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Ethereum Trumps Bitcoin in Active Protocol Development: Research

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:19 PM
P. H. Madore
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:19 PM

Bitcoin might dominate the cryptocurrency market cap, but “digital gold” takes the silver podium when it comes to protocol development, according to crypto research firm Electric Capital.

Researchers: Ethereum – Not Bitcoin – Has Most Active Development Team

CCN.com spoke to the team at Electric Capital, who recently ran an exhaustive study of 2,800 coins and 21,000 development repositories. Called the “Dev Report,” the research  primarily focuses on the number of active developers each major cryptocurrency has.

Among other findings, Ethereum is the most actively developed cryptocurrency, regardless of its market activity. It has more than 99 developers in the “total code” category, surpassing even Bitcoin.

Curtis Spencer, who did the majority of the data collection, told CCN.com:

“We tried to give every project the benefit of the doubt on where development was happening. Some will never post a commit to their master branch.”

The report breaks down each blockchain into two categories of development: “core” and “total code.” Total code includes things like changes to documentation and other “lesser” contributions, while “core” coding is related specifically to blockchain development.

For coins that run on blockchains such as Ethereum, only changes to their smart contracts count toward “core” commits. For forks like Ethereum Classic or Bitcoin Cash, only new code counts. This methodology goes a long way to getting a more accurate picture of developer commitment to projects. However, simply counting commits, even with a strict filtering mechanism, is a way to raise ire among diehard fans of certain projects.

Number of Blockchain Developers Has Doubled Since The Bull Run

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the report is that negative market forces don’t affect development the same way they affect general interest.

Everybody wants to “blockchain the world” during a bull run, but developers continue their efforts, by and large, when the market takes a hit. Although the total market has declined something like 80% since 2017, the number of developers working on major projects has dropped roughly 4%.

This figure accounts for new projects, so the total number of developers has actually increased. Some developers might work on multiple projects, but by using “fingerprinting” of commits, that’s accounted for. Therefore, the number of active developers in January 2017 across 2,800 blockchains stood just under 2,200. Today, it stands at roughly 4,352. That figure doesn’t include projects like Lightning Network, which sees almost as much development as Bitcoin itself.

A declining market doesn’t make or break development teams. During the bull run, billions of dollars were raised for blockchain development projects. Plenty more was raised for scammers. That’s the unfortunate dark side of exciting technology and free-flowing money.

In 2017, people gained funding for virtually every moonshot imaginable, including things that required a total shift in governmental policy. Hacked.com , CCN.com’s sister site, was among the first to develop a rating system in an effort to determine the difference between scams and potentially good investments.

Token Projects Among Most Active Crypto Projects

The most actively developed smart contract platforms are Tron, EOS, Ethereum, and Cardano. Cardano is in the lead, which is interesting since it sports the lowest market capitalization of the group.

ethereum, tron, eos development
Smart contract platforms see the most development. | Source: Electric Capital

Ethereum has over 99 developers per month doing core protocol work, compared to Bitcoin’s 47. Ethereum wins again in the “total code” category, which includes all types of commits relating to the godfather of smart contract platforms.

bitcoin development
Bitcoin is #1 in market capitalization but #2 in active development. By far the most “mature” blockchain, its development process can be dramatic. Source: Electric Capital

Interestingly, several projects like Monero and Zcash, which have multi-hundred million dollar market capitalizations, have between 10-20 and developers per month. Imagine a multi-hundred million dollar company effectively running with so few workers. The situation speaks to the importance of cryptocurrency as a whole.

It gets more interesting when you consider that projects like Ethereum Classic, which has a value of over a quarter of a billion dollars, have five or fewer monthly active developers.

Do we overvalue some blockchains? Several multi-hundred million dollar networks have very few active developers. | Source: Electric Capital

Developers Tend to Ignore Markets and Do The Work

Near the end of our talk, Curtis Spencer reiterated that Crypto Winter has not stunted blockchain development:

“I think the big takeaway here is that there is a strong narrative that despite what happens with the price, there is continued innovation happening pretty much across the entire ecosystem. Of course there’s projects that have dwindled and died off, but there are a lot of high quality projects with great developers that have continued to push on.”

Moreover, code activity is but one way to judge a blockchain. Some of the most interesting development around blockchains happen outside of core projects, such as the many decentralized applications now live for Tron – things such as TRX.market, which will soon gain the liquidity of the Tether stablecoin. Or, in the Bitcoin SV world, the many projects of anonymous developer _unwriter.