How we’re scaling Cardano in 2022

With core smart contract capability now deployed, the next phase for Cardano focuses on performance optimization and scaling. And it starts right here…

14 January 2022 Tim Harrison 5 mins read

The Cardano project has always been committed to addressing the classic blockchain trilemma; scalability, security, and (importantly) decentralization. As the organization tasked with creating the core platform, we have always pursued a defined, clearly staged roadmap to deliver on Cardano’s capability and fulfill its long-term potential.

Utilising formal development methods and Haskell code – with deep roots into a peer-reviewed academic approach – we have delivered a robust, secure platform fit for the future. Built for correctness. We named this phase Byron.

An incredible community has grown up around our endeavors and, through a network of some 3,000 stake pool operators, we now have one of the most decentralized proof-of-stake networks in the world. This era of decentralization and stake pools we named Shelley, after poet and political radical, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Goguen (which included the Alonzo HFC event) brought with it core smart contract capability, paving the way for DeFi and DApps. With initial Plutus capability now deployed, we continue to evolve the expressiveness of the Plutus language and the overall proposition, in collaboration with a growing community of developers.

Now, as we enter the Basho stage, we’re investing further energy into optimization and scaling. Building on these foundations, and steadily increasing capacity and throughput to deal with the growth in the DApp ecosystem and onboard first hundreds of thousands, then millions of new users. From DeFi degens to citizens of developing nations.

During the course of this year, starting right now, we’ll be pursuing this next phase of our mission. Parameter adjustments, improvements, enhancements and other innovations will all play their part in steadily increasing Cardano’s capacity & throughput during 2022. While maintaining the considered, safe approach that has served us to date. Yes, we anticipate periods of high demand, network congestion at times. We’re on an exciting journey and usage will be high. While we may at times feel impatient, this is the way. Here’s how we will optimize and scale as we grow.

On-chain solutions

Block size increase

The bigger the block, the more transactions it can carry. Block size was recently increased by 8KB to 72KB (a 12.5% increase); further increases will be applied over time based on ongoing system monitoring and overall network health.

Pipelining

Improves block propagation times by coalescing validation and propagation. The goal is for blocks to be propagated to at least 95% of peers within five seconds by reducing the ‘dead time’ between blocks (the block propagation overhead). This provides the headroom to make more aggressive scaling changes, such as increasing block size/increasing Plutus parameter limits.

Input Endorsers

Input endorsers improve block propagation times and throughput by allowing transactions to be separated into pre-constructed blocks. This improves the consistency of block propagation times and allows higher transaction rates.

Memory /CPU parameters for Plutus

Memory usage is more efficient across the chain. Specifically, there are memory improvements in Unspent Transaction Output (UTXO) handling, stake distribution, live stake distribution and pools, and hash representation.

Plutus script enhancements

Even more effective usage of the powerful EUTXO model through smart contract optimization, including:

  • Reference inputs (CIP-0031) – Plutus scripts can inspect transaction inputs without needing to spend them. This means that it is not necessary to create UTXOs simply to inspect the information held by an input.
  • Plutus Datums (CIP-0032) – Datums can be attached directly to outputs instead of datum hashes. This simplifies how datums are used, as a user can see the actual datum rather than having to supply the datum that matches the given hash.
  • Script sharing (CIP-0033) – Plutus script references can be associated with transaction outputs, meaning that they can be recorded on-chain for subsequent reuse. It will not be necessary to supply a copy of the script with each transaction, hugely reducing friction for developers. Reusing scripts in multiple transactions significantly reduces transaction sizes, improving throughput and reducing script execution costs.

Node enhancements

Improvements will help even distribution of stake and reward computations across the epochs, thus providing greater headroom for block size increases. Also, memory usage is now more efficient. Memory compaction reduces RSS footprint, and memory sharing means we need less data instantiated. Node version 1.33.0, from January 2022, reduces peak load at critical points, including the epoch boundary.

On-disk storage

By storing portions of the protocol state on disk, nodes will need to hold less in memory, meaning that RAM-constrained systems will be able to run nodes provided they have sufficient storage, and memory will no longer be a bottleneck on scalability. This will enable significant growth in the blockchain state.

Off-chain solutions

Sidechains

A sidechain is a separate blockchain connected to a main blockchain (the 'main' chain, also known as parent chain), through a two-way mechanism (the 'bridge') that enables tokens and other digital assets from one chain to be used in another and results returned to the original chain. Assets can be moved between chains as needed. One single parent chain can have multiple interoperable sidechains connected to it, which may operate in completely different ways. EVM sidechains coming to Cardano include dcSpark’s Milkomeda and IOG’s Mamba.

Hydra

Introduces isomorphic state channels to maximize throughput, minimize latency, incur low to no costs, and greatly reduce storage requirements. Hydra provides a more efficient means to process transactions off-chain while using the main-chain ledger as the secure settlement layer.

Off-chain computing

Offloading some of the computation, for example with Asynchronous Contract Execution (ACE) can drive greater core network efficiency. Transactions occur outside of the blockchain itself, yet can offer fast, cheap transactions via a trust model.

Mithril

To achieve greater scalability, you need to address the complexity of critical operations that depend logarithmically on the number of participants. Mithril will improve chain synchronization while maintaining trust. The result? Multi-signature aggregation that is fast and efficient without compromising security features.

Infographic credit: Mikki Pham/Fernando Sanchez

A new internal IOG Developer Experience department will improve development agility

Starting with our internal processes, we are committed to building better solutions and the optimization of the Cardano development experience

13 January 2022 Olga Hryniuk 4 mins read

A new internal IOG Developer Experience department will improve development agility

Designed for global reach and enhanced functionality, Cardano is now moving from its core capabilities to a living and breathing smart contract platform. Gradual optimization and scientifically verified system improvements lead the way for Cardano's growth and maturity.

‘Move fast and break things’ isn’t the way Cardano is built. Working at the forefront of technology, and with our research agenda at the core, we use formal methods, such as mathematical specifications, property-based tests, and proofs to deliver high assurance software systems and give confidence to users for the management of digital funds.

Programmability

While we chose the Haskell programming language as the basis to achieve strong guarantees on the functional correctness of core system components, there is no single language or tool that helps us deliver a rock-solid blockchain platform.

With so many possibilities of different programming scenarios, our goal is to ensure that both internal developers and the wider developer ecosystem have a coherent and consistent experience while building on Cardano. So, while working with different programming languages and development tools in the infrastructure, we’re also pushing this development to the limits. This means enhancing coding principles and expanding the capabilities of various systems and methodologies.

Any effort to grant wider functionality and use needs to start with internal processes. So, to provide a flexible and consistent environment for everyone building and deploying on Cardano, we have now created a new internal structure that improves the agility of development.

Developer experience department

To establish an environment, where developers at IOG are not hindered by the tools they use in their day-to-day work, we have created a new Developer Experience department (DevX), led by Moritz Angermann.

Moritz Angermann explains:

Think of DevX as an internal technical support center for IO developers. It primarily focuses on providing assistance and tooling to different teams assisting with their Continuous Integration (CI) and ‘Build’ needs and ensuring that setup procedures don’t affect timely deliveries.

The department involves cooperation with all engineering teams and is also responsible for amplifying synergies between teams and streamlining development processes. Another focus of DevX is improving the Haskell tooling as a natural continuation of the ‘tools’ team that is now part of DevX.

The tooling

While Cardano is a multi-functional smart contract development platform, it is still early days and the ledger and network is being gradually upgraded as we go. Cardano is designed to serve millions of users everywhere and thus we’re adapting it to be flexible upon increasing demand. This means that along with the network growth, we are tuning protocol parameters to adjust to extending scalability and throughput properties.

The DevX department is creating tooling that will enable continuous ledger upgrades and optimizations. This tooling addresses developers’ needs and allows for better utilization of various building libraries. Streamlining the Haskell development experience includes:

  • substantial improvement of cross-compilation capabilities
  • enhanced plugin support
  • work on interoperability with the Rust programming language and other languages

These improvements enable developers not only to work with Haskell using libraries written in other languages but use Haskell libraries from other languages. Along with that, the department also concentrates on boosting the workflow relevant to using Nix, the Glasgow Haskell Compiler (GHC) and GHCJS (Haskell to Javascript compiler) support.

As Cardano continues to evolve as a fully open infrastructure model during 2022, we hope in due course these improvements will provide the broader developer community with better tooling for working on different projects and deploying them on Cardano.

DevX contributions are included across multiple Input Output repositories, and you can check out Haskell Nix development progress in this repository or learn more about the Glasgow Haskell Compiler development by going to gitlab.haskell.org.

DeFi demystified

With the Cardano ecosystem set to grow exponentially in 2022, now is the time to get to grips with some of the prime principles – and jargon – behind DeFi

10 January 2022 Olga Hryniuk 11 mins read

DeFi demystified

The number of ada users and software developers building on the Cardano blockchain continues to grow. With projects now in final testing and starting to deploy, sites like Cardano Cube, Built on Cardano, Building On Cardano, and Essential Cardano are busy mapping an exciting ecosystem. Cardano has been created as a secure, robust platform to build blockchain-based products, services, and systems. With a clear roadmap to steadily develop, we now see it scaling to serve on a global scale.

DeFi – decentralized finance – has exploded in recent years, opening up a host of new financial instruments – from the useful to the crazily speculative. Ultimately as this market matures, the goal of DeFi is to help individuals and companies engage in financial activity without going through a central, expensive middleman such as a bank, or to attain higher returns on their assets in an era of inflation and negative interest rates.

Cardano has expanded on this idea. The aim is to bring inexpensive banking and insurance services to the millions of people worldwide who cannot access such products. This would help break down the barriers between developed and developing nations. We call this vision ‘RealFi’.

Despite this surge for Cardano, overall blockchain understanding and adoption levels are still low. Not least, because of the mountain of jargon every crypto-curious person needs to grapple with. So, in anticipation of the next wave of fresh interest in Cardano – and particularly to welcome new readers to this blog – we thought the beginning could be a great place to start!

So we’ll try to unpack the complexity of some notions that we so often read about with blockchain. Terms like DeFi, RealFi, DApp, DEX, liquidity, and so on go hand-in-hand with the latest blockchain products. Let’s take a look at what these terms mean, and let’s start with the basic building blocks.

Where does DeFi start?

It all starts with a blockchain. So, simply put, a blockchain is a digital ‘book’ of records – what accountants would call a ledger – about transactions. What’s unusual about this book is that it is not controlled by a single person, company, or government official. Instead, entries are made in a decentralized way. By decentralized, we mean that thousands of people’s computers communicate with each other to agree on whether a transaction is valid. They reach this consensus based on the rules built into the blockchain software they are running. Blockchain records cannot be altered and can be examined by everyone – making it impossible to delete the record about a transaction, forge its amount, or hide any details. This feature guarantees transparency and trust between the users. Interestingly, although the blockchain shows such information, users are ‘presented’ as addresses. So, although anyone can see what transactions were made to and from an address since the blockchain started, no one can identify the person at the blockchain address.

The advantages of decentralized systems are summarized in Figure 1.

But how do we use blockchain in daily life, and why does it matter? The answer is that blockchain is about trading or exchanging funds under specified conditions, for a potentially infinite number of applications. Companies in healthcare, art, retail, collecting, beverage, sportswear and gaming already use blockchain technology.

Figure 1. Decentralized v traditional finance

What is decentralized finance?

Decentralized finance or DeFi is a blockchain-based form of finance that addresses the same needs as traditional finance. You can send and receive payments, pay for products or services, or invest in cryptocurrency projects instead of bonds or stocks. However, DeFi does not depend on any intermediary and uses smart contracts to settle deals fairly. By adding an identity component such as Atala Prism – and thus a ‘bridge’ to the real world – you have what we call RealFi.

The money

In a traditional setting, we use money to pay for products and services. This medium of exchange is usually represented as coins or banknotes issued by central banks. Crypto users have popularized the use of the term fiat ​​to describe real-world money. The US dollar, British pound, and Japanese yen are all fiat money. The word has been used since governments stopped having to back their currency with gold. Instead, they issue a formal decree – a fiat – that their currency is legal tender.

On the blockchain, people use crypto assets instead of fiat. Let’s take a look at the different types (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Types of cryptocurrency assets

How it works

Before we dive into the peculiarities of DeFi terminology, let’s first see what makes it all work. So, the driving force of security and fair agreements lies in smart contracts. Let’s say you download a DeFi app and you’d like to lend Alice 10 ada. We need to be assured that Alice will pay it back, and we’d also like to earn some interest if she pays back later than agreed. Traditionally, users sign agreements and specify such conditions. That’s also done on the blockchain, but in the form of smart contracts.

  • Smart contract: an automated digital agreement, written in code, that tracks, verifies, and executes the binding parts of a deal between various parties. The contract stages are automatically executed by the smart contract code when predetermined conditions are met.

An interesting fact is that smart contracts don’t find specific data themselves. For example, we agree with Alice that she pays back by say, January 20. For a smart contract to execute, it needs to know the date, whether Alice processed a transaction and whether the sent amount matches the indicated amount. For this, smart contracts use oracles.

  • Oracle: a way to communicate with real-world data. Oracles connect with trusted external data sources that enable smart contracts to execute by referencing datasets such as exact timing, the weather, election results, sports statistics, and cryptocurrency prices. Oracles ensure confidence in timely, accurate, and untampered data.

With Cardano, users can work with Plutus or Marlowe contracts:

  • Plutus: a set of programming tools for writing smart contracts on Cardano. Deployed since September on Cardano, it includes Plutus Core – the software that runs Plutus transactions and contracts – and the Plutus programming language, which is based on Haskell, a language designed for writing extremely reliable programs. There is also the Plutus Playground – a place where developers can test their code before using it on the main chain.
  • Marlowe: Marlowe is a language designed specially for writing financial smart contracts. It is limited to financial applications and is for experts in finance rather than in programming. There is also the Marlowe Playground, where users can create, edit, simulate, and analyze Marlowe contracts in a web browser. Marlowe will be deployed to Cardano later this year.

DeFi ecosystem

Users access various DeFi platforms and applications for different purposes. For instance, asset management products (or simply, wallets) store, send and receive cryptocurrencies between users. There are many decentralized applications (DApps):

  • DApp: a digital application that runs on the blockchain. There are various types of DApps, such as DeFi products, NFT markets, wallets, exchanges, games and more.

Now that the Cardano ecosystem is growing fast, more and more DeFi products are coming to Cardano. Users will soon be able to use new DApps and platforms for their financial needs. Thus, to ensure that users and the developer community can offer and consume products of the best quality, we are working on:

  • The dAppStore: a user-friendly marketplace for all Cardano DApps. It is also a place where users with limited blockchain knowledge will be able to explore ways that the technology can be useful to them.
  • DApp certification: certification and assurance help ensure that products meet certain quality checks. While voluntary (Cardano is, after all, open and decentralized) Certification benefits both developers and users because it includes security checks that help with auditing smart contracts. There are three levels of certification, each of which complementary to the others.

DeFi platforms and DApps mainly deal with financial activities. Besides sending and receiving funds, these can be used for investing, lending, and borrowing.

As a matter of fact, users can borrow cryptocurrency on the blockchain without paying interest:

  • Flash loan: works as an instant loan that doesn't require collateral (funds needed to secure a loan of other cryptocurrencies or tokens) or know-your-customer (KYC) verification. However, the flash loan requires repayment within the same block it is lent to the borrower. If the loan isn’t paid back, the initial transaction is rejected, and the issuer retains their funds.

Let’s take a look at a few more of the most common terms you’ll come across in DeFi:

  • Exchange: a cryptocurrency marketplace where users can buy or sell cryptocurrencies. There are two types of exchanges. A CEX (centralized exchange) is maintained by a specific entity or structure, which is subject to regulations or rules. A DEX (decentralized exchange) is a type of crypto exchange with no intermediary, and users can buy and sell their assets in a secure, peer-to-peer way.

Liquidity is another term that you’ll commonly hear. It measures the circulating supply and trading activity in a certain DEX, CEX, or another network. Circulating supply is essential to meet the trading needs of users. For example, Alice wants to sell some bitcoins she owns and instead buy some ada, and let’s say, some tokens needed for her new shopping app. While bitcoin trading is very popular, she won’t have any difficulties. She’ll probably buy ada as well if the chosen exchange supports it. But what if there are none of the tokens she’s looking for? Or, say, she wants to get 100 tokens for her app, and there are only 30? This is what liquidity is about – having enough supply of coins or tokens to satisfy users’ requirements.

Liquidity includes relevant activities and notions that go hand in hand with them:

  • Liquidity mining: the process of creating or adding new coins or tokens to support the demand for transactions. Liquidity miners (providers) usually get rewards that incentivize them to support the user base and grow liquidity pools. Liquidity mining is also known as yield farming.
  • Liquidity pools: a pool of deposited cryptocurrencies that provides liquidity to the network, where the currencies are in demand.
  • AMM (automated market maker): a pool of cryptocurrencies that provides liquidity between ‘trading pairs’. A trading pair is a match between Alice, who wants to sell her bitcoin, and Bob, who wants to buy it, for example. AMMs are decentralized and depend on the liquidity provided by their users.

Decentralized exchanges aren’t only convenient marketplaces for cryptocurrency trading. They also serve as tools for earning profit. So let’s discuss some relevant terms:

  • ROI (return on investment): the profit or loss on an investment, often expressed as a percentage.
  • Yield farming: as mentioned above, this is also known as liquidity mining. Because rewards are gained for providing funds, such a process is called farming.
  • Yield: rewards earned for cryptocurrency staking or liquidity mining.
  • Leverage: the act of using borrowed capital, expecting profits to be greater than the paid interest.

Please note that we’re not giving any financial advice. This post explains some of the DeFi terms for informative purposes only.

And while we’re discussing some ‘earning profit’ terms, let’s also recall how ada holders can securely benefit and get rewards from their ada:

  • Staking and delegating on Cardano: every ada holder owns a stake that is based on the amount of ada they have. A developer or a tech-savvy person can set up a stake pool and run it to help verify Cardano transactions, getting rewards for this. Everyone can delegate their funds to a stake pool to earn a share of these rewards. There is no risk to this and no ada leaves your wallet. Ada can be delegated from your wallet or spent at any time.

While these are exciting times, we continue to stress the importance of doing your own research and approaching new products with caution. Follow our blog and Twitter for new announcements not to miss a thing. And throughout this year, we’ll have plenty more content coming your way to help you navigate this growing ecosystem.

2021: the year robots, and graffiti came to a decentralized, smarter Cardano

Beeple used to illustrate our blog posts, but art NFTs made him a millionaire, and then AI and DeFi arrived

27 December 2021 Anthony Quinn 11 mins read

2021: the year robots, and graffiti came to a decentralized, smarter Cardano

Incredibly, given the state of our Covid-shocked world back in January, 2021 has had its fair share of fun. And if 2020 was a big year for Cardano with the upgrade from Byron to Shelley, this year was bigger still. Decentralized block production arrived, tokens went native, contracts turned smart – and there were some world firsts. But, our review of the year is getting ahead of itself, so let’s think back to January....

A hundred community stake pools benefitted when IO Group set out its strategy for delegating its ada funds in 2021. All but one of the IOG public pools were closed and the stake was moved to community operators, to the tune of three million ada per pool. Throughout the year, some 300 pools benefited from the greater chance this gave them to mint blocks. Over the year, the total number of pools running the network has increased by half to about 3,000.

Then, IOG turned to encouraging developers and innovators with Project Catalyst. This experiment explores innovation and collaboration as the first stage in the Voltaire era of the Cardano roadmap. It involves investing actual ada with an initial fund worth $250,000 backing 11 proposals. Since then, it has become the largest fund of its kind, with total funds allocated worth $8m. And the community soon set up a Catalyst website.

In February, fun came to the Cardano blockchain when SingularityNet founder Ben Goertzel and Charles Hoskinson, IOG’s co-founder, got together to explore the future of decentralization, artificial intelligence and social media. As we’ll see later, it wasn’t the end of the shenanigans as the pioneering AI and robotics company began moving its systems from Ethereum to Cardano.

All was not well elsewhere in the crypto world, however, with US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen warning that bitcoin was ‘extremely inefficient’. It was just the start of legislators in Washington and around the world digging into the crypto industry. 

March saw IOG bring out the ‘hard fork combinator’ again. This may sound like a piece of farm machinery, but it’s a clever way of taking the stress out of upgrading the blockchain. The Mary upgrade allowed Cardano to become a multi-asset platform. This means that anyone can now mint their own tokens, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs) without even needing a smart contract. Global commentators started to take real notice and the media rolled out its cliche-ridden ‘Ethereum killer’ articles.

A corner of the $69m artwork: Christie's sold Mike Winkelmann's Everydays NFT – as ‘Beeple’, his illustrations graced IOG blog posts for two years

Mike Winkelmann set the world alight when his NFT artwork, Everydays: the First 5000 Days, sold for $69,346,250 at Christie’s. The auction propelled him into an exclusive club for the highest price paid for the work of a living artist, alongside Hockney, Hirst, Johns, and Koons. As ‘Beeple’, his illustrations graced IOG blog posts for two years. 

In Germany, a computer science student thought he’d have some fun with the new capabilities of Cardano. Alessandro Konrad switched from writing ‘boring’ smart contracts in Ethereum. He launched his own stake pool with Berry NFTs as rewards for people delegating to his pool. Next up was SpaceBudz NFTs, which he created with a pal. In just two days, 10,000 of these sold at 50 ada each – that’s one way to pay your way through university!

Blockchain graffiti: an animated Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass of champagne on the CardanoWall

As the month neared its end, the CardanoWall arrived. This tool helps people put messages on the blockchain as metadata. Most people treat this blockchain graffiti as fun, but be warned – all human life is there. Messages range across the spectrum of high and low culture, from the personal to the political, the philosophical to the pornographic, the surreal to the mundane. Some are self-serving, others life-affirming. Early messages include: Wow! This is cool dude!’ and the Robert Burns poem To a Mouse, ‘Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie…’ The first picture appeared at epoch 256, slot 314,340, an animated image of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass of champagne. It was soon followed by a view of farmland and, perhaps inevitably, a cat.

D-Day tweet: ada coin creation was handed over to more than a thousand stake pools on March 31

The last day of March was a landmark; it was D=0 Day. This was when IOG devolved block production totally to stake pool operators. Full decentralization had arrived.

The global buzz around Cardano grew louder with the announcement of an education program with 3,500 schools and five million pupils in April. Blockchains offer great promise in helping to achieve inclusive growth in African economies, and IOG aims to be at the forefront of this progress.

But school was definitely out when CardanoKidz hit the streets. These cartoon NFTs were based on IOHK staff – heaven knows what posterity will make of them! 

In May, the COP26 climate change conference was still six months away, but analysts and the media were latching on to Cardano as the environmentally friendly blockchain. Anthony Cuthbertson’s profile, ‘The “green” crypto that hopes to surpass the tech giants’, started the trend. 

Another form of media, Wikipedia, saw a record number of hits for its Cardano page, with 13,702 visits on May 15. A year before, there had been no Cardano page because editors pushing a ‘blockchains are terrible’ agenda had taken it down in 2019 as not being ‘notable’. Such was the level of censorship that there was no reference to Cardano – apart from a graphic showing it as one of the top 10 coins! A mention that Philip Wadler, one of the world’s leading computer scientists, was working for IOHK was deleted as ‘spam’. Demand for a Cardano page was demonstrated when it had 5,195 visits the day after it reappeared in October 2020, surpassing Ethereum’s 1,719. Yet, even now, the Cardano page is still under heavy sanctions and only a few Wikipedia editors can add to the copy.

Fun with AI was back when the Hoskinson and Goertzel show took to YouTube again for an update on moving to Cardano, and a chat with Grace, a cutting-edge healthcare robot. Grace asked about the IOG chief’s pet giraffe – and revealed that ‘she’ didn’t like technology!

Nervos, Nexo and Orion all announced projects with Cardano in June, developments with the Daedalus full-node wallet were discussed, and chief scientist Aggelos Kiayias set out the thinking on stabilizing transaction fees by establishing a ‘peg’ to a basket of commodities or currencies. Two months later, development of the Djed stablecoin was announced.

A version of John Conway's Life is a background option on IOG’s home page and Stephen Wolfram used such cellular automata for its live minting of NFTs in July. The Christmas-tree shaped image at the top of this post is one of the images generated.

Africa focus: 250,000 people have watched a video about IOG’s activities in the continent

The importance of mobile phones for global development has long been promoted by the United Nations, and it has recognized the potential for digital technologies such as blockchain. So IOG teaming up with World Mobile in August to help bring cellular networks to some of the remotest regions of Africa should be a boon. More than a quarter of a million people have watched John O'Connor’s video about IOG’s activities in Africa. The mobile deal was followed by the European Business University of Luxembourg offering programming courses to African students.

The month produced a surprise when Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin joined the Dogecoin Foundation board. 

The prospect of decentralized finance (DeFi) clearly terrifies politicians in the US. The Financial Times pointed to the furore over imposing tax reporting rules on crypto ‘brokers’, a prospect buried in Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure plan. One result was that it brought the fractious blockchain industry together. 

Cardano's metaverse: 140,000 people logged into the summit, hosted on the back of an ocean-going mythical turtle

September was a busy month. El Salvador became the first country to adopt a cryptocurrency as legal tender. At IOG, the company ramped up for the Cardano Summit 2021 with 70 hours of presentations from 200 speakers. Over two days, 140,000 people logged into the event’s metaverse, hosted on the back of an ocean-going mythical turtle. There was something for everyone, with more fun with robots and debate about the future of art among the technical and community talks. And during the summit the millionth Cardano NFT was minted. And last but not least, September saw the deployment of the Alonzo upgrade, bringing core Plutus smart contract capability to Cardano. Decentralized finance had arrived. As Tim Harrison put it at the time, it was a cause for celebration but really just the beginning of a journey that is now starting to gather pace.

The buzz around the summit and the Alonzo hard fork event attracted the editors at the Harvard International Review, which did a three-part interview in October with IOG’s chief discussing Cardano, the developing world, the future of crypto, and financial regulation. Meanwhile, the strength of the collectibles market was shown when it was reported that the woolly-booted, axe-wielding SpaceBud #9936 had sold for 510,000 ada – the first Cardano NFT to fetch the equivalent of a million US dollars. Plus we saw projects such as Meld gearing themselves up for launch with the first initial stake pool offerings.

Bison-herder Charles Hoskinson also took an IOG team to Africa in October and introduced us all to the ‘smart cow’ effect

November saw Pool.pm’s count of the number of NFTs minted on Cardano pass the two million mark – and Andy Warhol came to the blockchain. Gallery owner Rudolf Budja launched a ‘fractionalized’ NFT sale so people could ‘own a piece of an Andy Warhol’. 

Eagle-eyed Cardano watchers spotted a Cardano logo on the proposed cover of The Economist magazine’s The World Ahead: 2022. This annual analysis sees crypto as a battleground. Fighting for control are the decentralization pioneers building the technology, the big tech barons like Facebook and Google, and governments. The end of November saw the launch of the MuesliSwap decentralized exchange, a Cardano first generating – as might be expected in such a febrile environment – its share of bouquets and brickbats

December brought the launch of the P2P testnet, a milestone in Cardano’s decentralization journey. Along with this came a release of the Plutus application backend, which will become a set of libraries to help speed development on Cardano. The number of Wikipedia page views for the Cardano page passed the million mark for the year.

SingularityNet ERC20 converter: a child explained how to convert the AI pioneer's tokens to Cardano

If all that’s not intelligent enough for you, the much-anticipated testnet for an ERC20 converter to switch SingularityNet’s internal AI token to Cardano sparked a lot of interest. And if it still all looks confusing, see the converter explained by a six-year-old. The past few weeks have also seen more projects start to launch on Cardano, from NFT marketplaces such as Tokhun, Cardahub and CNFT.io adding smart contract integration, to domain naming project Adahandle. And as the DeFi ecosystem starts to take off, in late December, an alliance was announced to help speed it on its way through standardisation and best practice in the shape of the Cardano DeFi Alliance.

As the year draws to a close, we invariably look to the past and the future, as The Economist has done. It's been an incredible year of growth with a community that continues to light the way. We’ve also seen more than our fair share of opprobrium from critics and purveyors of fear, uncertainty and doubt – the ‘FUDsters'. Yet, still we have persevered and start the new year stronger and more resolute than ever. So, in the words of Auld Lang Syne, let’s try to all ‘tak a cup o' kindness yet’ into the next year and hope for a healthier, more blockchain-intelligent 2022.

Cardano education in 2021: the year of the pioneers

It was a busy time for the team at IOG – and the next 12 months look busier still

23 December 2021 Niamh Ahern 5 mins read

Cardano education in 2021: the year of the pioneers

2021 saw the launch of our Plutus Pioneer and Atala Pioneer programs. These interactive training courses aim to widen the reach of our education materials and have been completed by thousands of people.

The feedback we’ve received about the lectures, delivery, and support has been very positive and demonstrated a high level of commitment to learning. So we are planning some new programs in other disciplines for 2022 and more courses about both writing smart contracts in Plutus and the Atala digital identity software. DeFi – decentralized finance – aims to provide direct peer-to-peer financial transaction capability between individuals and companies, without central authorities.

How the programs were run

During these programs, participants attended weekly lectures delivered by Lars Brünjes, director of education at IOG, who also held weekly follow-up interactive Q&A sessions. People were supported by a thriving community in the Discord chat system that encouraged collaboration and problem-solving. These channels were moderated by the IOG education team, who were on hand to provide support. During the courses, Lars aimed to create a ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling and a ‘pioneer’ spirit, which was certainly evident across the dedicated channels in Discord.

The education team encouraged the enthusiasm and good will of the pioneers, so they helped and supported each other, creating a tightly-knit community in the process. In addition, we encouraged pioneers to help the next group and pass on their knowledge. The power of peer-to-peer learning cannot be underestimated.

When we launched the first Plutus Pioneer course in March, we were hoping for solid community support and engagement. We never envisaged that we would close out the year with more than 3,500 participants trained up on Plutus and Atala and ready to start building on Cardano.

We have now wrapped up the Atala Pioneer program, and are taking some time to reflect on the detailed feedback and how we can improve the experience further for the next cohorts.

Lars says:

Plutus has a steep learning curve, and it was still a bit rough around the edges, which worried me a bit in the beginning. But the enthusiasm and spirit of “we’re all in this together” I received from the community was overwhelming, making the course a tremendous success.

Outcomes of the courses

One of the most positive outcomes of these courses was the amazing community participation that we witnessed on Discord right from the start. The participants supported each other, published additional material that they worked on, were quick to report any issues, and got stuck in when it came to fixing bugs – they really were acting as true pioneers. Their assistance and testing efforts through the Alonzo testnet rollout were also highly beneficial.

We also saw a wide range of innovative materials and ideas from the courses, including new wallets, training materials, and new projects on Cardano.

Education partnerships

This year also saw the start of a partnership with the European Business University of Luxembourg (EBU) in September. EBU is a renowned educational provider and non-profit organization dedicated to higher education and certificate programs.

This partnership is sponsored by the IOG education team and aims to make education more accessible in the African region. It will give a wealth of students access to educational material for free, while also supporting the IOG strategy in the region.

EBU launched its first Plutus and Haskell course in late September, and is wrapping up after a 10-week course that was well attended and received.

What is on the horizon in 2022?

We are currently planning for the third cohort of the Plutus Pioneer course, which we are launching in early January. Enrollment is now open, so please express your interest on our registration page and we will be in touch soon. In the meantime, we are updating the lectures and materials to bring them up to speed with developments and recent tooling updates in Plutus.

We have also held planning workshops with the Marlowe team. They are working on their first Marlowe Pioneer program early next year. Meanwhile, the Atala team will be moving into their second cycle in the near future.

Within the education team, we are also working on self-learning courses. Participants will be able to pick and choose the modules they want to complete and work at their own pace, rather than follow a weekly schedule.

The next big project we are planning is a Haskell course that will be delivered in Ghana. The aim is to train up 80 student developers in how to transform local industries using blockchain technology. Ghana is striding forward in terms of blockchain, and this course will add to the pool of Haskell and Plutus developers ready to build smart contracts and DeFi applications on Cardano.

Last but not least, we are planning some new publications in 2022, including an updated version of the Plutus ebook later in the year.

To find out more about our education initiatives, follow IOG Twitter as well as the Plutus and Atala registration pages for more details.