The bet placed five years ago on the future of crypto feels like an echo from a completely different era.
Announced at CoinDesk's Consensus conference in 2018 with a May 2023 end date, the wager emerged before the DeFi Summer of 2020, when development of decentralized financial products built on top of Ethereum exploded. Before the gigantic bull market that crumbled last year. Before 2022's disasters including FTX, Terra and Celsius.
Yet, it's not an irrelevant historical curiosity. The terms between bitcoin maximalist Jimmy Song and Ethereum co-founder Joe Lubin – major figures on what are arguably polar opposite sides of crypto – and who won tell a lot about the current state of the industry and the prospects for mainstream adoption as it recovers from the wreckage of the past year.
After Song said onstage at that 2018 conference that there wouldn't be any significant decentralized applications in five years, Lubin offered to bet “any amount” that he was wrong. They later got more specific about the terms of a wager: For Lubin to win, five or more applications built atop Ethereum needed to hold onto 10,000 daily and 100,000 monthly active users for at least six months in any 12-month period before May 23, 2023. A daily active user was defined as an on-chain transaction initiated by a single Ethereum address.
In other words: A handful of Ethereum apps needed to get, as Song put it, the sort of traction enjoyed by a minimally successful Android or iPhone app.
The bet was sealed with a handshake.
Who won? “Given we never specified the terms, I have no idea,” Song wrote when contacted by CoinDesk last week. Lubin didn’t say who he thinks won when contacted recently by CoinDesk.
Though Song and Lubin may be fuzzy on the original agreement, CoinDesk took a crack at sorting out who would’ve won based on the publicly disclosed terms.
Two blockchain data firms (Artemis and Nansen) say five decentralized apps (dapps) met the specified usage levels over the past half-decade – the bare minimum for a Lubin win. But there might be some wiggle room over whether the five names in the datasets qualify as dapps.
So, if Lubin was the victor, he just squeaked by; it wasn't a blowout. And he might’ve lost, depending on whom you ask.
Given all the hype around dapp development during the last bull market run that took Ethereum total value locked (TVL) – a measure of how much money is sloshing around a protocol’s ecosystem – above $100 billion back in November 2021, that’s counterintuitive, and telling. (There are over 14,000 Ethereum dapps today, according to DappRadar. They’re just mostly small.)
“I think the results show how early the industry is,” Laura Shin, who hosted the duo on her Unconfirmed podcast in 2018 shortly after the bet, told CoinDesk.
The crypto bet
Back when this all started five years ago, the main innovation of Ethereum – a blockchain that served as a platform for smart contracts that automatically do things in a decentralized way, or programmable money, as it were – was still nascent. Song wasn’t convinced it’d go anywhere.
“Even if by some miracle you have some popular dapp, you're going to be able to build it much cheaper, faster, more scalable and more maintainable and upgradable on a centralized platform and crush that dapp,” Song told former CoinDesk reporter Brady Dale at Consensus 2019.
Lubin said at the time: “Jimmy's thesis was that there would be no significant applications on blockchain, and the only thing relevant in blockchain was Bitcoin. … My thesis is, Bitcoin is awesome, and there's a narrow set of use cases built on Bitcoin and that's wonderful. We love that, but decentralized applications are also really useful.”
If the conditions were met, Song would pay 810.8 ETH to Lubin. If not, Lubin would pay Song 69.74 BTC. Each bet was worth $500,000 at the time. (By today’s numbers, Lubin would win $1.5 million and Song would win $1.9 million.)
According to blockchain data firms Artemis and Nansen, the five applications that broke both the 10,000 daily active and 100,000 monthly active user marks in the agreed-on time period were Circle, OpenSea, Tether, Uniswap and wrapped ETH (WETH).
While MakerDAO, 0x, Gnosis Safe, Chainlink, MetaMask and 1inch also had more than 100,000 monthly active users in the agreed-on time period, they did not meet the 10,000 daily active users criteria.
But before declaring this a Lubin victory, consider the disagreement in the crypto community about what constitutes a dapp.
“I don't count WETH as an application,” Station Labs co-founder Mind Apivessa told CoinDesk over Telegram. “WETH is an ERC-20 token standard. It’s used because it makes it easier to trade on dApps with ETH.”
Lindsey Winder, CEO of Hedgey Finance, said, “Smart contracts are not by default dapps. … Dapps in my mind are the interface that allow people to interact with smart contracts in a no-code way. If I’m using a service like Uniswap to wrap and unwrap ETH, then I'm using a dapp. If I’m wrapping and unwrapping ETH directly with the smart contract, then I’m not using a dapp.”
Circle and Tether don’t count as dapps, Nansen data journalist Martin Lee said, mainly because “most users can’t interact with it freely.”
Shin of Unconfirmed said: “Looks like Jimmy won since I don’t think anyone would call Circle, OpenSea or Tether a dapp.” She added that she thinks there eventually could be enough dapps that meet the thresholds from the bet.
Artemis Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Zheng does think all five qualify as dapps, saying via Telegram: “Fundamentally, the definition of an application is a construct given that the actual atomic unit within these blockchain platforms is the smart contract, which other contracts/addresses interact with. So from that perspective, they are dapps in the sense that there are a multitude of other addresses/contracts interacting with applications such as WETH, OpenSea, Circle and Tether.”
Apivessa conceded that while she wouldn’t consider wrapped ETH an application, “I can see one can philosophically categorize WETH as an application since it makes ETH compatible with certain apps that it wouldn’t otherwise be compatible with.”
Jimmy Song’s overarching thesis for the wager depended on whether significant applications could exist on the Ethereum network, and it is clear there are several.
A glance at data from Artemis and Nansen on daily and monthly active users shows a number of applications on the Ethereum blockchain with heavy usage, even if they don’t meet all the bet’s criteria.
In 2019, Lubin said that even if five dapps didn’t have the number of active users from the bet, the ecosystem might be just fine.
“It's possible that I will lose and Ethereum will come out very strong,” he said.
Regardless of who won this round, Song or Lubin, the long-term rivalry between the two largest blockchains is far from settled.
Additional reporting by Melissa Montanez.
UPDATE: (May 31, 2023 19:50 UTC) Clarified Apivessa's second quote.
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