#34: Insuring Blockchain Risks

Insurance in blockchain protocols, state of adoption, Tendermint and Jae Kwon tensions.

This newsletter is supported by Chorus One, an operator of validating nodes and staking services on Proof-of-Stake networks.

Insuring Blockchain Risks
Insurance is traditionally an industry that relies on statistical models built using historical data to assess the likelihood of risks. In the blockchain context, there is little to no such data yet. Additionally, there are many risks that are hard to forecast due to the nature of early stage technology.

Nevertheless, insurance is an important part of the decentralized finance stack that so far has received only limited attention (e.g. Nexus Mutual). Unslashed is a recently unstealthed insurance protocol that will first focus on slashing risks in Proof-of-Stake networks. Check out the blog post covering why insuring blockchain risks requires full collateralization and give a listen to the Chorus One Podcast episode with founder Marouane to learn more about the implications of insurance protocols for Proof-of-Stake.

Corporate Structures and Building Decentralized Network Infrastructure
An established way to build a decentralized network is to have a foundation that funds one (or multiple) technology providers to lead the development of the software that the blockchain operates on. Examples include Cosmos in the form of the Interchain Foundation and Tendermint, and also other networks (e.g. Polkadot with the Web3 Foundation and Parity). In recent weeks controversies emerged around Tendermint allegedly dissolving the CEO role with founder Jae Kwon (also president of the Interchain Foundation) looking to focus more on his new project called Virgo. Virgo seeks to utilize the Cosmos tech stack to solve humanities coordination problems in areas such as climate change. Tendermint employees, namely Zaki Manian, have voiced concerns about how Jae has been holding back progress on the Cosmos project in recent months.

This is not the first incident in which drama unfolds on the road to decentralizing a network. As many know, Tezos and Ethereum went through similar struggles. As part of the Cosmos ecosystem in our roles as validators, we believe this situation should and will be addressed with clarity making this a temporary distraction in Cosmos’ history. We continue to trust that the flourishing Cosmos ecosystem and its many contributors will be able to deliver on the Cosmos vision of an internet of blockchains. Here’s an article describing the context of the situation. Also check out official statements from the Interchain Foundation and Tendermint’s roadmap for 2020.

State of Adoption Report
A thorough data-driven report written by IDEO CoLab Ventures and Decentral Park Capital in collaboration with many contributors that takes a look at crypto adoption from different angles. The 158 slides mainly show that crypto hasn’t found product-market aside from store of value and speculation use cases. At the same time there are first signs of traction, e.g. in the decentralized finance space on Ethereum. The report features a separate section on staking (slides 46-54). One thing is for sure, many networks with staking mechanisms launched in 2019 and there are more to come in 2020.

Trust-Less 2020 Online Staking Conference Recap
Dystopia Labs organized a remote conference with many sessions on operating validators and other staking-related topics. The agenda was filled with speakers from staking providers, protocol designers, and more. Felix moderated the panel The Future Of Staking-As-A-Service: Exchanges, 0% Fees, and Centralization and Chris moderated the Democratizing Staking So That Anyone (Not Just Institutions) Can Participate panel.

Overall, the sessions and panels covered all aspects of this part of the crypto stack. Checking out the recordings here is highly recommended if you weren’t able to attend.

Staking Economy EthCC Meetup
Are you attending EthCC in Paris this year (March 3-5)? Chris is thinking about organizing a Staking Economy Meetup during the event, similar to the one during DevCon in Osaka last fall. Drop us a line in the Staking Economy Telegram Group if you’re interested in attending.

Chainflow Co-Founder Search
Chris is looking for a Chainflow business partner. You can find his ideal co-founder description here. Please contact Chris if you’re a fit and interested or know someone who might be!

Follow Staking Economy on Twitter or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Staking Economy is written by Felix Lutsch from Chorus One with assistance from Chris Remus, operator of the Chainflow validators. Join us in the Staking Economy Telegram to discuss staking. Opinions expressed are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chorus One. All content is for informational purposes only and not intended as investment advice.

#33: Liquid Staking

Liquid staking working group kickoff, PoS networks final testnet stages, Trust-Less 2020 staking conference, slashing and economic waste in PoS.

This newsletter is supported by Chorus One, an operator of validating nodes and staking services on Proof-of-Stake networks.

Welcome back to the first Staking Economy issue of 2020. We’ll be back to the regular twice monthly schedule going forward.

Liquid Staking Working Group
Last week, the Liquid Staking Working Group led by Chorus One kicked off. This group is an Interchain Foundation funded research effort to explore staking implementations that would allow for the trading and re-usage of staked assets in decentralized finance applications. The first call (find the recording here) was joined by more than 30 individuals representing around 20 different organizations working on or interested in these types of staking derivatives.

To learn more about this effort, check out the official Github and join the dedicated Telegram channel to discuss. Our next call will take place on Jan 29 at 4pm UTC, you can find the invite here. In this call, we will discuss the table of contents for the research report and then start getting into the presentations of specific implementations that working group members are designing.

Proof-of-Stake is Less Wasteful
Long-term Bitcoin supporter Eric Wall wrote a blog post analyzing the economics of Proof-of-Work versus Proof-of-Stake. He also came on the Chorus One Podcast to discuss how he came around to the conclusion that Proof-of-Stake might prove to be the less economically wasteful alternative.

Gearing Up For Launch
Multiple PoS networks launched their incentivized testnets in the beginning of January:

  • Celo’s Great Stake Off is in full swing following a short break when a contract ran out of gas. Participants are preparing for upcoming audit challenges. Leaderboard here.

  • Oasis’s The Quest began and a first upgrade happened on Jan 23. Validator list here.

  • NuCypher’s Come and Stake It started this past Monday. First tasks for nodes can be found here.

Additionally, Coda announced their genesis testnet compensation program. In total, the Coda team will give out about 6.67% of the initial token supply to up to 1,000 testnet participants. This is the proportionally largest portion given out to early supporters that we are aware of. It will be interesting to see how this will impact stake distribution in the network.

Finally, Livepeer, one of the first decentralized applications that utilizes a staking mechanism went live with their Streamflow upgrade. As an active Transcoder since 2018, Chris is particularly excited about this upgrade introducing the split of Orchestrator and Transcoder roles to the network. The active Orchestrator set was expanded from around 20 to 100. Perhaps most importantly, the upgrade sets the stage for real video traffic to be transcoded at scale on the network. To date, the amount of traffic being transcoded has been nearly non-existent. The Streamflow upgrade hopes to change this.

Overall, it seems like 2020 will be the year of many network launches. Stake.fish’s JK posted a great overview of expected launches and incentivized testnets going into expectations and challenges ahead.

Trust-less 2020 Conference
The Dystopia Labs team is organizing a virtual conference focused around staking and validation taking place 1st and 2nd February 2020. The agenda is filled with topics relevant to staking and features many prominent voices from the industry. Felix will moderate a panel on the future of Staking-as-a-Service on Feb 1, 11pm PST. Claim your free tickets here and make sure to tune in from home or join one of the watchparties next week!

Can Proof-of-Stake Without Slashing Work?
A thread about slashing insurance in PoS protocols led to AVA Labs co-founder questioning whether slashing is needed at all:

AVA is one of the few networks (together with Ouroboros-based chains such as Cardano and Coda) that does not employ any slashing mechanism. It remains to be seen how these protocols will fare in a value-bearing, permissionless setting.

Follow Staking Economy on Twitter or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Staking Economy is written by Felix Lutsch from Chorus One with assistance from Chris Remus, operator of the Chainflow validators. Join us in the Staking Economy Telegram to discuss staking. Opinions expressed are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chorus One. All content is for informational purposes only and not intended as investment advice.

#32: Wrapping Up 2019

A double issue featuring reader recaps of 2019 and thoughts on staking in 2020.

This newsletter is supported by Chorus One, an operator of validating nodes and staking services on Proof-of-Stake networks.

Since this issue is the last one in 2019, we decided to collect people’s thoughts on staking in 2019 and their outlook for 2020. You can find these opinions that include protocol designers as well as validators in the second part of this issue.


The past two weeks have seen some interesting discussions on centralization issues in Proof-of-Stake: Dan Elitzer, who coined the term superfluid collateral, wrote about his take on the impact of staking derivatives on Ethereum PoS centralization. His core point is that staking derivatives might increase centralization because some, e.g. those issued by large custodial players like Binance and Coinbase, will manage to attract superior liquidity.

Furthermore, Arianna Simpson wrote up a thread to which, among others, Vitalik Buterin responded, Arianna’s key points:

  • Delegation causing stake to accumulate to publicly-known validators increases the risk of collusion

  • Power laws favor larger validators with reputation and scale

  • Slashing is needed to impose a commitment to the network

Potential anti-centralization measures from the thread:

  • Social consensus around a minimum fee

  • Anti-correlation penalties

  • Incentivizing delegation to smaller validators

  • Cryptography (zk-proofs) might help by limiting the value an attacker can extract

Vitalik’s added his thoughts on anti-centralization mechanics:

  • Lower performance requirement (i.e. lower block times, less high uptime requirements)

  • Sharding cuts down economies of scale by requiring validators with higher stake to run more nodes.

Finally, Vitalik's counterpoint to the cryptography argument is that you cannot ZK prove that you did not sign a conflicting message, meaning consensus will always rely on cryptoeconomic guarantees.

VALIDATOR BUSINESS MODEL DISCUSSION- Chainflow and the Decentralized Staking Defenders organized this first ever validator business model discussion. A diverse panel of validators shared their perspectives as key participants in the emerging Proof-of-Stake economy.

Here's a short-list of Chris’ conclusions and take-aways:

  1. Validators need to offer value-added services on top of core validator operations.

  2. Validators are well-positioned in the emerging staking economy.

  3. Business models are in the experimentation stage.

  4. Despite the uncertainty, some investors are willing to invest in validators at this stage.

You can find the full recording here.

SHELLEY LAUNCH- Cardano’s incentivized testnet launched with 240 external staking pools and over $200m in ADA staked. There’s a block explorer that seems to be missing some summary statistics, but it allows users to browse epochs, blocks, and existing staking pools.

NEAR ECONOMICS - Felix had the pleasure to host NEAR Co-Founder Illia for a Chorus One Podcast episode focusing in-depth on sharded blockchain economics in NEAR. NEAR also updated their slashing mechanism to adjust penalties proportional to the stake committing an offense (see also Staking Economy #28).

TERRA UPGRADE - The Terra network successfully upgraded from Columbus-2 to Columbus-3. Something notable about the upgrade is that validators are now required to run a price feed oracle. Running an oracle was optional and voluntary before Columbus-3. On Columbus-3 not operating one will result in a validator getting slashed. This seems to be the first example of a validator having to do something other than simply operating the validator itself as a condition to not get slashed. See the full release details here.

Now let’s hear what people have to say about staking in 2019 and what they are excited about in 2020. If you’d also like to contribute your thoughts to be featured in the upcoming first issue in 2020, please reach out to me (Felix) in any form (reply to this email, comment on Medium, join the Staking Economy Telegram, or DM me @FelixLts).

Gleb Dudka - T-Systems (Deutsche Telekom)

2019 has been a year of blockchain infrastructure and figuring out business models around its provision.

Representing Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest telco, I believe that providing and operating public network infrastructure is the next logical after telephony (voice), internet (information) and now public blockchains (value). I can also see more traditional enterprises entering the industry and helping favorably shape its regulation.

One might think that big corporates entering the space will further increase centralization and phase out smaller providers, but I tend to disagree. On the one hand, one of the niche markets for such Staking-as-a-Service are large institutional investors, where security and insurance are more important than low fees (B2B focus). On the other hand, ironically, corporates could leverage existing resources to come up with better services/tooling helping to democratize node operation and decrease barriers of network participation. This can potentially contest rising dominance of someone like Binance.

My main concern going into 2020 is the long-term sustainability of infrastructure provisioning business models and whether we as an industry got our network economics right.

Julius Schmidt - Staking Facilities

For us at Staking Facilities, 2019 was the first year where we felt a movement in the right direction in regards to blockchain regulations.

The German government published its blockchain strategy and put a law on the road regulating the custody of tokens. While those are great news in the first place, regulation is much needed, we quickly realized that regulators and policymakers all over Europe are still way behind on understanding the complexity of the technology. There are still some significant uncertainties for Staking-as-a-Service providers. AML 5 regulations, GDPR, taxation, to name a few.

While we as a PoS-community are moving full steam ahead on a technological and development level, policymakers started to regulate and understand crypto in 2017, mainly Bitcoin and PoW.

So what is needed?

We, as a community, have the unique chance to help shape blockchain regulations for the better. It is about nothing less than laying a rock-solid foundation for the adoption and growth of PoS networks. 2020 is going to be much about educating regulators/policymakers about the benefits of PoS vs. PoW, and every voice is needed.

Ateeta Sharma - Matic Network

Overall, I think it was a great year for Proof-of-Stake systems with lots of interesting developments and proposals. This year was an important period for us at Matic Network too. We finalised our staking economics in preparation for the final mainnet launch of Matic, and it was very important that we get the staking design in place. We also made significant progress on the implementation side as well, and released Counter Stake - our incentivised staking testnet as well. So far we have seen very good participation in the initial stage, and we are poised to build on this momentum next year.

Since we are a Layer 2 scaling solution, our staking design is noticeably different from Layer 1 networks. Matic PoS validators need to submit signed checkpoints of the snapshot of the Matic sidechain to Ethereum at periodic intervals. This is a key factor in our Plasma design. Our PoS layer is used for twin purposes - it is used to mitigate the data unavailability issue for our Layer 2 solution, and also to provide a standalone blockchain layer as well. Another key factor in our staking design was of the fixed token supply, and allocation of staking rewards via a fixed percentage of the supply.

We have seen good traction from the developer community as well, with a variety of use cases that we see being implemented across gaming, NFT marketplaces, social media, payments and others. We are also seeing a lot of interest from protocols on Ethereum now implementing on Matic as well and we believe this trend will quicken this next year. Looking forward to what’s in store!

Michael Ng - StakeWith.Us

Staking in 2019 felt somewhat like the 2017 ICO boom, with many delegated Proof-of-Stake chains launching and validator services starting out. My 2019 takeaway on staking are:

1. Initial 0% fees strategy proves that delegators are sticky. You might lose some price sensitive delegators when you raise fees later but the majority will stay. First mover + participating in incentivised testnet is key because foundation delegations contributes to substantial AUM and delegation aggregates towards "first page" validators.

2. Staking alone is not a VC-scale business, most validation shops have close to 0 differentiation and the staking business might not be sustainable. Reason being high inflationary rewards (selling pressure) is typically > any sort of buying pressure, for whatever reasons lol (speculation). Fees earned are denominated in tokens but fiat values usually doesn't hold due to selling pressure and market conditions. Validators have to innovate on other business models on top of staking to survive.

3. Starting to see centralized exchanges and/or custodians implementing staking to provide convenience (and liquidity, in the case of exchanges - almost akin to centralized staking deris) to keep users within walled gardens. Currently, delegators still values convenience over self-custody of funds (not your keys, not your money). This is concerning because you don't want the same 10 entities to control all proof of stake based networks. A truly decentralized and fungible staking derivatives with lots of buy-in from liquidity providers might be able to change that.

What am I excited for in 2020:

1. Continuous innovation in DeFi space, for e.g, i) a way to solve for undercollateralized loans, ii) a real fungible and decentralized staking derivatives, iii) some novel way of bootstrapping DEXs (global, cross-chain liquidity and trading protocol), etc.

2. Seeing new PoS projects launch or old project shifting onto Cosmos/Tendermint.

3. Any other novel ways to utilize blockchain technology without a token with forced utility.

Chris Remus - Chainflow / Staking Economy

It feels like 2019 was the year the staking economy’s floodgates opened. Cosmos going live was the catalyst. Since then, the number of staking networks launching continues to accelerate at an increasing pace.

Along the way, the difficult questions started emerging. Examples include whether PoS can ever achieve decentralization and how staking rewards should be taxed. The big question for me is whether the boom is sustainable or if a bubble is going to burst. And if it bursts, will a recovery follow that allows the staking economy to take root for the long term.

Chris Burniske’s article about the Fate of Ethereum Killers brought these questions into focus for me. There is a ton of smart contract capacity online and it’s increasing exponentially.

Will it result in an oversupply (probably)?  If it does, how long will that oversupply last and what will it do to the underlying staking network economics? I find thinking about this within the Carlota Perez framework to be beneficial.

Validator communities also took early form this year. It’s been interesting to watch validators, core teams building the staking networks and delegators begin forming, storming and norming.

My sense is that the communities are for the most part supportive, yet could benefit from more critical thinking and discussion. There seems to be a general sense of not wanting to rock the boat in many communities. If it continues over the long term, this can hamper the staking ecosystem’s ability to innovate.

I’m also starting to sense a bit of elitism creeping into the staking “Old Guard” (very relative, of course). My hope is that validator communities continue to welcome and encourage new entrants.  To do this validator communities need to exist as comfortable places for new and old to learn from each other.

Felix Lutsch - Chorus One / Staking Economy

While 2019 has been incredibly successful for staking, it also uncovered many challenges that we need to overcome if Proof-of-Stake is supposed to become the base layer for the internet of money.

The biggest challenge I see is whether decentralized networks will manage to create economically sustainable business models for participants and contributors. In my view, the focus needs to lie on protocol designs that encourage contributions and discourage centralization with a few large entities.

The community has made tremendous progress here and many promising experiments like testnet competitions, correlated slashing, tokenized staking positions, various decentralized governance and funding mechanisms, etc. are either out there as concepts, or were already adopted.

I want to conclude by thanking everyone that contributed their valuable opinions to this issue and to all readers that support Staking Economy - see you next year. Happy holidays!

Follow Staking Economy on Twitter or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Staking Economy is written by Felix Lutsch from Chorus One with assistance from Chris Remus, operator of the Chainflow validators. Join us in the Staking Economy Telegram to discuss staking. Opinions expressed are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chorus One. All content is for informational purposes only and not intended as investment advice.

#31: Staking vs Lending

Binance 0% staking, token lending and PoS security implications, Stake DAO, updates on Eth2.0 and incentivized testnets.

This newsletter is supported by Chorus One, an operator of validating nodes and staking services on Proof-of-Stake networks.

Binance is ramping up their staking offering and has announced support for Cosmos and 0% fee staking on Tezos. While many have been awaiting these types of moves, they are now quickly becoming a reality. Coinbase Custody quickly became the third biggest public validator on Tezos even with a 25% fee, their growth somewhat slowed down by Tezos’ bond requirement that Coinbase is posting themselves. It is currently unclear how Binance is approaching the potential of slashing of customer funds.

Token holder education and ways that enable non-custodial providers to compete with centralized, custodial players like exchanges (see e.g. Stake Capital DAO below) need to come into reality for Proof-of-Stake networks to achieve decentralization and avoid a Tron-like destiny in which Binance could control 25 of 27 nodes.

A paper by Tarun Chitra modeling the impact of lending yields on staking participation in Proof-of-Stake networks. The basic conclusion is that a spike in lending rates could see stake migrating to higher yield lending protocols, potentially endangering the security of networks.

Haseeb Qureshi wrote a post summarizing the results. While the core insight is relatively trivial, the paper formalizes factors impacting this equilibrium and uses agent-based simulations to visualize outcomes. The core takeaway is that network monetary policy needs to be flexible to account for this type of attack.

Staking provider Stake Capital announced their plans to form a revenue-sharing DAO around their services. A token that is distributed to users providing collateral (staking) will allow holders to earn part of the fees earned by services offered by the DAO across blockchains.

Another core part of the design is the issuance of secondary tokens (LTokens) representing the claim on collateral provided to and rewards earned by the DAO. LTokens fall into the category of staking derivatives and are designed to overcome liquidity limitations of staked assets in current networks. You can find the whitepaper draft of the Stake Capital DAO design here.

This ambitious vision sees other node operators providing services to the DAO over time. Many implementation details and the legal implications of associated tokens currently remain unclear, but overall this feels like an important experiment worth following.

A block explorer for Eth2.0’s beacon chain testnet: https://beacon.etherscan.io/. Prepare for ETH staking and refresh your memory of the phases of Eth2.0 and learn about the distinction between nodes and clients, as well as the protocol’s design philosophies here.

Many testnet competitions are in progress with the goal to test protocol software and to get validators ready for mainnet:

HARMONY ECONOMIC ANALYSIS - A post diving deep into the economics of Harmony in different scenarios prepared by the team in collaboration with Delphi Digital.

Follow Staking Economy on Twitter or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Staking Economy is written by Felix Lutsch from Chorus One with assistance from Chris Remus, operator of the Chainflow validators. Join us in the Staking Economy Telegram to discuss staking. Opinions expressed are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chorus One. All content is for informational purposes only and not intended as investment advice.

#30: Validating Infrastructre

Bison Trails raising $25.5m, high availability validation on Solana, taxation of staking rewards, OAN Unity launch and more.

This newsletter is supported by Chorus One, an operator of validating nodes and staking services on Proof-of-Stake networks.

With $25.5m raised in their Series A, white-label blockchain infrastructure provider Bison Trails takes the crown for the largest non-protocol raise (to our knowledge) in the space in 2019. Congratulations!

This round shows that the market believes there is a large opportunity in operating secure infrastructure for blockchain networks. We expect this raise to increase interest in this space and hope that the team will contribute back to the ecosystem by improving tools and practices to enable diverse and performant networks.

An upcoming open-source protocol developed by the Chorus One team to allow for high availability validation on the Solana network.

Infrastructure failure handling in Proof-of-Stake blockchains is a highly sensitive topic since mistakes can mean loss of funds in the form of slashing penalties. StrongGate will allow validators to run failovers while eliminating the risk of accidental double-signing. The protocol could also be adapted to help validators automatically scale their infrastructure depending on network load, potentially reducing costs significantly, see also Solana CEO Anatoly Yakovenko’s tweet thread on the topic.

A comprehensive walkthrough on the state of token economics. Richard Li, COO of Certus One, goes into different mechanism designs currently being explored in the space providing examples and insights from other ecosystems (e.g. in-game economies).

The long read also includes some cool ideas on how validators could differentiate their service, e.g. through an insurance pool or by offering benefits like gift cards to delegators. It also teases an upcoming guide on validator economics and a fungible staking token design, so stay tuned for more content from one of the strongest validator teams out there!

Taxation of staking rewards is a highly debated topic. Are they income? Do you have to account for rewards when you receive them or when you withdraw them? Or only when you sell tokens? Is there a difference between block rewards and transaction fees? What about staking provider commissions?

The article above presents an argument for why block rewards should not be taxed as income, focusing on explaining how staking prevents network maintainers from getting diluted. There are many initiatives forming to represent the interests of the staking industry (e.g. PoSA) and aiming to educate regulators about this new paradigm of securing public infrastructure. It remains to be seen how different jurisdictions will deal with these issues.

OAN UNITY LAUNCH - The Open Application Network (OAN), formerly known as Aion, launched the Unity upgrade on November 20th. The OAN follows in Decred's footsteps and uses a hybrid consensus protocol. The OAN team developed a staking interface that allows AION holders to stake to the set of validator launch partners. You can also see the list of validators on Staking Facilities without having to login to the OAN interface. Finally, there is an updated whitepaper answering questions about incentives, block distribution, and network security.

KAVA LAUNCH - It turns out the third time’s a charm for Kava’s launch. The network launched successfully on November 14th, 4 days before Maker’s Multi-Collateral DAI went live. Congratulations to the team for responding quickly and consciously to the lessons learned and applying those lessons thoroughly and consistently to enable mainnet launch!

COSMOS VALIDATOR MONITORING AND ALERTING- Chris is building a Cosmos validator monitoring and alerting tool after receiving an ICF grant to do so. He’s published an initial spec for comment and would appreciate the community’s feedback. This initial feedback window will close in the next few days. The tool is being built to benefit any and all validators on networks built using the Cosmos SDK. It will be open-sourced when completed. If you plan to use the tool when it's available, this is your chance to help shape it to your specifications!

Follow Staking Economy on Twitter or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Staking Economy is written by Felix Lutsch from Chorus One with assistance from Chris Remus, operator of the Chainflow validators. Join us in the Staking Economy Telegram to discuss staking. Opinions expressed are our own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chorus One. All content is for informational purposes only and not intended as investment advice.

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