The Story of 2022 - SDF Blog

The Story of 2022 - SDF Blog
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I thought 2022 would be a breeze after Meridian in October, and boy was I wrong, even I was surprised by the dramatic finish. Midway through the year, there were whispers of a crypto winter – which is a good time to hunker down and focus on real use-cases that matter. 

But now that we’re smack dab in the middle of the cold, it may be more apt to describe it as a crypto blizzard. As we near the year’s end, I look back and can say affirmatively: 2022 is not what we as the crypto industry imagined, but it’s what we needed.

Despite the myriad of challenges we’re seeing in the industry, which has prompted a lot of debate around blockchain and crypto’s utility, I can say with confidence that the Stellar network is providing the answer and delivering real world use cases. I’m proud to say the Stellar Development Foundation stayed focused on the work that matters and we are in a strong position not just to weather this storm, but emerge stronger on the other side.

There’s a lot to cover here, but to give you a quick tl;dr:

Network Stats: Bigger & better Soroban: So many possibilities with smart contracts  MoneyGram Access: The power of cash-in, cash-out on/off ramps Stellar Aid Assist: Pioneering the future of aid delivery Anchors & Protocol Upgrades: The bread and butter of Stellar  The Enterprise Fund: Investing in what really matters Developer Relations: Getting people started on their Stellar journey  Marketing: Making a splash in a huge way Sustainability: Efficient by design  Policy & Regulation: A champion for the industry What’s in store for 2023?

Read on for the full details!

Network Stats: Bigger & better

Last year, we celebrated that Stellar hit 1 billion operations in two quarters. This year, Stellar nearly hit 1 billion operations in one quarter alone, in addition to passing another huge milestone – more than 7 million accounts on the network! This growth has been astronomical and heartening because it’s proof that people are using Stellar to power real-world utility, innovation, and financial inclusion across the globe.

Raw network growth is important, but we also track growth in relevant assets – assets tethered to real financial instruments that connect global financial infrastructure with Stellar on/off ramps – and relevant asset transactions. While we’ve tightened our reporting criteria to remove stale relevant assets and observed a slight decrease in the number of relevant assets on the network, Stellar has seen a 1.9x increase in daily transaction volume of these assets since the start of the year. 

None of this network growth is possible without the growth of the network’s capabilities. They go hand-in-hand, which is why increasing network scalability and network innovation, by increasing network capacity by an order of magnitude and through enabling trust-minimized innovation, was one of SDF’s building blocks this year.

Soroban: So many possibilities with smart contracts 

Earlier this year, we announced that smart contracts were coming to Stellar. Development on a new smart contracts standard that embodied all the qualities we were looking for (scalability, sensibility, and a consistent developer’s experience) began in earnest. Now, Soroban is live on Futurenet, an incentivized testnet, and set to launch on Mainnet mid-next year. 

We can’t understate the importance of this new innovation and what it represents for the Stellar ecosystem. Think of all the use case possibilities: truly community-owned savings banks, community crowd funding and ownership for micro public works projects, tools which not only bring financial access to people without it, but also give them control and ownership of those tools as well…

So we invite you to come play with Soroban over on Futurenet! In fact, we’re sweetening the deal for early adopters – we’ve set up a $100M adoption fund, all dedicated to supporting developers building on Soroban. Tinker, mess around, even break Soroban. It’s your oyster! 

MoneyGram Access: The power of cash-in, cash-out on/off ramps

But the excitement doesn’t end with just Soroban. In June, MoneyGram, in collaboration with SDF, rolled out MoneyGram Access – a first-of-its-kind global on/off-ramp service for digital wallets to increase the utility of digital assets by creating a bridge between cash and cryptocurrencies.

This is a live solution that can help connect the 1.4 billion people currently living in the cash economy to the world of digital assets. It applies to all sorts of use cases, like a gig platform that allows users in remote areas to accept payment in USDC and pick up cash at their local MoneyGram location, or, an investment app that offers users in the cash economy the ability to use physical cash to invest in fractional shares of US blue chip equities. We are aware of no other service that offers such broad connectivity to the cash economy in such a powerful, simple way. 

Stellar Aid Assist: Pioneering the future of aid delivery

And with  MoneyGram Access, we have Stellar Aid Assist – a tool that enables humanitarian aid organizations to deliver urgently-needed cash assistance quickly, affordably, and transparently in the hands of recipients, who can then use a mobile wallet leveraging Stellar Aid Assist to receive funds in USDC and cash out at a MoneyGram agent location. 

This is such a critical development in bringing real-world utility to blockchain, as it is a live solution serving those who need access to financial services the most, not just a hypothetical. Major aid organizations are using this tool, powered by the Stellar Disbursement Platform, right now, and we foresee Stellar Aid Assist laying the groundwork for future financial innovation for cash assistance and donation programs within blockchain.

Anchors & Protocol Upgrades: The bread and butter of Stellar 

Anchors continue to serve as the backbone of the Stellar network, further expanding the reach of digital assets across the globe. Not only have the number of anchors on Stellar doubled, from 30 to 60, but it’s easier than ever to become an anchor. The Stellar Anchor Platform is an out-of-the-box solution that simplifies your Stellar integration, reducing development time and cost while making a company’s services available to a global network of wallets and applications in just one integration. 

Validators also voted to pass one Protocol Upgrade this year – Protocol 19 to introduce new transaction preconditions and a new type of signer, technical changes that make it easier to build payment channels, bridges to other blockchains, and key recovery solutions on Stellar. Protocol upgrades are essential to ensuring that Stellar is robust enough to support an increasing number of use cases and activity as the ecosystem grows. 

The Enterprise Fund: Investing in what really matters

This year, we really wanted to prioritize building on Stellar. We spearheaded a number of exciting technical developments to build out the toolkit that developers and companies can employ, providing the attention and resources needed at both the enterprise and grassroots level.

Launched back in 2020, the Enterprise Fund continues to make strides in diversifying our reach and growing the Stellar ecosystem. This year, the Enterprise Fund invested in 5 companies and a total of $23.525 M, including $3.25 M dedicated to accelerators focused on startups building in key markets such as Africa and Latin America. The Matching Fund, the Enterprise Fund’s latest investment track, supports more early stage companies (pre-Series B) interested in building on Stellar, allocating $1.2 M across three companies – Stax, Stablecorp, and Afriex – this year. 

Developer Relations: Getting people started on their Stellar journey 

The Stellar ecosystem is nothing without its enthusiastic and vibrant community, so we sought to pour energy and resources into further enhancing existing programs and jumpstarting new ones.

The Developer Relations team spent 2022 further expanding Stellar Quest, building out Stellar Quest Learn and Stellar Quest Live. Stellar Quest Learn is a self-guided course consisting of three levels and various side quests that walk the user through classic Stellar operations. Players can now earn NFT badges for every completed challenge and small XLM rewards for every completed level. 

On the other end, Stellar Quest Live is a series of live events where developers compete in real-time to complete challenges for XLM rewards and commemorative NFT badges. This is the bread and butter of Stellar Quest and where we see most new folks join the community. The fifth one took place, all about encouraging developers to experiment with Soroban. 

And what a success it was! Not only was the Series the most-attended and engaged yet, with a net new 2,344 unique accounts, 6,069 badges claimed, and 1M XLM distributed, but it also encouraged participants to contribute to Sorobanathon: First Light, the first program to roll out from Soroban’s adoption fund. This type of early-stage experimentation is critical to ensuring an innovation can be as robust and useful as possible once it comes to fruition – and SQ and Sorobanathon prove that it can be fun too!

The Stellar Community Fund continues its hot streak in 2022, receiving 304 applications worldwide across Round 10 & 11, encompassing use cases including remittances, wallet applications, marketplaces, and more. The program awarded close to $2.4M worth of XLM to 36 winners, serving as the catalyst for businesses and developers building on Stellar to turn their concepts into tangible products and services. SCF continues to demonstrate the power of open-source – that anyone can bring their idea to life on a network like Stellar. 

Marketing: Making a splash in a huge way

As all the exciting developments and activity on Stellar came to fruition, we wanted to celebrate the network’s victories, big and small, in a bold and strategic way. We generated awareness by:

Establishing three new thought leadership series, headed by yours truly, Tomer Weller (VP of Tech Strategy), and Justin Rice (VP of Ecosystem) respectively: block by block, Tech Talks with Tomer, and the Soft Fork Bulletin!  Significantly increasing content output with over 100 blog posts and expanding our non-written assets including brand videos (The Digital Economy is for Everyone and Stellar + MoneyGram Access™ are particular favorites) and animated explainers. Distributing more than $1M in marketing grants to ecosystem companies; Sponsoring and driving activation at major conferences like SXSW, Paris Blockchain Week, Consensus, Converge, and Money 20/20; And launching a full-blown campaign promoting Stellar Aid Assist, including taking a full-page ad in the New York Times on December 15, 2022…

Pretty. Freaking. Awesome.

But the crème-de-la-crème of our marketing efforts culminated in our annual conference, which we brought back in-person and with style. Inspired by a quote from Leonardo da Vinci referencing “The Urgency of Doing,” Meridian 2022 took place in Rome, Italy, featuring industry thought leaders, developers, policymakers, and regulators alongside Stellar community and ecosystem members, academics, and journalists. The event was such a special gathering and reminder of what so many brilliant, collective minds can accomplish towards a common cause with the right technology and shared sense of purpose.

Sustainability: Efficient by design 

Marketing is one prong in which we get the word out about Stellar; research is another one, especially as SDF continues to take a stance in top-of-mind industry topics, including sustainability. We’ve always known that, thanks to its Proof-of-Agreement consensus mechanism, Stellar’s electricity consumption has always been low. But we wanted to confirm the numbers and act upon them. 

We first enlisted a global consultancy to develop a framework to assess the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of blockchain protocols. Not only is this assessment framework first-of-its-kind in terms of its reach and scope, but it is publicly available to all blockchain and financial services organizations so that they can further measure and understand their environmental footprints. 

On top of developing this framework, we also asked the consultancy to calculate Stellar’s own carbon footprint. Confirming our hypothesis, the amount of electricity the network burns on an annual basis is miniscule: 173,243 kg CO2 per year, or the equivalent of 33.7 US homes’ greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use in a year. 

We have said it before, and we’ll say it again: Stellar is efficient by design. But even though the numbers are low, there is always progress to be made. Being mindful of environmental impacts and building a culture of sustainability, SDF commits to reflecting that as an organization by striving to track, report, and remove travel and event-related carbon emissions as an organization – including establishing an ongoing carbon dioxide removal (CDR) commitment, paying for removal of carbon emitted by the network every year.

Policy & Regulation: A champion for the industry

Engaging with policymakers and regulators championing blockchain is the third prong of our strategy to drive visibility to Stellar, and it’s more critical than ever right now. 

In the US, SDF continued to provided its input and expertise on a wide range of topics, including responding to the US Treasury’s request for comment (RFC) pursuant to the President’s Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets (EO), as well as testifying before the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry regarding digital assets legislation.

International-wise, much of SDF’s work doubled down on CBDCs, releasing a whitepaper highlighting the benefits of issuing a CBDC on an open network and participating in several pilots in Brazil and Indonesia. We also engaged with EU and UK policymakers and regulators on the implementation of the final text of the EU Markets in Crypto-Assets Regulation and the Transfer of Funds Regulation – the most comprehensive pieces of regulation the industry has seen to date.

What’s in store for 2023?

Our three new building blocks from our 2022 roadmap kept us focused on our top priorities: 

Increasing network scalability and network innovation, activating more network participation, and demanding and promoting diversity inclusion. We accomplished so much across the three building blocks, but recognize there’s a lot more to do. 

We’re always thinking of ways to adapt with the ever-shifting landscape of blockchain, crypto, financial services, and fintech. We will soon share our 2023 roadmap and outline the building blocks that will steer the direction of our work, so join us at our next quarterly webinar for more updates!

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Whew. I’m an avid runner, but writing all this has me taking a breather. 

There has been an extraordinary, incredible amount of work SDF has accomplished this year. And that is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the even larger group in Stellar’s talented and thriving ecosystem, all thanks to the builders and companies that are so pivotal to guiding Stellar in the right direction. 

It’s been a long, long year, but the momentum we’ve built up has positioned us better than ever to accomplish our goal of creating more equitable access to the world’s financial systems. Let us all take these next few weeks to recuperate with our loved ones before stepping forth into a new and even more exciting 2023. A toast to every one of you in the Stellar community and ecosystem!