The developer who created core technology that has helped launch thousands of initial coin offerings (ICOs) isn't all that impressed with the fruits of his creation.
Looking ahead to 2018, Fabian Vogelsteller is interested in taking the model he pioneered with ethereum's ERC-20 token standard, effectively a drop-dead simple way of creating your own cryptocurrency, and recreating its effects for one of blockchain tech's most-often touted use cases: digital identity.
And there's reason to think replicating the success here could be big. In many ways, traditional online identity has become a disaster, especially in recent years where many of the large gatekeepers of consumer data have been hacked and millions of consumer data points exposed.
Blockchains, by contrast, have been touted as a way of giving consumers control of their own information, to not only decrease fraud, but also cut off large enterprises from using consumer data for their own gain.
The identity mess is a hard one to untangle, though, and while there are blockchain startups focused on this area, Vogelsteller believes something like the ICO token standard could kick the industry into gear.
According to Vogelsteller, who has gone as far as to call token sales the "least interesting" application of ethereum, there's too much attention on "making money" in the space right now. But by contrast, identity is a "very important" application that ethereum could facilitate.
"It's what the future needs, absolutely. There's no way around it," he said.
And so, Vogelsteller has been asking himself: if standards are what sparked today's ICO craze, can the same idea be applied elsewhere? Recently putting forward a new standard ERC-725 for identity, Vogelsteller plans to find out.
He told CoinDesk:
"The reason is it's so simple. This is one reason why [ERC-20] took off compared to other systems, compared to colored coins and others. When we have agreement on the interfaces used, suddenly there’s an explosion of experimentation."
Like other requests for comment, ERC-725 is modeled after the process of upgrading the internet, in which computer scientists come together to debate on the topic before anything is officially adopted.
And also like the infrastructure underneath the internet, Vogelsteller and others believe blockchains will also function more efficiently with the use of standards.
ERC-725 specifically defines and standardizes the actions all identity implementations need to take, such as adding claims to the smart contract and the mechanism for obtaining those claims later. By using a standardized system, entrepreneurs and companies know their application will be able to interface with all other applications using the standard.
As an example, Vogelsteller said governments could create claims using the ERC-725 standard that ride on top of the ethereum blockchain, which would then, not only have an immutable provenance of the identity, but be easily transferable to others using the same system.
But Vogelsteller also describes ERC-725 as "very flexible," and could be used to identify just about anything, hinting that it could be adapted to work for supply chain management as well.
"It's basically a shell," he said, adding:
"This identity works not only for humans, but it works for objects and robots."
The standard is far from complete, though.
Currently, the proposal is on GitHub, accumulating feedback.
"It's just a draft proposal. In the end, we'll all discuss it. There will be opinions and changes," Vogelsteller acknowledged. "Ultimately, we'll come up with whatever makes the most sense for everybody."
Indeed, the GitHub issue has already led to plenty of technical sparring, and a broader discussion about whether an identity standard is necessary at all.
Yet, much of the feedback has been positive, with ethereum developer Alex Van de Sande calling ERC-725 "very useful" and developer Julien Bouteloup contending "this is so needed."
Vogelsteller, of course, agrees, suspecting it will have a big impact on the ecosystem, one that's been a long time coming.
"Frankly speaking ... I was thinking about it two years ago, and the idea stayed in my head. It’s so simple. I expected other projects ... to come up with a standard. They didn’t, so I did."
Fabian Vogelsteller image via YouTube
Correction: An earlier version of the article misstated that the core ethereum protocol needs to be upgraded to accommodate the standard. This has been corrected.