The 1st BSN Global Tech-Innovation Summit | Fabian Gompf:Polkadot Overview and Parachain Landscape Full Script

On November 27, 2020, Fabian Gompf, VP of Parity Technologies, gave a keynote titled Polkadot Overview and Parachain Landscape, at the 1st BSN Global Tech-Innovation Summit in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

The full script is organized as follows (some minor edits were done):

Hi everyone. My name is Fabi, I am a VP of Parity technologies, which is the core engineering company behind the Polkadot project.

I’m gonna talk for 10 minutes or so about Polkadot. Give a little bit of an overview of what Polkadot actually is, at least on a conceptual level. And then a bit of an overview of its ecosystem. I don’t have too much time to really go into details here, but there’s a lot of resources out there if you wanna dig deeper.

So, I’ll jump right in a little bit of a historic overview — historic background. Polkadot really got started in 2015, 2016. So the idea solidified in 2016 with the Polkadot paper that Gavin Wood wrote. And if you read through the paper today, it’s still the core idea of Polkadot what you will see. The Polkadot scope has expanded over the years, and implementation details have changed, and so on. But generally, we’re still working towards the same idea for the last four years.

If I were to describe Polkadot today, I will probably do it a little bit differently just because we have more industry jargon, industry terms that people understand now. And you don’t have to describe all these things from first principles.

But Polkadot is to go through some of these. Polkadot is scalability achieved through sharding. Polkadot is Proof-of-stake. Polkadot is interoperability that is within the Polkadot ecosystem, so across these shards. This will become like what we normally call a cross-chain message passing, which means all the shards that are deployed on Polkadot can talk to each other and understand each other.

Through bridges, Polkadot can also, or applications that are on top of Polkadot can also talk to and understand external systems, like the Ethereum blockchain or Bitcoin blockchain.

Polkadot is adaptive and it’s amorphous. What you will often hear is it’s governed by on-chain logic. So on-chain governance is a big topic. But Polkadot is kind of more than these labels. Similar to what you would see in Bitcoin or Ethereum. Polkadot is a public network. It’s also a technology stack. It’s an ecosystem of tools and infrastructures and applications. It’s an ecosystem of businesses. So yeah, it’s a little bit hard to untangle what it all is. But if we take this more technical point of view, I think a pretty good mental model for what it is, it’s essentially a meta-infrastructure for layer-1s.

You could think of it as a layer-0 or a platform of platforms. So it is this meta-infrastructure that the layer-1s can deploy to get a bunch of different benefits, but mainly interoperability and security.

Another way of looking at it is Polkadot is heterogeneous sharding. So similar to what Ethereum is doing on Ethereum 2 for scalability, is you say, okay, one chain, one layer-1 doesn’t scale that well. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna just spin up lots of them, and combine them under the same security umbrella. And that’s what we call beacon chain, or in Polkadot, the relay chain. And we let them all talk to each other. And through that, we can horizontally scale the whole system.

Polkadot is very much about that as well, with the difference that it’s heterogeneous, meaning not every one of these shards is an execution environment. But rather, it’s fully abstract over the logic of these shards. So you could have a Bitcoin-like or Ethereum like or z-cash like, or really whatever you want, or what you can build into a blockchain. You can deploy it as a shard to Polkadot. So this was kind of like the conceptional part. As I said, there are lots of papers, specifications, code, documentation, and so on out there. So, feel free to dig into that if you’re interested in it.

Ecosystem. More on the ecosystem side, Polkadot is also a very vibrant ecosystem and emerging ecosystem. So I was talking about these different shards that can be built and deployed to Polkadot. We currently have over a hundred of those in development. So those are layer-1 blockchains that are being built. And they are Polkadot-compatible. Lots of testnets are running, and a bunch of mainnets are already running. But essentially, there are a big backlog of teams that are waiting to deploy on Polkadot.

On the other hand, we have a lot of infrastructures, toolings, integrations, this is all the stuff that aren’t necessarily shards or applications on Polkadot, but they are just useful components for participants in the Polkadot ecosystem. So you could think about validator toolings, developer toolings, deployment infrastructure, stuff like that.

Polkadot builders are all over the world. There is still a bit of focus on Europe, just because the Parity headquarters are in Europe, the Web3 Foundation headquarters are in Europe. So naturally, we have a stronger foothold there. North America, Asia, and in particular, China are actually a really, really big market for us.

Ecosystem Growth. This is just zooming in onto the chain/shard part of Polkadot. You see roughly since Q1 of 2019, the tech stack is somewhat stable like you can use it. This was the first time we actually put it in front of developers on, like look, this is something that can solve a problem and, sort of, iterating over it. And ever since then, we’ve seen pretty significant growth, continuous growth. Quarter over quarter, people getting started with our technology stack to the point now that we have just over a hundred people. This is last quarter, it’s probably a bit higher now, which just over a hundred companies, businesses, building shards for the Polkadot ecosystem.

So, this is a bit of a different perspective on the same data. It’s not the number of chains, but is what is actually the composition, what kind of stuff or people building. So, you’ll see three broad categories that I put up here: application-specific chains, domain-specific chains, and industry-specific chains.

This is kind of like a made-up categorization, but I think it’s a good mental model. So, a domain-specific chain being a chain that tackles a specific problem domain, like privacy, scalability, file storage, oracles. An industry-specific chain is a specific application, vertical or so. DeFi being the biggest one right now, but also gaming, IoT. An application-specific chain being a chain that fully optimized for a single application.

Ecosystem Support. It’s kind of the flip side of what I was showing just now of like ecosystem growth, is we have a whole support infrastructure in place, that is there to serve people in our ecosystem. So if you are building in our ecosystem, there are all kinds of programs and resources you can plug into, that essentially ensures your successes, or at least gets the probability of your successes significantly up.

Broadly speaking, you can categorize those into three or four buckets. It’s technical support across the board with all kinds of different ways to support you there, spitted in through Parity directly, and developers, or just helping hands, and through delivery partners. So, things like that. It’s community/marketing. So many of these layer-1s then won’t need to bootstrap their own communities of developers, users. So this is something we support quite a bit with.

And funding, you have a lot of different ways to do this. We have venture capital or grants. But actually, a big one, which is quite interesting on the chart right here, is the Polkadot treasury, which is essentially a big on-chain DAO that deploys capital into the Polkadot ecosystem. You see a projection here. What’s in this DAO? So, if none of the money will be spent by all this next year, there will be about 300 million worth of assets in this DAO. It’s a pretty big capital deployment mechanism for the ecosystem.

So as a closing slide, just a quick overview of the roadmap. We started rolling out Polkadot at the beginning of the year. So you’ll see we started with a just like launching genesis, and a, not really a dummy chain, but there wasn’t really much going on, just a Proof-of-Authority network, upgraded that to a Proof-of-Stake chain, upgraded that into like the full on-chain governance mechanism we have, removed all of the master keys that were holding, enabled balance transfers towards the end of this summer.

The next big milestone at the beginning of next year is gonna be enabling, actually, this core functionally. So, we’re talking about the shards, the parachains. This stuff will actually be supported towards the beginning of next year. So that will be the big next one.

Yeah, that’s it from my side. So, thanks for listening. And thanks to BSN for the invitation.