The end of 2019 is almost upon us and as such, I want to take a moment to reflect on what we, at Pillar, have accomplished.
In the beginning of this year, I outlined a product vision and loose roadmap for 2019 including all the features and functionality that we were looking to accomplish. I am proud to say that we have delivered a large majority of these items including some items that we didn’t originally account for. Others have been started, but are awaiting user testing and final UI polish, while some were intentionally postponed while our team performs ongoing research and discovery. Most importantly, while delivering our new platform functionality, Pillar has also streamlined its development process and cultivated important, valuable relationships with key industry partners. We made calculated decisions where to focus our efforts based on technology changes / advancements in an effort to be in line with emerging industry standards. As a result, most of our focus was placed on addressing core wallet functionality to ensure a strong foundation for future development.
One key trend for Ethereum wallet development was the emergence and support for smart contract based wallet accounts. The Constantinople hard fork earlier this year allowed for developers to counterfactually create smart contract accounts for users without requiring that they be deployed on chain. This allowed Pillar to provide each of our users with a Smart Wallet: a personal smart contract account for managing their assets and keys. This is a fundamental change to our platform architecture and provides our users with many benefits, most important being the separation of funds and keys for more secure access control and recovery options. It lays the foundation for many upcoming features and usability benefits. This functionality is currently available to members of our Early Access Program with roll out to all users expected in early 2020. At that point, we will be de-emphasizing the existing legacy, key-based wallet and start each new user with their own personal Smart Wallet from the very beginning.
Smart wallets allow users to have many different keys with varying access permissions to different applications and/or accounts. Instead of a single key that holds all assets and is used to interact with EVERY application, users can now link ephemeral keys specific to each application, where the loss or theft of a single key does not result in the loss of wallet access and/or the funds held within. A different key for every DeFi protocol/service, game and/or dapp, allows users to individually assign permissions and spending limits, as well as revoke access at any time. This design pattern not only provides better security, but also improved user experience and directly results in the evolution from a simple wallet for holding assets to a robust, decentralized key manager.
Pillar has always placed emphasis on remaining a non-custodial wallet allowing users to maintain control at all times. With the introduction of Smart Wallets, users now have improved options for backup and recovery of those assets. We have been hard at work developing a dedicated web portal for our users to add a new device, lock a lost wallet, remove keys and recover an existing smart wallet. Included in this offering will be third party, custodial options for users who prefer such an option. Look out for more details on this new functionality in our 2020 product vision coming soon.
Seamless interoperability and ease of use is also contingent on network scalability and intuitive user experience. As such, Pillar spent a good part of 2019 focused on off-chain first design patterns. The entire industry has put a large focus this year on improving user experience with an emphasis on on-boarding and first interaction(s). The primary hurdle to adoption for wallets and dapps result from users being forced to immediately understand and interface with the nuances of the network protocol including tokens, gas, keys, message signing, mnemonic phrases, etc. While these are all important to the proper functioning and security of protocols and platforms, they are often completely new concepts that immediately confuse and frustrate users. We believe that it’s more important to meet the user where they are at in terms of understanding and expectations — and for now, this means aligning the application experience as closely with the web 2 application experiences that people are already familiar with today. As a user spends more time in the application and begins to understand its value, we can slowly introduce new concepts and their importance. And in some cases, we can completely hide certain interactions ‘under the hood.’ For those places where we can’t, we have introduced new walkthroughs and feature tool tips that help to guide users along their journey. A user should not need to know how electricity or the internet works in order to use it. Pillar believes this is true for blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies as well. This has fueled our product direction and inspired our research and development of layer 2 solutions to improve scalability and throughput.
There are many different layer 2 alternatives (state channels, plasma, sidechains, etc.), with new ones being introduced every day (optimistic roll up, etc.). While we hope the ‘perfect’ solution or combination of solutions eventually materializes, Pillar decided to proceed with the development of a state channel solution due to its long history and its ongoing, dedicated research, testing and improvement(s). We initially focused on the transaction and value transfer layer through the introduction of the Pillar Payment Network. Pillar adopted a hub-and-spoke approach which allows our users to send instant, gas-less payments to any other user in the Pillar network. This functionality is currently functional and being tested by users in our Early Access Program.
Additionally, through our research, Pillar discovered how state channels can be utilized to hold synthetic balances in any asset, besides the one used to open and collateralize the channel. For the Pillar Payment Network (PPN), users need to stake PLR tokens in order to gain access to the network and instant, gas-less payments. However, we have also developed a synthetic asset exchange that sits on top of the PPN allowing users to send any asset supported by the Pillar wallet (depending on market liquidity). A user can spend their PLR tokens via the PPN to send ETH, BAT and others to another user, merchant or dapp without exchanging first. We are looking to continuously add new assets including cross-chain as we introduce support for BTC and others. This feature was not part of our original roadmap, but we saw an opportunity to extend the functionality of our payment network and improve the user experience. Our goal is to provide the most intuitive and simple platform for managing and exchanging assets, as well as interacting with merchants and other dapps. This will continue to be a strong focus as we move into 2020 with a focus on generalized state channels able to handle data transfers, as well as payments.
Pillar also introduced new, enhanced connection functionality including the ability to mute, block and delete connections. This may seem like a simple addition, but because of how Pillar has chosen to architect its social layer, this was not a trivial effort. Currently, Pillar, as an organization, is blind to the social graph of our user network. This means that we can not tell who is connected to whom in an effort to preserve our user’s privacy. As we get further into identity support and personal storage, this will become even more enhanced with new social features and benefits for our users.
NFT/collectible support was one of the first things Pillar addressed in 2019. We have continued to improve upon this feature including support for animated NFTs (gifs) and full screen viewing. As NFT use cases continue to grow, Pillar will look to extend further support. For our own in-wallet implementation entitled ‘Game of Badges,’ Pillar decided to make some architectural changes. As badges are Pillar wallet specific and non-transferrable, we decided that their need to be NFTs and live on-chain was unnecessary. This change makes badge issuance quicker and easier. We have also been designing a variety of new badges and wallet incentives so keep an eye out for the Game of Badges to make a strong return in 2020.
Pillar wallet now supports biometric login and transaction signing including both touch and face ID. This functionality is contingent on your device hardware natively supporting biometrics.
WalletConnect was an important addition to our infrastructure as it allows our users to interact with various dapps and services without needing to create a new account and/or wallet directly for that service. It works hand-in-hand with the Smart Wallet by allowing funds to be safely stored in your personal smart contract with application specific keys assigned to access those funds.
Pillar also introduced its in-wallet exchange functionality this year. This exchange, which we refer to as our Offers Engine, is actually an aggregator of various token swap services, protocols and decentralized exchanges. Considerable time and effort has been placed on the development and maintenance of this feature as it is critical to the platform. We have seen increased and more sophisticated hacks of centralized exchanges in 2019 and Pillar believes that the future lies in decentralized exchange alternatives where users always maintain control over their keys and their funds. The Pillar Offers Engine currently support 0x, Changelly, Coinswitch, Shapeshift, and Uniswap with more to come. We also introduced both Wyre and Moonpay as fiat on-ramp providers allowing users to purchase cryptocurrencies using their credit / debit cards.
We did, however, make some adjustments to the initial approach and revenue model as laid out in our 2019 product vision. To start, Pillar decided against introducing fees in order to access/use the offers engine, opening access to all Pillar users. This decision also adjusted our revenue model with Pillar now taking a small fee on all exchanges that occur within the wallet.
Pillar is proud to announce that it is currently testing BTC support internally and things are progressing smoothly. We anticipate that this functionality will be rolled out to our Early Access members very shortly, so stay tuned! Our work on BTC has also paved the way for the evaluation and inclusion of other chains, particularly those that are a fork / based on the BTC codebase (UTXO).
Decentralized, personal data storage for each user is an important piece of the identity and personal data management puzzle. We have recently started proof of concept development with various solutions that fit Pillar’s ethos from a privacy and security standpoint. Data storage, syncing and backup/recovery will be a large emphasis of our development team next year and will lead into our identity management solution.
One of the main benefits of the Pillar Smart Wallet is the ability to set up enhanced backup and recovery options. Pillar has been hard at work developing a limited, web portal to allow users to assign a secondary device for recovery and/or to lock their existing wallet in the case of a lost device. We anticipate release of this update in early 2020 when we roll out the Smart Wallet to production for all users.
Another big update that will come in conjunction with the Smart Wallet production roll out is the ability for users to pay for all on-chain transactions using the PLR token. Powered by meta-transactions and facilitated by relayers, the Pillar platform will soon run solely on the PLR token improving utility and user experience for all users. Relayers will be used to facilitate payments by accepting transaction fees in the PLR token then paying for the network gas costs in ETH and posting transactions on-chain on behalf of users. Initially, Pillar will be the primary relayer, while we test the approach. Any third party will then be invited to act as a relayer on behalf of Pillar users via our partners at the Gas Station Network — making this process entirely decentralized.
And as a way to attract new users to the Pillar ecosystem, as well as reward existing users for helping to promote the project, Pillar will also be introducing its referral program in early 2020. This marketing strategy will reward current users for inviting new members to join the platform. New users who receive an invite and create an account will receive some PLR tokens to get them started on their journey. We are currently finalizing the infrastructure and technical approach for this program with consideration around how to avoid sybil attacks and malicious actors. This program will be introduced in conjunction with the full production release of the new Smart Wallet and PPN, along with many of the previously discussed user experience and interface updates.
The above items that were originally outlined in the 2019 product vision have been postponed due to a variety of factors. It is important that Pillar consider both the state of the technology, as well as adoption trends and support from the greater industry, when deciding on a direction. As you can see, most of the items that we have delayed are specifically related to identity and personal data management. The decision to postpone these items was a conscious one as we see new trends and advancements quickly evolving in this space. Additionally, despite Pillar having deep understanding and well-researched strategies for how to solve the issue of data management, we believe it is important to introduce this functionality in conjunction with some direct utility or value. The ability to store and manage personal information is only as valuable as its use case(s) and the ability / willingness of merchants, government services and others to accept it. It is important to consider both the technical approach and practical use cases when implementing a solution for our users. That said, we anticipate that personal data management will be a core focus in the following year and will be discussing our specific approach in the upcoming 2020 product vision.
As a point of clarification, I want to address our current release strategy and specifically our Early Access Program. Currently, new features are first introduced to the community via our Early Access program. Users can opt in to this via the ‘Settings’ screen, located at the top right corner on the ‘Home’ screen. Pillar uses this program to gather valuable feedback and monitor for any bugs, problems, etc. It provides our team with an opportunity to test the solution, as well as the related user experience. Once Pillar believes that a new feature has been well tested, it ‘graduates’ from the Early Access program and is rolled out to all users. Pillar will be relying on this program even more heavily in the future including dedicated surveys asking what users liked, didn’t like, was confusing, etc. for a particular feature. If you are interested in having early access to new features and helping to shape the Pillar platform, please be sure to sign up.
I want to say a special thank you to our existing community for their ongoing support, feedback and testing throughout this year. Your diligence has helped Pillar to refine its product and user experience to ensure we have the best, most intuitive application experience possible. We consider the existing Pillar user community to be our legacy users. Your support has helped to shape the product in a major way and has greatly influenced future product direction. We appreciate your feedback and patience as we work hard to introduce cutting-edge technology in a digestible way. After our upcoming full feature roll out, brand new users will start automatically with a Smart wallet. The referral program will reward you and benefit them with some initial PLR to help offset costs and get them started. The new on boarding and general product user experience will be more simple and streamlined thanks to your hard work. Your efforts continue to contribute to the success and adoption of Pillar — and for that, we thank you.