While critics have long taken aim at ethereum for a lack of production projects, a new wave of decentralized applications (or 'dapps') is making notable progress.
Over the last few months, a number of long-anticipated ethereum projects have entered alpha and beta, including uPort, which aims to hand users more control of their online identity, and Akasha, a social media app that's been two years in the making.
And some brand new applications have emerged, too.
Aragon, for example, debuted last Friday with the goal of helping anyone launch their own DAO (an autonomous, blockchain-based company), a release that goes to show how new ethereum entrepreneurs are now looking to take forward long-established ideas.
In conversation with CoinDesk, Akasha CEO and ethereum founder Mihai Alisie noted that after months – sometimes years – in incubation, there is a belief that ethereum dapps are "starting to make their debut".
Alisie said that he believes its community has "matured during the last year", even in the face of what could at best be called obstacles and growing pains for the platform.
In 2016, The DAO, ethereum's largest project to date, dissolved in a matter of months, and later, an attacker took advantage of cheaply priced code functions to spam the network for months on end, slowing down transactions and smart contracts.
But, behind the scenes, work was underway, those close to the development ecosystem say.
Jarrad Hope, the developer of the decentralized ethereum wallet Status, told CoinDesk:
"I think what we're seeing is the hard, quiet work of the ethereum developer community from the past year."
The next Web?
Also notable about this batch of projects is their ambition.
Many projects intend to replace existing apps, whether social networks like Facebook or web tools like Google Docs, with new, decentralized versions. Using ethereum's architecture, these apps are designed without a single point of control, though they behave in a similar way to the centralized services they seek to replace.
One already up-and-running app is Ethlance, which connects freelancers with ethereum-related work gigs. Rather than storing the website in a central database, it spreads it across the ethereum network, with the front-end website code stored with the help of the peer-to-peer protocol, IPFS.
Today, there are extra steps users need to take to access the platform – mainly users need to be synched up with ethereum, which means downloading the entire blockchain history via a client like geth or parity.
With Ethlance, the app doesn't take a cut of earnings. Rather, users need to pay the network a small amount of ether to make any update to their profile. This is because, behind the scenes, a version of the user's data is being changed on every node in the network.
As with many projects, time will tell if this will prove an off-putting glitch in the user experience, but some believe the overall usability of the platform is improving.
Mattan Field, founder of the ethereum-based publishing platform Backfeed, attributes the uptick to several factors, including the "maturity of the tech staff".
"Overall [there is a] maturity of the space, technical and conceptual," he said.
Waiting on ethereum
Like in the cryptocurrency world more broadly, much depends on more forward-looking changes, though. After all, a dapp isn't much use without a fully developed underlying infrastructure.
As acknowledged by its developers, ethereum itself isn't yet production-ready, and some components that it will connect to, like the file-storage system Swarm, remain in progress.
Moving forward with more user-facing apps depends heavily on these pieces of the puzzle being put in place.
"There is still a long way to go, but the present points towards a promising future when you also add into the picture [proof of stake], lightning networks and sharding."
The Raiden Network, a must for any project looking for serious scale, is aimed at boosting the number of possible transactions and some types of smart contracts on ethereum. It's scheduled for a minimal release in 2017 — perhaps as soon as March.
Other solutions, however, are likely to only come with time.
Web of dependencies
Going forward, it remains to be seen whether the protocol's technical improvements can keep pace with entrepreneur aspirations.
Akasha and uPort, for instance, are both dependent on IPFS for a system of decentralized storage, while Akasha ultimately aims one day to add support for uPort for identity purposes.
Yet, others believe the sheer number of ethereum developers will help the protocol overcome its current growing pains.
The new phase for dapps perhaps go hand-in-hand with lower-level fine-tuning as protocol developers gear up for Metropolis, a more advanced version of ethereum expected for release this year.
Other planned changes don't exist yet – 'sharding' is in early stages, and the network's new consensus algorithm Casper is very much a work in progress. With this in mind, it's less clear when protocol engineers will be able to make big underlying changes.
Hope, however, noted that developers will likely have to take a leap of faith in this regard, one based on their confidence in institutions like the Ethereum Foundation and its developer team.
He told CoinDesk:
"Ethereum is bleeding-edge technology, in this space you have to build for the future. When it comes to the underlying protocols it often requires leaps of faith."
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