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It’s 2024 and there still aren’t enough blockchain developers.

From Nader by Nader Dabit

Payments and finance are great, but decentralized web infrastructure has always been the most fascinating use of blockchains to me.

The idea that the internet itself could be a developer platform where we share data and APIs, APIs that do not get pulled out from under us without warning, and data that we can count on to be available tomorrow and next year. Infrastructure that is truly composable.

The end result of this being:

  • A higher quality developer experience (pristine and public APIs, data, and developer infrastructure)
  • Leading to more experimentation for all developers
  • Leading to more and better apps

For this to happen, we need features like verifiability, fault tolerance, immutability, identity, and permanence publicly accessible and baked in to our infrastructure. These properties are what blockchains offer.

This type of infra doesn't make sense for everything, but for the majority of the internet bandwidth today, it actually does make sense (social, gaming, blogging, music, video, etc..).

This is a different world than we live in today, where third party APIs are siloed and constantly breaking, infrastructure is brittle, and there is almost zero composability in this spirit.

Also, for user adoption to happen, the apps using this infrastructure need to provide a UX that is as good, or better, than what people are already used to. This is challenging because identity in web3 is much more complex to manage, and the infrastructure not as easy to scale.

We’re getting there

tweet I saw today really resonated with me, because I felt the exact same way when all of this clicked, and it is still what excites me today:

It's especially exciting because this infrastructure thesis is no longer an "in theory what if x, y, z, ...." discussion, but it's actually happening. Consumer apps and protocols leveraging this infrastructure are actually finding PMF and succeeding.

Onchain social ecosystems have ignited in both growth and investment (Lens Protocol and Farcaster) over the past year, many of their users being the most sought after "non crypto-native". These onchain experiences have offered the right combination of familiarity and differentiation to attract regular people.

This success is due in large part to the UX of these apps, which is better than almost any other crypto apps in existence, allowing people to sign up and use them without having to worry about owning tokens or signing transactions, and often without even creating or interacting with a wallet.

With all of the above in mind, how to we accelerate this? Let's look to recent success stories.

With Farcaster and Frames, we are seeing the actual unlock that happens when you nail the combination of providing:

1. High quality UX to users

2. Great distribution, low barrier to entry, composability, and a high quality developer experience to developers

JavaScript developers were able to simply write and deploy programs (frames) with wide distribution without needing any smart contract experience, which has led to an explosion of activity and interest in not only Farcaster but any apps supporting the standard. Much of Farcaster’s recent success is due to Frames.

Similarly with Lens, an ecosystem of apps has emerged such as Hey and Orb that leverage an onchain social graph to share followers and content between apps without having to write much, if any, back end code by leveraging traditional web2 APIs.

Lens also enables onchain modules such as collecting, tipping, and referrals to be executed in a social context and directly provide revenue opportunities for developers, applications, and users.

Blockchain development needs to evolve

Thinking back to the first smart contract blockchains, the innovation was that anyone who could write solidity could permissionlessly build and deploy a secure blockchain application for the first time. This ushered in a new wave of innovation for onchain developers over the past 10 years

But if you've worked in this industry long enough, you understand the massive lack of what could be considered "senior" talent.

Almost every company I know of is having trouble hiring developers. Many of these teams offer up to $1 million / year or more total compensation for senior-level developers, and even pay very good money for capable people in less senior (but not quite junior) roles.

Writing "hello world" is simple enough for almost anyone, but building a complex, production-grade smart contract that a company would feel comfortable betting their future on is an order of magnitude harder (and harder to hire for).

By most estimations there are ~1,000x LESS smart contract developers than developers building with other languages like JavaScript and Python.

TLDR: we need more devs.

While the EVM is still dominant statistically, we’ve seen newer VMs and developer platforms and like Move and Fuel attempting to gain adoption, aiming to provide an improved developer experience by rebuilding everything from the ground up.

Regardless of everything that’s happened up until this point, developer adoption still pales in comparison to web2.

My thesis is that the barrier to entry for real-world, production grade smart contract development is still much too high.

We need to enable the millions of developers outside of web3 to be able to also build onchain using their existing skillet. We can do this by providing better abstractions. If the abstractions we provide are good enough for production-grade applications, that’s great! But no matter what, it’s a good way to get them involved and building onchain.

LASR

A great example of what this could look like in practice is LASR from Versatus Labs.

LASR doesn't try to copy smart contract implementations like the EVM or SVM, instead it provides a high level API that lets developers deploy and interact with programs using popular languages like JavaScript, TypeScript, or Python.

Similar to Solana, LASR programs are stateless, sharing similarities with pure functions in that they are deterministic and that output depends only on their inputs.

The API for these programs is close to what we're familiar with in REST APIs, but instead of CRUD they offer CRUTB.

Create -> creates a programRead -> read program stateUpdate -> state update (i.e. creates a new blog post in a blogging app, or edits a post)Transfer -> transfers ownership of a programBurn -> deletes a program

This mapping of well known concepts to smart contract development is smart, and one less new thing that developers to need to learn and understand.

Beyond smart contracts, Versatus is also building additional core parts of the software stack like compute, functions, content, data, and routing. It will be exciting to watch their product offering evolve.

Here are more resources to learn about Versatus

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