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.algo — Understanding Name Services on Algorand

Algorand Intern

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What are Blockchain Name Services, who’s building them on Algorand and what potential challenges exist with multiple providers.

Name services are systems that help us convert an easy readable name to a physical address on a network. In their most basic form, you can think of them as a directory service like the YellowPages.

The most used name service in the world is the Internet’s Domain Name Service. DNS allows us to use human-friendly names by mapping them to corresponding IP addresses. Imagine typing 142.250.217.238 into your browser every time you want to do a Google search; no thank you.

Having name services on Algorand brings us the same convenience: We’ll finally be able to tell someone using words, where to send that rare NFT instead of having to copy and paste a 58-character, alpha-numeric address.

There are two separate teams bringing name services to Algorand. These teams are building suites of smart contracts — software written for use on Algorand’s public blockchain. Both teams are offering users names on the .algo domain, which is where challenges arise, but more on that later…

The first team is ANS, founded by two brothers Sai & Lalith Medury, a PhD candidate and undergraduate respectively, both pursuing Computer Science and Engineering degrees. ANS aims to provide address relay service with a focus on establishing a community governance model with the eventual incorporation of a DAO.

The second is TxnLab Inc., a U.S. based business and operator of NFDomains. Earlier this year, the four-person team at TxnLab was awarded a Developer Grant by the Algorand Foundation and has already received significant investor funding allowing them to work full-time on building Non-Fungible Domains(NFDs) which leverages Algorand Standard Assets (ASAs) to build a more broad and powerful suite of features beyond just address relaying.

Whats the problem with multiple names services on Algorand or any other blockchain? The only problem is that both teams are offering the same suffix — “ .algo”. In order for a blockchain name service to work seamlessly, the Algorand ecosystem will need to adopt a standard for these names and recognize a single-set of smart contracts as the one that will be used to register and control .algo names.

Even with some education and professional experience in computer systems, I wasn’t quite sure how all of this worked on the blockchain. So, I reached out to both teams to get a better understanding. Both ANS & TxnLab were kind enough to meet with me the same day I reached out and graciously spent their time answering my questions. My sincere thanks to both teams!

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

After these two calls, I came away with the fundamental understanding that I’ve shared thus far. What follows are my takeaways and opinions based on the these conversations and my experience as a member of the Algorand user community.

ANS: On my call with Lalith and Sai from ANS I was very excited to see two, bright University students aspiring to start their careers as developers building on Algorand. Even though they didn’t highlight any significant professional experience in software development, this team has participated in two Algorand Hackathons and in the Encode Club Accelerator — a web3 education community, within the last 2 years. When we discussed project funding, they shared that they have not received any VC funding as of yet, nor have they been awarded a Developer Grant from the Algorand Foundation as of yet, even though they have applied. Though, they have already launched their product on Algorand’s mainnet.

After sharing a bit about each of our backgrounds, we went on to discuss how they’ve successfully overcome hurdles related to scaling limitations over the last 6 months while iterating on their smart contracts. Though, it doesn’t seem to me that their product’s feature-set has evolved significantly over that time, as it’s sole function is address relay at launch. They shared with me what they viewed as the biggest differentiating factor from their competition: future plans for community governance — a DAO for ANS. I wasn’t able to come away with a clear understanding of how ANS and it’s customers would substantially benefit from community governance. Similarly, it wasn’t clear to me that the dynamics of a future DAO model have been fully thought out as of yet. As they fairly pointed out however, their project hasn’t gotten to that stage yet.

NFDomains: During my conversation with John Mizzoni and Patrick Bennett of TxnLab Inc, I was joined by fellow community members including developers who were also interested in learning more about NFDomains. I was immediately impressed to learn that the entire team behind TxnLab are dedicated full-time to working on NFDomains. Just as impressive to me was the team’s resume: specifically Patrick’s, who is aptly nick-named “GigaBrain”. Patrick is the CEO at TxnLab and their most Senior Back-end Developer who comes to Algorand with nearly 4 decades of professional software development experience including his time at SalesForce.

It was also a nice surprise to learn that I had spoken with Patrick prior to this call, when he was operating the NFDomains twitter account in an Algorand community Twitter Space. This wasn’t the first time the TxnLab team were taking questions from the community about NFDomains and giving a sneak peak at the tech under-the-hood of their NFDs. (I need to pause here and take a moment to commend TxnLab for their frequent community engagements. These interactions go a long way in building trust in my opinion. In my experience this outreach is far too often, largely neglected by teams building in the cryptoverse.)

Patrick jumped right in to giving us a full demonstration of the user experience so that we could have some visual assistance in understanding the technology they’ve built. It immediately became clear that TxnLab is not simply building a typical address relay service. They are solving several problems for a whole host of different users, within this single product offering.

Their asset-based, name service product is far too advanced for me to attempt to explain here, nor would I do it any justice if I attempted to. (I also promised not to divulge any information that wasn’t already shared publicly.) I was truly blown away by the sophistication of their product design, as I began to understood each of the elegantly crafted features their users will benefit from. Suffice it to say, TxnLab is completely redefining what we should expect from blockchain name service providers going forward.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to each of the dApps deployed throughout the Algorand ecosystem to determine who’s tech is most deserving to provide the “.algo” suffix on Algorand, by way of integrations. In other words, when a dApp chooses to integrate XYZ’s smart contract, they are voting for XYZ. For example, Rand Gallery has chosen to integrate ANS immediately. However, NFDomains may already have an insurmountable lead.

In my estimation, if both teams remain insistent on offering .algo names specifically, this will likely go the way of the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD battle — where both technologies were relevant initially, but once the ecosystem decides to adopt one, the other will fade into relative obscurity. This is an outcome that is avoidable though. Much like how Unstoppable Domains, ENS and others co-exist by offering names on different suffixes from one another, the same outcome is possible on Algorand.

I’d love to see both teams prosper for the betterment of the Algorand ecosystem and wish them both the best of luck. As it pertains to “ .algo” specifically — I’m with Chris Swenor on this one:

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Algorand Intern

Entrepreneur focused on researching initiatives throughout the Algorand ecosystem. *Not affiliated with Algorand. Not an actual intern.*