Ethereum Layer 2 systems and The Village Shaman
February 5th, 2022

I recently realized my time is better spent organizing thoughts instead of shitposting them on Twitter. I’m going to try to unravel a real head-scratcher for non-web3-native people that I think will affect us all in the years to come.

My collaborators at Nowhere Gallery - Zane, Ren, and Anthony - are exhausted from hearing me proselytize about Layer 2 systems over the past year (zero knowledge rollups, or zkRs, specifically). You're seeing them in those Bankless newsletters and extremely technical and long-winded twitter threads; Polynya has possibly the best technical explainers on their medium page, and so on. However I'm going to beat Cantino to the long-thread punch and just explain why I'm sure that layer 2 systems are essential for the growth of Web3 (as it pertains to the Ethereum blockchain) using as close to layperson's terms as possible.

Here's our Big Ethereum Boy - Diablo III concept art by Wei Wang
Here's our Big Ethereum Boy - Diablo III concept art by Wei Wang

I like to think of Ethereum main net - our Large Adult Layer 1 Son - as the Village Shaman. He started out his shamanic life attending to a handful of other people in his geographical vicinity - healing their injuries, curing ailments, offering spiritual guidance. The villagers grew healthy, took counsel, and propagated.

Our shaman now has a problem - he can no longer tend to all of the villagers; they've multiplied beyond his ability to tend to them all, more outsiders arrive daily, and he's grown a bit long in the tooth. As such, he's decided to train some younger promising villagers in the art of healing and spirituality, so that they may continue to do his good work and maintain the high health standards that the village has become known for. Life expectancy, happiness, peace of mind, and abundance are the norm, and villagers begin to see these things as the right of any sensible person.

The village grows, and more shamans come to learn from our old fellow, who has slowed quite a bit in his work, thanks to his acolytes. These shamans cure and they teach; they comfort and they train. At sunset, they bring their subjects, healed of all the hurts of the world, before our wise shaman; and they all receive his blessing together at once. The community thrives.

There are several shamans now - Blizzard Ent. Diablo III concept art by Trent Kaniuga
There are several shamans now - Blizzard Ent. Diablo III concept art by Trent Kaniuga

These trained shamans are our layer 2 systems - Optimism, Plasma, and Zero Knowledge, for example; and soon we will see combinations and shades in between. There are already a great many iterations on each of these technologies, which I won’t bore you with explaining here when Vitalik Buteryn has done it pretty well already.

When we think about the internet of the blockchain, it's best to think in terms of three layers: the settlement layer, the data availability layer, and the transaction layer. The settlement/layer 1 is our shaman who no longer has the capacity to do his work at scale because the world outgrew him - so he "batch blesses" the work of his younger spiritual progeny, our layer 2s, as they continue his work in the village. His work is now being done at scale, and he can be assured it’s being done correctly because his knowledge is what is maintained in the data availability layer of his teaching, from which his acolytes draw their own ready-state wisdom.

Over the next few years, we will likely slow our usage of Ethereum main net directly and eventually use layer 2 systems to transact and move, to say and to do. This layer 2 will query a growing number of full and light node systems - represented now by Infura and Alchemy but with increasing growth from brilliant protocols like Laconic - which will then (ideally) be authenticated in large batches on the settlement layer, or the first layer. We’ve got a bit of work to do here but we’re past “lights out.”

While I’m trying my best to not be an astronaut architect about things, this is how we'll move past a few thousand transactions per minute and prohibitive gas prices; it's how decentralized finance maniacs will be able to trade at scale; it's how gatling-gun chat protocols like #FWB-NFT-GEN text firehoses and community services will preserve their data; it's how we'll move past the extremely rudimentary technology of NFTs as a smart contract use case.

When we manage to abstract this Village Shaman Principle behind a framework that sacrifices nothing in terms of security but offers a frictionless user experience, we'll see adoption past the scale of hyper-enthusiasts only. We’re working towards this at Nowhere Gallery, and I look forward to showing you more. Until alpha, you’ll get vague hints and some less-technical explainers of very technical things if you stop by.

Thanks for being here.


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