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Validated | From Anchor to Mad Lads and Beyond with Armani Ferrante

By Validated

Published on 2023-07-11

Explore Armani Ferrante's journey in Solana development, from Anchor to Mad Lads, and learn about the future of blockchain technology and user adoption.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!

Armani Ferrante: From Anchor to Mad Lads and Beyond

In this episode of Validated, host Austin Federa sits down with Armani Ferrante, co-founder and CEO of Coral, to discuss his journey in the Solana ecosystem, the evolution of blockchain technology, and the future of user adoption in the crypto space.

Armani's Entry into Solana

Armani Ferrante first started building on Solana in September 2020, right after the DeFi Summer. At that time, Solana was relatively unknown in the crypto space, with only about 35 programs having daily transactions on the network. What attracted Armani to Solana was its unique approach to scaling at the base layer.

"I was really looking for a blockchain that was non-sharded, that wasn't focusing on L2s," Armani explains. "I was really looking for teams that were scaling at the base layer with just more traditional, at least parallel transaction processing techniques."

The L2 Debate and Solana's Approach

While many in the crypto space were focused on Layer 2 solutions as the answer to scaling, Armani had a different perspective. He saw L2s as more useful for spawning independent experiments or VMs that might be run by different companies, rather than as a solution for scaling the base layer.

"I'm a big fan of the Cosmos view of the world," Armani states, "where I view the end state of a lot of different applications and companies as eventually spinning up their own app chains."

However, Armani also recognized the complexity that L2s introduce for users and developers. He believed that simpler solutions tend to work best when building large decentralized systems like the internet.

The App Chain Thesis

While discussing the app chain thesis, Armani points out that the serverless model offered by networks like Solana and Ethereum is incredibly attractive to developers. It simplifies the development experience by eliminating the need for managing servers and infrastructure.

However, he also acknowledges the potential benefits of app chains, particularly for specific use cases like games or social media platforms. The challenge lies in finding a balance between the simplicity of a unified blockchain and the flexibility of app-specific chains.

The Importance of Open Source in Blockchain

Armani's journey in blockchain development has been deeply influenced by the open-source ethos. He explains that working on open-source projects not only allows for code reuse and learning from others but also aligns with the principles of decentralization and transparency that are fundamental to blockchain technology.

"If you're going to be consistent with that and honest about it, right, in order for you to be decentralized, you really have to have the source available in some way, shape or form," Armani argues. "People have to actually be able to see what they're using."

The Development of Anchor

Anchor, Solana's popular smart contract development framework, was born out of Armani's early experiences building on the network. He found that writing his first smart contract took a long time and resulted in insecure code. Recognizing that other developers likely faced similar challenges, he set out to create a tool that would make smart contract development faster and more secure.

"My thinking behind Anchor was really how do we 10x the number of developers on the network," Armani explains. "And let's do that as fast as possible."

Ruthless Prioritization in the Solana Ecosystem

One of the key characteristics of the Solana ecosystem that Armani highlights is its focus on ruthless prioritization. He praises the Solana organization for its ability to focus on core priorities and allow the community to build necessary tools and infrastructure.

"Solana is an organization. It's just world-class, I feel, at ruthless prioritization," Armani states. "It's such an incredible case study where every other blockchain basically would have built Anchor in-house. Every single one, they would have raised the money. They would have blocked mainnet release. But Solana said no, we are going to just prioritize what matters, which is like making the core system go as fast as humanly possible."

The Evolution of Solana's Priorities

As Solana has grown and achieved many of its initial goals, the focus has shifted to new challenges. Armani points out that the network is now in uncharted territory, facing questions about what to build next and how to leverage the incredible technology that has been developed.

"Now the question is, what does this unlock that's never been built before in the history of computing?" Armani asks. "And that's a much more challenging problem and also a much more exciting problem."

Comparing Solana and Ethereum

In discussing the differences between Solana and Ethereum, Armani highlights Solana's more general and un-opinionated approach at the base layer. While this provides flexibility, it also presents challenges for developers and users.

"Solana is a much, much more general, un-opinionated system than Ethereum is from this point of view," Armani explains. "When you go to Etherscan, you actually have this really incredible experience where you can look up any smart contract or any piece of data directly from the blockchain."

He suggests that Solana's approach, while powerful, may need to evolve to provide more standardization and improve the user experience.

The Importance of Standards in Blockchain

Armani emphasizes the value of standards in blockchain development, particularly in the context of Ethereum's ERC standards. He argues that these standards create a more robust social layer, allowing independent companies to depend on neutral, agreed-upon interfaces.

"I think these ERC standards, it's just a huge upside," Armani states. "It just creates a much more robust social layer, where you could have all of these independent companies depend on a single standard that's neutral because it's not a program that's upgradable by a single company."

The Development of XNFTs and Backpack

Armani's work has progressed from the general-purpose Anchor framework to more specific projects like XNFTs and the Backpack wallet. He explains that this progression was a natural evolution, driven by the changing needs of the ecosystem.

"With backpack, you know, it was very much like, well, demand is the most important thing now. Let's focus on creating demand and building a consumer application so that the entire world can use crypto in their day-to-day lives," Armani explains.

The Concept of Soul Abstraction

One of the most innovative concepts Armani discusses is soul abstraction, a protocol that combines XNFTs, smart contract wallets, and UI client-side wallets. This system allows for the airdropping of arbitrary assets to NFT communities in a way that aligns incentives and keeps the collective group together.

"Soul binding rewards to an NFT project is pretty valuable," Armani states. "But the challenge is like, well, how do you build this, right?"

The soul abstraction protocol provides a solution to this challenge, enabling new forms of interaction and engagement within NFT communities.

The Future of Mad Lads and XNFTs

Armani reveals that the Mad Lads project is evolving to incorporate soul abstraction. He describes a future where Mad Lads holders will have access to a World of Warcraft-like inventory view, where airdropped items can provide quests or other interactive experiences.

"The product we're building basically is it's like a World of Warcraft inventory view where you can airdrop items onto your World of Warcraft character and each one of those items gives you a quest," Armani explains.

Advice for Aspiring Blockchain Developers

For those looking to enter the blockchain development space, Armani offers encouraging advice. He emphasizes that despite the noise and negativity often seen on social media, there are still many opportunities for innovative builders in the space.

"If there's one thing I've learned, I feel, from my time in Solana, it's like, just build the obvious thing," Armani advises. "It turns out that like, there's not that many people that are doing it. And it's mostly just people on Twitter trying to scare you away from building stuff."

The Importance of Building and Iterating

Armani stresses the value of getting started and learning through the process of building. He argues that the blockchain space still has a shortage of skilled and passionate builders, and that there are endless opportunities for those willing to dive in and create.

"It's less about the starting point and much more about how you evolve over time," Armani states. "And as you learn about like the problems that need to be solved and like, you know, adapt and figuring out where you end up."

The Role of Tokens in Open Source Development

While discussing the challenges of developing open-source standards, Armani touches on the potential role of tokens in incentivizing and sustaining open-source development. He suggests that tokens could provide a way to reward contributors proportionally to the value they create for a network.

"In theory, this is really hard in practice, but in theory, you reward people with that token proportionally to the value that they are creating for that network, right?" Armani explains. "And that is like the theoretically, like optimal way to, I think, create open source software on a blockchain."

The Need for Regulatory Clarity

Armani also highlights the importance of regulatory clarity in fostering innovation in the blockchain space. He expresses frustration with the current lack of clear rules, which he believes is holding back many potential innovators.

"I've never created a token, but I probably would if I felt like there was good rules for it, right?" Armani admits. "Because like I'm an engineer, I want to live in the US. Like I'm an American, I just don't know what the rules are."

The Potential of Blockchain Technology

Throughout the conversation, Armani's excitement about the potential of blockchain technology is evident. He sees the current state of the technology as a springboard for building applications and systems that have never been possible before.

"We have all this incredible tech, right? Now the question is, what does this unlock that's never been built before in the history of computing?" Armani asks, highlighting the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

The Importance of User Experience

A recurring theme in Armani's discussion is the critical importance of user experience in driving blockchain adoption. He emphasizes that for blockchain technology to succeed, it needs to be seamless and frictionless for users.

"At the end of the day, people don't care if they're using a blockchain or Postgres or Visa or Mastercard, right? They care about it being fast. They care about it being seamless, frictionless, and all these things," Armani points out.

The Future of Blockchain Development

As the conversation concludes, it's clear that Armani sees a bright future for blockchain development, particularly in the Solana ecosystem. He envisions a world where blockchain technology enables new forms of interaction, ownership, and value creation.

The journey from Anchor to Mad Lads represents not just Armani's personal progression as a developer, but also the evolution of the Solana ecosystem as a whole. As the technology matures and new use cases emerge, the focus is shifting from core infrastructure to user-facing applications and novel forms of digital interaction.

Armani's work on XNFTs and soul abstraction points to a future where digital assets are more than just collectibles or speculative investments. Instead, they become gateways to interactive experiences, community engagement, and new forms of value creation.

As the blockchain space continues to evolve, developers like Armani Ferrante are leading the way, pushing the boundaries of what's possible and continually working to make blockchain technology more accessible, useful, and impactful for users around the world.

Facts + Figures

  • Armani Ferrante started building on Solana in September 2020, right after DeFi Summer.
  • In January 2021, only 35 programs on Solana had daily transactions.
  • Armani originally entered the crypto space in 2017, working on Ethereum and L2s.
  • Solana was one of the first systems in production that was scaling linearly with respect to hardware resources.
  • Armani views the end state of many applications and companies as eventually spinning up their own app chains.
  • Anchor, developed by Armani, aims to make smart contract development on Solana 10 times faster and 10 times more secure.
  • Solana took a unique approach by not building Anchor in-house, focusing instead on core system performance.
  • Backpack, Armani's wallet project, is source available but not open source, using a non-commercial use license.
  • Soul abstraction, a protocol developed by Armani's team, combines XNFTs, smart contract wallets, and UI client-side wallets.
  • The Mad Lads project is evolving to incorporate soul abstraction, creating a World of Warcraft-like inventory system for NFTs.
  • Armani suggests that tokens could provide a way to reward open-source contributors proportionally to the value they create.
  • Regulatory uncertainty is highlighted as a significant barrier to innovation in the blockchain space.

Questions Answered

What attracted Armani Ferrante to Solana in its early days?

Armani was attracted to Solana because of its approach to scaling at the base layer. He was looking for a blockchain that was non-sharded and focused on parallel transaction processing techniques rather than relying on L2 solutions. Solana's ability to scale linearly with respect to hardware resources was a key factor in his decision to build on the platform.

How does Armani view the role of L2s in blockchain scaling?

Armani sees L2s as more valuable for spawning independent experiments or VMs that might be run by different companies, rather than as a primary solution for scaling the base layer. He appreciates L2s from the perspective of allowing companies to control more of their infrastructure as they grow, similar to the Cosmos model of app-specific chains. However, he also recognizes the complexity L2s introduce for users and developers.

What is the concept of "ruthless prioritization" in the Solana ecosystem?

Ruthless prioritization, as described by Armani, is Solana's focus on core priorities while allowing the community to build necessary tools and infrastructure. This approach is exemplified by Solana's decision not to build Anchor in-house, instead focusing on making the core system as fast as possible. This strategy allowed Solana to progress rapidly while fostering a strong developer community.

What is soul abstraction and how does it relate to XNFTs?

Soul abstraction is a protocol developed by Armani's team that combines XNFTs, smart contract wallets, and UI client-side wallets. It allows for the airdropping of arbitrary assets to NFT communities in a way that aligns incentives and keeps the collective group together. This system enables new forms of interaction within NFT communities, such as the ability to create quest-like experiences tied to specific NFTs.

What advice does Armani give to aspiring blockchain developers?

Armani encourages aspiring blockchain developers to "just build the obvious thing." He emphasizes that despite the noise on social media, there are still many opportunities in the space for skilled and passionate builders. He advises focusing less on the starting point and more on how one evolves over time, learning about problems that need to be solved and adapting along the way.

How does Armani compare Solana's approach to standards with Ethereum's?

Armani notes that Solana is a more general, un-opinionated system at the base layer compared to Ethereum. While this provides flexibility, it also presents challenges for developers and users. He suggests that Ethereum's approach with ERC standards creates a more robust social layer, allowing independent companies to depend on neutral, agreed-upon interfaces. Armani believes Solana may need to evolve to provide more standardization to improve the user experience.

What is the significance of open source in blockchain development?

Armani emphasizes the importance of open source in blockchain development, particularly for projects aiming to be decentralized. He argues that for true decentralization, the source code must be available for users to see and verify. This transparency is crucial for building trust and aligning with the principles of blockchain technology. However, he also recognizes that there are valid reasons for some projects to remain closed source, depending on their goals and business models.

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