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The path to decentralizing Zcoin

By November 27, 2019 No Comments
The seeds of Zcoin started out in 2014 as a simple desire of a young but ambitious developer, to bring privacy and fair mining to a cryptocurrency. Back before privacy on blockchain was a serious topic, Poramin Insom was inspired after coming across the original Zerocoin paper while studying for his masters at John Hopkins University and sought to build a practical implementation of Zerocoin.

Being the sole developer on the project and funded by a modest sum from angel investors, Zcoin launched its mainnet in September 2016.

Fast forward 3 years to today, we are a team of 16 highly motivated individuals spread across the globe from over 10 different cities comprising of developers, cryptography researchers and former professionals from different disciplines. Zcoin is at the forefront of privacy technology and we are traded on some of the largest exchanges in the world including Binance, Bittrex and Huobi.

However, we are far from our goal and want Zcoin to be the leader in being the best private and uncensorable form of money. For this to happen, there is a need to remove any single point of failure be it in the development, technology, funding and decision making. We wish to outline our plans in moving towards this goal and seek community feedback on this.

Benefits of a project team and its limits

Development on Zcoin up till now has been almost entirely done by the ‘official’ team and rightfully so as we are funded by 6% of the block reward (at current prices this is worth ~USD 46,000/month).

At current funding levels, while extremely challenging, we are confident we can continue with core development. This is also thanks to seed investors who have given us additional donations and also to the people working on the project who have agreed to continue working on the project on a voluntary basis.

An unified team working towards a goal allows for rapid development. This is especially important early on in a project’s life cycle where a clear vision and direction is required.

This vision has lead to rapid improvements along with rolling out Dandelion++, Sigma and also Lelantus which has received wide academic praise and a leading contender for the next generation of privacy protocols. While other people in the space start new projects or raise new funds for every single new protocol they create, we have continued to bring these improvements back to our community and Zcoin.

However, in the long run, it is not healthy for a project to be reliant on a single team for development, direction and funding. We are already experiencing some of these growing pains as Zcoin’s ecosystem and codebase expands.

Currently on our plate are as follows:

Core Work

  1. Sigma code refactoring and improvements
  2. Lelantus cryptographic library work and implementation
  3. Receiver Address Privacy (BIP47 Payment Codes) (final testing)
  4. Mnemonic backup (complete and awaiting merge)
  5. Bitcoin core upgrade and masternode infrastructure upgrade (ongoing)

Others

  1. Mobile wallet with Sigma support
  2. Graphic rich client improvements (Beta release completed)
  3. Exodus tokenization layer with Sigma support and ZTM (API layer to interact with Exodus easily)
  4. Electrum upgrades
  5. Blockbook upgrades
  6. Masternode tool upgrades
  7. Official explorer insight code
  8. MTP reference miners for CPU, Nvidia and AMD

There are many other tasks that would be nice to have more attention on especially in the areas of our graphic rich client, BTCPayserver, various shopping cart plugins and perhaps even an alternate node implementation. This often gets waylaid.

However, the biggest problem of having an ‘official’ team is that is that there is no feeling of ownership by the community and it’s a customer/client relationship. This is against the ethos of a decentralized cryptocurrency.

Towards a richer developer ecosystem

In our path to loosen the reins, we have several things going for us.

All our code is open sourced on Github, not just the core code, but also our explorers, miners and light wallet implementations, allowing anyone to view and build on Zcoin.

Our privacy technology such as Sigma and Lelantus, while cutting edge, is also still within the grasp of talented developers and can be implemented and understood relatively quickly.

The primary issue is that there hasn’t been a clear platform for outside developers to contribute and be paid for their effort and as such have only received minor code contributions on small sections of code. This has also lead to the team also being spread thin as it has to maintain not only the core code but all aspects of the ecosystem.

Having the core team be the sole determinant of which developers get to work and be paid does little to encourage a healthy developer ecosystem and we feel the easiest way to tackle this is to have a clear platform for proposals to get funded and get feedback.

This is why we will be starting a Community Crowdfunding System (‘CCS’) that will provide ways for the community members to apply to the rest of the community to propose, debate, fund and monitor its progress. If the Zcoin core team does have spare funds, it can also choose to fund these proposals directly too. We will be working together with Diego Salazar who worked on Monero’s CCS. You can get a good idea of how the CCS process might work by checking it out.

The CCS would also allow the Zcoin project to be taken in directions that aren’t determined by the core team further decentralizing the project and also preparing for a future without a block subsidy for development. To read more about how a CCS would work, you can refer here.

Decision-making and Governance

While Zcoin has been open and transparent about its development goals, there hasn’t been an organized way to solicit feedback beyond scattered comments all over chat rooms, forums and social media.

We are therefore going to be actively encouraging the use of our Zcoin Improvement Proposal section of our forum for people to express their thoughts, reasoning and ideas for the future of Zcoin that would be given a lot of weight.

There are already some important proposals already up for feedback:

We will also be hosting monthly meetings for community members to be able to speak with the team and weigh in on what they feel are important issues. These meeting transcripts and/or recordings will be made available to the public for anyone who wishes to catch up. We will announce the exact format of these meetings in a later post!

Team members’ designations will also be changed around to reflect that we are merely custodians of the project for the Zcoin community rather than a ‘company’. You will begin to see this reflected on our team page.

These are important first steps in devolving control of the project from an ‘official’ team to become a more diverse and decentralized community. We are of the opinion that these key changes in the way we function are more meaningful than on-chain voting governance systems that often results in a plutocracy (such as in masternode voting) or still are at the mercy of a central team carrying out development.

With the foundations of Zcoin laid and now its pillars being erected (Lelantus, core and masternode upgrades), Zcoin will be in an excellent state for other people to join us in our vision to build the world’s best private digital cash to protect our economic freedom.

Start weighing in on Zcoin’s future!