Polkadot’s Kusama Model Offers a Way Forward for High-Innovation Blockchains
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It’s been two years since the first Polkadot parachains were launched on Kusama, the culmination of a process to fulfill the promise of blockchain technology. By enabling purpose-built, interoperable parachains to connect to the Kusama Relay Chain before graduating to the main network, Polkadot aimed to become a frontrunner in the Web3 race, a platform synonymous with security and scalability.
Two years on and Polkadot is going strong, with Kusama continuing to function as its experimental canary network, a proving ground for projects seeking to win auctions on the primary chain. By the end of Q1, 2023, some 42 new parachains had launched or won an auction on Polkadot with two of them, prediction market protocol Zeitgeist and social networking platform Subsocial, having migrated straight from Kusama.
Polkadot’s decision to pursue this model was groundbreaking. Having a testnet is one thing but Kusama is so much more than that, a standalone network that, while sharing similar code with its big brother, is tailor-made for radical innovation and early-stage deployments. Or as Kusama’s own tagline explained, “Expect chaos. No promises.”
Could other Layer-1 blockchains follow suit by launching their own fully-operational pre-production environments to engender high-risk, lower-cost innovation? It’s certainly a strategy that’s bearing fruit for Polkadot, with a recent Messari report noting that the network’s “future looks promising, with a loaded roadmap featuring XCM V3, OpenGov, system parachains, asynchronous backing, and parathreads.”
Picking Up the Polkadot Baton
Flare is one blockchain aggressively pursuing this model, having launched its own sandbox test network, Songbird, in September 2021. As with Kusama, the goal is to enhance cross-chain interoperability while offering compatibility with the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Effectively, Songbird was developed to avoid overburdening the Flare community with a surplus of decisions and votes, acting sort of like a filtering mechanism for community governance proposals. And Flare isn’t the only example of a platform taking the canary baton and running with it.
Anoma, a privacy-preserving, intent-centric blockchain protocol, has its own little sister in the form of Namada. Although Namada is not marketed as a canary network, and its feature set is actually independent of Anoma’s, it does lighten the load on the main chain by focusing on a subset of its components.
Specifically, Namada is equipped to deliver interchain asset-agnostic privacy by enabling Zcash-like “shielded” transfers for fungible and non-fungible assets, independent of whether they were created on Ethereum or any other network. As such, the sovereign PoS blockchain can be utilized to privately transfer cryptocurrencies like ETH, or any number of NFTs, with minimal latency and near-zero fees. Thanks to the presence of custom bridges, it’s also interoperable with Ethereum as well as chains that speak IBC (i.e. all Cosmos chains).
Like Polkadot and Kusama, Anoma and Namada have a synergistic relationship, though the terminology is discrete; Anoma refers to Namada as its first fractal instance, “a first step towards the multi-chain vision of homogeneous architecture and heterogeneous security.”
With Namada geared towards solving the privacy problems that remain largely unresolved in Web3, Anoma supports applications that cannot be built on any existing system and interfaces with the ecosystem via its sister protocol.
Is the Future Canary-Yellow?
Time will tell whether other Layer-1s follow the Polkadot model by creating their own dedicated canary networks, or launching protocols focused on a shared interest and value like Anoma has done with Namada. The benefits, though, are clear.
Testing environments and chain-adjacent protocols let developers assess the viability and performance of new innovations without jeopardizing the security and stability of the main network. Moreover, they can support quick deployment, foster a culture of experimentation, reduce costs, and provide a controlled environment to identify and rectify smart contract vulnerabilities and bugs.
With advances in scaling solutions, second-layer protocols, and canary networks, the expansion of blockchain architecture shows no signs of slowing down. Providing users continue to benefit from resilient and reliable infrastructure, as well as improved privacy protections, such growth is a cause for celebration.