“No Chinese”: Arrogance and Prejudice in Montenegro’s EDCON

Arrogance and prejudice in Montenegro's EDCON: banning Chinese attendees

By Charlie Chen, Lyv @Aki Network Research, with contributions from the Nova whaling ship community.

The 2023 Ethereum developer community conference concluded in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, after five days from May 19th to May 23rd. From the Super Demo Preliminaries on the first day to the Super Demo Finals on the 23rd, there were 48 presentations and 53 topics shared during the conference. At the same time, many DAOs and investors organized various technical sharing and social activities outside the main venue.

During this high-intensity and high-density exchange and interaction, we sensed a difficult-to-express tense atmosphere accumulating among the participants. Attendees with different backgrounds seemed to have discovered many conflicts and ideological differences in their views, especially the tension between Chinese practitioners and their Western peers. To some extent, the emergence of this tension or anxiety is closely related to the content performance, organizational form, participant composition, and background of this conference. Aki Network Research and partners will analyze the origins of these prejudices and biases for readers here.

Everyone is talking about Zuzalu

The core participants of this conference mainly included Vitalik Buterin and his close team, the Ethereum Foundation, the Ethereum community, Zuzalu developers, and various digital nomads. They gathered in Zuzalu, initiated by Vitalik and his friends, which is a novel social experiment in the form of a flash city community located in Sea Forest Resort, Montenegro.

The purpose of Zuzalu is to communicate and make decisions in a collaborative and symbiotic way to address the development direction and problems of the Web3 industry in the next decade. To this end, Vitalik personally invested $2 million to sponsor eligible organizations, projects, or developers to enter Zuzalu and provide them with necessary support such as hotel accommodation. This diverse participant combination not only emphasizes the importance of underlying technology but also highlights the importance of infrastructure aspects such as account abstraction and user privacy to ensure that the future can meet large-scale traffic and transaction needs while paving the way for standardized entry.

Although Zuzalu, as a social experiment with a hippie style of the 1970s, has received high attention in the developer community and has attracted many criticisms for its centralized hosting, nepotism in the selection process, and the display of Silicon Valley elite lifestyle.

Chinese-Speaking Players with Discontent

Another prominent participant group is from Asia, actively seeking greater influence and value in the global market. This group of attendees, especially representatives of Chinese projects, has a strong focus and insight into user growth and product experience. Their thinking and efforts provide rich possibilities and imagination space for the development of blockchain in the application end.

However, due to the differences in direction of innovation and practice from the mainstream ideas of the Ethereum community, they generally feel that their views and voices have not been fully understood and valued during the conference. This emotion and feeling may manifest as a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration, adding an inexplicable tension to the conference atmosphere.

“Big Fan” but “No Chinese”

This hidden contradiction and conflict was not alleviated by the extension and communication of the conference, and was pushed to a climax in a coincidental and inevitable incident. The author interviewed an anonymous attendee who said that he was refused when seeking a photo with Vitalik: “No Chinese, thank you but sorry.” The interviewee said: “At that time, I said that I was a Big Fan, hoping to take a photo, and the T-Shirt was covered with project labels. Many Chinese projects had sought to take photos with Vitalik to endorse their projects. So I understood this attitude.”

This incident sparked some controversy in the Chinese community, and the emotions seem to have not dissipated with the end of the conference. On the contrary, it seems to have left a deeper mark in the hearts of the attendees, as if telling us that although the conference has ended, the real problems and challenges have just begun. We can clearly feel that in the dynamics of the global market to come, we will not only face superficial problems, but also this intangible pressure, confrontation, and tense emotions.

Conflict can be understood as a fierce battle between two different ideas. Whether it is classified as arrogance, centralization, or impatience and frustration, these are surface collisions. It is relatively simple to evaluate, classify, and label these ideas. However, it is a complex and difficult task to truly understand the source of these dynamics, explore the deep reasons behind these surface phenomena.

Therefore, the author attempts to understand and interpret this process, although the viewpoints presented may be limited by personal perspectives and may be biased. Feedback, criticism, and correction from all parties are highly welcome to help the author gain a more comprehensive and profound understanding.

Excessive Attention to ZK Infrastructure Projects

Ethereum’s development path has been striving to solve some fundamental challenges, including scalability, account abstraction, and user privacy.

These are major issues related to the stability of Ethereum’s underlying infrastructure and user experience. Although in the long run, this paves the way for the next innovation stage and prepares for the arrival of a wider range of applications and users, in the short term, these efforts may not form a distinct new story. In terms of the attention paid to the zk infrastructure project, Ethereum’s decision-making seems to be driven more by technical possibilities than by the potential of existing user bases and application ecosystems.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that although Ethereum has done a lot of work on underlying technology and infrastructure, there is still a lot of room for improvement in building better user experience and application layers. Entrepreneurs in Europe and the Middle East are too focused on infrastructure and B-end service construction, and have not seen the project parties with the potential to promote new industry narratives that Ethereum community needs to pay attention to and support more user experience and product design-oriented projects to better meet the needs of existing and future users.

The author believes that as a new industry, Web3, although it has huge potential and growth space, has also passed the stage where it can be thought that users will naturally grow simply and crudely. This argument may be very clear to Asia-Pacific entrepreneurs who have seen the cruel competition in the mobile Internet era, and may take more time for European and American entrepreneurs to accept. New Web3 users need a wider range of application scenarios to make better infrastructure useful, which is the first principle.

Beware of New Centralization, Will Dragon Slayer Become a Dragon?

The investment of European and American venture capital circles in infrastructure projects is indeed increasing, which has led to soaring valuations of related projects. However, many such projects have not been able to articulate a strong differentiation and can only rely on airdrop expectations to attract and retain users. This creates a tense and anxious atmosphere in the bear market.

Considering new infrastructure projects as a means of locking liquidity may be path-dependent thinking, or it may be a last resort. Liquidity is crucial in the blockchain ecosystem, and new infrastructure projects typically attract a lot of liquidity. However, this strategy may also cause some problems.

First, it may stifle innovation. If liquidity is mainly concentrated in some infrastructure projects, then other innovative projects may lack sufficient liquidity to develop. In addition, this strategy may also make the ecosystem too centralized, leading to a lack of competition and diversity.

Second, locking liquidity may lead to market instability. If liquidity is heavily locked in some infrastructure projects, then once these projects encounter problems, it may trigger a liquidity crisis that affects the entire market.

Therefore, although locking liquidity through new infrastructure projects may have some short-term effects, in the long run, we need to find healthier and more sustainable ways to manage and increase liquidity, such as by encouraging competition and innovation, and by establishing robust risk management mechanisms.

Aggressively Building and Progressively Advancing Ethereum

At this year’s EDCON, the key topics related to Ethereum’s own development, such as Roll-up scaling, zkEVM roadmap, account abstraction, and user privacy, are all familiar to developers.

But at the same time, we need to be clear that Ethereum has been scheduling and delivering key infrastructure projects in a progressive manner: from a few years ago, laying out the transformation of the PoS consensus mechanism, to the past two years, defining the scaling plan centered on Roll-up, and then last year’s Bogota meeting, which showed the account abstraction and so on.

Ethereum’s technical progression also affects various participants in its ecosystem, such as the PoS transformation covering the mining community, the scaling plan mainly aimed at developers, and the current AA and on-chain privacy directly serving ordinary users’ infrastructure construction.

It can be said that Ethereum has never ignored the development of the application side. On the contrary, it is paving the way for the next project or paradigm that can break the old model in its own way. And in this process, centralized organizations, such as the Ethereum Foundation and Vitalik’s inner circle, will inevitably have many considerations in prioritizing their technical progress and product iteration.

As Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin pointed out in his keynote speech, Ethereum faces three major technical challenges: scalability, privacy, and user security. He noted, “In the past decade, Ethereum’s primary focus has been on the security of smart contracts, while in the next decade, we will pay more attention to the security of accounts.”

According to the topics on the Edcon.io official website agenda, we can roughly understand the current direction and energy allocation of Ethereum. Obviously, for Ethereum, it is now time to vigorously promote account abstraction and user privacy. This is logical – the industry needs to ensure that the underlying technology can handle huge traffic and massive transactions first, and then optimize the user interface and develop unified standards.

Overseas communities’ concerns and alertness about Ponzi culture

On the other hand, many overseas developer communities at this year’s EDCON have expressed concerns and alertness about Ponzi culture. In the Asia-Pacific entrepreneurial community, fomo and Ponzi should be an important reflection of market operation ability at least in the early stage of project growth; while outside of Asia-Pacific, most people seem to only see the process of the project’s asset price falling from its highest level and underestimate the positive impact from 0 to 100 in the first half.

Of course, the entire industry also needs better consensus and community mechanisms to urge project parties to strengthen self-regulation and self-discipline. At the same time, investors need to improve their own identification ability and better judge which projects are real and reliable, and which projects may carry risks.

However, this process is not easy. Due to the anonymity and cross-border nature of blockchain and cryptocurrency, regulation and tracking have become more difficult for project parties. We must face this reality and take measures to reduce such risks as much as possible. It is foreseeable that the following coping strategies will be gradually improved in the future with the improvement of infrastructure and the influx of larger traffic.

  • Enhance industry’s self-regulatory ability: All major participants in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry should work together to build and maintain the industry’s self-regulatory mechanism. For example, establish industry ethical standards, clarify industry norms, publicly expose on-chain violations of rules, and encourage everyone to abide by the rules.
  • Enhance investor education and public awareness: It is essential to educate the public and investors, make them aware of typical characteristics of fraudulent behavior such as the CX plan, improve their awareness of prevention, and enable them to identify those investment opportunities that look too good to be true.
  • Strengthen technical regulatory measures: Use the transparency of blockchain to develop better analysis tools and regulatory technology to help detect and prevent fraudulent behavior.
  • Strengthen laws and regulations: Although cryptocurrency and blockchain have cross-border characteristics, the strengthening of laws and regulations can still prevent and combat fraudulent behavior to a certain extent. Governments of various countries should strengthen legal supervision of such fraudulent behavior and cooperate with other countries to jointly combat cross-border fraudulent behavior.
  • Encourage transparency and sense of responsibility: Encourage project parties to transparently display information such as project operation mode, team members, and financial situation, and also require project parties to be responsible to investors and communities and accountable for the consequences of their actions.

East and West: How to Have More Effective Dialogue and Learn from Each Other?

During the Ethereum Foundation event, there seemed to be some self-centered attitudes and insufficient sensitivity to the development of applications.

Therefore, Chinese and Asia-Pacific entrepreneurs may feel that their views and contributions have not been given enough attention and understanding. All of these reflect that the Ethereum community needs to be more inclusive and understand diverse voices, and needs to have a deeper understanding and support for applications that are truly user-oriented, in order to improve the health and prosperity of the entire ecosystem.

This issue also reminds us that the Ethereum community needs to take more proactive actions to understand, pay attention to, and support projects and entrepreneurs who have a keen sense of application development, regardless of where they come from.

Although Chinese projects attach importance to user growth and product experience, their core narratives at the abstract level often appear to be not strong enough, and the demand imagined by the founding team often exceeds practical thinking based on actual scenarios. This to some extent highlights that their positioning of products in the international world needs to be strengthened.

Therefore, although this collision and tension may appear to be conflicting, it can also be regarded as a valuable opportunity for learning and growth. It provides a platform for communication and understanding of different modes of thinking, cultures, and values, allowing all parties to have the opportunity to re-examine their views and assumptions.