One Augur user was so eager, they didn’t even wait for the user interface.
That may have summed up the state of affairs Tuesday, hours after the Forecast Foundation, the non-profit behind the Augur protocol, announced the launch of its decentralized platform for betting on the outcome of events. By 5:00 UTC, the first prediction markets were being created, and by day’s end, new bets were being placed on everything from U.S. elections to World Cup soccer games, all with the help of bleeding-edge tech.
“Someone must’ve really wanted to be the first,” another user remarked, as the discussion turned around how exactly the market (for betting on the winner of the England-Croatia World Cup match) had been created.
However, it’s hard to say if the wider crypto world shared this early adopter’s enthusiasm.
As decentralized applications (apps powered by blockchains but operated by no single entity) are a new phenomenon, there remain few ways to gauge whether one could meet any criteria for success. Still, a useful method might be to compare Augur’s use to that of other major dapps, and on that front, there’s an argument Augur is doing well.
Just over 12 hours after Augur’s launch, the platform has become the fifth-most popular dapp on the ethereum blockchain by total users, according to DappRadar, putting it ahead of CryptoKitties, which has arguably been the perceived market leader since it went mainstream in December.
That makes Augur a big fish in a very small pond, though, with just 300 wallet addresses (a flawed proxy for users) interacting with its smart contracts. It does better – third place – in terms of the volume of ether those smart contracts have processed, as the figure is 910 ETH (or around $400,000). By comparison, CryptoKitties saw just 23 ETH (or $10,000) in volume.
But metrics aside, Augur’s promise of low-fee wagering that governments can’t easily disrupt surely has its fans (and detractors) who were there to assess the launch. On the latter front, it seems that Augur didn’t live up to the outsized demands of some of its supporters.
One user posted to the project’s Discord forum following the launch:
“I was hoping institutions would be on Augur right away, but I guess that was naive.”
Viewed in the context of its cryptocurrency peers, there’s a strong argument Augur’s launch was a success.
Gaining a couple hundred daily users is rare for a dapp (just look at the hundreds of single-user examples listed on DappRadar). And a smooth launch – a launch of any kind – counts for something in the world of blockchain, where so many projects spectacularly self-immolate, or simply never materialize.
Nic Carter, co-founder of Coinmetrics.io, a site that provides and analyzes data on public blockchains, seemed to endorse this view when he tweeted, “Real volume on Augur already!”
On the other hand, there were high hopes around Augur, so more-than-zero is unlikely to have satisfied everyone.
Kyle Samani, co-founder and managing partner of Multicoin Capital, a cryptocurrency investment fund, told CoinDesk in June, “I think Augur’s going to be probably the most widely used dapp when it launches.”
He added, “I know a lot of my friends that are pretty excited about Augur who are not in the crypto space. They work in finance on Wall Street and they want to go place bets and make markets on Augur, so I think Augur’s going to be a pretty resounding success when it launches.”
Then again, Samani’s tone was more muted a few weeks later. “Not sure how much demand there will be,” he told CoinDesk a few days prior to the launch. The team, he said, wanted the process to be “slow and steady.”
But as is often the case with ethereum – and blockchain networks broadly – complaints about Augur come down to user experience.
Posts in the Discord forum revolved around a few repeated gripes: high gas costs (in fact costs tended not to be as high as estimated costs, which put users off), the Augur app repeatedly disconnecting (this was certainly our experience) and slow syncing (including, cruelly, getting stuck for minutes at 99 percent).
A popular Reddit post addressed “dear Augur guys” urged them to “put yourselves in the shoe of the end user,” who – the post’s author argued – were likely to run into problems, give up, and not return.
Some issues – the Augur app’s tendency to repeatedly disconnect, for example – may not be the developers’ fault, at least not directly. Users who are not running their own ethereum node were given the option to connect through Infura, which some users in Discord said was experiencing more traffic than it could handle.
An Infura spokesperson told CoinDesk that the “entire team is on a video chat with the Augur team working on the issues,” adding, “It is premature to wholly attribute the issue to one particular cause.”
And Brendan Bernstein, a founding partner at Tetras Capital, argued that the problems with using Infura go beyond poor connectivity, writing, “Apps like Augur will further centralize Ethereum, by effectively forcing users to rely on trusted validators” such as Infura.
Give it a minute
Still, Augur’s team was quick to put forth the argument that all will be better with time.
Platform founder Joey Krug, in particular, took to Twitter to answer critics of the app’s user experience, tweeting: “Everyone knows the Augur UX is bad right now because of issues that only appeared on mainnet in production, pointing it out on twitter isn’t saying anything useful/productive.”
There’s still plenty of time for Augur to work out its user experience kinks and attract more gamblers – including perhaps Wall Streeters – developers involved in the project emphasized.
“This is the first step of a long journey,” Forecast Foundation co-founder and senior developer Joey Krug told CoinDesk a few minutes before announcing Augur’s launch.
Meanwhile Ryan Berckmans, co-founder of Predictions.Global, which provides a web-based user interface for Augur markets, concluded:
“A platform like Augur needs to build a history of reliability before serious money moves in, this is a trend we’ve seen with blockchains in general like ethereum and bitcoin.”
Fortune image via Shutterstock