralized, Secure Architecture – Everton Fraga and Victor Maia
Meanwhile, once the core infrastructure is all glued together, there's been significant research into how users might one day interact with ethereum.
Mist, the user interface sponsored by the Ethereum Foundation and the one with the most users, is described as a way of browsing decentralized applications (dapps). By beginning the efforts to design a user interface that's light and fast, developers are proactively planning for a future where ethereum creates dapps to compete with Google and centralized social media platforms.
Ethereum developers Everton Fraga and Victor Maia will update users on the direction they think is best for the wallet.
5. zk-SNARKs Lecture Series
Another major theme of the conference is privacy, and displaying how important ethereum developers believe it is, zk-SNARKS – the privacy tech used on anonymous cryptocurrency zcash – is getting a whole lecture series.
Stretched across five talks, progress here is particularly notable since ethereum developers recently took a small (but bold) step toward adding the privacy technology to the platform.
Representatives from Zcash Company will speak about the bleeding-edge cryptography that shields more data than any other process currently, something many feel will be paramount to getting more heavy hitters, such as financial institutions, to use the network.
6. Whisper: Achieving Darkness – Vlad Gluhovsky
Whisper, ironically, is one of ethereum's quieter projects.
While it's supposed to make messages between ethereum nodes and the network private – a popular topic for ethereum today – it has yet to grab much attention. Although, that doesn't mean it's seen as an inessential component; Ethereum Foundation developer Victor Tron once went so far as to call it one of three elements in ethereum's "holy trinity."
In this talk, developer Vlad Gluhovsky could provide some rare insight into where the development of the Whisper protocol is going.
As coders are often seen as reserved when it comes to divulging information about their work, the transparency here and throughout the conference will likely be a highlight of Devcon this year. And with the spike in outside interest in ethereum, it'll be interesting to see whether what developers have planned matches the enthusiasm.
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Zcash Company, the for-profit company behind zcash.
Lens flare image via Shutterstock