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Vitalik Buterin on Cryptocurrency Payments: What Should Ethereum Do After Summarizing 5 Lessons Learned?

02-28 14:15
The etheric fang
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User experience is a key reason why many Ethereum users, especially those in the southern hemisphere, often choose centralized solutions over on-chain decentralized alternatives.
Original Title: "V God: My Personal Experience and Suggestions on Cryptocurrency Payments"
Original Author: Vitalik Buterin
Translated by: Katie Gu and Odaily Planet Daily

In 2013, I went to a sushi restaurant near the Internet Archive in San Francisco because I heard they accepted Bitcoin payments and wanted to try it out. When it came time to pay, I requested to pay with Bitcoin. I scanned the QR code and clicked "send". To my surprise, the transaction did not go through. It seemed like it had been sent, but the restaurant did not receive it. I tried again, but still had no luck. I quickly realized that the problem was with my mobile internet connection at the time. I had to walk over 50 meters to the nearby Internet Archive and use their Wi-Fi to finally send the transaction.

Experience Lesson: The Internet is not 100% reliable. We need better broadcasting methods, such as on-site payment systems with features like NFC and customer display of QR codes, which allow customers to directly transmit their transaction data to merchants.

In 2021, I bought tea for myself and my friends at a coffee shop in Argentina. They explained that they didn't intend for me to pay with cryptocurrency. It was just that the coffee shop owner recognized me and showed me his account for cryptocurrency transactions, so I suggested paying with ETH (using a cryptocurrency trading platform account as a wallet is the standard way to pay on the spot in Latin America). Unfortunately, my first transaction of 0.003 ETH was not accepted, possibly because it was below the trading platform's minimum deposit of 0.01 ETH. I then sent 0.007 ETH. Soon, both transactions were confirmed (I don't mind paying three times the amount, consider it a tip).

In 2022, I attempted to buy tea from another location. The first transaction failed because my mobile wallet's default transaction only sent 21000 Gas, while the receiving account was a contract that required additional Gas to process the transfer. Attempting to send a second transaction failed because my mobile wallet UI malfunctioned, preventing me from scrolling down and editing the field containing the Gas limit.

Experience Lesson: Simple and stable user interfaces are better than fancy and fashionable ones. However, most users don't even know what the Gas limit is, so we really need better default settings.

Many times, there are surprisingly long delays between my transactions being accepted on the chain and the service acknowledging the transaction, even when it is "unconfirmed". Sometimes, I do worry that there may be issues with their payment system.

Many times, there can be long and unpredictable delays between sending a transaction and that transaction being accepted in a block. Sometimes, a transaction can be accepted within seconds, but other times it may take several minutes or even hours. Recently, EIP-1559 has significantly improved this by ensuring that most transactions are accepted in the next block, and even the recent Merge has further improved this by stabilizing block times.

V 神:关于加密支付,我的个人体验和小建议

This report's charts were created by Yinhong (William) Zhao and Kartik Nayak.

However, outliers still exist. If you send a transaction at the same time as many others, but the base fee is skyrocketing, you may not have your transaction accepted due to the high base fee. Even worse, the wallet's user interface is not good at displaying this. There are no obvious red alerts, and there are few clear indications of what you should do to solve this problem. Even experts know that in this situation, they should "accelerate" the transaction by publishing a new transaction with the same data but a higher "max-basefee", but the "button" that users can do this is not clear.

Experience Lesson: The user experience (UX) for designing transactions needs to be improved, despite the current simple fixes. I would like to thank the Brave wallet team for carefully considering my suggestions on this issue, first by raising the maximum base fee limit from 12.5% to 33%, and more recently exploring ways to make the prompt for "blocked transactions" more prominent in the user interface.

In 2019, I was testing the earliest attempt at a social recovery wallet - an updated smart contract wallet that provides high levels of security and better usability. Unlike my preferred smart contract-based approach, their method involved using Shamir's secret sharing to split the account's private key into five parts. In this way, any three parts can be used to recover the private key. Users need to choose five friends (modern term is "guardians"), convince them to download a separate mobile app, and provide a confirmation code to create an encrypted connection to their friends' app from the user's wallet via Firebase and send them the shared private key.

This method quickly brought problems to my wallet. A few months later, my wallet had issues and I needed to use a recovery program to restore it. I had my friends help me with the recovery process through their applications, but things didn't go as planned. Two of them lost their key shards because they changed phones and forgot to move the recovery application. The third reason was that the Firebase connection mechanism didn't work for a long time. Eventually, we found a solution and recovered the private key. However, a few months later, the wallet had issues again. This time, a routine software update accidentally reset the application's storage and deleted its private key. But I didn't have enough partners to participate in the recovery program because the Firebase connection mechanism was too poor to allow me to do so successfully. I eventually lost a small amount of Bitcoin and ETH.

Experience Lesson: The off-chain social recovery involving sharing of private information is really fragile. It's a bad idea unless there is no other choice. Friends (guardians) who participate in your recovery program should not download separate applications because it's easy to forget and lose them if the application is only used for such special cases. In addition, the need for independent centralized communication channels will also bring various problems. Instead, the way to add guardians who participate in the recovery program should be to provide their ETH address, and the recovery should be completed through smart contracts using the ERC-4337 abstract wallet. In this way, guardians only need to not lose their Ethereum wallet.

In 2021, I attempted to save on fees for using Tornado Cash by utilizing the "self-relay" option. Tornado Cash uses a "relay" mechanism where a third party pushes transactions onto the chain because when you withdraw, your withdrawal address typically does not yet have tokens. You do not want to pay the transaction with your deposit address because this creates a public link between the two addresses, which is what Tornado Cash is trying to prevent. The problem is that the relay mechanism is often expensive, with relays charging a certain percentage of fees that may be much higher than the actual gas cost of the transaction.

In order to save costs, I used a relay mechanism for my first small withdrawal, which had lower fees. Then, for my second larger withdrawal, I used the "self-relay" function in Tornado Cash instead of using a relay. The problem was that I made a mistake while logging into my deposit address and accidentally paid the fee from my deposit address instead of my withdrawal address. This resulted in me creating a public link between the two addresses.

Experience Lesson: Wallet developers should start considering privacy issues more explicitly. In addition, we need better forms of account abstraction to eliminate the need for centralization or even "cooperative relays" and commodify the role of relays.

Other Existing Issues

Many applications still cannot run on Brave Wallet or Status browser. This may be because they did not do their homework correctly and relied on the specific API of Metamask. Even Gnosis Safe could not run with these wallets for a long time, which led me to write my own mini version of Javascript Dapp for confirmation. Fortunately, the latest user interface has fixed this issue.

The website of the transaction transfer page of ERC 20 on Etherscan, such as https://etherscan.io/address/0xd8da6bf26964af9d7eed9e03e53415d37aa96045#tokentxns, is prone to sending fraudulent messages. Anyone can create a new ERC 20 Token, which can issue a log claiming that I or any other specific person has sent Tokens to others. This is sometimes used to deceive people into thinking that I support a certain fraudulent Token, when in fact I have never heard of it.

Uniswap once provided a very convenient feature that allows swapping of Tokens and sending the output to different addresses. When I needed to pay someone with USDC but didn't have any on me, this feature was really helpful. Now, this interface no longer provides this feature, so I have to convert and send a separate transaction, which is inconvenient and wastes more Gas. Later, I learned that Cowswap and Paraswap provide similar features, although Paraswap currently seems unable to run with the Brave wallet.

Using Ethereum to log in is a good choice, but if you try to log in on multiple devices and your Ethereum wallet can only be used on one device, it is still difficult to use at present.


Good user experience is crucial. A user interface that looks clean and tidy on the surface, but does something strange and inexplicable in 0.723% of the time, will cause serious problems. This is worse than a user interface that exposes more real details to users. Directly exposing the problem can at least make it easier for users to understand what happened, know where the problem is, and solve it.

除了由于规模尚未完全解决而产生的高交易费用这一最重要的问题外,用户体验是许多以太坊用户(尤其是南半球用户)经常选择中心化解决方案而不是链上去中心化替代方案的关键原因,而链上去中心化替代方案将权力掌握在用户及其朋友和家人或当地社区手中。多年来,用户体验取得了巨大的进步。特别是从 EIP-1559 之前的平均交易需要几分钟才能完成,到 EIP-1559 和合并之后的平均交易需要几秒钟,这让使用以太坊变得非常愉快。但在开发这条路上我们仍然道阻且长。


Aside from the most important issue of high transaction fees due to incomplete scalability, user experience is a key reason why many Ethereum users (especially those in the southern hemisphere) often choose centralized solutions instead of decentralized alternatives on the chain, while on-chain decentralized alternatives give power to users, their friends and family, or local communities. Over the years, user experience has made great progress. Especially from the average transaction time before EIP-1559, which took several minutes to complete, to the average transaction time after EIP-1559 and the merge, which only takes a few seconds, making the use of Ethereum very enjoyable. However, we still have a long way to go in developing this path.

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The etheric fang
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