Community and stake pool reactions to the Shelley Incentivized Testnet

Two months after launch, we look at the reactions so far

20 February 2020 Anthony Quinn 7 mins read

Community and stake pool reactions to the Shelley Incentivized Testnet

The Incentivized Testnet (ITN) has been running since mid-December, and the results have produced some fascinating insights into stake pools and a steep learning curve for the blockchain engineers at IOHK, as well as the companies and individuals setting up stake pools, and ada owners. The strategy of using a fast development team writing in the Rust language to act as pathfinders for the heavyweight Haskell developers looks to be paying off. IOHK now has an enormous amount of information about the use — and misuse — of the protocol to take to the next stage: the Haskell testnet. Alongside that, the Cardano community has shown what it is capable of — supporting, experimenting, and providing solid feedback throughout.

Before the ITN went live on December 13, 158 stake pools had registered with the Cardano Foundation and were setting themselves up. Yet, within three days, the number of pools had shot up to 325. By the end of January, the total was well past the 600 mark. There had been some scepticism when IOHK chief Charles Hoskinson talked of 1,000 stake pools last year, but we’re well on the way to that total.

As Scott Darby’s world of stake pools animation shows, the nodes are spread from Brazil to South Africa and Australia; from Japan and China to San Francisco via Europe — and, with nodes in Bodø and Fauske in Norway, we’re even in the Arctic Circle.

Many from the crypto press remarked on the fast results: CryptoSlate pointed out that the testnet had 10 times more pools than Eos or Tron within a week. NewsBTC summed it up with the headline: ‘Cardano testnet success shows how decentralization should work.’ The headlines, of course, don’t tell the whole story, and there were plenty of bumps in the road. But it’s going well, and we’ve received positive feedback about the improvements made to date (with more to come). That said, the network’s success isn’t just about what we do: it’s about the work of stake pool operators. Here, we take a look at the stake pools bringing this decentralized network to life, and explore the business of running a stake pool.

Stake pool tools

Thanks to the efforts of the Cardano community, anyone can delve into the workings of the system and explore what is happening. AdaPools, run by the Cardanians group alongside its pool, has a dashboard based on data from IOHK’s GitHub registry with tools such as a mapping of decentralization, notifications of saturation, and a test for whether a pool is forked and off the main blockchain. Cardano Pool Tool run by StakeLove is based around a table that can rank staking providers by 16 measures, from pool name to ada staked to return on investment.

The information shown in these tools comes from the blockchain data. Beyond that, the decentralized nature of the blockchain means we cannot know the identity of stake pool operators until they reveal themselves through their pool’s website or social media. So, the biggest pool early on, with 737m ada staked — twice as much as any of the IOHK pools — had ZZZ as its ticker but, initially, its name was simply its identity extracted from the blockchain. ZZZ soon split itself into several pools and revealed its name as TripleZ, based in Japan.

People staking their ada may prefer to know more about who’s running their pool, but they might not. This is one of the things that IOHK — and ada holders because Cardano is going to become their network once it’s decentralized — will get a feel for from the ITN. There are various forums where all this is being discussed, such as on Telegram and the Cardano forums. It’s been fascinating to see the debate inspired by the testnet, much of which reflects debates within IOHK about how best to build a community-driven, decentralized network and the role that incentives should play. The balance between community contribution and personal profit motive has been discussed at length. So, too, has how much the community should police itself. This is new territory, and, through the community, we’re able to test our assumptions about how blockchain social dynamics play out, and to what extent the protocol should be responsible for preventing adversarial behavior.

Community and operator reactions

Alongside the technical learnings, gathering community feedback and input has been an essential part of the Incentivized Testnet, to help us on the journey to deploying Shelley on the mainnet. Even before stake pools had set up their nodes to join the testnet, users began to provide feedback and have their say. Max, a Cardano ambassador, ran three ‘What the pool?’ interviews in the run-up to the testnet launch on his Gerolamo blog, and has since added a fourth. The Cardano Effect also interviewed four operators. Another website, Stake Pool Showcase, asked five standard questions and encourages pool owners to sign up and make their case:

  • Who operates the pool?
  • What is your history with the Cardano project?
  • What is the setup of your pool?
  • What are your plans for the future of your pool?
  • Why should people delegate to your pool?

The answers demonstrate a range of operators. In terms of size of stake, the nine listed by February ranged from 1 ada to 50 million ada. Eight of the pools were run by one or two people who worked in computing and most dated their involvement with Cardano back to 2017. Three did not give their names, one stating: ‘The pool is run in an anonymous fashion, in order to make it impossible to influence me. This is part of the security, to make it much harder to attack the pool.’ They were in places such as France, Honolulu, London, Manchester, and Norway.

As well as giving information about their experience, most listed their hardware set-up and seemed to know what to expect from a testnet: ‘Of course, within the testnet the pool can only run as stable as the software stability allows, but I will do my best — and, moving forward, code stability will improve for sure.’ Another said: ‘We have been tinkering with the settings all the time and have achieved very good uptime in the last few epochs — after a lot of lost sleep.’

One operator was sensitive to the power expenditure of running cryptocurrencies: ‘Overall, I am very pleased I still only draw 35-45 watts in day-to-day operations, so it's eco-friendly.’ A second was running a backup server on a Rock Pi single board computer, which uses as little as 10W, as demonstrated at last year’s IOHK Summit. Looking beyond the testnet, another pool operator raised the challenge of governance in the Voltaire era of development and saw smart contracts as the way forward: ‘We have Marlowe for a financial DSL [domain-specific language], why not a legal DSL to help with governance issues?’

The Cardano Shelley Testnet & StakePool Best Practice Workgroup on Telegram received several mentions as the place for operators to go for tips.

All in all, as Kyle Solomon at AdaFrog told this blog: ‘Being a stake pool operator has been both a highly challenging and amazingly fulfilling journey. The most important takeaways I’ve learned as a pool operator are: first, that the protocol is very close to a production quality that achieves IOHK’s original goals for Cardano; and second that the Cardano community is utterly and hands-down amazing. Even though we compete amongst each other, every pool operator is eager to help one another.’

The next post in this three-part series will delve deeper into the experiences of the stake pools and what’s been learnt.

As with everything IOHK does, we cannot give advice on how you use your ada and we’re not recommending any of these pools. As always, though, please keep getting in touch and let us know your thoughts.

New Cardano node, explorer backend, and web API released

We’ve refreshed Cardano’s architecture – with more yet to come

12 February 2020 Tim Harrison 4 mins read

New Cardano node, explorer backend, and web API released

Today marks the culmination of considerable effort by the Cardano team: the release of a new Cardano Haskell implementation. This implementation consists of two main components: the Cardano Node and the Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API. Over the past 18 months, we’ve been building a new architectural foundation that will not only prepare us for the upcoming releases for Shelley – and, thereafter, Goguen – but open the door to third-party developers and enterprise adoption.

The changes will begin with the Ouroboros update to Ouroboros BFT (Byzantine Fault Tolerance), which is tentatively scheduled for February 20. For now, Cardano’s blockchain production remains on the old implementation. After the update to Ouroboros BFT, we will be able to migrate the core nodes that create blocks, while Daedalus users will be able to upgrade later, once the compatible wallet backend is available.

Why now?

The original implementation of the network node – launched in September 2017 – has taken us as far as it could. We’ve known for a long time that a new architecture is needed to achieve our roadmap, ready the system for Shelley, and provide a foundation for Goguen, as well as other future releases.

This update is about radically improving Cardano’s design, and is the first to take advantage of our work on formal methods. While the old node was monolithic – with components like the wallet backend and explorer built in – the new version is modular. This makes future integrations easier and allows the node to be more readily incorporated into other systems, such as those used by exchanges. In the new architecture, the node, wallet, and explorer exist as separate components (a new wallet backend will soon be released).

What’s involved?

A significant achievement of this new implementation is the separation of the consensus layer and ledger rules. This decoupling means we are able to change the ledger rules without making changes to (or risk breaking) consensus. Following from this, when we transition into Shelley to Goguen, only the ledger rules will change. This will allow us to execute deployments more efficiently and add new features more frequently. We’ll have less to validate and test, while supporting more efficient development.

Some benefits will be immediate, and others will be realized over time. The direct benefits are that IOHK engineers will be able to innovate more easily and make changes to specific components without necessarily impacting others. The new implementation, coupled with the update to Ouroboros BFT, will also lead to significant TPS (transactions per second) performance improvements. For end-users, the benefits of this update will be cumulative, as the Cardano network profits from greater developmental support and system adaptability and portability.

This new implementation is the result of a lot of hard work. Now, we start to see the benefits of our commitment to formal methods, delivering a network that can not only scale, but remain stable while doing so. The new codebase has had substantial – and ongoing – testing, and we’ve been able to make a number of fundamental improvements without inheriting the shortcomings of the old codebase.

The new Cardano node also features an IPC interface that can be used by multiple client components, including wallets, explorers, CLI tools, and custom integration APIs and tools. This isn’t only about us being able to develop better-performing systems and applications, but others being able to as well.

Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API

The Cardano Explorer Backend and Web API is the new explorer backend and web API for the Cardano Node. It has been completely rewritten compared to the previous cardano-sl explorer. It has a new modular design and consists of the following components: Cardano Explorer Node, PostgreSQL database, and Cardano Explorer Web API.

  • The cardano-explorer-node is a client of the Cardano node. It synchronizes Byron chain data into the PostgreSQL database. The PostgreSQL database schema is a stable public interface and can be used directly for queries.
  • The cardano-explorer web API is a REST API server that reads data from the PostgreSQL database. It is compatible with the old cardano-sl explorer HTTP API and old web frontend.

For more information, see the release notes and documentation linked therein.

This release is about preparing Cardano for what’s to come, and ensuring we have the architecture and network apparatus in place to scale, remain agile, and allow for the necessary interoperability, interactivity, and ease-of-use that industry use-cases require.

For the latest Cardano updates, visit the Cardano forum or follow us on Twitter – and stay tuned for more information on the new wallet backend.

Shelley Incentivized Testnet: the story in numbers

We've compiled some Incentivized Testnet statistics. Check them out.

7 February 2020 Tim Harrison <1 min read

The Shelley Incentivized Testnet is proving to be an incredible journey. Originally, we hoped for around 100 pools. As of today, we've reached over 1,000 registered and more than 670 active pools. Over 11.5B ada is now being staked on the testnet. The many improvements to performance have resulted in an increase in uptime – but there's still a way to go. We are not resting on our laurels, even for a minute, and efforts to improve stability and performance are ongoing.

Still, the progress to date is a remarkable testament to the commitment of our incredible Cardano community, which grows in number and passion every day.

We’re started compiling some testnet statistics, a few of which we’ve captured here. Transparency is always our goal: we want the community to see what we see. To that end, here's a look at the Incentivized Testnet's story so far, along with a flavor of the community's reaction. We'll continue to gather community feedback and data, and we'll be sharing these as we go forward. So stay tuned as we continue to chart our journey.

Incentivized Testnet statistics

Reflections on a decade of blockchain, and predictions for the next

We've had bitcoin for over a decade. Now, we're heading into the decade of Cardano

9 January 2020 Charles Hoskinson 9 mins read

Reflections on a decade of blockchain, and predictions for the next

It's January 2020 and that means not only a new decade, but the 11th birthday of bitcoin. The world's first virtual asset was made available to the general public on January 3rd of 2009. It's been one hell of a decade since then, and I'm excited about the next 10 years: a decade that will bring a lot of interesting things to the world.

The rapid growth of blockchain technology

Bitcoin will always be very special to me. It was my introduction to all sorts of wonderful problems to think about in the world, like remittances and microfinance. It is incredible to think that the small, ragtag group who brought bitcoin to the public changed not only my life but the lives of individuals around the world, sparking a global movement. Now, millions of people wake up every day thinking about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Hundreds, if not thousands of academic papers have been written on the topic. The influence has been profound and it is only just beginning.

The G20 and the G7 have begun talking about it. We are now seeing global regulations begin to change. Every central bank in the world is aware of virtual assets and some are even taking positions on them. This is astounding because there has never been a time in human history where one piece of technology has attained such enormous global relevance without a centrally coordinated effort through marketing, development, and control. No one controls bitcoin. That was true 11 years ago, it is true now, and the revolution is just getting started.

What we can expect over the next decade

So, happy birthday to bitcoin. And welcome to the new decade. I am looking forward to the next 10 years to see where the technology takes us. 2010 to 2019 was crazy and I believe that 2020 to 2029 will be very interesting. In the next decade, we will see the first brain/computer interfaces for consumer devices to be implanted into people; for example, neural lace. We will also see the rise of private space travel. Within the next ten years, virtual reality and augmented reality will enter the mainstream rather than just being fun things.

Telecommunications, energy, and transportation will also go through a cycle of major innovation. Cell phone technology will likely go through several more doublings. Given that Tesla has proven its model, we will now see the proliferation of electric vehicles. This means that battery technology will only get better. It's likely that battery density will double or quadruple in the next ten years. This means that we will see cars that can go between 600 and 1,200 miles on a single charge. Meanwhile, the capacity for solar and wind energy will double, if not quadruple.

The study of physics is advancing rapidly and we believe that the next decade will see mainstream quantum computers. I read recently that quantum teleportation happened between two chips. Meanwhile, 5G will spread around the world, and technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth can only get better. This will pave the road for self-driving cars and intelligent infrastructure. The consequences of this technology will touch governments, services, and democracy itself.

A decade of change – and opportunity

During this decade, we will probably see another economic collapse similar to 2008 and with it, an opening for cryptocurrencies to take over the global economy. We also anticipate that one or more African nations will achieve the same economic prominence as countries like Brazil and South Korea. It could be Kenya, Ethiopia, or Nigeria. This means that we will likely see innovations in the movement of people and the development of new passport and identity systems. This might be the decade that we see self-sovereign identity gain prominence. We believe that, soon, data will be treated as the commodity that it is. New rules and regulations around the use of data will begin to materialize. It is our hope that this will curtail the data surveillance and capitalism economy that has developed over the last twenty years. This might happen through global regulation. Regardless of what happens between 2020 and 2030, it has been the privilege of a lifetime to be alive right now to see how the world changes. Whether in the biotechnology spectrum, the nanotechnology spectrum, the ICT world, or otherwise, it is a privilege to see these technologies work their way into the mainstream.

In my view, this is the last decade of traditional organized media. In the future, we will see less CNN, Fox News, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal. Instead, we will see more Joe Rogans. This will be especially true as we enter 2025 and beyond. The crypto space, in particular, will fundamentally change the incentives governing journalism. We'll move to a different way of paying for and curating content. The age of popular long-form journalism has begun. It is very exciting to see that occur.

It is also exciting to see the continued adoption of open ideas, open technology, and idea flow. All the world's top companies have a dense portfolio of open source technology. This was not the case in 2000. It was only a little bit more the case in 2010. Now that we are entering 2020 and heading to 2030, it is exciting to see how quickly people are collaborating and how products are being built from common DNA across industries. It's good for you, it's good for the consumer, and it's good for all of us.

Cardano's role

So, where does Cardano fit in all of this? This is hopefully our decade. Bitcoin owned the last one and I hope, by the end of the 2020s, Cardano will be the predominant force in the cryptocurrency space. I believe that it will become a true social operating system. My hope is that we could see thousands of meta tokens living on our platform, from securities to commodities to stablecoins, and all other kinds of representations of value, and that we'll see billions of transactions every single day from over a billion users. It really all comes down to whether or not the technology can properly meet the right incentive set and have the right commercial utilization. These are the things that we have to put together and we are obsessed with getting the technology right. We think we have the right paradigm. The peer-review process has given us unparalleled clarity and understanding of trade-offs, along with where we can go.

It has also allowed us to talk with everyone in the world about what we can do using a common language. We've mastered virtual network infrastructure, consensus protocols, and the underlying cryptographic primitives. We have a very good understanding of what needs to be done in order to build a global skill system. We also know how to do that in a responsible, peer-reviewed, sustainable way. So, from a technological perspective, we feel our approach is right.

Marketing and commercialization

This year, in particular, we're going to start hitting commercialization hard. I've announced to the company that we are on a 'Cardano first' strategy. This means that if we are building a product we will always ask ourselves if we can deploy it on Cardano. So, if someone comes up to us and says, "Hey we'd like you to do some interesting blockchain solution," whether it be supply chain, authentication, credential verification, we will look at Cardano first. That might be in Ethiopia, Georgia, Mongolia, or closer to home like our partnership with New Balance.

I think it's very important to use our own product in order to build these things properly. Hopefully, the Ethiopia project will be able to launch its currency on Cardano. This is the same for the credential verification project for Georgia. Our strategy is to always begin with Cardano first, this year and into the future.

We're also going to get very aggressive about the commercialization of the technology, especially as Shelley and Goguen are deployed. We feel that this platform has a right to exist and brings a lot to the table. It allows people to solve problems in ways they couldn't previously. We believe that this is the platform that will bring future solutions into existence. We will push that mentality to our partners at Emurgo and the Cardano Foundation.

We're excited to explore incentives. At the moment, we're looking at tokenomics, incentive schemes, and governance systems as first-class citizens in the growth of the product. The reason why bitcoin was so successful was the simplicity of its incentive model. Satoshi created the model for people to mine it. Similarly, if we're to be successful, we need incentives that are directly aligned with the growth of the system. So, with the launch of the Incentivized Testnet, we're learning a lot about the business of stake pools and the business of maintaining a stable cryptocurrency.

We already have 500 stake pools registered and we're learning critical information. This includes everything from what saturation metrics should look like to who is a good operator, who is a bad operator, and how the market and user experience look. This is a topic that we are incredibly interested in exploring this quarter. Our partners at Emurgo and the Cardano Foundation are also investing a lot of time to make sure that we fully understand how incentives work in the Cardano ecosystem.

As we exit 2020 and throughout the next decade, incentives will be a source of continuous research. The better we get, the faster the feedback loop becomes, the faster we can grow to achieve a billion users and become a truly global social operating system that is beneficial to everyone. With all that being said, commercialization, technology, and incentives are the three things that will need to be aligned for us to achieve that coveted number one spot.

We are building Cardano for a reason. It is not an academic project: it is a commercial project and we want to see it grow. This is an exciting time but we must remember where we came from. We came from bitcoin and bitcoin will always be around for us. It will always be a valuable project, and will always have a soft spot in my heart.

So, on behalf of the Cardano community, Happy Birthday bitcoin! Thank you so much for all you've done. Thank you also to the bitcoin community. We wish you great success, stability, and innovation.

This is an edited transcript of Charles' January 3rd 2019 AMA.

Explaining the Shelley Incentivized Testnet incentive model

Learn about Cardano’s incentive model, rewards, and our plan for the Incentivized Testnet

5 December 2019 Kevin Hammond 7 mins read

Explaining the Shelley Incentivized Testnet incentive model

We’ve talked a lot about incentives lately. That’s because right now we’re running the Incentivized Testnet: a Shelley testnet that provides an opportunity for stakeholders to delegate their stake or operate a stake pool to earn real ada rewards. Later this month, anybody that had ada in either a Daedalus or Yoroi mainnet wallet during the balance snapshot (taken on November 29) will be able to participate in the Incentivized Testnet, as either a delegator or stake pool operator, or both.

One of our key goals for the Incentivized Testnet is to test – in a real-world setting – the assumptions made in the Ouroboros incentives whitepaper, which uses game theory to calculate the incentives required to ensure consistent, active, and strong participation within a blockchain network.

The foundation of Cardano is mathematics; its central pillar, however, is a philosophy aimed at creating a fairer, more transparent, and more equitable system, decentralized and globally distributed.

Why incentives matter

Successful systems depend upon the adequate supply of incentives. Think of a company. A company must sufficiently incentivize its employees to work. This doesn’t just mean turning up to work – existing within the system – but performing a specific function to the desired standard. The same is true (and, arguably, is more crucial) for decentralized systems. Cardano is a decentralized network of global participants, each of whom must be adequately incentivized to take part and perform their roles, with the understanding that the network’s interests align with their own.

A brief overview of the incentives mechanism

Cardano’s incentives model begins with an assumption of rationality: that each player will act to maximize their own returns. These returns are the system’s incentives, and can take the form of tangible rewards – such as money – or intangible rewards, such as esteem, reputation, status, identity, or fulfilment.

Selfless acts are rare. As individuals, we pursue strategies that reward us, directly or indirectly. A network of participants each acting out of self-interest, however, can lead to chaos. That’s why successful systems codify – in protocols, rules, or laws – when and how much each participant will be rewarded. One of the core principles of game theory is that an ideal system is one where a selfish participant, acting in their own best interests, is also, by design, acting in the best interests of the system.

This is the function of Ouroboros’ incentives mechanism: a set of instructions that specify how and when rewards are paid out, and in what proportions to reward different levels of stake contribution. It allows a distributed network of participants to coordinate and collaborate in a decentralized system and receive rewards in accordance with their self-interest, while still contributing to the long-term health of the network.

Aims of Cardano’s incentive model

Equality and fairness are key to the sustainability of any future system, but can only be assured by the system itself, independent of individual goals or self-interest. Individuals must be free to exercise their ingenuity and maximize their outcomes, as long as doing so does not impede the operation of the network or restrict the possibilities of another (for example, by gaining a disproportionate amount of control). If one participant is the winner every time, other participants are disincentivized and, eventually, disenfranchised. The final implementation of Cardano’s incentives mechanism, as outlined in the incentives whitepaper, incorporates these factors, ensuring that that the biggest doesn’t always win, and that not only the richest get richer.

This is one of the aims of the game theory underpinning the incentives model – to test the thresholds and parameters for exploitation and the alignment of individual and collective interest – and is similarly one of the aims of the Incentivized Testnet. Over time, we will introduce new factors to the rewards calculation and monitor the impact on participant behavior.

Testing the incentive model

The incentives model we’re introducing to the Incentivized Testnet is not the final model. We plan to use this phase to test the incentives model incrementally, verifying our assumptions and exploring whether the network and participants respond in the way we anticipate.

We will not only be testing our game theory, however. We’ll also be testing the technology, ensuring that additional factors for reward calculations are only included once a baseline model is proven to be secure and stable.

In the beginning, various factors will not be included in the rewards calculation. These include factors to increase the number of stake pools and to better rank stake pools according to their desirability. Other factors will be included but in a limited capacity, and their function and calculation will evolve over time. This includes stake pool ranking. At first, the ranking will be based on a stake pool’s performance but, as we progress through the Incentivized Testnet, will transition to be based on desirability (a combination of cost, margin, pledged stake, and performance).

We’ll then gradually introduce additional factors into the rewards calculation, beginning with factors to encourage growth in the number of stake pools and to ensure the system promotes the most desirable stake pools. Each of these is important, and introducing them in a staged approach will allow us to ensure they function as intended and that each has the intended effect on the network.

Incentivized Testnet rewards

The rewards for delegating stake or operating a stake pool on the Incentivized Testnet depend upon the percentage of network participation. An approximate 3.8 million ada will be awarded per epoch. If 50 percent of the network participates, then we estimate the annual return for delegation will be approximately 7 to 8 percent but could, if network participation is lower, be as high as 13-15 percent. These figures are subject to treasury taxes and stake pool fees. A rewards calculator is now available on the Incentivized Testnet website which, in addition to other variables, allows you to calculate approximate rewards relative to different levels of network participation. Here’s a sneak peek:

Approximate delegation rewards calculation at 30% participation

Approximate delegation rewards calculation at 50% participation

Meanwhile, for stake pool operators, the rewards for stake pool operation, assuming a pledged amount of 10,000,000 ada, a 10 dollar daily stake pool operating fee, 50 percent network participation in the Incentivized Testnet, and the operator margin set to 10 percent, the total return rate for stake pool delegation will be approximately 12 to 13 percent. We will be updating the calculator over time to include more sophisticated rewards calculation modelling.

Approximate stake pool operation rewards calculation at 50% participation

More coming soon

This is a testnet, and as such involves an iterative process to reach our desired end: a complete and fully functioning incentives mechanism – as described in the Ouroboros whitepaper – that rewards network participants accurately and fairly in proportion to their contribution, while preventing any single actor from gaining a disproportionate amount of control over the network. We’ll be actively monitoring participant behavior throughout the testnet, to determine when and what additional factors may be included in the rewards calculation.

To learn more about the Incentivized Testnet, visit our website. If you’re interested in running a stake pool, register your interest and explore our testnet website for step-by-step instructions. And, as always, follow us on Twitter or sign up to our email list for the latest progress updates.