How this simple tool built on a layover on the way to Devcon has major implications for blockchain adoption.
At Ethereal Summit NY recently, scores of hungry blockchain enthusiasts lined up at food trucks serving shawarma wraps and pizza after a day spent learning about the latest in decentralization and Ethereum. Notably absent from the scene, however, were those quintessential elements of a fiat economy: credit cards and cash. Instead, the hundreds of attendees paid for their meals with cryptocurrency via a QR code on their phones, made possible by an ingenious little widget called Burner Wallet that ran right in their mobile web browser.
Created by Ethereum R&D impresario Austin Griffith, Burner Wallet is a remarkable example of how much can be achieved with the most accessible implementation of blockchain technology. It’s simple, it’s functional, and it’s open source, meaning that any event or gathering in the world can utilize Burner Wallet as a Point of Sale methodology for free, and easily onboard visitors into the blockchain ecosystem with minimal fuss.
Here’s how it works…
We chatted with Burner Wallet creator Austin Griffith about how the project came to fruition, lessons that can be learned from the process, and what it means for blockchain adoption…
How did you come to the idea for a Burner Wallet?
I got into this space building games, and then I realized that no one could come play my games because the on-boarding was so challenging. So then I spent my time exploring how to abstract away gas and the need for ETH, having a better UX. I was building this wallet to meet a standard on which users can just get in and use it first, then everything else can be taught as you’re incentivized to learn, instead of upfront, where you have to download something and put in a seed phrase.
I was just playing around with the wallet idea at first. I had a talk with Alejandro from the Open Money Initiative. They were talking about putting wallets in Venezuela and what that would look like. My point of view was: ‘Let’s put it in a web browser and make it really, really simple to use.’ It was basically just a QR code, a balance, and a send button, and that was the entire Burner Wallet.
Where did it go from there?
I built the first version the night before Devcon 2018, during a layover at Heathrow Airport on the way to Prague — it’s like a 12 hour flight coming out of Colorado. That’s a long time with just me and my laptop! By sending it around at Devcon, I noticed that a lot of people were having this magic moment. I knew that there was something there. For me it was just like, ‘let’s just build something quick where we can send value around on this new xDai side chain, let’s try running it with fast transactions, cheap transactions pinned to the dollar.’ Taking all of that and putting a really easy to use web wallet on top of it, you get a pretty smooth experience. On the way back, I was laid over for the same amount of time and that’s when I built the exchange, so you could send ETH to it, from ETH to Dai, and then Dai to ETH.
Once we decided we were going to use it, we took it to a bunch of bars. I had what I call the Cypherpunk Speakeasy, where once a week for six weeks before ETH Denver, we emulated the ETH Denver set up. Users got a paper wallet at the door, they would scan it with their phone, then they’d have a wallet with value. They could take that wallet and buy something at the bar with it. And then I just watched: Where did their eyes go, where did their thumbs go, where did they trip up? I just iterated on that UX to make it as smooth as I possibly could. By the time we got to ETH Denver, that was the real trial by fire where all that UX preparation really paid off. And it was a pretty smooth experience for most people.
It’s pretty amazing that this was all built in the matter of days and iterated on collaboratively…
Definitely. That’s a big lesson. The very first project I built was this decentralized oracle and I didn’t come up for air while building it. I basically built the whole thing in a silo in the dark and then was like: “Okay, here it is!’ That is not the way to do things in this ecosystem. You really have to even put the idea out there first, see if something similar exists. Can you iterate on that? Then get something started, iterate on it, put it in people’s hands, see how they use it, and keep that loop going. You can’t just get it exactly right on the first try. Even if you do have $50 million sitting in your treasury and you’re going to spend three years in the dark working on something, it’s better off if you came up for air and iterate with the ecosystem.
What else do you think are big lessons to be learned from the project’s success?
It’s onboarding, it’s iterating. I know that there are a fair amount of maximalists in terms of security and decentralization. I think that if we want good on-boarding, we have to navigate that spectrum and probably start users in a less secure, less decentralized place and let them get a feel for it. Eventually, once they have an understanding for the ethos of the ecosystem, once they have earned some value, once they’ve created a narrative behind that account, they’re a lot more likely to be educated to slide down the spectrum decentralization. Then they can go download a wallet, write down a seed phrase, all the things that you have to do once you’re holding more than a thousand bucks in assets.
I also think we as developers need to figure out where blockchain is actually powerful. Take building games, for example: A lot of people are trying to basically just replicate web 2.0 games in a Web3 environment, and that’s a fool’s errand. If you want to make a great game, you’re going to have to figure out what you can do with Web3 that you could never do with Web 2.0, and figure out how to leverage those things and build something really cool.
Have we been BUIDLing wrong all along?
I think we’re in a really neat place where there’s a lot of infrastructure that has been built up around. Judging the submissions at ETH New York, what I saw was a lot of collaboration around primitives and smaller libraries, where some of the best projects took two libraries over here, plugged them into this API over here, and then invested everything in Compound. There’s this extensibility layer now that’s being played with a lot more. I think it’s an exciting thing when someone isn’t just locked up in a silo, when they’re iterating and creating these small pieces that are permissionlessly extensible for the rest of us to also build atop.
How can events or projects get involved?
So what’s cool is that Burner Wallet is all open source. Anybody can just grab it and use it. The burner itself can be used at any event. If you have a Burner Wallet and you click the request button, you just type in how much you want and what you want and hit go, and you’ve basically created a Point of Sale system. You can create a POS system without paying for anything, with your phone, and be able to accept crypto. Someone can just walk up and shoot crypto to you in five seconds. So again, going back to this permissionless extensibility, there’s already all this cool stuff you can do for free, but then I’ve done like a ton of evangelizing on top of that. If you Google ‘How to run a burner wallet event,’ you’re going to get step-by-step pictures and diagrams that explain exactly what you’re gonna run into and what you need to worry about.
What do you think other projects can learn and apply from the development of Burner Wallet?
I see the burner wallets being an onboarding platform. I think that’s a key element. The burner wallet itself probably isn’t a product. Everyone keeps calling it like ‘The Burner Wallet,’ but I think it’s like ‘a burner wallet.’ For example, I think that if Status wants to get more people downloading their app, they should provide a burner version of their app that provides some of the functionality, then some kind of upgrade path, and they’d get more downloads. I think that everybody in the space should be making a burner version or web web wallet version of their platform just to get people channel them.
What comes next for ‘Burner Wallet’ and ‘burner wallets’?
What we’re finding is that, sure, you can send and receive stuff, but it’s what we can build on top that is really exciting. If you saw my Emoji Coin Exchange game, it’s basically like a small game built on top of a Burner Wallet. Since you already have instant on-boarding. funds, and a connection to the blockchain, you can basically just scan something and have a website, tap some buttons on that website, and be interacting with a smart contract. So I think prediction, markets, games, all sorts of neat stuff is going to be built on top of Burner Wallets at coming engagements.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author above do not necessarily represent the views of Consensys AG. ConsenSys is a decentralized community with ConsenSys Media being a platform for members to freely express their diverse ideas and perspectives. To learn more about ConsenSys and Ethereum, please visit our website.
Simple, Functional, Open: What Blockchain Can Learn from Burner Wallet was originally published in ConsenSys Media on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.