Written by Peter Keay

Full-stack dApp developer || Host, Crypto Philosophy Podcast (bitgenste.in) || Host, Everything EOS Dev Series || Co-host, Inside IOST (leobi.io/st) || Writer.
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March 25 2019

The Ethereum Challengers, ep. 10: TRON (TRX)

What you need to know about TRON’s inception and rapid growth, the 27 super representatives, the plan behind the BitTorrent and PornHub acquisition, and more.

TRON ETH


ICO Alert content disclaimer

 This is the perspective of an outsider.

I’ve built on some of the other Challengers platforms, but not yet on TRON.

Development on TRON is basically like development on Ethereum, so I understand that. And crypto projects like NEO and IOST have given me experience with the China Factor. Despite these things, I’m not a member of the TRON community.

This article, then, is the honest opinion of an external observer.
The crux of that opinion is this: Eighteen months ago, I would have told you I’d never hold TRON. Now, I’m happy to say that I plan to build a dApp on it.

But first, let’s get one issue out of the way right here:

The original TRON Whitepaper.

In my experience, this is the most-discussed aspect of TRON outside of the TRON community itself, thanks to ample publicity of the issue on Twitter.

tron1“Because, man, somewhere in one of these whitepapers…”

A combination of time and language pressure pushed someone to rephrase language from the FileCoin and IPFS whitepapers — using the same rewrite method your middle school teachers taught you. The resulting document was along the line of what TRON wants to do — decentralized storage like Filecoin and IPFS is a large part of any decentralized Internet project, after all. But it was also overly simplistic, and soon detected to be a patchwork publication.

I’m not saying this to excuse what happened, but that first whitepaper (and copying EthereumJ code without attribution) are hopefully mistakes that TRON will not repeat.

It’s difficult as Western readers to put some of our cultural assumptions on pause.

But when we consider:

  • the cultural differences between China and the West,
  • memory of the urgency of late 2017, and
  • the fact that TRON has since acknowledged sources for its materials,

we can examine the current-day TRON project more objectively, instead of limiting ourselves to its history from over 12 months ago.

Now, let’s get to it.

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TRON’s website is at tron.network

We’ve covered nine Ethereum Challengers so far…

…from giants like EOS to smaller platforms like Hashgraph. I didn’t write about TRON earlier since I hadn’t quite picked up on what TRON was intending to do. Now, things are a bit clearer.

TRON is working to build a decentralized Internet of Content in an opportunistic way. It moves are calculated to consolidate both the hype and the infrastructure the team believes it needs to accomplish its goal.


Ethereum Virtual Machine, dPoS, the BitTorrent acquisition, the PornHub partnership, the focus on games — each of these developments has been part of a vision, if not exactly a plan, to create a whole new way of sharing content.

Sure, some other moves will be classified as illegitimate hype-generation by people in some Western cultures.

But besides that, though, plans often do change as we pursue them, and that’s fine. After all, developments which externally appeared haphazard are how we ended up with:

  • Pinterest (originally a web catalog),
  • Twitter (originally a doomed podcast platform),
  • Slack (originally a studio building video games no one wanted), and
  • Facebook (originally a creepy platform for the gratification of Zuckerberg & friends… wait a second…)

tron3Ethereum still wins the Google Images Disambiguation test. (NEO is reaching the midpoint, TRON’s first appearance is a Pyrrhic victory, and EOS is still fighting cosmetics and Canon cameras.)

The visions of several other prominent cryptocurrencies have been transformed during the course of project development, and TRON is no different. The destination grows clearer during the journey.

Sometimes, of course, a cryptocurrency can go corrupt instead, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on TRON governance to tell which way it’s heading. Or perhaps we’ll need to watch Ethereum — because TRON is defined by its chief rival, both in the ways they are opposed and the ways they are the same. 

The Game Grid: TRON vs. Ethereum

TRON uses Solidity, like Ethereum does.

Just as this went to press, Justin Sun hit 1 million Twitter followers. (Conversely, some have suggested the account creation spam common on Twitter is a factor.)

TRON’s Virtual Machine and other components are built from Ethereum.

TRON is the only dApp platform so far (besides EOS) to directly challenge Ethereum’s share of dApps.

Justin and Vitalik often toss jabs at each other’s platforms and persons on Twitter.

And so it’s difficult to discern between FUD that’s built on legitimate concern and FUD that’s simply constructed along “Ethereum vs. TRON” party lines. Critics of TRON generally held that TRON’s claims are untrue or that the latest big TRON business deal is actually a bad or irrelevant development.

“Announcement of an announcement” became a meme.

But the naysayers failed to dampen TRON’s two greatest explosions in growth thus far.

Explosion 1: Price

Sadly for my wallet, I wasn’t a part of this explosion. It was very hard to track all the big projects in 2017 — even EOS, which I now develop on, had only a tiny amount of my attention until the year turned.

There’s still a lot of hype, but…

But a large number of people were captivated by TRON. I don’t even know what media they watched, but even my post-car-accident chiropractor asked me about TRON, after he had invested significant funds into it.

Now that the speculative scene has calmed down a bit, a new middle group has appeared between the “It’s a scam!” crowd and the “It’ll change the world!” crowd. As one cryptocurrency venture capitalist put it in a late night conversation, “I think TRON has bulls****ed its way into legitimacy!”

…there are also some dApps.

After all, the second explosion made clear that TRON might be beating most of its adversaries to the punch.

Explosion 2: dApps

dApp users and volume on TRON have grown.

Of course, we’re talking about dApps here. Daily users still number in the thousands, at best, and even the best blockchain-based UIs and tools are still awkward to use. Regardless of the platform you’re looking at, all dApps including gambling dApps still have a very low number of users compared to traditional apps.

But the numbers are growing. (No one has yet devised a good way to separate out bot numbers, but those potentially affect every platform and may originate from any number of parties interested in mining native tokens or creating hype.)

tron4Ranked by several metrics including transaction volume (here), TRON is a top platform. Dapps are still tiny, but growing. Source: dApp.com

It’s hard to predict which of the platforms will break away the most should dApps catch on in the near future, but TRON, EOS, and recently IOST all seem positioned to have the necessary capabilities and speed.

PornHub and BitTorrent

A lot of the buzz around TRON, both positive and negative, has been generated by announced partnerships.

 

 The PornHub + TRON partnership announcement was accompanied by a commercial with reasonably high production values.

In fact, despite my profound indifference to the announcement itself, the commercial was the first thing to make me take serious note of TRON as a contender for the New Internet. I guess that’s the effect they were going for.

The BitTorrent partnership was also met with significant buzz, and the BTT token sale sold out on Binance in a matter of moments, with Justin Sun calling it “the token that will enable blockchain mass adoption.” I personally think that if the BTT token has a strong future, it’s not in powering fast downloads of high-demand files — I can download a 1080p movie in a matter of seconds with a standard Internet connection. (I’d actually like to see people incentivized to seed rare files, such as foreign films and games that tend to disappear.)

Some former BitTorrent employees have stated that there is no way TRON can be a platform for BitTorrent, for various reasons.

Again, it’s hard for me to say. I’m an outsider here.

But as I mentioned, TRON hasn’t yet been 100% clear about its plans for how all of these components of its New Internet are going to work together. Some seem to think Justin Sun simply acquired BitTorrent for the hype, but that seems an awfully expensive PR move.

The current development efforts are clearer: smart-contract-driven dApps, which are already being deployed to and played on the TRON network, powered by the TRON Virtual Machine.


Virtual Machines

tron5

The TRON Virtual Machine, launched nearly a year after TRON’s massive 2017 run-up, is functional, has basic development tools such as TRONStudio and TRONBox, and features compatibility with the Ethereum Virtual Machine.

TRON isn’t the only dApp platform to offer EVM compatibility, but it’s the first fully-deployed one.

This probably meant quicker development time for TRON: it followed in Ethereum’s footsteps. And it seems to ease the way for developers on Ethereum looking to migrate. They don’t have to write completely new contracts in C++ (EOS) or JavaScript (IOST).

Of course, one of the complaints developers have about Ethereum is needing to learn a new language. That’s yet another tradeoff decision platforms need to make. TRON hopes to attract projects from Ethereum to its platform with the promise of zero fees, fast transactions, high capacity, and easy migration from EVM to TVM.


I’m deeply involved in a couple of crypto communities, and so I know how nonsensical the challenges from other communities — such as Whiteblock’s “EOS is not a blockchain” paper — can be.

I don’t even think these kinds of challenges are necessarily malicious. Blanket statements of a technical nature from outsiders are often plagued by misunderstandings, since only those close to a community have the understanding necessary to see the truth or falsehood of such claims.

So I’m giving TRON the benefit of the doubt here regarding the concerns about TRON’s tech that run around the Internet. I know how silly most of the concerns about Bitcoin’s tech, EOS’s tech, and to some degree Ethereum’s tech are, since I’m familiar with the development of and for those platforms. I don’t have the same advantage with TRON.

At least, not yet. I do plan to write an app on TRON in the future, which will bring me closer to their technical community. If I find out more either way, I’ll update this article at that point.

TRON’s MCPs: the Super Representatives

tron6

I hope you’re Recognizing some of the references here.

All of the dApp platforms so far which have attained a large number of transactions per second have done so by limiting the number of block producing nodes, by creating some barrier to entry.

EOS limits it to 21 continuously-elected Block Producers. IOST doesn’t set a number but has a set threshold of votes and hardware performance. Even Ethereum will eventually limit the number of validating nodes by requiring a certain stake — currently planned to be 32 ETH.

TRON, similarly, has 27 elected validating nodes, called “Super Representatives.”

tron7

TRON’s Super Representatives (top 9 shown) have a fair amount of geographic diversity — except that a plurality are located in the U.S. Many SRs distribute the large majority of rewards to voters.

In addition to block rewards, Super Representative candidates get a reward of 115,200 every 6 hours, split proportionally among them based on the votes they’ve received — similar to how EOS standby producers can be paid even if they’re not actively producing blocks. This provides some incentive for them to continue building and vying for the top 27 spots.

Super Representatives can also issue their own tokens which can be used for their services. For instance, Sesameseed, the top Super Representative, has a “Germinator” where SEED tokens can “feed” new ideas. Several projects have been funded by the Germinator, including TRONWatch, Poppy, and Eggies.

Think what you will of TRON’s original governance — 

The future of the TRON network is now increasingly dependent on what each of the Super Representatives (and top unelected candidates) do for the ecosystem.

To Eternity, and Beyond

A detailed roadmap for TRON is hard to come by, which is perhaps why the project’s acquisitions and partnerships seem unpredictable. I have read that TRON 1.5 and 1.6 are currently named Star Trek and Eternity, and are focused on TRON’s metamorphosis into a fully-versatile blockchain platform for games.

Many people in the blockchain space think games are going to be the first ushers of true adoption. Betting apps on TRON (and EOS and IOST) seem to be the vanguard of a gaming revolution that will bring us, step by step, closer to a blockchain-powered Metaverse.

tron8

Of course, the Metaverse’s graphics may not be so hot at first. They’ll get better with time.

But the final stop mentioned in the v2.0 Whitepaper is Project Atlas, “a huge undertaking with major implications in the world of crypto.” (The v1.0 Whitepaper now linked from the TRON site is not the document mentioned at the beginning of this article but a sparse “draft specs” paper). TRON’s acquisition of BitTorrent was somehow a crucial part of Project Atlas, which looks to revolutionize the Internet of Content.

tron9

Clues can betray you. Hopefully these ones are on track.

Details are still unclear on exactly how. If I could make one wish about TRON (besides owning a lot more of it, that is), it would be more insight into their roadmap.

Without that, I’ve done the best I can putting together the clues I’ve found.

A world of decentralized content, powered by acquisitions and partnerships that will provide the hype and connections needed to bootstrap the network.

That’s what TRON feels like to me.

So forget Ethereum Challenger: TRON wants to be an Internet Challenger.

Regardless of what you think of its past, it may just have the resources and popular support to pull off something big. Keep an eye on it.

The Big Questions

We’ve ended each episode with a quick round-up of seven big questions that pit each project against Ethereum. Here they are again:

tron10

How does TRON stack up?

  1. Scalability
    TRON’s mainnet is hitting ~2000 transactions per second. There’s still room for improvement, but this is a significantly larger number than many platforms.
  2. Governance
    In August of 2018, the “Governance Era” of TRON began as 27 Super Representatives were elected, replacing the “Genesis Representatives.” SRs are bound to “represent the will” of the TRON community and are subject to being voted out if they fail to fulfill their governance duties to voters’ satisfaction. In practice, of course, incentivizing voters to care enough about issues has always been difficult.
     
    As with EOS and IOST, we’ll see how vote-driven governance goes. So far, Super Representatives have funded a number of projects for the ecosystem. Before long, they may even become more important to TRON than Justin Sun is.
  3. Development Complexity
    TRON’s Virtual Machine is based on (and compatible with) Ethereum’s. This means that Ethereum developers will have an easier time migrating to TRON; however, traditional developers will experience about the same learning curve with Solidity on TRON as they do with Solidity on Ethereum.
  4. Timeline
    TRON raised funds in August 2017 and launched its mainnet in June 2018 on “TRON Independence Day,” followed by on-chain governance in August and the TRON Virtual Machine in October. The v2.0 Whitepaper includes a roadmap with “Project Atlas,” “the world [sic] biggest dApp.”
  5. Generalized Features
    TRON has built out some developer tools similar to Ethereum’s in TRONStudio and TRONBox. As far as I know, the situation with limited standard libraries is equivalent to Ethereum’s.
  6. Adoptability
    TRON transactions do still have a fee. However, TRON fees are near zero — in USD terms, they are best measured in thousandths of a penny. TRON accounts do have human-readable names.
  7. Market Position
    Whatever you think of TRON’s technology, positive or negative, you can’t deny the hype. TRON is a top-10 coin (excluding Tether) and many people still want it to fly. TRON one of the few early dApp competitors, with Ethereum and EOS leading in some categories.
     

FUD may continue to nip at TRON, as it did at this article, but if history is anything to go by, the network, its founder, and its fans are unfazed, and SRs may change the narrative going forward.

Topics: Ethereum, Cryptocurrency, Protocol, News, Decentralized, TRON, Ethereum Challengers