I’ve been writing twice about Zencash in 2017, first to introduce the project, then to talk about improvements made in the course of 2017. As we enter 2018 and the project has a solid record of achievements, it would be good to review what was done in 2017 and what 2018 holds for Zencash. While most of my content is data center related, those in the data center who know me well enough know that I’m not the kind of person that puts its name behind hyped products or services, and that I like taking the deep dive before talking high of anything on this blog, which is exclusively an outlet for my opinions. So why do I talk so high of Zencash?
Zencash is more than a cryptocurrency: it is a privacy-centric blockchain-based platform leveraging zk-SNARKs, i.e. fully shielded transactions that only the sender and recipient can see, but that the network is still able to validate without knowing their content. In this context, a transaction does not necessarily implies an exchange of money or cryptocurrency, it could be the delivery of an encrypted message or anything else that the protocol can support in the future. In essence, Zencash delivers end-to-end encryption on its network and users have the ability to use shielded transactions to further exert their basic human right to privacy, especially in hostile jurisdictions.
As we move into 2018, let’s take a moment to assess what was done in 2017 from a technical and project perspective.
The title should be self-explanatory, this covers major improvements made either to the blockchain, or to upper layers.
- Secure Nodes development (launched in July 2017) is now live on the mainnet (the production network, where real transactions happen), with 4600+ nodes currently live. Secure node payments are still in beta due to scaling adjustments. The number of secure nodes was initially envisioned to be within the 500 to 1000 nodes, however the overwhelming success of 4600+ secure nodes in production had its downside in that the payment platform infrastructure turned out to under-dimensioned and processes inadequate at such a scale (we’re talking of a five to ten fold increase here). This is being worked on intensely and should be sorted out around 15-Jan-18 if all goes according to plan.
- TLS/SSL certificate integration was implemented
- ZenCash over TOR supported
- Development of the ZenChat (some say ZenTalk) completed and integrated to SwingWallet UI – ZenChat allows 1 to 1 or 1 to many secure (private) and persistent chat sessions that leverage the memo field of shielded (private) transactions – this is an awesome feature that needs to be expanded and ported as soon as possible on mobile wallets (if the challenge of computing zk-SNARK transactions on mobile devices is not an issue)
- Arizen desktop and mobile wallets (supersede the deprecated Eleos wallet)
Markets & Usability
This section covers the ability to exchange ZenCash and to use it to make payments on merchant sites:
- Listed on Bittrex
- Listed on Evercoin (anonymous instant exchange, ShapeShift-like)
- Listed on Coss
- Listed on Cryptopia
- Listed on Bisq (Peer-to-peer decentralised exchange over TOR)
- Listed on UPBit
- Integration with coinpayments.net and cointopay.com (for merchant payments)
- Integration with the Coinomi multi-currency wallet (currently on Android, soon to come to iOS too)
Fresh news for 2018
First of all, January will be a month with high expectations for the Zencash community, developers, and investors. Three major news are expected:
- Zencash will be listed on an Asian exchange (rumours talk about Bitfinex or Binance). This is essential to further spread Zencash as a privacy platform, spread out the risk of being mainly tied to a single major exchange, and indirectly promote decentralisation from an infrastructure perspective (a large chunk of the infrastructure is currently based in EMEA and North America), plus increased adoption means more trade, more trade more attention, and more attention further investments.
- Zencash will sign a partnership agreement – there is already a substantial involvement from IOHK, a premier blockchain R&D organisation into Zencash code development, but contracting or subcontracting doesn’t necessarily means an agreement. A partnership agreement could take the form of IOHK (or another partner) doing joint research with the Zencash team, or Zencash integrating a new platform/tool.
- Zencash will completely rebrand the website as well as social media outlets – on this occasion the latest white paper will also be published, superseding the original one. This is probably the most demanded thing by the Zencash community, and I’ve been certainly as impatient as the others, although I do understand the need to do things well and in a coordinated fashion. I hope that the rebranding will be done in a coordinated way, and also hope this will look glorious. Don’t get me wrong, the power of a platform is behind the tech, the actual commits and the ability of the development team to delvier, but technological excellence doesn’t means that we can indulge in half-measures.
Beyond the hype: the 2018 roadmap
What I like in the Zencash project is that the focus on privacy doesn’t equates with opacity. On the opposite, the candid openness of the project is emblematically illustrated in the open Development Roadmap available on Trello. As its name says, the focus here is on development, not on marketing or promotion activities, albeit a similar approach could be taken to advertise these as well.
Looking at the 2018 development roadmap, we can see that very ambitious goals were set. For those who might not know Trello, the site allows to assign various tags to each task or activity, and the level of detail is quite good. For example, see here for the voting and submission proposal to get an idea.
There will be several areas to be worked on, and in my opinion the most important items here will be around core blockchain code / functionalities, privacy features, research and user experience.
Secure Node improvements
Secure nodes are now on the mainnet and payments are accruing, there are tweaks being made to scale the solution to the amount of nodes currently in production, but the road doesn’t stops here. The technology behind secure nodes should now be incorporated to the blockchain to become a protocol-level feature, and not an additional feature. Don’t get me wrong, what was achieved with secure nodes was fabulous, but building secure nodes directly into the protocol makes the feature more resilient to attackers who could hit up the management/payment infrastructure. Continuing on secure nodes, they could evolve from being evaluated just on uptime to more stringent requirements in the future, but this is far from being cast in stone yet. What would be useful instead is to balance operations across secure nodes (for example making sure a node is not hit by a challenge operation when it is busy doing something else) and eventually to also offload the compute of client-side operations.
This covers a major piece of the white paper, i.e. the implementation of a DAO Treasury (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation). I’m not an expert on DAOs but the idea behind this is that a DAO would somehow work as a foundation that gets funding, takes decisions in the project direction, etc. Section 7 of the current white paper (soon to be superseded with a new version) describes the concept very accurately. The difference would be that actions / decisions would be tracked within the blockchain instead of being informally tracked outside, on paper, spreadsheets etc, at least that is my understanding of it.
A proposal submission and voting system is also in the making and will allow for a better system to submit proposals and have people vote on what has the priority, where R&D funding must be prioritised, thus achieving DAO-like capabilities. Once again, the first step is to go for a client-server architecture, and to subsequently incorporate this mechanism into the protocol, i.e. at the core of the blockchain to make it more resilient.
Within 12 to 24 months, if the project is successful there may be a need to consider about scaling the platform to handle transactions in a smooth manner (i.e. process them in a timely fashion) under increased load (more users making more transactions). The core team is currently investigating a technology called SPECTRE (go to the explanation article first, then to the white paper) that would leverage a DAG (Direct Acyclic Graph) structure for blocks, instead of the current chain system (hence blockchain) that is used in Bitcoin and its derivates (including Zencash), with very fast block generation as well as an innovative voting system to determine what is the longest chain and defeat attackers. Comment: it would be a major achievement to deviate from the current block structure and would constitute a much needed step to avoid the same shortfalls that Bitcoin is currently facing.
The Zencash mobile wallet for iOS was submitted and apparently also approved by Apple. We do not know yet when it will be available, but hordes of iOS users are eagerly waiting to join their Android counterparts. Because Zencash is also present in the Coinomi multi-currency wallet, a soon-to-be release of Coinomi would also greatly help with adoption.
The concept here is to use IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) to build a distributed and yet secure file system, which to some extent reminds me what the awesome folks at Keybase are trying to achieve, except that in Keybase case the filesystem is not distributed, or rather, not decentralised, even if there is a strong similarity on the security and privacy aspects, even from an ACL (Access Control List) perspective. The discussion around implementation methods and access interfaces is open at the moment and contributions can be make via the appropriate Discord channel.
This article on the Zencash blog also gives a great idea of what is in the making from the project’s own perspective.
I’m an investor in Zencash – what does this means price-wise?
If you’re an investor in Zencash, and not just a believer, you’ll certainly have an interest in how all of this impacts your investment. It’s hard to make predictions in such a volatile market but here’s my take.
In September 2017, I predicted Zencash at 10-15 USD by Mid-October and 20-30 USD by Mid-December. In October 2017, I revised my assumptions (on the Zencash Discord mainly – screenshot ) envisioning Zencash at 30-40 USD by early December, and 50-60 USD by end of December 2017. Thankfully I was spot-on in both cases, and hope this wasn’t just guessing by pulling my little finger out of my nose. What 2018 holds?
My expectation is to see Zencash around at least 80-100 USD by Mid-February 2018, if the leadership team is able to deliver on all of the news, and if the dev team working on secure nodes is able to address the scaling hiccups of the secure nodes payments system. Of course Zencash around 150-200 USD would be great, but let’s not be overly optimistic, there are many projects in the blockchain space, and consistency will eventually pay off. Let’s not forget the big jump in price achieved this year!
Zencash hasn’t ceased to impress me since I got involved: from a human perspective (great leadership team), from a community perspective (incredibly enough in the blockchain world, we have a nice, respectful and constructive community) and from a project delivery perspective (no bullshit, clear communication, delivering on objectives). The project is active and dynamic, and the team isn’t afraid of looking at what’s best in the blockchain research world and try to incorporate it in the project. Zencash is not just a spinoff of another project, it’s a fully-fledged, independent and dynamic privacy-centric blockchain-based platform that has a very bright future ahead.
But more importantly, the project bears an important value in our third millenium digital societies: the right to privacy of individuals. In our age, under the veil of democracy, security and transparency, there is an increasingly overt demand from legislative and executive institutions to have an overarching right of scrutiny over our little, meaningless lives under the sacro-sanct superior interest of the nation, which are not always the interest of the nation but rather often a collusion of economical and political interests for a smaller group of people. And so the right to privacy is being attacked from all sides, whether from an opinion control perspective, or for more prosaic economic interests (targeted ads), driving us into an hypothetical future we’ve seen in sci-fi movies like Blade Runner or Minority Report.
I like sci-fi, but even if I accept and embrace technological advance, it shouldn’t be made at the detriment of our freedom of thought and freedom of choice, and certainly not through the advent of an all-seeing government organisation. Overarching control is the first step to censorship and thought conditioning, like some political experiments with disastrous consequences have proved in the twentieth century.
This is why, above price, investments, technological considerations and other fun stuff I am supportive of the Zencash platform and fondly wish for its success.