Ethereum is out to prove itself at its annual developer event, set to begin next Wednesday.
Once arguably the most active corner of the booming cryptocurrency market, it's safe to say enthusiasm for the project has cooled, if only by comparison. Despite meteoric growth that has seen the protocol rise to $29 billion in value, not to mention hundreds of ICO projects launch using its technology, ethereum may be underperforming against its own high expectations.
That's because to many supporters, the project, launched in 2014, had seemed destined to become the first to pass bitcoin in market value (and other key metrics) this year. And while there was a big run in June, the so-called "flippening" never came to pass.
Still, suggestions the protocol is struggling are only surface level, according to those involved.
"I think they are hitting on all cylinders," investor and author William Mougayar told CoinDesk. "It's a real platform with several pieces on top."
Ahead of Devcon3 this week, being held in Cancun, Mexico, attendees are also hoping for a strong showing of technical talks and project updates that demonstrate the protocol's progress.
Speaking to this restlessness was ConsenSys head of global business development Andrew Keys, who voiced his hope that the conference can show to the world the pace of development that is ongoing in the ethereum technical community.
Keys told CoinDesk:
"I think it's time to put up or shut up. We've had enough proof-of-concepts. [It's] time to get things into production."
That said, others had a perception of what they hope Devcon3 won't be.
Developer Hudson Jameson, employed by the non-profit Ethereum Foundation, stated that the event was designed not to be an "ICO-fest," words denoting the backlash that's growing as more projects seek to leverage ethereum in fundraising (and not always to positive headlines).
Rather, Jameson said he expects the conference to serve as a forum for technical discussion, with time spent examining the state of efforts aimed to make ethereum more private and more scalable.
Still, while some see Devcon3 as a showcase of where ethereum is going, others see it as a showcase of the platform's current limitations.
Though there have been countless ethereum test-runs recently (with even the United Nations trialing the technology in its global humanitarian efforts), few are using ethereum – or other blockchains – outside of a laboratory setting. And that's partly because the technology is a work in progress.
Ethereum's recent upgrade Byzantium, one of the largest-ever updates to the platform, brought improvements to the blockchain, but there was still a lot it didn't do.
Still to be achieved are long-promised shifts, such as the migration to a more eco-friendly and egalitarian mining protocol, and top-level applications that make the technology easier to use.
In this way, National University of Singapore computer science Ph.D. candidate and Kyber Network co-founder Loi Luu argued the fork, while successful, didn't meet expectations across the board.
"I think many people were not happy with the recent hard fork since it wasn't significant enough," he said.
Further, it took longer than expected for the not-quite-revolutionary change to occur. First, Byzantium was divided into two upgrades to make developers' jobs easier, then the first fork was delayed.
Others, however, were keen to write off any complaints. Gnosis co-founder and developer Stefan George said he was happy that the fork "finally happened," arguing hat it lays the groundwork for the project's goals.
Along those lines, developers stressed that ethereum's weaknesses will be a point of focus at Devcon3. Scalability is one of the biggest hurdles – after all, if all goes according to plan, ethereum would like its applications to replace centralized services like Facebook some day.
Luu stressed the need for more research in this area, expressing hopes that Devcon3 will help galvanize work toward that goal.
"Ethereum is getting more mainstream now, people are expecting some scalability solution to be deployed real soon," he said.
Also putting pressure on the talks will be the perceived need for developers to move quickly in line with the expectations of the market.
George, for one, cited Dfinity – another blockchain billing itself as a "world computer" – as one he'll be looking out for in 2018, but he foresees that there could be others. Still, he argued that rival platforms could be beneficial for the platform, potentially forcing ethereum's global community into action.
"Serious competition will be good."
Image via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk