“Is that Chinese?” – I asked a friend. “Is he using google translate or is that grammatically correct?” I wondered while seeing Vitalik seemingly converse in typed Chinese. “No, it all reads well.” – I was told. Vitalik speaks fluent Chinese now, – he said.
Well, he’s been to China many times, I consoled myself. It must be easier to learn it when hearing Chinese all the time – I went on, justifying my lack of attempt to even become a bit familiar with Chinese, so stuck with google translate. Blame school, they taught me useless Spanish (no offense at all intended to the awesome Spanish language), instead of Chinese, – I concluded.
It seems like just months ago I first heard Vitalik had begun learning Chinese. Now that he can speak it, many will undoubtedly say he is smart. I agree. He took a topic many were talking about in 2013, smart contracts, and brought it to reality. As I wrote on New Year’s eve, during eth’s more difficult times, Vitalik Buterin:
“Has created a new frontier. In the process, he has transformed digital currencies from mere money, to their full potential of programmable code, creating an ecosystem and community which dares to dream of a very new world.”
There were, of course, many very capable developers helping him. Once eth was launched, some continued to work on the protocol, some worked on new clients to decentralize development, some spread out, creating what is now a vibrant ecosystem.
However, just like Facebook, Google or Apple were built by many, but are personified by one person, the face of ethereum is undoubtedly Vitalik, probably because this space already has a leaderless currency, bitcoin, and some think that’s not going very well. Gavin Andresen did not want to lead, decentralizing power and influence. He went so far as to resign from his position of lead maintainer, launching his own client so as to give bitcoiners a fair choice.
It was the conscientious way of acting, but some say it was the wrong move from a realist perspective. A move that led to two years of debate with no end in sight which has brought bitcoin to a standstill as far as innovation is concerned.
On the other hand, ethereum has been moving fast, in large part because of Vitalik. As I wrote during summer 2016 shortly after a Critical Update by Buterin:
“In what some may consider an incredible show of leadership and quick response while others may criticize as a dangerous precedent, Ethereum developers are proposing a soft-fork to be followed by a hard-fork.”
So setting the lines for two months of fierce debate. It was the first test of ethereum and there are differences of opinion, but I think it passed it with flying colors mainly because a decentralized decision was reached quickly and overall fairly.
Move Fast and Break All Things
Without that leadership the debate might have continued to today as a developer or group may have seen the opportunity to gain large influence. But, not just any kind of leadership because, ultimately, influence rests on approval.
“Look, there are people who oppose me on technical matters and half the time I’m right, and sometimes they’re right, but if someone opposes me socially, often there are many people who come to my defence and that seems like a fairly stable coalition. But, there shouldn’t be a coalition around any one person. It should be a coalition around the protocol itself.”
That’s what Vitalik told Vice in a sensationalized article which contains such stupidity as “Ethereum is in its New Testament days. Christ is alive, in the flesh, and he’s wearing a unicorn sweater.”
If we have to compare Vitalik to a famous figure, rather than a moral leader, it would be more appropriate to compare him to a scientific leader. Perhaps Einstein, or, in a blend of science and business, perhaps Steve Jobs.
Returning to the quote, I think the ethereum community does have a coalition around the protocol, or, more correctly, around the roadmap. For example, if we held a token vote on whether they agree to PoS and sharding, I’d guess around 95% would say yes.
That means Vitalik isn’t indispensable or vital for ethereum. The currency has a clear direction, a clear plan for getting there and many are working hard towards it. Even without clear direction, bitcoin, for example, still chugs along, but Vitalik is smart.
That means he is very useful towards completing that roadmap. First, PoS, then the grand prize, sharding, a complicated upgrade that would provide ethereum as good as unlimited scalability.
If that is achieved, then the blockchain, whether public or private, is ready for the mainstream with ethereum’s example probably copied by everyone, including the central bank’s trials for fiat digital currencies.
Until then, a leader, whether Vitalik or someone else if it was necessary, would be far more preferred, because it would be better for the currency to move very fast. That’s because ethereum is currently enjoying blossoming spring. Their community is fun and happy and has that indescribable feeling to it. A new gold-rush is underway with ICOs. Almost all household brands have joined in an alliance to support the platform.
We thankfully still have summer, but as with most things the currency too will probably follow the usual cycle, so winter will eventually come. Before it does, we’ll want to achieve the major milestones, so that the currency can work well regardless of whether it rains or snows outdoors.
The ethereum team has been very capable and smart to successfully get the currency to where it is, but whether any of them is really an Einstein, Steve Jobs, whether they have in their mists a Mark Zuckerberg or a Larry Page and Sergey Brin, remains to be determined based on whether they are smart enough to complete their roadmap.
Once that is achieved, the protocol might become boring. Until then, best to move fast and break everything, then fix them of course.