I’m spending this week at ETHDenver, an Ethereum-focused conference in … well, Denver. I expect to be publishing regular updates from the Mile High City. First impression after landing last night: Denver, keep your bars open later.
I’m excited, partly because ETHDenver is an excellent conference, but mostly because in-person conferences have been few and far between for most of us over the past two years. That means crypto as a whole has been largely missing one of the most important parts of its development ecosystem.
That importance may be surprising to some new entrants. Blockchain and crypto are, after all, about being able to do things on the internet, pseudonymously, and without having to trust the people you’re trading, communicating or competing with. But the last few weeks have shown that, at best, we’re not quite there yet: Bad contracts, bad guys hiding behind pseudonyms and NFT rug pulls – Oh my!
These tragedies are bad enough when you’re a yield-farming pleb. But if you’re a businessperson or designer looking to actually create something in crypto, getting caught in the blast radius when someone else’s grift, laziness or incompetence detonates can be career ending. Hence the importance of a near year-round conference circuit that creates (or created) a tight-knit community of developers and fellow travelers who know one another’s faces, not just their avatars.
And ETHDenver stands as an event with strong – though not bulletproof – hype protection. It’s full of builders and techies and rigorous critical minds, not hypebeasts. The atmosphere of rigor won’t completely protect you, but it will sure boost your chances of interacting with non-sociopaths. It’s also, incredibly, FREE, and online participant slots are still available though in-person passes are now being waitlisted.
Equally important, conferences like ETHDenver will just plain expose you to more technical information than you’re likely to see anywhere online. The presentations and conversations are largely between developers, not pointed at the public. While non-devs will find themselves in the dark pretty frequently, close listeners will wind up with a much-enhanced grasp of technical nuance. And, ultimately, in crypto if you don’t grok the tech, you’re just throwing darts blindfolded.
Big crypto conferences tend to work a bit like transaction blocks, consolidating months (or in this case years) of inchoate sentiment and discourse on important topics into a documented and memorialized Big Event. Here are some of the big topics on the table at this year’s ETHDenver.
Layer 2s, multichain and bridging
As I wrote after the Wormhole attack, it’s still unclear whether there’s a path to a future in which multiple layer 1 blockchains (think Bitcoin, Solana, Avalanche) can smoothly and safely interact. This question has immense market and development implications. It will be discussed at length, onstage and off.
The Ethereum 2.0 upgrade/scaling
Goes without saying. The monumental task of transitioning the Ethereum network from Bitcoin-like proof-of-work mining to less energy-intensive proof-of-stake mining is expected to reach the finish line later this year, and the process itself is pretty well mapped out. But there will still be tons to figure out about the impacts, particularly how projects that build on Ethereum will need to adjust to the new reality. And then there are the future upgrades to ETH 2.0 – particularly sharding, currently slated for 2023 implementation. How much extra throughput will we get and, most importantly, whither these crippling transaction fees?
The bear market/the BUIDL market
Despite a recent bounce, upcoming U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hikes could really hammer crypto prices. That will impact on the strength and stability of a lot of crypto businesses and projects, as well as slowing down user growth. In past crypto cycles these have been shockingly fruitful times because teams are able to turn down the noise of public hype and focus on their own work. There will certainly be strategizing around a potential bear market, which for the first time seems likely to include acquisitions and consolidations, not just between startups but also between DAOs, a potentially fascinating development.
Event and schedule sampler
ETHDenver and other large crypto conferences are a lot like South by Southwest – there’s the official event but also dozens of unofficial “satellite events.” Here’s a potpourri of highlights from both, courtesy of my eagle-eyed colleagues here at CoinDesk.
Metapod DAO Accelerator Pitch Contest – Wednesday, 2/16 4:30 p.m. Mountain time (MT)
Schelling Point – Economics, Governance and Society miniconference. Looks incredible – Thursday, 2/17, all day.
Decentralized Social Media – A particularly powerhouse panel on a crucial subject – and notably free of some eager beavers who have mishandled its promise. Thursday, 2/17 4:40 p.m. MT
The Keynote Marathon – Another example of the enduring importance of names and faces. Friday, 2/18 will see Zooko Wilcox, Kimball Musk and Vitalik Buterin address the conference. 7:10 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MT.