Love it or hate it, everyone was waiting to see what Facebook’s new Libra platform would look like when it was revealed today. I spent some time this morning going over their docs and examples and I found some things to be expected and some things that were a bit surprising.
It looks like for now, Facebook has a testnet up and running. The mainnet will be up sometime in 2020, so that gives developers plenty of time to learn the system and create apps on top of it. As expected, there is no way to run a real “node” in the classic sense of the term, where you can contribute directly to the network. You must currently connect to validator nodes. I couldn’t quickly determine what their process is for becoming a validator node, but I have a strong suspicion it consists of being a giant corporation and paying a small fortune. You can run your own validator network locally, but that is just your own network for development purposes and does not connect to the testnet or future mainnet.
Getting started was pretty quick and painless if you’re not afraid of the command line. I was connected to the test network and making transactions between Alice and Bob in less than 5 minutes. A lot of the tools and commands were very familiar and it does seem that Facebook is putting effort into giving developers what they’re used to in the blockchain world and not trying to reinvent the wheel. One really nice feature was that there is a testnet Faucet built right into the CLI. This helps us devs get up and running even faster.
One of the big questions looming about Libra was how anonymous was it going to be? Blockchain people love anonymity/pseudonymity, it’s one of the core belief pillars for a lot of people in the industry. And Facebook doesn’t exactly have a strong reputation in the privacy department.
I was happy to see that nowhere in the process of getting set up and making transactions was I prompted with a Facebook login. It seems Facebook so far is taking pseudonymity pretty seriously. So far. Keep in mind this is all currently on testnet. Things could be different when the mainnet launches.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Ethereum enthusiast, I was a bit disappointed in Libra’s smart contract capabilities. Ethereum’s smart contracts are the thing that made everything click for me about the potential future of blockchain technology, and it seems Libra’s “smart contracts” are a bit more akin to Stellar Smart Contracts, which are really more like multisig wallets than flexible smart contracts. There’s still a lot you can do with them, though. Everything from custom tokens to full auction websites can be built using this type of contract, but good luck going as far as projects like MakerDAO or Aragon on a limited system like this.
Facebook seems to actually be making the effort to build a development community around Libra. Everything is open source, the documentation is excellent, and the developer tools are familiar. Once again, we’ll see if this holds up when they make the transition to mainnet, but I’m hopeful after today.
I’m remaining hopefully optimistic about Facebook’s new Libra platform. It seems like they’re headed in the right direction. And while I would never suggest Libra will overtake a fully open network like Ethereum, I’m sure it will have valid use cases that help move the needle with blockchain technology in general. I think the really exciting use cases of this technology will come from the WhatsApp world. Large sections of the world use WhatsApp to pay for quite literally everything they buy. Adding the possibility for conditional payments on top of that could open up billions of people to the benefits of blockchain technology. I’ll definitely be watching this project closely and learning more and more on the dev side. Let us know if you have the next great idea to be built on this platform and need some devs to put it together.