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以太坊引发ICO热潮 成功背后问题多多

6月12日,Bancor Foundation通过出售其数字货币代币(股票等价物)在短短三小时内筹集了价值1.53亿美元以太币(以太坊发行的加密货币),完成史上最大ICO。

这类交易通常被称为ICO(initial coin offerings),指的是金融创企允许潜在用户而非传统风投资本家购入其小额股份。CoinDesk调查显示,今年到目前为止,金融创企已通过ICO募得资金3.27亿美元,远多于风投对区块链技术创企2.95亿美元的投资总额。

Bancor Foundation表示,其代币将不像加密货币惯常一般在交易所交易。Bancor代币并没有可为买方及卖方牵线的中介,而是将代币写入自动执行条约的智能合约,实现卖方与买方的自动匹配。

该种方式可为推出新投资工具奠定基础,如持有多种列加密货币类似交易所交易基金的代币,或与某种特定汇率挂钩的代币。投资者相信,Bancor代币可以充当加密货币中的超国家货币。实际上,约翰·梅纳德·凯恩斯与E.F.舒马赫在20世纪40年提出“bancor”这一概念时,意指的就是此类货币。

然而Bancor代币销售之路并不顺畅。热门ICO可在数秒内一售而空,因此加密货币投资者一直迫切想要入局。有些投资者支付了数百美元交易费已能优先购买。Bancor代币发售前,有消息称知名风投家Tim Draper将有购入举动。受此消息推动,众人对Bancor兴趣高涨,导致以太坊网络拥堵。

有消息称,人气颇高的在线钱包服务商MyEtherWallet交易延时长达数小时。原因在于Bancor Foundation推荐买家使用该钱包参与ICO。用户竞相竞价以确保完成交易,以太坊网络拥堵,而MyEtherWallet等服务商正疲于应付新涌入的大批用户。MyEtherWallet联合创始人Taylor Monahan表示:“进行这种规模的ICO本质上看是在要求服务商在一分钟内将比如说10%的产能提升至1000%,每个人都在同一时间点击着发送键。”

这就催生了另一个问题。过去有批评声音称ICO都是迅速售给了加密货币大股东,而网络拥堵却让小投资者购买代币难度加剧,Bancor Foundation公来发售的时间比原计划要长,导致其比预期多筹集了15万以太币(5100万美元)。此举惹恼了早起购入代币及受允融资将设上限的投资者。

更令人担忧的是,以太坊网络瘫痪表明其无法应对交易量陡增的状况。该困境与困扰其先行者比特币的难题非常相似。以太坊理应更具弹性。以太坊每10分钟处理的交易量要比比特币多50%,原因在于其采用挖矿式确认交易,间隔更为频繁。以太坊通过使每个矿点自行小幅增加或减少所处理的交易量,从而绕过了比特币的核心争议,即如何扩容从而提升交易能力。这意味着以太坊数据块可进行动态浮动,而比特币数据块则固定在某一数值。

然而这些巧妙的特点仍无法防止以太坊网络在ICO等高流量事件中陷入瘫痪。参与此协议的以太坊开发人员Nick Johnson表示:“这并不是唯一的一起,至少还有一起ICO导致了拥堵,长达最少2-3个小时。” Johnson指出以太坊还有其他机制可避免流量拥堵,如允许ICO发行方为交易设置最高价钱。Bancor就采用了这种方法,只要用户支付金额高于限额,就允许未参加ICO的以太坊用户确认交易。

Johnson还指出,与比特币因数据块大小有限而陷入长期瘫痪不同,以太坊的拥堵仅是偶发状况,只在活动异常活跃阶段的偶发状况。他表示,区块链能力升级仍是该领域面临的基本问题。

Bancor发售代币暴露了ICO领域存在的大问题。经验丰富的市场观察家称,崩盘爆发、驱逐为代币注资的投资者仅是时间问题。Fabio Federici就是持此观点的观察家之一。Fabio Federici成立了一家名为Skry区块链分析创企,随后将其售出。在Bancor发售货币翌日,他表示:“昨天举行了一场ICO,以太坊几近崩溃。这表明我们离实现分散式世界计算机技术还有很长一段路要走。”

The latest craze in the cryptocurrency markets just got crazier. An outfit called the Bancor Foundation raised $153 million worth of ether (the coin of the cryptocurrency ethereum) by selling its digital tokens (the equivalent of shares) for three hours on June 12, making it the largest token sale ever.

Such sales, popularly known as initial coin offerings or ICOs, are a way of financing startups by letting potential users—rather than venture capitalists, as is traditional—buy small stakes in them. They’ve raised $327 million so far this year—more than the $295 million in venture capital that has gone to blockchain tech startups, according to research by industry publication CoinDesk.

The Bancor Foundation says its tokens will do away with the exchanges on which cryptocurrencies are usually traded. Instead of having a middleman that matches buyers and sellers, Bancor tokens will do the matching themselves, using automatically executed rules called smart contracts that are coded into the tokens.

This could pave the way for new investment vehicles, such as a Bancor token that functions like an exchange-traded fund holding a basket of cryptocurrencies, or tokens that are pegged to a particular exchange rate. Investors believe the Bancor token could act like a supra-national currency for cryptocurrencies—indeed, the term “bancor” was coined by John Maynard Keynes and EF Schumacher for just such a currency in the 1940s.

But the Bancor token sale didn’t go smoothly. Hot ICOs have been selling out in seconds, so crypto investors have been feverishly pushing their way in. Some have paid thousands of dollars in transaction fees to get their ether accepted first. Interest in Bancor was so great—boosted by the revelation, just before the sale started, that Tim Draper, a prominent venture capitalist, was involved—that the ethereum network became congested.

A popular wallet provider, MyEtherWallet, reported hours-long delays for transactions to be completed. This was because the Bancor Foundation had recommended buyers use it to participate in the offering. While the ethereum network clogged as users bid ever higher fees to ensure their money was accepted, services like MyEtherWallet struggled to cope with the flood of new users. “With these ICOs you are essentially asking a service to scale from maybe 10% capacity to 1,000% capacity in the course of less than a minute,” says Taylor Monahan, a co-founder of the wallet service. “Every single person presses the send button at the same time.”

This led to another problem. In the past, ICOs have been criticized for selling out quickly to large holders of cryptocurrencies. Mindful of this, and worried that the network congestion would make it even harder than usual for small investors to get a shot, the Bancor Foundation kept the offering open for longer than planned. But as a result it also collected 150,000 ether ($51 million) more in funds than intended. That angered investors who did get in early, and who say they were promised the funds would be capped. “The initial supply was inflated by 58% by changing the rules,” one investor on the Bancor project’s public Slack team, who goes by Kasper23, told Quartz. “And that hurts all investors that got in before the [initial target] was reached.”

More worryingly, the freeze-up of the ethereum network showed that it can’t handle sudden surges in transaction volume. That’s very similar to the problem plaguing its forebear, bitcoin; ethereum was supposed to be more resilient. Ethereum processes about 50% more transactions than bitcoin does every 10 minutes, thanks to its rules that make miners confirm transactions at more frequent intervals. It also side-steps the dispute at the heart of bitcoin—how to increase its “block size” and thus transaction capacity—by allowing the number of transactions processed by each miner to be increased or decreased by a small degree by the miner itself. This means ethereum blocks can grow or shrink dynamically, whereas bitcoin’s blocks are stuck with an arbitrary limit.

Even those clever features haven’t been enough to prevent the ethereum network from seizing up during high-traffic events, like a hot ICO. “This wasn’t the only one, there was at least one other ICO that caused congestion, for at least two to three hours,” says Nick Johnson, a developer at the Ethereum Foundation who works on the protocol. Johnson notes that ethereum has other mechanisms to reduce the effects of traffic jams, such as the ability for ICO issuers to set a maximum price on transactions. This is what Bancor did, and it allows ethereum users not participating in the ICO to get their own transactions confirmed—so long as they pay a price above the limit.

Johnson also points out that unlike bitcoin, which is suffering from prolonged congestion due to its block-size limit, ethereum is being overwhelmed only sporadically, during unusually high periods of activity. Still, he says, the ability of all blockchains to scale remains a fundamental problem for the field. “There is no magic wand,” he says.

The Bancor token sale is a symptom of a wider problem with ICOs. Seasoned observers of the markets say it’s only a matter of time before a crash comes, wiping out the investors who poured funds into the token launches. One such observer is Fabio Federici, who founded a blockchain analytics startup called Skry and later sold it. “Yesterday, we had one ICO and ethereum basically collapses,” he said, speaking to Quartz the day after the Bancor offering. “It just shows me that we are a long way off from a decentralized world computer.”


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