We got an overwhelming response last year on our 2022 Tech trend view and based on that we have decided to publicly share our internal thoughts as we look forward to 2023. Our fund was created to be tech first, an early strategic partner in projects that go on to build, and be the leaders in the decentralized ecosystem of the future.
As we looked back on our 2022 predictions, most of which still hold we realized there are few sub-products/streams which have become predominant and deserve their own focus. On a broader note, with multiple chains coming into the ecosystem we still believe that there will be a sector specific chain ecosystem supported by the top execution layer based on the product sector with multiple underlying L1s/L2s for users to easily support their multi chain transactions.
With that in mind As we enter 2023 we wanted to share with you insights into the trends that we have identified, analyzed and continue to focus on and invest in.
Trend #1: Secure and Decentralized Cross-chain Communication
ZK & Optimistic Bridges
Cross chain asset transfers are carried out by interchain bridges. With bridge hacks being the major crypto hacks, we need increased innovation on secure cross chain communication protocols. This year itself hackers stole $1.3 billion by targeting cross-chain bridges . According to Chainalysis cross chain bridge hacks account for 69% of the funds stolen across crypto projects in 2022.
Current bridges prove to be a centralized point of failure that go against the decentralized ethos of blockchain development. For example, the Harmony bridge hack was because hackers were able to gain access to 2 out of the 5 private keys needed to validate transactions. Similarly, the Ronin hack, which was the largest crypto hack this year, was due to the fact that hackers were able to compromise 5 of the only 9 private keys needed to verify transactions across the bridge.
Some intermediate solutions to cross chain communication are bridge providers like Socket partnering with risk management providers like Risk Harbor, to make bridge transfers more reliable and reduce fees. However we will still need to see more innovation in this space.
We believe one of the major trends of 2023 will be the transition from centralized bridges to more secure decentralized bridges. Native ZK and Optimistic bridges will gain adoption. Native ZK/Optimistic bridges depend on the security of the chain itself rather than introducing a new attack surface. Hence, they are theoretically more secure than any other type of bridge.
For example, the ZK-bridging solution being developed by Succinct Labs makes use of ZK-snarks, which is a proof that can be used to prove a computation is true without having to carry out the computation. Succinct lab’s ZK-bridge works by running a light client of the source chain on the target chain, this allows anyone to verify the state of the source chain in the context of the target chain. Running the light client on-chain is extremely computationally intensive, however, making use of zk-snarks they are attempting to verify the validator signatures and that these signatures came from a list of public keys corresponding to a set of validators, within a zkSNARK. This gives them a validity proof that the block is finalized. Because of the succinctness property of zkSNARKs, this validity proof can be verified extremely efficiently on-chain. Electron labs is using ZKsnarks to bridge COSMOS and Ethereum. They have developed a library that enables creating a zk-snark proof of batches of Ed25519 signature, a process that was extremely computationally expensive before this. This is how ZK-snarks are enabling bridges to inherit the validators of the source/target chains instead of being dependent on the security of a small number of validators.
Optimistic bridges work to improve the security of transactions, the tradeoff being transaction latency.
Source: Optimistic bridges by Arjun Bhuptani
Like traditional bridges, data is posted to a smart contract on the origin chain, that data is signed by an updater who stakes funds that are slashed in case of fraud, and the data is then posted on the target chain. Once this is done, any of the watchers (nodes watching the target chain) have a time window in which they can submit a fraud proof in case of an invalid transaction, if this proof is correct the updater's funds are slashed and the transaction is invalidated, if not the transaction is finalized. Optimistic bridges, like optimistic rollups depend on a set of watchers to watch the chain, this is different from having a group of external verifiers that validate bridging transactions. In the case of external verifiers, m out of n have to sign the transaction for it to go through and hackers have been able to compromise m validators, in the case of optimistic bridges the transaction is assumed true and only 1 out of the n watchers is required to submit a proof. Thus to take control of an optimistic bridge the hackers have to compromise all of the bridge watchers. Taking control of all bridge watchers is significantly harder than controlling 51% of them, thus making optimistic bridges more secure. The tradeoff here is the wait period in which watchers submit fraud proof before a transaction can be finalized. Though this is still not 100% hack proof. Nomad bridge was a notable optimistic bridge, it was hacked for $190 million in August 2022, however, the reason for the hack was due to a vulnerability in the smart contract (our Tech trend #3 stresses on the importance of smart contract auditing), not the optimistic nature of the bridge.
Though we definitely see more products on ZK snarks and optimistic bridging, a strong school of thought is that comfort with existing systems with more rounds of smart contract auditings will delay the full adoption over the next couple of years. Irrespective, some shape or form of decentralized bridges will take over the centralized game soon.
Trend #2: Actionable Cross Chain Analytics, Monitoring and Observability Tools
The global data analytics market size was ~$40 billion in 2022, with companies like Forrester Research and Gartner being worth billions of dollars. By comparison the blockchain analytics space is in the very early stages and we expect companies that can gather transaction and user data across multiple blockchains and present that data in an easy to understand and actionable way will see great growth in 2023.
Instead of only providing on-chain data, tools like Hunt analytics, a Delta portfolio company which provides analytics using both on-chain data and off-chain user behavior will pave the way for the next generation of blockchain data analysis tools. Such tools will grow in popularity because they leverage both traditional Web2 data collection along with new Web3 data analytics techniques to provide even more granular user data than previously possible. We will also see the rise of monitoring tools like Tenderly.co and Blocktorch.xyz that provide developers services to debug their smart contracts, analyze the gas usage of individual function calls to help reduce gas fees, simulate transactions on the local environment before broadcasting them to other nodes and provide interactive dashboards.
Cross chain monitoring tools will also grow, especially as more emphasis is laid on maintaining regulatory compliance and preventing crypto frauds. We will see growth in observability tools like Elliptic’s Holistic Screening, that can track many different crypto assets across multiple chains. These monitoring tools provide services like automatically tracking stolen funds/funds involved in fraudulent transactions across multiple chains.
As more institutions adopt blockchain solutions, the development of cross-chain observability tools that allow verification of shared data, such as those that allow seamless transfer of on-chain identity across multiple chains will be a major area of growth in 2023. Tools like BlockPass and KYC-chain are popular KYC tools for identity verification, while these tools will continue to grow, there does not exist any solution that allows users to securely post their identity on-chain and transfer their KYC’d identity across multiple chains without having to repeat the KYC process for each chain. Companies like Polygon and Notebook Labs are working to solve this using zero-knowledge proofs for on-chain identity verification.
The current common practice for multichain products is to usually launch multiple native products on each chain like AAve on Ethereum and then Polygon etc. This is usually done from a security and simplicity perspective but with more secure bridges enabling cross chain transactions we hope to see one product transacting across chains, but this will take a couple of years for it to become a mainstream practice.
Trend #3: Increased focus on smart contract auditing, AML and KYC infrastructure
Institutions like JP Morgan, Citigroup and Fidelity experimenting with and entering into the blockchain space will provide an added push for the development of secure and robust AML and KYC infrastructure. We will see multiple dApps building KYC and institutional-compliant versions of themselves. This is already happening with Aave and Compound Finance building AAVE PRO & COMPOUND PLUS respectively to cater to institutional clients with on-chain KYC/AML checks.
More oracles will also venture into the KYC space and feed dApps with verified KYC’d information. For example Blockpass, announced the launch of their mainnet as a data provider on the Chainlink network. This is a first step in allowing Blockpass to provide off-chain KYC data to various blockchain platforms . Delta portfolio companies such as Astra, a KYC solution that abides by regulatory standards of 150+ countries without sacrificing user anonymity and Synaps, a KYC tool that offers tailored digital identity solutions for businesses are some of the companies that are at the forefront of building out improved KYC infrastructure.
In addition to KYC and AML infrastructure, security infrastructure for digital asset custody, auditing of smart contracts and real-time smart contract monitoring will be a major trend to look out for. For example, Fireblocks raised $550 million in 2022 at an $8 billion valuation to become the highest valued digital asset infrastructure provider.
The crypto industry lost $3 billion in various hacks last year, real-time monitoring solutions and formal verification based audits will be critical to prevent such hacks. Looking back at the $615 million Ronin hack, the largest crypto hack of 2022, it took the team six entire days to become aware of the hack , that too only when a user complained that they were unable to withdraw funds. Real-time monitoring tools could have detected a hack almost instantly after an initial large, suspicious transaction. Companies like Valid Network, Cyver, and Forta are offering such real-time network monitoring solutions.
Forta uses machine learning to detect threats and anomalies in real-time, it allows developers to create bots that monitor smart contracts, when the bot detects threats it alerts the developers. Companies using machine learning techniques train their algorithms on patterns of past hacks and exploits’ as well as on normal chain behavior so that they can flag anomalous behavior. As blockchain usage and the number of transactions/contracts on-chain increase, we will get larger datasets to train the algorithms on, this will lead to improved ML prediction performance. Though machine learning has been used in credit card fraud detection for a while, its use in blockchain monitoring is innovative and we will continue to see techniques from other industries being applied to blockchain.
Formal verification uses proofs to verify a system is working correctly within its environment. Formal verification based audits can be used to check the safety and steadiness as well as the functional correctness of smart contracts. Currently program testing is the most common method of proving that a smart contract satisfies some requirements. This involves executing a contract with a sample of the data it is expected to handle and analyzing its behavior . However, this approach cannot prove correct execution for input values that are not part of the sample. On the other hand, formal verification can prove that a smart contract satisfies requirements for an infinite range of executions without running the contract at all. We will see formal verification based audits going from a nice-to-have to a must-have for major smart contracts. Firms like Hacken and Certora already provide formal verification based audits to many popular protocols.
The focus on security will also provide a boost to firms like Hexens, a Delta portfolio company that provide security solutions like smart contract and wallet audits, penetration testing and compliance services. The $320 million Wormhole hack, was due to a vulnerability in the contract, this could have been prevented by timely smart contract audits.
Trend #4: Adoption of Custodians and DEX’s over Centralized exchanges
Due to the collapse of major centralized exchanges and hedge funds like FTX, 3AC, Celsius, Voyager and BlockFi users are finding it more favorable to control their own funds and use open source decentralized exchanges rather than trusting centralized exchanges with their funds.
Users lost $8 billion in the FTX scandal, which has been accused of misusing customer funds. This mistrust of centralized exchanges led to the daily DEX volume on the Ethereum blockchain surging 730% to $2.3 billion on November 10, up from $278 million just a few days earlier, following the collapse of FTX. On Nov 14th 2022, Uniswap the largest DEX by trading volume and number of users, surpassed Coinbase in daily volume for the ether/U.S. dollar trading pair .
After the collapse of FTX Bitcoin investors have been withdrawing coins to self custody at historic rates
This increasing popularity of decentralized exchanges is helped by massive improvements in functionality and user experience on major DeFi protocols. For example, on Dec 21st community members of Uniswap, chose to reform their voting process to make it easier to change the way that Uniswap is governed . In August 2022, Compound (a popular lending protocol with a TVL of $1.67 billion on Dec 28th 2022) launched Compound III, a streamlined version of their protocol, with improvements to security, capital efficiency, and user experience . In November 2022, Maker launched Maker Teleport, a new infrastructure that enables users to send and withdraw DAI by circumventing the Ethereum blockchain’s base layer .
The combination of misconduct by centralized exchanges and the continuous improvements in DeFi protocols means in 2023 we will see:
People will move away from using CEX as custodians and instead do self custody or use regulated custodians like Fire Blockscrypto or regulated exchanges with transparency and accountability. Institutional funds will move more towards custodian solutions like Anchorage and FireBlocks both for custody.
Native users migrating away from centralized exchanges and toward self custody and DeFi.
Trend #5: Rise of Regulated, Hybrid blockchains and App specific chains
As governments dive deeper into adopting blockchain based solutions, “regulated” blockchains will come to the forefront. In 2022 the International Monetary Fund published a document on creating a framework for “Regulating the Crypto Ecosystem”. They called for a globally accepted regulatory framework that covers the key entities in the crypto value chain from fiat-to-crypto on/off-ramps and exchanges. They propose only allowing authorized and licensed service providers. In addition to this they propose introducing requirements on the actual economic functions of crypto assets in addition to just their technical design and governance.
Protocols that will have the support of such institutions will be ‘regulated protocols’ that carry out KYC/AML checks on-chain with decentralized identities. They will then allow users to access the services without compromising their privacy while also ensuring that the transactions are safe and within the realm of regulations.
Another way to see the future is to imagine hybrid blockchains that have both permissioned and permissionless aspects. Data that needs to be private or securely stored can be done on top of a permissioned chain thereby only key users can access it, while the actual proof of the data can be stored on a public or permissionless blockchain. Zero-Knowledge is one of the key technologies being used by many projects to build these permissionless solutions.
App specific chains such as those that have been optimized for specific use cases like carrying out complex computations (Dfinity), file-storage (Hedera hashgraph), token exchanges (Osmosis), social media (Deso) will grow in popularity. App specific chains give developers complete control over features like staking, slashing, tokens, accounts, inter-blockchain communication and governance. Blockchains that are optimized for specific applications have limitations on the nature of the data that can be stored. For example, in Deso all the data stored follows a particular schema . The data on Deso will be in the form of posts, follows or profiles, each of which are stored and indexed separately. Since the data follows a fixed structure the storage and querying of data can be made much cheaper and faster. Also during times of increased user transactions, if most apps have their own chain, congestion is limited to their own chain itself.
The Cosmos SDK is one such software enabling developers to create app specific chains. Cosmos allows developers to build out the exact application layer they need to update their state, while providing them with the customizable Cosmos consensus protocol (Tendermint). Instead of building a dApp on Ethereum, developers may move to building their own chain from the ground up so that they can optimize the chain performance and enable the chain to be best suited for their particular application.
Though a very important component of regulated chains will be clear directions from the government entities and the institutional adoption both of which can take far longer than just a year to adopt, however we will still see a lot of product building and conversations regarding regulated and hybrid chains this year.
Trend #6: Rapid institutional adoption and the rise of blockchain products as a service
At CES 2023, MasterCard partnered with Polygon to launch its web3-focused incubator  to help artists connect with fans. In October of last year MasterCard had partnered with Paxos to offer crypto trading solutions and had also signed deals with Coinbase, Gemini and BitPay. Visa too had signed partnerships with Blockchain.com and Crypto.com .
These are just the most recent in the long list of major institutions that are entering into the blockchain space. In 2022, Instagram launched its NFT service, also in association with Polygon. Instagrams NFT service has already attracted major artists in the NFT space like MLB player Micah Johnson, Dave Krugman, Amber Vittoria etc all of whose works have sold out each time . In December Starbucks launched its digital collectible rewards program called Odyssey, stating that “It’s not just Gen Z or millennials, but the consumer in general has become more hyper digitalized and more appreciative of digital goods.” Disney also chose Polygon to be part of its accelerator program looking to develop new technologies with AR, NFTs and AI .
This massive level of institutional adoption will also spur the growth of Blockchain-As-A-Service (BaaS) providers that can help both large institutions make their move into Web3 and help startups focus on their domain expertise by providing them with the support to build and maintain their blockchain systems.
Major organisations are already using many existing blockchain technologies.
Our portfolio company Nahmii, a layer 2 scaling solution for Ethereum, is working closely with Norges Bank on a pilot project for CBDC. Many startups like Nahmii can help existing players with faster rollout and testing of blockchain solutions. Cloud providers including AWS, Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud have already started offering blockchain as a service solutions to their existing suite of clients.
As more businesses adopt blockchains to solve their problems we will continue to see end-to-end tailored blockchain development and maintenance solutions. This can be seen with companies like Blaize, that develop blockchains for businesses based on their specific business needs and also provide them with node infrastructure, dApp development and cross chain bridges.
Trend #7 - ZK Rollups & zkEVM’s for improved Scalability and Privacy
Zk-based solutions include zk-based layer 2 solutions like zkSync that increase the scalability of layer 1’s while maintaining rapid finality, zk-proofs for on-chain identity verification like that being proposed by Polygon and zk-bridges for secure cross-chain communication like that being worked on by Succinct Labs.
Zero knowledge or “ZK'' rollups use mathematics & computer science to confirm that transactions posted to layer 1 chains are true and valid. Optimistic rollups use a dispute method to ensure the transaction’s truthfulness. Optimistic rollups are relatively easy to deploy, but despite being complex, ZK is catching up.
ZK verifies the transaction by constructing so-called “zk-SNARKs” – a kind of cryptographic message that proves a statement is true without requiring you to walk through it yourself. Proving that transactions are valid in ZK is more fool-proof than trusting people to reject malicious transactions within a certain time window, usually seven days, as is required with Optimistic rollups.
The two major areas that we see ZK being used in 2023 are scalability and privacy.
ZK for scalability
Zk-rollups improve the scalability of blockchains by batching multiple transactions and processing them off the main chain. Relayers are responsible for verifying the validity of transactions and prove their validity using ZK-SNARKS. If valid, the ZK-SNARKS are then posted on the main chain. By batching multiple transactions and being able to mathematically prove their validity so that it is computationally efficient to verify the proof, ZK-rollups will play a major role in improving the scalability of layer 1 blockchains. Currently the largest L2 rollups by TVL are Arbitrum and Optimism, both being Optimistic rollups, however this year we will see ZK-rollups gaining TVL percentage due to their ability to provide rapid finality, unlike Optimistic rollups. This will be achieved through zkEVM’s. The initial version of scalability focused zkEVM’s will launch this year, with them introducing major improvements late this year and next year. ZkEVM’s will allow developers to port any Ethereum smart contract over to a ZK rollup chain without needing to alter their underlying code. Polygon, Matter Labs and Scroll, are some of the examples of projects working on zkEVMs, there are some differences between different kinds of zkEVMs but in general they all promise to dramatically reduce fees and transaction speeds for virtually any use-case.
Zk for Privacy
ZK rollups dramatically improve the privacy of transactions and of the users behind them, all while being rapidly fast and low cost. Since ZK proofs allow us to prove something is true without revealing the underlying information, data can be shared without leaking personal information and one party can prove facts without revealing that information. This has already been used by major protocols, for example, Zcash was the first project to implement zk-SNARKs, using which they can ensure transactions remain confidential while allowing people to selectively share address and transaction information for auditing or regulatory compliance. In addition to maintaining privacy in transactions they will catalyze growth of KYC/identity based solutions without the need for the user to submit any of their personal information, instead users would only have to submit a ZK-proof. In 2022 Polygon launched Polygon Nightfall, a new ZK-based scaling solution with privacy guaranteed using ZK. Initial versions of privacy focused ZkEVMs will be worked on this year and likely launch next year. Morpheus.Network and Notebook Labs are some other companies working on Zk based privacy solutions. Though the adoption will increase gradually over the next couple of years we will see a lot of emphasis and focus on new product builds this year.
Overview of existing zK solutions
Trend #8: Decentralized Social Media Apps will see increased adoption
The advantages offered by decentralized social media apps are; giving users ownership over their content, improved monetization power for creators, preventing the sale of user data as well as preventing a central power from making arbitrary censorship and policy changes. These advantages will fuel their growth in 2023. Proving identity while maintaining privacy will be the new direction of social media where hateful bots are redefining the social behaviors.
Decentralized social media applications have existed for a while, independent of blockchain technology, for example Diaspora, a decentralized version of Facebook has been around since 2010 and Mastodon, a decentralized version of twitter was launched in 2016, but they did not gain mainstream popularity. However, due to centralized social media companies misusing user data (Facebook selling user data to Cambridge Analytica ), spreading propaganda and hate speech (Facebook in Myanmar and its part in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims ) and arbitrarily updating their policies and banning journalists (seen recently at Twitter with the ban on journalists from the NYT and Washington Post, and the ban on sharing links to Mastodon ) decentralized social media apps are getting mainstream attention.
In addition to the advantages of non blockchain based decentralized social media apps, where blockchain based decentralized social media apps shine is that users can directly reward creators using crypto tokens, and creators can directly monetize their digital content in the form of NFTs. Some popular blockchain based decentralized social media apps are Peepeth and BitClout which are blockchain-powered social network alternatives to Twitter, Pixelfield a decentralized alternative to Instagram.
Aave, one of the largest cryptocurrency lenders, launched the Lens Protocol, its own Web 3.0 social platform powered by Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Lens Protocol enables each user’s followers, community, and content to be linked to their NFT profile. In November 2022 Aave’s director of developer relations, Nader Dabit, tweeted the protocol saw over one million transactions in a week. User profiles can also be transferred to any app powered by the Lens protocol, something that is impossible on Web2 social networks.
Till now these decentralized social media platforms were being used only by very technically savvy users, in 2023, we see amateur users experimenting with such platforms and more crypto companies creating blockchain experiences optimized for social media usage. However, the problem with current decentralized social media platforms is that they are still hard to use and do not have all the features of traditional social media platforms. Several new Mastodon users have reported finding the decentralized server system to be extremely confusing and much slower than Twitter . This is made worse by lack of synchronization between servers where not all servers are running the latest version of Mastodon. For a significant and permanent shift of users to decentralized social networks they have to match the features offered by existing social networks and focus on greatly improving the user experience.
Decentralized social networks will also lead to the need for a robust trust and reputation system. On traditional social networks we have a centralized authority that monitors users' reputations and bans them in case of misconduct. While this has led to increased censorship on traditional social networks, the lack of any reputation system in Web3 native platforms is also harmful. The lack of reputation and identity based services have led to many rug-pulls and scams, since the perpetrators can get away without revealing their identity. In 2022 alone there were more than 188,000 rugpulls across different blockchains, this has caused users to lose $3.5 billion .
One such protocol aiming to solve this problem is the EigenTrust Protocol, a decentralized reputation protocol for Web3. Herein, quantifiable reputation scores are calculated based on a weighted peer review method, resulting in a standard global trust value of an individual or corporate. Such a reputation protocol can have far reaching use cases like trusted creator scores for NFT artists, filtering users out for airdrops, creating a community participation ranking and rewarding active users. These are a few cases amongst many more. By creating and tracking identity scores on the blockchain these protocols can also help tackle negative aspects of social media, something that traditional social media companies have been unable to tackle over all these years. Thus we see very clear and pressing use cases for such reputation protocols and will see major developments in this space in the coming year.
Trend #9 Improved focus on User and Developer Experience
In order to bring crypto products to the mainstream they have to be easy to use and easy to build. Compared to Web2, Web3 companies are still in the early stages of building out their infrastructure, we will continue to see Web3 companies work to improve user experience so that their products can be used by less technically savvy users. Ledger wallet recently announced their new wallet, Stax, equipped with a E-ink touchscreen, making it easier than ever to hold crypto and NFTs assets in self custody and easily sign transactions. To abstract away some of the tedious aspects of crypto development we are seeing companies like Axel, that provide API integrations across multiple lending, borrowing and staking protocols. Our portfolio company Hatchfi provides developers with seamless integration to exchanges like Binance, Gemini and Coinbase as well as chains such as Ethereum, Optimism and Polygon so that they can access data in human readable and easy to use forms. No-code solutions for crypto will also grow in popularity, our portfolio companies Airstack provide users no-code solutions for querying historical data from the blockchain and Esprezzo provides users with real-time alerts for custom web3 events. Thus applications that serve as blockchain middleware and make it easy for developers to build more complicated blockchain based solutions will be one of the defining technologies of 2023.
Finally we would like to conclude by stating that there is still unmatched development going on in the crypto ecosystem, developers are still flocking to the crypto space at a rapid rate with the number of monthly verified smart contracts up 2.6x YoY and the number of downloads for web3 libraries like web3.js and ether.js up 3x over the past year .
Though we saw lots of historical jaw dropping low moments in the crypto world in 2022 , the tech adoption both at the individual and institutional level continued to increase. We believe that it is the influx of talent that will lead to a new wave of innovative products and services in the coming years. We are bullish on the technology and strongly believe that tech will get its recognition and pay off the space in the next crypto summer!