The Unblock Manifesto
Correcting the Innovation Mindset in Web3
Mass adoption of blockchain is imminent, and our developers are blocked from building towards it.
Serious gaming, entertainment, financial, and social use cases will be inevitable on web3. These mass applications need infrastructure that can support their user numbers and performance demands on an order of magnitude greater than anything we have previously seen.
In anticipation, web3 has been on a frenzy over the last year to open up blockspace. An application is only as good as the scalability, security and economic model of the blockspace that supports it.
Blockchain infrastructure has improved significantly since the early days when every new chain was a fork of Bitcoin. But for every successor monolithic L1, blockspace has come to mean scarcity, high and variable gas fees, congestion, and throughput limitations. Today, there are many ways application developers can provision their own blockspace: Cosmos SDK, Avalanche Subnet, Polygon CDK, OP Stack and many more. With modularity, there are even more infrastructure choices for application developers since virtually every part of the application stack becomes discrete.
With the arrival of these blockchain SDKs and frameworks, it intuitively feels like there should be an abundance of blockspace available for all application developers to build on. This is not the case.
Blockspace means nothing if a developer cannot easily access it.
The first solution to take a crack at the problem of scarcity on monolithic L1s was the Cosmos SDK, released in 2019 to help developers stand up their own blockspace. Due to the complexity of standing up individual chains, however, the vast majority of developers still deployed on monolithic infrastructure.
Rollups are the newest iteration of a Cosmos-like solution, but all of them have either run into the same early roadblocks as Cosmos, or have chosen to take shortcuts and sacrifice security. To get any significant amount of blockspace with ease, application developers need to resort to managing and deploying single sequencer solutions that are essentially underprovisioned, inefficient centralized databases that are somehow still not economically viable for their products.
The empty promises of existing infrastructure and scaling solutions have hurt application developers. They have left them woefully unprepared for the coming market where user standards for applications will be far higher. We have nowhere near the foundation required to take web3 to mass adoption.
How did we find ourselves here?
Many of us secretly don’t want to take on mass adoption. Much of innovation in the blockchain space has been heavily focused on incremental innovations: better consensus mechanisms for faster performance, n+1 blockchain SDKs for infrastructure development, modularizing complex components, etc. Technologists often fight over navel-gazing and self-referential innovations.
While incremental innovations attempt to move developers forward in small steps, only platform disruptions can unlock real progress and effect fundamental paradigm shifts in how we build and consume technology.
To truly unblock developers from access to abundant blockspace, the web3 ecosystem needs a platform disruption that is hyper-focused on developer needs, and dedicated to ensuring blockspace is abundant and can be simply accessed. We need the Integrated Stack.
Welcome to The Unblock movement.
Incremental Improvements vs. Platform Disruption
What exactly is the difference between incremental improvement and platform disruption? The easiest way to understand is to walk through historical examples of platform disruptions we all take for granted nowadays as consumers: cloud and smartphones.
Cloud Disrupts the Internet
After Netflix pioneered their DVD delivery service, they became more ambitious and pursued a truly revolutionary application idea: stream video content directly to the consumer through the internet. When Netflix began designing their application, they quickly realized that existing internet infrastructure could not support the incredible bandwidth necessary to service streaming as a service.
To make their application a reality, Netflix had to build their own data centers across the globe and become experts at internet infrastructure, real estate, power, cooling, and all the other necessary components of a data center. Netflix dedicated incredible amounts of time, effort and capital to roll out their streaming services in 2007. The reality is that Netflix is the exception — the need to build data centers limited a market for interesting web applications.
In this context, an example of an incremental improvement is a groundbreaking upgrade in power delivery efficiency in data centers. While helpful to those like Netflix who did end up building their own data centers, improvements in the power system were not going to convince most web developers to build their own data centers.
Only a decade later, almost no internet application developers need to build their own data centers. What changed? Amazon ran into the same roadblocks as Netflix and built their own data centers to service their e-commerce business. During this process, Amazon realized the huge potential for platform disruption in the internet infrastructure market and developed their cloud platform as a product for other internet application developers. Amazon and other cloud providers disrupted the internet infrastructure industry. With cloud, application developers do not need to become experts at building and maintaining data centers.
Cloud also simplified how application developers pay for access to infrastructure. Instead of a large upfront capital expenditure to build out data centers, developers could pay-as-you-go with a simple subscription payment for all of their infrastructure needs. For startups, substantial investment capital that would otherwise go to purchasing hardware could go into growth and market acquisition instead.
Cloud is a platform disruption. Cloud kickstarted a gold rush for internet applications and created a multi-trillion dollar industry. Because Amazon offers an integrated experience for the developers by handling all the necessary infrastructure on behalf of the application developers, developers can focus on their applications and do not need to worry about building their own infrastructure.
Smartphone Disrupts Portable Devices
In the early 2000s, any software developer who wanted to deliver a portable experience to their users needed to build their own hardware. From music players and PDAs to portable game consoles, each portable application was run on individual hardware designed for each task.
Expertise on building hardware, distributing physical goods, warehousing and shipping logistics was crucial in creating a successful product. The reality is that most software developers simply chose to not build portable applications.
In this context, an incremental improvement is a groundbreaking improvement in memory manufacturing costs for portable hardware devices. While helpful to those who chose to build their own hardware, cheaper memory technology was unlikely to convince a software developer to build their own hardware.
Only a decade later, this technology supply chain is unrecognizable. Portable application developers, also just known as application developers, do not need to build their own hardware because Apple and other smartphone developers disrupted the mobile industry. With smartphones, application developers do not need to become experts in building hardware.
Like cloud, Apple also simplified payments and economic flows for application developers. Instead of a large capital expenditure to build hardware themselves, developers could pay-as-you-go with a simple revenue sharing plan. For startups, substantial investment capital that would otherwise go to purchasing hardware could go into growth and market acquisition instead.
The smartphone is a platform disruption. Smartphones kickstarted a gold rush for mobile applications and created a multi-trillion dollar industry. With Apple offering an integrated stack for developers by handling all the necessary components of the hardware, software developers could just focus on their applications without any thought about hardware support.
Learnings from Platform Disruptions
As shown by these examples, platform disruptions follow some common patterns. Web3 will be no different.
- A builder is blocked by a difficult part of the tech stack unrelated to their core expertise
- There is significant latent demand for the unblocking of difficult tasks
- A platform is released that handles all the difficult tasks for builders and makes it easy for a builder to build exactly what they want
- The platform offers simple payment and economic rails to builders
The result is that the platform offers an integrated stack for the developer.
Web3 is Ripe for a Platform Disruption
Application developers simply want to build a product that serves a need for their target user. When utilizing blockchain technology, developers want a sufficient amount of affordable blockspace to build a great user experience. Today, to get any sort of meaningful amount of blockspace, web3 application developers need to build their own infrastructure manually and learn how to become blockchain infrastructure developers.
Expertise on data availability, consensus, execution, and settlement as well as validator coordination and incentivization is required to get started. In a modular ecosystem, the situation is even worse. The developer also needs to manage the security, scalability, and decentralization of each independent component. Unsurprisingly, most developers simply choose to minimize the presence of blockchain in their stacks until it disappears entirely. Without their applications, blockchain suffers from a chronically anemic number of users. The high barriers to entry for developers are therefore a huge limiting factor in the mass adoption of blockchain technology.
This bear cycle has made things significantly worse: crypto became almost militantly insular in its disregard for the end user. In some of the most influential circles of blockchain technologists, only the infrastructure developers are left. Unsurprisingly, every web3 developer started to look like an infrastructure customer. And what do infrastructure customers want? They want incremental improvements, such as better data availability, better consensus, etc.
It feels like the web3 ecosystem has forgotten that the only thing standing between us and expensive irrelevance is the application developer. The reality is that the majority of latent demand for web3 technology is with those developers who do not want to become infrastructure developers. Only servicing the tiny market of quasi-application/infrastructure developers is not a viable long-term strategy for our industry.
We must unblock the application developer.
To correct the course, we need a platform disruption that unblocks the web3 ecosystem. We need a platform that empowers application developers to just focus on their core competency on the application level and simplifies payments and economic flows to give them a chance at a growing business.
Unblock Part 1: Empower Application Developers to Just Focus on their Applications
Just as Apple and Amazon allowed application developers to focus on their applications, unblocking web3 requires a platform that handles all components of the infrastructure. Let’s return to the question of why we have had no platform disruptions in web3 despite all these innovations in blockspace.
One way to visualize this issue is to get a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to give an application dedicated, performant blockspace. The diagram below shows a small subset of what is needed besides the application logic.
Existing blockchain frameworks like Cosmos SDK only handle the block production (highlighted above). All the other components necessary to launch a successful chain are delegated to the application developers to figure out. While this is ideal for those application developers who are comfortable also being infrastructure developers, the reality is that game developers or DeFi projects, except for dYdX and Axie Infinity, simply do not want to solicit validators, coordinate the launch of the network, or try to accrue value to a staking token to secure their infrastructure. If acquiring blockspace was truly a solved problem, the Web3 ecosystem would see more than a handful of successful appchain launches.
Modularity compounds this problem. With modular solutions, the developer needs to source a bunch of the block production solutions that independently handle data availability, execution, and settlement and manage all the other parts needed to launch their base infrastructure. Making the block production modular and allowing independently upgradable components in the stack is important. However, this represents an explosion of incremental innovations; not a platform disruption. However fast and efficient we make data availability or any other modular component of a blockchain, it does not change the fact that application developers would rather choose to not build than become infrastructure developers.
The Unblock is a platform that integrates the infrastructure experience for the application developer. The Unblock integrates all the necessary technologies, products and services to give the application developers exactly what they need out of base blockchain infrastructure, when they need it in their development cycle. The Unblock provides what application developers want: unlimited blockspace on demand.
Saga is the Platform Unblock
Saga was designed from the ground up to be a platform to serve the needs of unsung heroes: application developers. When we released our litepaper almost 2 years ago, we observed that many in the crypto community believe that thousands of chains communicating freely with one another is the future for crypto infrastructure, and that now is the right time to move in that direction. We noticed that “most native crypto developers, not to mention web2 developers coming into web3, forgo being a part of the blockchain vision because they find the upfront investment and effort too high, only to see their projects constrained once they grow. Saga makes this vision accessible.”
Our vision has changed very little since then.
Saga is a Layer 1 protocol that allows developers to automatically spin up parallel interoperable dedicated chains that elastically scale with their web3 application needs. Saga acts like a platform and automates the difficult task of provisioning blockspace for application developers as they want, when they want it. With Saga’s latest Pegasus release, it takes a developer 2 minutes to automatically launch a chainlet with a full suite of integrations such as an RPC end point, block explorer and wallets. In the future, the Saga platform is expected to expand to every feature needed including indexers, oracles, etc.
Earlier this year, we unveiled Saga Realms which allow developers to launch customizable chains on Saga with different features and services such as technology stack, security source and various obligations. Under the framework of Realms, the standard Saga Chainlet became one Realm of many that will be supported in the near future, including those for our partners at Polygon, Avalanche, Celestia, XPLA and many others.
This was the first step in the Unblock. By integrating the best products, services and technologies that developers may want into the Saga Platform, we guarantee that the application developer has an easy and Integrated Stack for all of their infrastructure needs.
Unblock Part 2: Simplify Token Mechanisms and Economic Flows
The second major component of a successful platform disruption is the simplification of economic flows for the application developer. Apple and Amazon both solved a problem for application developers by converting a massive initial capital expenditure and uncertain maintenance costs into a very simple to use pay-as-you-go model.
Web3 infrastructure developers often get trapped in discussions around technical and theoretical improvements to the infrastructure and forget that simplifying economic flows is just as important to unblocking application developers.
In fact, token mechanism design has changed surprisingly little since the early days of blockchain. Most blockchains and infrastructure today still rely on scarce blocks and competition amongst end users using transaction fee bids. These kinds of token mechanism designs are not usable by mass application developers who want a truly scalable system.
Unfortunately, modularity compounds this issue as well. With various modular components utilizing different tokens, economic flows, and incentives, the developer now needs to contend with an even more complex economic flow. Congestion in one component of a modular stack has unintended ripple effects on the entire product experience.
The Unblock is a platform that integrates the economic flows for all components within the system. The Unblock integrates with all the necessary technologies, products and services to design a unified and flexible economic rail that is simple for the developer.
Saga is the Economic Unblock
Saga was designed from the beginning to revolutionize token mechanisms in the blockchain ecosystem. Our token paper from a year ago outlines Saga’s innovation in token mechanism design and shares the exact philosophical differences between existing blockchain solutions.
Our economic design follows 3 key tenets that unblock the application developer:
- Permissionless deployment of infrastructure (automate the infrastructure deployment)
- Prioritization of usability for application developers (make economic flows simple for developers)
- Cheaper and commoditized pricing for application developers (make infrastructure affordable)
How do these tenets manifest in our tokenomics?
Saga’s economic flows are very different from those of other blockchains. Here’s a high-level summary:
- Developers pay validators a fee in SAGA tokens to instantiate and keep up a Chainlet
- Validators compete with one another to set the lowest fee possible for securing Chainlets with a goal of attracting the most amount of developers to Saga
- End users do not pay any fees to the network; instead, the developer is able to choose whatever monetization method works best for their application
- Stakers receive inflation as a reward for securing the network
Saga’s token economic design is designed to usher in the economic rails of other platform disruptions by using a simple pay-as-you-go model to access infrastructure.
Expanding the Unblock
Once applications are unblocked both technically and economically, there is one last obstacle to overcome: user acquisition. Developers engage their end users at multiple points during the development process to make sure they are building towards product-market fit. However, the big push for user acquisition can only come at launch, and that’s where the last piece of a truly integrated stack becomes critical: a strong distribution channel.
The way Layer 1s and foundations have traditionally helped projects acquire users is encouraging speculative fever on the token and giving grants to applications that perform well on user numbers, essentially acting as a stand-in for publishers. Infrastructure foundations are generally terrible at being publishers, but projects end up using them as a stopgap solution while waiting for real publishers and distribution channels to arrive.
At Saga, we approach things differently, and this area is no exception. Instead of offering grants that get wasted on infrastructure costs and expensive blockchain infrastructure engineers, Saga unblocks the developers. By using Saga, substantial investment capital that would otherwise go to standing up infrastructure can go into growth and market acquisition instead.
However, we also recognize that a chain is in a unique position to foster strong distribution channels and user growth. We follow the tenet that chains are not publishers: they are brands around which a community of builders and their fans can find a home. Distribution therefore comes through:
- Creating air cover for all stakeholders through a strong brand identity and common values (hint: euphoria and ape are not values)
- Executing a ground game of alliances with like-minded communities
We will talk about this topic in greater depth — and you will see our approach in action — in the very near future. For now, let’s get back to blockspace.
The decentralized future won’t see true exponential growth while blockspace is blocked.
For every monolithic L1, blockspace has come to mean scarcity, creating high and variable gas fees, congestion, and throughput limitations. The modular stack attempts to solve these problems with paralyzing complexity: rollups, data availability, fraud proofs and shared sequencers are all separate components that have their own cost and performance challenges. Application developers do not care about any of these incremental innovations. Saga’s Integrated Stack is the next disruption in web3.
Saga unblocks access to blockspace by offering a platform experience and economic rails that simplifies the experience for the application developer. We need this platform disruption to onboard mass application developers. Traditional application developers in gaming, entertainment, finance and social want to use blockchain technology. They and their users believe passionately in the web3 ethos of self-determination.
The needs of these application developers have been left on read. We must learn from past platform disruptions in the technology space to unblock our own industry.
Saga is the disruption everyone has been waiting for.
For the last two years, we have been tirelessly building a space where the developers, the creators, the storytellers — the crazies — can dare to dream their craziest dreams and feel loved and supported. It will all culminate in The Unblock. Are you ready to be a part of this movement?
Unblock Yourself. ⛋