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The Race To Web 3: Ethereum, Cardano & Polkadot

Read 7 min
Blockchain on an orange background
— Ethereum was developed by Vitalik Buterin who saw incredible potential in blockchain beyond what Bitcoin could offer. So, with a team of eight co-founders leading the team to develop and launch Ethereum.

— Not everything in the land of Ethereum was jolly, though, and some fundamental disagreements meant the core team split over the years.

— Despite what it might seem, not all blockchain networks are competitors and there’s room for collaboration.

Here’s the starting grid to the race to web 3: Ethereum, Cardano & Polkadot. Who will win?

When it comes to cryptocurrency, you might know about the volatility in price, but behind the curtain, there’s a different kind of volatility within the politics of individuals and leaders in the market. In this, we’ll take you along the rollercoaster ride taking place as the industry hurtles towards Web 3.0.

Vitalik Buterin and the history of Ethereum

Believe it or not, a lot of the innovative technology that is sparking a digital revolution was conceived by a 19-year-old Russian-Canadian kid. In his teens, Vitalik Buterin was writing about cryptocurrency for Bitcoin Magazine. After three years of investigating and exploring the budding cryptocurrency scene, he discovered there were limitations in Bitcoin that might hinder how far the industry might be able to go.

To combat the constraints, he proposed a new platform for any open-sourced, decentralized application (dApps) to launch upon and a blockchain where executable smart contracts could be implemented. Thus, Ethereum entered the mix.

With youth, passion and unbeatable commitment on his side, Buterin wrote the whitepaper for Ethereum and inspired a team of remarkable minds to see cryptocurrency and blockchain beyond what Bitcoin could offer. 

With four other co-founders, Ethereum was developed in December 2013, and three other co-founders came on board in early 2014. Included in those eight were Charles Hoskinson (of the original Ethereum Five) and Gavin Wood (who wrote the Ethereum yellow paper)  – two names that have become integral in the race to Web 3.0.

Ethereum was launched and it sent a shockwave through the industry as developers saw a new way to build, test and launch applications without relying on third parties or centralized software. The technology attracted both attention and money to the industry and gave an exciting taste of what blockchain could offer beyond finance. But it wasn’t all roses in the core team and disagreements would get in the way of amiable decision-making.

You see, it was an organization brought together by eight young founders with excitement about the tech but without any long-term vision or harmony in where they wanted to take the platform. While the revolutionary innovation grew – quickly – it wasn’t sustainable for the team or for the tech as it started. 

Disagreements abounced. From the tech (and how to make it a viable, scalable platform with the future in mind) to the business operations (and how to resolve issues of governance and whether to make it profitable or keep it open), tension built that simply couldn’t be resolved. Within six months, Hoskinson would leave the team (but more on that later!) and the years following would see the core team dissolve.

Charles Hoskinson and Cardano

Before cryptocurrency, Hoskinson was involved in the mathematics field but the profession left him jaded. The disillusionment led him to take a more keen interest in Bitcoin. With a little experience in fundraising and decentralization a familiar concept to him, his introduction to Ethereum and Buterin left such a strong impression that he was made CEO – charged with heading up the Swiss Foundation and the legal framework of it. 

Things turned sour quickly when his pro-profit approach to the organization got in the way. With most of the team (with Buterin at the head) wanting to keep Ethereum as a non-profit with open-sourced governance, disagreements abounded. Six months after the company was founded, Hoskinson was asked to leave. It came as a shock and he took a six-month sabbatical before making his return to the industry.

When he stepped back to the plate, he headed up the development of Cardano. Dubbed a “rival” to Ethereum, it has quickly risen like a phoenix from the ashes to become one of the biggest cryptocurrencies in the market.

(Fun fact! Cardano’s ticker “ADA” was inspired by Ada Lovelace, the first mathematician to write and publish an algorithm carried out by a computer. The more you know, right?)

While the OG Ethereum network and Cardano have a lot in common, there are a couple of important distinctions to note. For one, the algorithm behind it operates a little differently. Instead of using a Proof-of-Work algorithm (which Bitcoin and Ethereum use), Cardano uses a modified Proof-of-Stake algorithm called Oroboros (try saying that three times quickly). The main thing to know about this is that it makes the network a lot more scalable. 

It’s worth noting that Ethereum is planning to make the transition to the more energy-efficient and faster Proof-of-Stake in Eth 2.0, it’s just not there yet. And it’s been a point of contention in the community as the date to launch Eth 2.0 keeps getting pushed back.

Cardano tackles governance with an approach that allows ADA holders to have a say on project developments, inviting the users of the network to vote, debate, support and engage in the decision-making process. With interoperability one of the key propositions of Cardano, the network focuses on building the infrastructure with the ability to interact and cooperate with other blockchains.  

Another major difference between Ethereum and Cardano lies in the team structure. Hoskinson took the original pro-profit vision he wanted for Ethereum and implemented it at Cardano. As a result, ADA is a commercial project with a salaried team. The development team at Ethereum on the other side of the coin is mostly made up of community volunteers and there’s less of a hierarchical approach.

Gavin Wood and Polkadot

Moving along to the next step in the story: Gavin Wood’s introduction to blockchain is one to inspire the masses; he became deeply involved in Ethereum by well, simply asking. 

He was drawn to the technology rather than the finance behind Bitcoin and was curious about where Ethereum might go. So he got in touch with Buterin and offered to write an application of Ethereum in the C++ programming language (no, don’t worry, you don’t need to know what that is – it’s just coding stuff). He met the rest of the co-founders (including Hoskinson) in January 2014, just before Ethereum was due to be launched.

Wood worked as the Chief Technology Officer until 2016 when he announced a seemingly fond farewell, departing with gratitude to individuals involved in the project (although interesting not mentioning Buterin in this). 

Thereafter, he didn’t work directly with Ethereum but he carried on working on the code through Parity, a company he founded with his partner Jutta Steiner. Now, his sole focus rests on building the Web3 Foundation and its blockchain project Polkadot – a platform hailed as the other direct competitor to Ethereum. 

While no bad blood was shared between Wood and the Ethereum community when he departed, he took a bit of a dig at the network at a virtual conference in 2020.

Like Cardano, Polkadot’s design sets outs to address the pain points early blockchain iterations face. When it comes to interoperability and communication between blockchain, Polkadot wants to connect the dots. With tech developed to connect platforms to each other, Polkadot uses some fancy innovative thinking that uses three main components: the Relay Chain, parachains, and bridges. We won’t get into that here, but you can read up about it in this article!

Also like Cardano, Polkadot embraces democracy and DOT holders are able to vote on platform changes, potential plans, possible updates and future ideas for the platform. One blockchain, many possibilities.

How Ethereum is curbing the concerns

While Ethereum might have a couple of things to iron out, it is an instrumental network with a strong community of developers and innovative thinking. With some incredible Dapps and platforms already on Ethereum, the network is far from irrelevant. Almost the opposite, in fact. With Ethereum 2.0 on the way later in the year, solutions to its struggles are coming.

So, which one is the best? Who will win?

Oh, it would so easy to pick sides and play favorites when personalities and visions are so deeply involved. But we think that the ultimate winning scenario is one where technology can thrive and where the innovation between the projects can complement rather than compete. 

At the end of the day, all three could lean on each other’s flaws and learn to build and develop the industry in a positive way. At the very least, we could even say they could co-exist happily like iOS, Android, and Windows.

Knowledge is power

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