Uniting the blockchain ecosystems: Q&A with Cosmos founder Ethan Buchman

As layer-2’s scale, Cosmos can offer solutions for the many problems encountered


Permissionless II by Blockworks


Blockchains today are reaching a point of convergence where previously competing ecosystems are looking at ways they can work together to scale the industry, argues one Cosmos founder. 

In a conversation with Blockworks at Permissionless II, Ethan Buchman, the co-founder of Cosmos and the current CEO of Informal Systems, notes that there is an opportunity today for different blockchain ecosystems to converge to similar architectures. 

Additionally, as new chains come to Cosmos, Buchman believes there’s an opportunity to move beyond speculation and into genuine consumer-focused apps — potentially the first step in crypto achieving its political and social ambitions. 

Blockworks: What do you think of the narrative that different blockchains are finally reaching a point of convergent evolution?

Buchman: I think Cosmos has been thinking about many problems from early on that many other ecosystems are starting to come to over the last couple of years. So, in some sense, we’ve had a head start, but in other senses, other ecosystems or projects advanced in ways that maybe Cosmos hasn’t as much, but there’s an opportunity for us now to be converging to similar architectures.

So it seems very much that the Cosmos app chain vision we pioneered some years ago is now increasingly being adopted as the way forward. The rollup-based scalability roadmap is very much driven by this app chain scalability vision, where you’re letting each rollup do its own thing rather than a monolithic top-down scaling framework, which is very much Cosmos-inspired.

We’ve found the best way to improve Ethereum is to ship good ideas into Cosmos, then Ethereum people will see that, take it, and run with it. People might say you don’t need Cosmos. We’ll just take all the good ideas to Ethereum. Well, where will you get all your good ideas from?

Blockworks: It’s interesting because a narrative that has become more apparent over the past few months from the Cosmos ecosystem is an increased alignment with Ethereum. What are your thoughts on that?

Buchman: I mean, part of that has just been the emerging success of rollups and the problems they’re struggling with, which we’ve already pioneered solutions to many years ago. So we see a lot of opportunity for them to benefit from the work we’ve done. 

Cosmos, from the beginning, has always been designed not to be an independent versus sort of thing. The dream was always for Cosmos to help scale Bitcoin and Ethereum when Cosmos started. That’s what really mattered. We always considered ourselves part of the Bitcoin community and very much part of the Ethereum community where we [emerged from], so we owe a lot to and have a lot of respect for [Ethereum]. So, we love seeing Cosmos’ ideas and technology being adopted to scale projects.

Although we’ve always felt aligned, it hasn’t always been clear how we can more directly contribute to roadmaps until the emergence and early success of Ethereum rollups. Now, there’s a much clearer opportunity for Cosmos technology to contribute. Everyone’s now getting to the point where they feel centralized sequencers aren’t really a mature path forward. We need to decentralize the sequencer, which starts to look like consensus. And who built the best consensus engine? Cosmos. 

And you’ve got all these rollups. How will they be interoperable? We need standards for interoperability, and where’s a good standard for interoperability? Lo and behold — IBC on Cosmos. So, with the growing success of rollups, there’s a real opportunity for Cosmos technology to start to get integrated. 

Blockworks: A common critique I often hear about Cosmos is that despite all the good tech, there aren’t many users…

Buchman: I mean, there’s plenty of users across Cosmos. Terra was obviously massively used, and it was built on the Cosmos. Obviously, with Terra’s collapse and bear market, I think a lot of people did sort of move back to Ethereum, where it’s allegedly safer or where there’s more consolidation.

But I think we’re starting to see activity pick up again across the Cosmos ecosystem, we’re seeing new blockchains that are going to be built in Cosmos: Celestia, Anoma, Penumbra, they’re all coming up, and they’re all pioneering new approaches to cryptography or to modularity application designs and privacy which can only be done in Cosmos. How many users are they going to have? Well, I don’t know. 

I think the whole industry is struggling with use cases. There’s a lot of focus on speculative activity and trading, and with fragmented liquidity, it’s difficult to have a good trading menu, so everyone wants to consolidate and that’s why most liquidity is on Ethereum, fair enough. 

But as new use cases start to emerge, I think we’ll start to see user activity pick up within Cosmos and other ecosystems again. I’m very interested in seeing this technology actually be able to be used in the real world rather than just these speculative use cases, and that’s something we’re really focused on and working on building right now, but I think there’s still a long way to go with all of that.

A small part of what crypto addresses and can be solved is a technical problem. But more broadly, there are social, political and economic challenges that it’s going after. Those take a lot longer, and it’s really about changing the structures of institutions, which will inevitably take decades and can’t be measured in two-year product market cycles.

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