NEAR Without the Noise Episode 8: Matthew Graham, CEO of Sino Global Capital

NEAR Without The Noise Episode 8 featured the CEO of Sino Global Capital, Matthew Graham. The discussion served as a perfect introduction to understanding the Crypto Industry in China from someone working on the front lines of crypto and financial investing for the past eight years. Over the course of the hour, 4NTS Guild Members joined by NEAR’s Head of Ecosystem Development NiMA Asghari, were able to dive into the nature of crypto regulation in China, how Matthew looks at the Web3 space, the future of NFT’s and Sino’s investment in Mintbase, as well as NEAR protocol and the future development of crypto in general. 

What Is The State Of Crypto In China? 

China is the single most important geographic region for the development of crypto. This fact however, is still not fully appreciated by most western crypto enthusiasts: 

 “Mainland China has some understanding of international crypto, international crypto has almost zero understanding of mainland China.”

From this perspective, Matthew views working in crypto in China as an opportunity to support international projects looking to break into the market. As Matthew goes onto explain there are huge cities in China with millions of people that few in the west have ever even heard about. And it is these developer and investor communities that hold serious promise in growing crypto ecosystems in the years to come. 

As Matthew puts it: 

“China is the business opportunity of the century. Same as blockchain. Super simple.”

What is the Regulatory Regime of Crypto in China Like?

China in general operates with much more legal grey area than other places like the United States or the European Union. Much of crypto falls into that category. However, in general Matthew explained that the Chinese Government has three primary rails when it comes to handling crypto: 

First (1), the Chinese are extremely sensitive to any kind of fiat on or offramp. This is because the Chinese Renminbi is not a free floating currency and there are very strict currency controls. As Matthew says, “That is why we do not do fiat anything on or offramp – Go nowhere near that.” 

Second (2), authorities in China have a huge sensitivity towards anything that might be related to tax evasion or money laundering. 

Third (3), there is a special sensitivity to speculative fervor in China. The fact that scams can snowball and expand exponentially make them hard to control if they mature to a certain point. So authorities in China are very cautious of ensuring that a project is not a scam.

Matthew says the following about the rest: 

“With the exception of these 3 rails much of crypto falls into this grey area. So there will be periodic crackdowns and then they will ease up. This grey area becomes a matter of relationships and things like that. What people tend to do is just keep a low profile because they just don’t want to attract attention to themselves.”

Crypto is Still Not Very Well Understood, By Most People 

Sino Global Capital works at the intersection of finance and technology, in both the East and the West. As broad as that might sound, they have a very strong focus on the world of crypto, specifically as it pertains to Decentralized Finance and Non-Fungible Tokens. From this position, Matthew was insightful in his analysis of crypto and its current level of understanding among the population based upon its level of development: 

“This is still an industry that is very, very early in its life cycle. I still think we are late 90s, maybe like 1996 from the perspective of the United States and the Internet Industry this is still like 1996. We don’t even have Google Yet…The point is that we are super, super early. And this can cause a lot of misconceptions because when you have an industry that is still fairly early, you still have a lot of cowboy type people that are kind of sketchy and all kinds of people that are still involved.”

One crucial difference, in spite of the youth of crypto, is how it is viewed on a political level by different governments from the East to the West. 

“The promotion of enterprise blockchain and blockchain related innovation is happening in China now probably on a grander scale. We will likely see what we have seen with other technologies anointed by the central government — which is tremendous over investment — like they did with solar — a lot of games to get government subsidies, but ultimately we will get a lot of interesting successes that come out of this. That is the most likely scenario in that regard.” 

This comes in stark contrast to the more individualistic and business-first approach from the West, where many companies experimented with blockchain, but did not realize immediate value, and thus did not continue to experiment with it. 

NFT’s Are Also In Their Early Days 

A key part of the conversation took place when Matthew spoke about NFT’s and Sino’s investment in Mintbase. This is what he said: 

“Our thesis with NFTs is that we are very early. And that it is taught to prognosticate which aspects of NFTs are likely to take off first or most. It is easy to see how NFT use cases could be super cool for many different applications – like Digital Art… In game NFT’s are something that have a lot of potential as well.”

In terms of Mintbase, Matthew went into detail about why he was confident in Sino’s investment in the Mintbase Team: 

“One reason that we are super comfortable on them is that they were approaching it — not as NFT’s for gaming or a specific vertical – but more from the perspective of being ready to pivot – the industry could go in different directions. How we are going to get prepared to go with the trend in multiple ways. They are approaching this as seasoned technology and business experts in different directions…But at the same time they also have long term vision, saying look NFT’s on Ethereum – we think Gas fees will continue to be an issue. We were already one of the top Ethereum Dapps on the dApp store. For NFT’s to take off and for gaming NFT’s to really happen in a realistic way you have to have reasonable fees associated with doing these types of transactions.”

Overall Matthew held that Sino viewed NFT’s today, analogously to where DeFi was in 2018. As such the time for NFT’s is very much yet to come. 

NEAR is a Serious L1 Blockchain Protocol 

While Sino does not hold a position in NEAR, it does remain in their highest esteem. Matthew answered a couple of questions relating to NEAR and what he thought was especially valuable about the NEAR Ecosystem: 

“A lot of it is that the devil is in the details, but also you have a world class team that is able to execute and build developer relationships – that is number 1. Number 2 – the fact that you can have sharding but maintain composability is something that is super important. A third point is that there are a lot of things that are super sexy for developers such as the fact that you can program in Rust — Rust is a famously developer friendly language and if they were choosing a language to learn I think that very few people would want to choose Solidity over rust for example.”

Like Mintbase, Matthew reiterated that they also viewed NEAR as being in its very early days. And, yet in spite of that, it was positioned for ‘An extremely promising future’. 

Other areas of discussion dealt with the history of computer innovation, the need for more UI / UX development in blockchain, and different ways to bridge the gap between crypto natives and normies. To see soundbites of this discussion check out the 4NTS Youtube Channel Here

All images from Unsplash

 

NEAR and Ethereum: A Tale of Two Cities

Crypto is an emerging industry – we all know that. Some of us have done this before, in the 1990s during the early days of the internet. Others are here for the first time. With market volatility and crypto twitter, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and revert back to common paradigms of viewing product development, competition, and new products. But emerging industries are usually different – at least at first – and even then, crypto is very different from other industries. 

This article provides an informal overview of how I think it would be healthy to view NEAR’s development in parallel to Ethereum. To date, there have been lots of narratives surrounding Ethereum: Ethereum Killers, Ethereum and Open Finance, Ethereum outgrowing Bitcoin, as well as interoperability between Ethereum and other L1’s (like NEAR or Polkadot). Everyone is very opinionated on the topic, and understandably so: If you have stuck around with Ethereum over the years, you are undoubtedly fond of it. Or, if you missed the boat, you might be looking for the next opportunity. 

Regardless of what your background is, there is a certain picture I want to paint that hopefully does justice to the context of NEAR’s development alongside Ethereum. While that picture will touch upon technical details and protocol design features, as well as the words of NEAR Co-founder Illia Polosukhin, it actually starts with a comparison made by Haseeb Qureshi, Managing Partner of Dragonfly Capital:

NEAR is not trying to kill Ethereum. At this point, Ethereum is going to forever be a fixture in the smart contract landscape. Rather, NEAR collaborates with and augments Ethereum, as another major city in the landscape of blockchain networks.”

Smart contract land, is the name of the space Haseeb refers to when referencing the development of different cities, farms and suburbs (i.e. different protocols, Layer Twos, etc). And when we look at project development from this perspective, it actually dissolves a lot of the artificial divisions we might make between the ‘competition’ and ‘success’ of projects compared to one another: 

Cities rise and fall. Some cities endure for thousands of years, while other cities fade out over time as resources are depleted or better infrastructure is built elsewhere. It’s a process, and at the very center of the process is the identity of the city in question: What kind of a culture does the city have? Is it expensive? What kind of people does it attract? Does it have a massive population? Or perhaps a key focus on sustainability or innovation? 

Another point to keep in mind, is that while some people really identify with ‘their city’ (like New Yorkers or Bostonians) others who grow up in the suburbs, may come to spend time between cities. The point is that comparing cities is not necessarily a metrics-based-comparison, as much as it is a value, culture, infrastructure and identity-based comparison. How should that affect how we view NEAR and Ethereum? 

There Are Some Fundamental Design Differences Between NEAR and Ethereum

Anyone who takes the Open Web and the development of Crypto seriously needs to be able to ask themselves the following three questions:

1. Scalability: For where crypto is going in the future, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) capable of scaling over time to handle massive levels of mainstream interest and adoption? 

2. Developer Friendly: For how cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will evolve into traditional computer science and software development, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) developer friendly, accessible or appealing? 

3. Usability: For the global user-base that we expect to use all of these dApps, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) cost effective, easily accessible and intuitive for new users?

NEAR

NEAR is building a city of the future, based on the original vision created by Ethereum. NEAR’s city is going to be massive, but it will take time for it to grow. NEAR’s City will be a central hub for future crypto innovation and emerging technology integrations, and will attract developers and entrepreneurs interested in quickly getting their business launched. It will be a commercial hub, where anyone and everyone – from any background can participate in the Open Web and a new ownership economy, regardless of where they come from or what they believe in. And perhaps most importantly, it will be a city with a culture of inclusion: Where companies port across ecosystems to other blockchains – like Ethereum – and where the people are friendly. 

Ethereum

Ethereum is the city of the future manifested in the present. It’s extremely developed, beautiful, funded and renowned. A definite wonder of the crypto-world – today and for the next two hundred years. As the first city of its kind, Ethereum attracts the best and the brightest getting into crypto. However, it’s not the most inclusive place: A large portion of its population has lived in Ethereum since before it was this glistening behemoth of the new world. The language can be hard to learn. And parts of the city can be extremely expensive. The character, nevertheless, is that of a global hub for Decentralized Finance and Enterprise Blockchain. The value of the city towers above anyone who goes into it. 

A Tale Of Two Cities: Scalability

Let’s address the first question: 

For where crypto is going in the future, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) capable of scaling over time with massive levels of mainstream interest and adoption?

We all know that Ethereum Gas problems have made scalability a challenge. 

DragonFly Capital: https://medium.com/dragonfly-research/dragonfly-near-b24537af6f8d

And while the Ethereum team is hard at work, Haseeb refers to the amount of time it will take for a durable solution to be implemented as a long-term solution: 

“Vitalik recently claimed that smart contracts on Ethereum 2.0 will take so long, Ethereum has to go all-in on rollups in the intervening years.”

This is where things become interesting if we ask the same question in relation to NEAR: 

NEAR is already launched as a horizontally sharded blockchain platform. As Illia explains, block times are quick, and fees miniscule: 

Right now we have 1 second blocks, roughly, and 2 to 3 second finality, right. Which in comparison to the ETH 2 approach you guys have like 12 second slots and 13 minute finality or something like that in the best cases. So that is a spectrum, and finding how to create tiers of security – that is what we did with our shards. There will be a lot more validators on the shards then block production.” (Illia – Grilling the Rainbow 

In terms of costs, that translates to an initial price for 1 TGas being 0.0001 N. Making one block 0.1N at the minimum. A larger overview for setup costs on NEAR is listed below: 

Overall, NEAR has baked scalability into the core design of the protocol so that as more projects start to build on top of the network and more transactions accrue, the network is able to naturally handle the transaction load by adding more shards: 

“To give you a sense for the sheer scalability improvements NEAR offers, each shard on the NEAR blockchain can process 10x more transactions individually than Ethereum 1.0. The NEAR blockchain will eventually have over 100 shards. This means that NEAR will eventually be able to process over 1000 times more transactions per second than Ethereum 1.0.” 

One conclusion to take away from this is that while Ethereum will most definitely find a way to continue to operate, it will be some time before it is able to scale at a cost and speed comparable to NEAR. NEAR, while handling significantly less value than Ethereum (eons less in fact) is designed to handle transactions in a quick and cheap manner. 

A Tale of Two Cities: Developer Incentives 

A 2020 Global Developer study suggests that there are 26.9 million developers around the world. By 2030 that number will increase to 45 million. As the study goes on to explain: 

”We can expect an approximate 75% growth in the number of software developers worldwide in the upcoming decade” (Future Processing Business Blog)

From within this context, any person who is seriously invested in the future of crypto and the widespread development of crypto-based solutions and products, needs to then ask themselves the second question from above: 

For how cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will evolve into traditional computer science and software development curriculums, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) developer friendly, accessible or appealing? 

Let’s take NEAR first this time: 

NEAR is built by and for developers who want to quickly and easily create blockchain-based dApps, games, and other Web3 solutions. To do that, developers can code in Rust and AssemblyScript. Even more interesting, is the small benefit directed towards developers once they have deployed their solution: Developers take 30% of transaction fees home with them from their contracts. These are things that have been said before – what matters is the effects of this design. 

NEAR is built to appeal to the developers of the future by allowing them to build solutions in more familiar programming languages. A lot of other L1 protocols have taken a similar approach (so in this sense it’s not a super unique characteristic of NEAR). The fact that developers take home 30% of rewards from their contracts, is a statement of how value is viewed on the protocol: Developers are natively rewarded by the protocol for building on top of it. 

Ethereum was never created with the thought of appealing to the 20 million new developers that will sign onto the internet between 2020 and 2030. It was the first of its kind. And in this context, Solidity is a programming language that may someday look a lot like Ancient Greek: It inaugurated a paradigm shift in computing, but it remains difficult to learn and expensive to contract for. 

That being said, building on Ethereum does have a number of advantages for developers: Massive amounts of Layer 2 infrastructure (i.e. Matic) has been built to accommodate developers. A huge world of development opportunities exist on top of existing L2s that can be done in other programming languages, and a huge network exists to source talent, connect to existing solutions, and scale an existing product.

A Tale of Two Cities: Usability and Accessibility 

Crypto Twitter is good at creating the illusion that the world of crypto exists in a parallel universe to the rest of the world. But as the history of innovation and technology diffusion has demonstrated at length, dating back to the first industrial revolution, any general purpose technology that creates value is inevitably positioned to tip into other industries with massive network effects. Crypto is no different. 

That means that the Layer 1 Protocols of today, like Ethereum and NEAR, need to be asking themselves what was listed above as the third and final question:

For the global user-base that we expect to use all of these dApps, is Ethereum (or my favorite L1) cost effective, easily accessible and intuitive for users? 

Let’s start with Ethereum on this one: User-engagement presupposes a certain familiarity with Crypto, that does not look to change in the future. Setting up a MetaMask wallet, figuring out private keys and wallet addresses, and navigating custom network RPC’s is baked into the design of Ethereum. That is not necessarily a problem right now, but it is unclear how that will change in the future as more users coming from a more familiar digital environment begin to experiment with crypto. 

NEAR, differentiates itself from the pack when it comes to usability. On NEAR there are two different types of Accounts:

Source: https://gov.near.org/t/account-faucet/458

As Illia explains, accounts on NEAR are able to be ‘named’ with an AccountID. These accounts in turn have additional progressive security features including email and phone number verification and backups. 

The Main Differences Between the NEAR Account Model vs. ETH

Notably, this model can create its own host of problems as well (i.e. See here the Account Faucet Discussion), but the overall intention is to make the NEAR ecosystem more user-friendly, intuitive, and familiar to new users. Future projections about mass adoption and new users entering the space are exactly that – projections – so the real effects of the different user-engagement designs will only be revealed in time. 

What Does A Tale of Two Cities Entail Into the Future?

To conclude, I want to take a big-picture view of the crypto space and its development in the coming decade. One thing that I think is highly underestimated in this space, is the lack of focus on accessibility for new participants:  

If we believe that Web3 will continue to grow in both development and users in the coming decade, we need to ask where those users will be coming from?

While one may stereotypically assume that Europe, the United States and East Asia will be the fundamental drivers of the crypto revolution, others hold that much of the developing world will be the primary users of a lot of the core products being built today. Charles Hoskinson, Founder of Cardano and current CEO of Input Output, discusses in the interview below why he believes that the future of crypto is largely to be found in developing economies predominantly in Africa, South East Asia, India, and South America: 

In the context of building the great blockchain cities of tomorrow, it is important to recognize that in order for crypto to be accessible and appealing to this massive user-base, it also has to be affordable. And while protocol gas fees are high on ETH, much like an expensive city, the crypto space is young and looking to expand outwards. 

Into the future, the two cities of NEAR and Ethereum will both continue to build and morph into deeper and more complex environments. Time will tell what unique characteristics, identities, and cultures they both come to reflect. 

NEAR Business Update: January 2021

Since its launch to mainnet in Quarter 3 of 2020, the NEAR Ecosystem has expanded rapidly across multiple avenues of development. As startup and crypto veterans alike will say, product development very much foreshadows business development: A well-built and well-designed core product that fits a clear market need lays a foundation for robust user engagement, protocol adoption, and ultimately, value into the product. 

The NEAR Ecosystem is very much in the early stages of breaking out as a leading L1 Protocol: The protocol has launched with unique developer incentives, the wallet – while still being tweaked – is built upon an innovative account model that promises to be more user-friendly, and developers can start building their own dApps in common programming languages like Rust. How have these developments affected business development on NEAR? And what can we expect from the protocol in the future?

DragonFly Joins NEAR Validator Advisory Board

Image from near.org

This was one announcement that was slightly overlooked, especially in terms of its implications for NEAR. DragonFly Capital is a predominantly China – USA focused Crypto-Asset Investment firm that has invested in a number of different crypto projects. In this announcement, Haseeb explains how DragonFly now runs the 3rd largest validator on the protocol with a Validator Stake of 17.4 Million NEAR. 

This is important for two primary reasons: First, it shows that at its current stage of development NEAR remains a very attractive investment to large investment firms that specialize in making highly technical investments. Second, the long-term value proposition of NEAR as being developer friendly as well as more scalable and affordable than ETH has been validated by the DragonFly Investment: It’s not only the NEAR team that realizes or believes in the product that they are building. 

Haseeb Qureshi – One of two Managing Partners of DragonFly had two important insights in his announcement blog about joining the advisory board

First, that NEAR is not out there to kill Ethereum. It’s very much a second city in the crypto space: 

“The third path is what NEAR is taking: building a whole new well-governed and compatible layer-1 that can bridge back to Ethereum. In this metaphor, NEAR is trying to build a second city: the Chicago of smart contracts.”

Second, that technically-speaking, NEAR is already available as a massively more cost-efficient and accessible Layer 1 than what newcomers can expect to get from Ethereum: 

“To give you a sense for the sheer scalability improvements NEAR offers, each shard on the NEAR blockchain can process 10x more transactions individually than Ethereum 1.0. The NEAR blockchain will eventually have over 100 shards. This means that NEAR will eventually be able to process over 1000 times more transactions per second than Ethereum 1.0. Full sharding is not yet on mainnet, but even the current design is massively more scalable than Ethereum.”

The Open Web Collective Launches Its Second Batch Of Projects! 

Image from Open Web Collective

If NEAR is very much in its early stages of breaking out, then the second batch of projects launched in the Open Web Collective stand as a clear signal of what is in store for the protocol in the months to ahead. More concretely, these projects hold the promise of building out the foundational infrastructure of the Open Web across key areas of development: Privacy, Accessibility, Data Management, and Identity.

Here are the projects incubating right now on NEAR:

A more comprehensive analysis of this batch of the OWC and its implications for NEAR will be released in the near future. For now, the resounding conclusion is that there is a plethora of solutions being built for NEAR – across some of the most important areas of development in crypto to date. Time will tell how these projects mature, but for the moment it is a very strong signal that NEAR has a lot of development coming down the pipeline. 

Project Updates on NEAR: Mintbase, Common Fund, Flux and 1inch!

 

In light of the other two announcements there are many more updates about business development inside of the Ecosystem: 

For starters, Common Fund has announced that they will be building on NEAR to launch a project that pioneers the future of non-custodial crowdfunding. 

Mintbase recently had a business update from CEO Nate Geier on the bi-weekly Createbase call. He explained that development to test net is moving along quickly and that Mintbase has added in a number of new features including:

– Voting mechanics

– Follow other users and manage/customize your profile page.

– In the future you will be able to have multiple tethered NEAR accounts to your profile

– Option to flag for NSFW

– Dark and Light mode for the webpage

– Transfer tokens (and airdrop to multiple addresses at once) with verification badge showing it is a legit NEAR account.

– Languages for the website: Chinese, Portuguese and English

Flux Protocol continues to build out its core protocol infrastructure in what is expected to be a Main Net launch in the coming months! While a lot of internal development is taking place on Flux, they have started to attract serious attention from DeFi veterans as well. 

Finally, in late November of 2020, the NEAR Team announced that Mooniswap is bringing its next generation AMM by 1inch to NEAR. This announcement while largely overlooked, has contained within it the promise of creating the world’s first sharded decentralized exchange:

“To start, Mooniswap will migrate their protocol to NEAR’s virtual machine along with establishing a native liquidity protocol on NEAR. The NEAR Rainbow Bridge and EVM integration create a seamless path to market on NEAR in the short term while they architect long term solutions for even more scalability. Eventually, the team will rebuild their core protocol native to NEAR, based on a sharded architecture, and become the first sharded decentralized exchange.”

Image from near.org

Altogether, the clear takeaway is that NEAR is growing. Projects are developing quickly within the NEAR Ecosystem, a class of new projects is being incubated through the Open Web Collective, and the Protocol itself remains an attractive investment for crypto veterans interested in making a long-term play on the future of the space. 

Be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest NEAR Ecosystem news and content.

NEAR EVM Update: What You Need To Know

The ETH – NEAR Rainbow Bridge is a first-of-it’s-kind fully permissionless bridge between the NEAR and Ethereum blockchains. Currently under development by the NEAR Team, it stands as one of the most anticipated products in crypto waiting to go live. In line with its development, the NEAR EVM Team, recently held an open discussion posted on YouTube relaying progress on the bridge, while also setting development expectations for the coming quarter. 

Here is What You Need To Know

The Rainbow Bridge is Being Built At Record Speed

To start off the session, the developers went over Quarter 4 goals to date. While the aspirational goal of reaching test-net was not reached in Q4, other goals were clearly reached including: 

(1) Substantial documentation updates, with close to 10 different pages added to the documentation including a tutorial for how to use the EVM as well as working examples for the native flow and the metamask flow. 

(2) Users can now use MetaMask to issue NEAR EVM transactions using dApp access keys. 

Quarter 1 Updates: nETH will Base the EVM 

Quarter 1 has been defined to date, with aligning everyone in a common direction for further EVM development. One of the most important decisions taken in this alignment was to choose nETH as the base token for the EVM. While the different team members provide their reasons for this on the call, there has also been a committed Post on the NEAR Governance Forum

The primary reason listed on the call for settling with nETH is that other projects that have not utilized a form of ETH as their base token, have witnessed limited adoption. 100% Ethereum compatibility is thrown into question by other bridges in the space. 

Beyond this status update, the team also outlined a preliminary structure for this scheme:

Dr. Alex Shevchenko made the following comment about the bridge from a user perspective: 

“From a user point of view this is really good because it is atomic: You schedule one transaction. It is also secure because you can see that ETH is not lending on any account on NEAR except for the user account. There is no intermediate place where we are putting ETH.” 

EVM Test-Net is in Sight!

In one of the most important announcements on the EVM working group call, Arto announced that a clearly defined goal for Q1 development is to launch the EVM on Testnet. This launch is characterized with three key focuses: (1) DevEx, (2) User Experience, and (3) Support for DeFi Apps. 

On the topic of DevEx, Arto added the following:

“We care a lot about DevX and have done a lot of work in the last quarter, on having a Web compatible RPC endpoint which means that for ETH development, to be able to deploy these projects is ultimately just a matter of deploying the end point URL. So we haven’t defined yet the metric here but we would like something like partners to be able to deploy their projects easily starting with a link to onboarding documentation for how to do all of this.”

Support for DeFi apps was categorized as a cross-team objective so that NEAR partners can start test-deploying their solutions on NEAR, once the bridge is ready to go: 

“For most of our partners to succeed in deploying they should be able to deploy their apps to test-net once it is all up and going and they should certainly be able to bring it over.”

When Can We Expect The Launch of The EVM on Mainnet?

The aspirational goal for Q1 is to launch on Mainnet at the end of the quarter. But in order for that to happen the team outlines the following conditions to be met:  

The simple answer: Most likely in early to mid quarter 2 depending on how quickly the team can progress and how well new-hires can jump into things. 

Final Point: The NEAR Team is Hiring! 

Both Arto and Alex were keen to emphasize that the NEAR Team is hiring talented Devs that can join the EVM team to help build out the bridge! A Nice ‘Finders Fee’ is included for any team that can find skilled people for the job! 

The Starters Guide To The Open Web: Introducing the 4NTS Vector Strategy

Today, 4NTS Guild is excited to announce the launch of a New 2021 Initiative that will see NEAR enter the classrooms, campuses, and universities of the world. The 4NTS Vector Strategy. 

The 4NTS Vector Strategy refers to our approach to bridging the gap between the confusing and oftentimes maddening world of crypto, with the larger intellectual and business communities that work across industries: Finance, Political Science, Economic History, Entrepreneurship, Emerging Technologies, and Education (among others). 

This is very much the beginning of our outreach strategy, but it is one that will snowball over time to bring new minds, ideas, and events to the NEAR Ecosystem from a community of curious and creative intellectuals. To kick off that initiative, 4NTS is pleased to public The Starters Guide To The Open Web. This introduction is meant for those interested in the paradigm shift that crypto-currencies represent, from a Macro perspective.

A brief overview of what this Guide entails includes the following Table of Contents: 

Outline of the State of Affairs: What Is Technology For Us? 

Surveillance Capitalism and the Advent of Psychopolitics

How Blockchain Can Empower You and Your Community

The Ownership Economy: Where Value is made Transparent, Fractional, Contract Based, and Global

Smart Contracts as a New Form of Management Responsibility

Legal Issues Accompanying Smart Contracts 

Why Build on NEAR? “The devil is in the details”

Governance and New Paradigms of Collaboration and Power

DAOs: What Are They?

What Kind of Leaders Do We Need?

Where Do We Go From Here? 

This Starters Guide Kicks off the 4NTS 2021 Vector strategy. In the coming months 4NTS will be reaching out to academics, business leaders, and innovation experts – and welcoming them into the NEAR Ecosystem so as to create value at the intersection of different fields of expertise. This may include livestreamed conversations: Interviews: Publications, and Events such as Symposiums and Conferences.

Are you currently studying at a University – What areas that you are studying could be enhanced or complimented by the value proposition of the Open Web? 

Do you have an old professor or business partner who would be interested in the Open Web and the value proposition of NEAR? 

What topics or research do you believe is important to bridge the gap between crypto and existing industries? 

Near Without the Noise Episode 7: Paras With Founders Riqi and Afiq

NEAR Without the Noise Episode 7, went in depth on a new collectible platform building on NEAR known as Paras. The name – an Indonesian word – is used to describe the face or persona of a thing, and refers to one of crypto’s first Digital Collectable Platforms, built around Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT’s). For educational and product purposes, the episode was interesting on many fronts: What was Paras’ original vision? How do they see the digital collectable marketspace? Why did they choose to build on NEAR and what is the future of NFTs? These were only some of the questions touched upon. 

Context is Key: 

Paras is a platform for Artists to publish collections of artwork or trading cards, and investors or collectors to accrue these collections for their diverse purposes. While this may sound initially unfamiliar, trading cards and collectables currently take up a marketspace of over $300 billion US dollars. Fan favorites like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Baseball Cards have increased in both popularity and value in the past twenty years. In parallel, novelists of some of the most popular fan fiction create cards of different characters for use either inside or outside of novels – as expanded versions of gameplay.

What Paras is effectively building is an open digital frontier for this space to inhabit: Where a kid from Uganda can trade a collectable with a teenager from Argentina: Where artists from any culture or background can share what they find beautiful, creative and valuable with collectors from all over the world. The value proposition for this vision is large, and that is why Paras is so exciting. Below are some of the most important takeaways from the Interview with their team. 

Paras Found Digital Collectables Accidentally: 

Originally, Paras was created as a form of decentralized social media and memory preservation for different users. They started building on Blockstack and were brainstorming different ways to involve users. The discovery of digital collectables and artists interested in selling their work via NFT tokenization was through a product-market fit event: 

So in a conventional digital market artists usually share their portfolios, and expect that there are people who will use their commission. But what if they can also post their content – that they already have – as a way to fund their next big project? But at the same time they can also sell their own content in order to get more money to create newer content. That is the background of how Paras is today. 

As a collectable platform, Paras allows Artists and Collectors to transact works embedded as digital trading cards. According to Founders Riqi and Afiq this is much different from other NFT platforms on either Ethereum or NEAR: 

Paras is really unique because there are a lot of NFT marketplaces out there. Especially on the Ethereum. We wanted to have some differentiation – after a while we were doing a lot more research. One of the biggest collectables out there are the card collectibles. Everything else is really big – from small children until maybe 20 people in their 20s or 30s. So I think the card collectable market – the physical one is really big. It is already there. And we just need to digitize it. This is where we will be focusing on – NFT Card collectibles, because the market is already there and it is pretty easy to just digitize it. 

And the focus of collectables is on the series of items rather than a single item: 

We wanted the collectors to collect the collection – not only just stand alone art like any item in an NFT marketplace. Because of that we wanted the collector to focus on the narrative, on the lore, on the story of the collection, on the universe of the collection that is being built by the artists themselves. Not just because of the visual or who the artists are. 

Why Build A Premier Collectable Platform on NEAR? 

The marketplace on paras.id

Originally, Paras was built on Blockstack. Shortly after, they migrated to NEAR and started building at breakneck speed. Why did the Paras founders decide to build on NEAR? For starters, because of its speed and cost: 

NEAR is one of the best blockchain protocols out there. They are really focused on production, their mainnet is really fast. Took like 3 seconds at most for every transaction. The gas fee is very cheap – like 1,000 Transactions will cost you 1 dollar. It is very cheap for developers wanting to build on top of the blockchain. Just build on NEAR it is fast, cheap, and the developer experience like I mentioned earlier: Most developers are really familiar with JavaScript. Well AssemblyScript is pretty much JavaScript, and fundamentally it is the same so JavaScript developers can use NEAR and AssemblyScript as an easy way to build your first decentralized app. 

Beyond the speed of the protocol, the cheapness of transactions, and the ease in building, Riqi and Afiq also emphasized how quickly it was to build their solution on top of NEAR:

Building on top of NEAR is making our life easier and that is why we can build this marketplace within a month: Since our first launch, the social media one, we have already built our indexer up and running; we already have our notification system; most of the things needed in our platform now is already being built. 

As a whole, what the founders of Paras are emphasizing about NEAR has been told time and time again by other founders and builders in the Ecosystem: NEAR is a scalable blockchain platform that puts usability first – not only for developers, but also for users. 

What Kind of Artists is Paras Looking For? 

As a digital art collectables platform, Paras has the important task of recruiting not only crypto-artists, but also artists who are not familiar with cryptocurrency and the digitization of art via NFT’s. While this can be challenging, Paras is still bullish on bringing new and unfamiliar artists into the crypto space: 

For now we are having a lot of crypto artists that really help the community, and help onboarding other artists. For now we are just like 70% crypto artists and 30% non crypto artists…When we are trying to onboard people that are not coming to the crypto space. The concept is very foreign to them. It is hard for them to imagine buying a digital art card online – who is buying that? 

Beyond focusing on creating a collection – i.e. some sort of long term value engagement with their audiences, Paras currently has a form available for prospective artists to apply to get whitelisted onto the platform. This is to ensure that content remains safe-for-work and within the parameters of the early days of the project. 

What’s Next In The Development Plan? 

The market for collectibles themselves is around 370 billion dollars. And virtual goods are around 50 billion dollars. From the Pokemon cards, from their first Pokemon cards until now they sold around 30 million cards. The Card Collectibles market and the collectibles market is really big for us to disrupt. This is where the NFT – the crypto space – will be growing much bigger from this year because we have a lot of newer blockchains like NEAR Protocol. We can onboard some non-tech users to the platform really easy.

Paras has big plans for its platform on NEAR, and in many ways can be seen to be on the frontier of the digital collectable marketplace. Future planning and development on Paras is focused on two primary things: (1) Catching up to other NFT marketplaces in terms of features and user experience, and (2) making it easier for artists to showcase their work and fund future work via an original creative launchpad. This is what they had to say about both respectively: 

One thing we are trying to catch up to is to have similar features to other NFT marketplaces like auctions, on-bidding, but some different aspects that we are really focused on is the card features: The booster pack. We wanted our artists to create our collection and put it into the booster pack and just like your physical trading cards you buy a booster pack and get 5 random cards. Aside from the booster pack we are also trying to build these trading mechanisms. In real life people trade cards and that is where we are hoping to build this year for Paras. And for the narrative for the series for the collections we wanted to build the publication place for the artists to share their lore, their narrative, their story and hopefully in the future create a novel, omics and other creative stuff for Paras. 

On the topic of the all new Paras Launchpad in the works: 

We want to create a creative launch pad – if you new in 2017 that we had ICO’s and that is it. With Paras we believe that we can create more like a creative launch pad where some artists can create a project and fund it through these initial criterias. We can onboard a lot more impressed people like gameday developers, comic artists, developers, and many more. Also other creatives as well. It’s going to be very exciting and offer many things that artists and creatives have never had access too before. 

What Does Paras Hope To Be In The Future? 

All things considered, this is what Paras left us with, as their vision for the platform in the long term future: 

We are not just looking for 1 hit wonder artists that can sell cards that cost thousands of dollars. We want to be a one hit wonder platform in which we sell the highest bid cards that exist in NFT marketplaces: But we want to grow a sustainable community in which their creative process and their creative ideas can be stored and expanded for the long run. We want our artists to collaborate with one another. We are very much open to a lot of artworks that we have.

The Case For NEAR Episode 1: Enzyme (Previously Melon Protocol)

Introduction

The NEAR Protocol Main Net Launched in Quarter 3 of 2020, roughly two years after initial development began. In tandem, on March 1st, 2019 (while NEAR was Building) Melon Protocol, now known as Enzyme Finance, launched it’s Version 1 on Ethereum. 

Since that time, both protocols have been developing at breakneck speed: NEAR, for its part, is finalizing the NEAR – ETH Rainbow Bridge, has onboarded a number of new projects, and is also finalizing updates to its wallet. Enzyme meanwhile, has gone through a rebranding, has more than 435 active funds on its network, and continues to recruit fund managers onto its protocol. 

In The Case for NEAR Episode 1, we put forward an argument for why Enzyme would benefit from bridging onto NEAR, so as to allow future fund managers to operate funds on either NEAR or Ethereum. This starts, in Section 1, with an overview of what Enzyme is and where it stands in its development. Section 2, explains how Enzyme currently works on Ethereum. Sections 3 and 4 explain the value added by NEAR Protocol, and puts forward a thesis specifying why Enzyme should consider migrating onto NEAR. 

What is Enzyme? (Previously Melon)

“Melon is an Ethereum-based protocol for decentralized on-chain asset management. It is a protocol for people or entities to manage their wealth & the wealth of others within a customizable and safe environment. Melon empowers anyone to set up, manage and invest in customized on-chain investment vehicles.”https://melonprotocol.com/

As described on its website, Enzyme is an open-source protocol that allows fund managers to create and manage a pooled asset vehicle on chain at “a fraction of the cost” of a traditional fund. In short, Enzyme is a decentralized solution for financial asset management: Whereas traditional funds are complex, riddled with fees, intermediaries, and legal documents, Enzyme embeds all of the rules for managing a fund between a portfolio manager and different stakeholders on a smart contract level – making it more cost-effective and straightforward, while still maintaining trust, asset custody for investors, and security. 

As summarized on the Enzyme Documentation page, Enzyme provides the following to prospective investors and fund managers: 

Rules and Parameters Up Front: Requires fund managers to define the key rules and parameters of the fund which are in turn deployed to the blockchain and enforced by smart contracts – no more need for fund administrators.

Transparent and Immutable Transactions: All transactions are recorded (transparently and immutably) on the blockchain – no more need for complex auditing.

Investors Maintain Custody of Assets: All assets remain in the custody of investors themselves and can be redeemed at any time – no more need for custodians.

Fund Performance is Transparent: All data about fund performance is on-chain thus transparent, enabling investors and managers alike to compare fund allocation and performance. Transactions on the blockchain are near instantaneous, and unlike transactions in the traditional world which can take several days, do not require clearing and settlement services.

Reduced Fraud and Malicious Behavior: By enabling investors to retain custody of their assets and enforcing fund parameters on the blockchain via smart contracts, Enzyme dramatically reduces the ability of fund managers to act fraudulently or malevolently.

Save Time and Money: By automating so many back office and intermediary functions, Enzyme drastically cuts the operating cost of managing a fund – thereby enabling managers to pass on these savings to investors.

Source: https://melonprotocol.com/docs/solution/

How Does Enzyme Currently Work?

Enzyme is a place to create, manage, and invest in investment funds. In this sense, it epitomizes the transition from traditional, centralized finance, to innovative, decentralized finance. Concretely, Enzyme works in the following manner:

As an investor, you head over to Melon Terminal and can browse from existing funds to invest into. DAI, wBTC, wETH, and USDC are all available to invest into a fund. Once you have decided you would like to invest in a specific fund, you simply have to: (1) Approve the smart contract to transfer tokens into the fund (and Pay the Gas Fee). (2) Read the investment request. (3) From which the request is executed by anyone with access to the contracts. 

As a fund manager, with meta-mask connected, you can log into Melon Terminal, name your fund, set your fees, agree to the rules of your jurisdiction and then create a fund. Once your fund is created it becomes listed on the Melon Terminal, and if it is made public, it is open to investment from any prospective investors. 

Enzyme explains its goal as providing a “Platform for decentralized asset management.” As one of the first projects to build such a solution as a Layer 2 Protocol, Melon has the opportunity to revolutionize and democratize how assets (and future crypto / digital assets) are managed in an open, permissionless and secure manner.

Taken from: https://melonprotocol.com/docs/solution/

To date, Enzyme boasts a total of 432 funds with more than 4.6 million USD in assets under management. An overview of existing funds can be found at: https://melon.avantgarde.finance/.

What Does NEAR Offer Enzyme?

While Enzyme has built an exceptional protocol on top of Ethereum, it stands to gain much more from bridging onto NEAR. The two main reasons have to do with (1) Low transaction fees on NEAR, as well as (2) the long term usability value proposition. Both are outlined in detail below:

(1) Low Transaction Fees on NEAR

Enzyme is designed for either investment managers or investors to interact with the protocol. However, in its current form this becomes difficult, time consuming and costly due to high fees on the Ethereum Network. As it currently stands, it takes 9 Transactions to deploy a customized Enzyme smart contract when setting up a fund. Gas Fees can fluctuate depending on usage on ETH as well as the amount of time. 

1. Begin Setup

2. Accounting Contract 

3. Fee Manager Contract

4. Participation Contract

5. Policy Manager Contract

6. Shares Contract

7. Trading Contract

8. Vault Contract

9. Setup Complete 

Each of these transactions are costly and time consuming for initial setup. This is also the case when it comes to investing in a fund, as every investor must approve the smart contract to transfer tokens into the fund (and thus pay a gas fee when moving funds into or out of a fund). 

On NEAR, transactions are extremely cheap and designed to remain low, regardless of how active the network becomes over time (hence the idea behind dynamically resharding the network as more transactions accrue). While Enzyme currently estimates that it costs a couple hundreds of dollars for setting up a fund on Ethereum, it is estimated on NEAR that all required transactions would cost less than $10 US dollars to get started, with almost no wait time either. 

The numbers here have been outlined by Illia in previous posts

Cost: The Initial price for 1Tgas is 0.0001 N. So one block is 0.1N at the minimum.

Time: With ~1 second blocks and constant validator rotation transaction get routed pretty quickly to the validator that will include them.

Including other common actions such as creating an account and sending funds: 

Source: https://docs.near.org/docs/concepts/gas

Note: Contracts also return 30% of the transaction fee back to the application / developer. In this sense Enzyme would actually stand to earn additional revenue as their platform grows over time, simply from taking a very small percentage of the NEAR used in starting and managing funds. 

“For example, the maximum fee change per block in Ethereum is 12.5%, and the block time is 12-13 seconds. In NEAR, the maximum change is 1% at 1 second block time.” – Deribit Insights

(2) Usability for Long Term Protocol Engagement

The second point that should be considered relates to the long-term usability proposition that NEAR offers Enzyme: Enzyme exists as a place for investors to invest in crypto mutual funds (and hopefully other assets in the future) while managers can handle those funds without actually owning the capital. One question that might be worth asking, is What kind of people would want to invest in a crypto mutual fund? 

If any segment (now or in the future) of Enzymes’ audience includes new crypto users, or those unfamiliar with handling the in’s and out’s of wallets, private keys, and alphanumerical addresses, then it would be beneficial for Enzyme to bridge over to NEAR: On NEAR, users are able to handle crypto using more familiar Account ID’s, simple login functionality, and one-click access to their wallet or an application on the protocol. 

For the long-term usability of Enzyme, managers from traditional finance and investors new to crypto would benefit (and be more likely to use Enzyme) by having a more streamlined and user-friendly management system than what Ethereum currently offers via MetaMask. For more on this see Alex’s post here. 

The Main Takeaway: If Enzyme were to bridge over to NEAR they would be able to keep their current service offering on Ethereum, but would be making a smart long-term investment in offering a more user-friendly and cost-effective service on NEAR. 

Why Should Enzyme Migrate to NEAR?  

Given these two major benefits, there are ultimately 4 reasons why Enzyme would do well to migrate or bridge across to NEAR: (1) Cost for Users, (2) Time For Onboarding, (3) Usability For Protocol Development, and (4) Support from NEAR.

Cost For Users: On NEAR, Enzyme will be cheap to use for both managers and investors. Starting a fund will not be cost-prohibitive, nor will investing in a fund of your choice. 

Time For Onboarding: Setting up a fund will take minutes instead of hours. Sending money between funds is equally fast and will remain so thanks to NEAR’s sharding design. 

Usability for Development: Enzyme hopes to re-imagine asset management under the guise of building an open, permissionless, and accessible protocol for future investors and fund managers. When taken in context, this means that Enzyme should be accessible to current fund managers interested in moving into crypto, as well as current investors looking to put crypto in the hands of more experienced traders. Both demands are handled by NEAR with their user-first design, easy account setup, and progressive security models. 

Support From NEAR: The NEAR Foundation is currently in the process of finalizing it’s grants program. In parallel, the Melon Council (i.e. Enzyme Council) has stated that they are happy to fund research into initiatives that include “Research on Integration with Interoperability Protocols” as well as “Research on Integration with DeFi Protocols”. Together, the two projects are strong enough to start funding initial research into helping Enzyme bridge across onto NEAR.  

Let’s Make It Happen

The Future of Crypto is collaborative, positive sum, and cross-protocol in nature. Bridging Enzyme to NEAR will not only improve traction and engagement for both protocols, but it will also make decentralized asset management more accessible to the world of mainstream finance at a time when Crypto is only starting to become known. As a long-term play for the next 5 years, bridging onto NEAR offers Enzyme an additional opportunity to engage with users and managers in a cost-effective, time-conscious, and user-friendly manner. Let’s make it happen. 

Announcing: The Case for Building on NEAR

Welcome to 2021. Lots of people have said this is going to be a big year for Crypto: Social Tokens, L1 Protocols, NFT’s, Gaming, you name it. Things certainly seem to be trending in that direction, and there is undoubtedly a plethora of opportunities in front of us. 

On NEAR Protocol, this year is also shaping up to be a big one: The NEAR – ETH Bridge should open as fully decentralized and permissionless, Flux will launch, Mintbase will continue to build, and the Ecosystem as a whole is well positioned to expand significantly on multiple fronts. 

In light of these projections, 4NTS Guild believes that it is important to not forget about the basics: That is to say, the simple things that make all of the difference amidst the noise, euphoria, and innovation. For the NEAR Ecosystem those basics are rooted in the design of the protocol as being scalable, developer-first, and user-friendly. That’s why we are announcing The Case For Building on NEAR Series

In Crypto there are hundreds of projects – and hundreds of protocols to choose from. More often than not, decisions are made not because all information has been consulted, weighed, and calculated, but because development, and business timelines force founders to move ahead. Our bet is that there are a lot of projects in the crypto space that don’t even know what they are missing out on by not building on NEAR Protocol. 

In The Case for Building on NEAR series, we want to go through a selection of crypto projects and protocols; Pick the projects that stand out to us the most in the crypto space, and break down how their solution could work on NEAR, and why that might be a good idea to make the transition NOW. It might have to do with gas fees, it might have to do with usability, and it might have to do with building future solutions in Rust. 

Have a recommendation of a project to break down or make the case for? Let us know on Telegram or Twitter (@4NTSGUILD)!