David's Takes: What I Learned at Solana Breakpoint
I just returned from my last conference of 2024. Meeting cool people and encountering new ideas in crypto takes me to some pretty interesting places all over the world, but this last tour was a little different than my typical crypto conference endeavors!
For the first time, I went to a non-Ethereum conference 😲
I'm not talking about a generalist conference either, like Permissionless. I went to Solana Breakpoint, put on by the Solana Foundation.
It's hard to get a sense of reality these days. As someone with deep ties to the Ethereum community, my only perception of Solana is through Twitter, which is a terrible lens for viewing anything these days, especially in crypto, where tribes continually fight in the area of crypto-twitter to distort perception to their favor.
So, my Ethereum circles are left viewing Solana from the outside.
If Crypto Twitter can't provide a true reality of Solana, what is there left to do besides go to Breakpoint myself and get the vibes straight from the source?
Bankless Nation, here's everything I learned at Solana Breakpoint 👇
Who is the Solana Community?
My central quest at this event was understanding the makeup of the Solana community. Who does this ecosystem attract, and why?
Solana has attracted a community of engineers that Ethereum was not able to nerd-snipe. These are ex-Apple, ex-Tesla, ex-SpaceX type engineers who are familiar with the relationship between hardware and software. These are highly technical optimizers. Solana provides them the clay to work within a capacity that makes sense to them and in ways that Ethereum did not.
In fact, some of the priorities of the Ethereum community likely appear nonsensical and a waste of time to these types of engineers. This feature is likely why Chris Burniske distinguishes the Ethereum community as 'optimists' or 'ideologically motivated' and the Solana community as 'pragmatists.'
To me, it makes sense that the 'pragmatists' of crypto would find a cozy home in the space between hardware and software where crypto networks operate, while the ideologically motivated focus more exclusively on the open-source software realm, where values, governance, and identity can be codified.
If someone whose perception of the world was dominated through the lens of Crypto Twitter heard that I was going to Solana Breakpoint, they would probably grab their popcorn, thinking, "Ooo, David's going behind enemy lines!!" 🍿
In reality, the Solana community is just another crypto community. The average person here isn't thinking in tribal terms. Hackers go to both Ethereum and Solana hackathons… and then they go to StarkNet and Near and Chainlink hackathons, too. Some builders choose to stay cause they found a problem they'd like to commit to.
I met the team from Marinade, a Solana staking automation platform, and I met Anoushk and Harsh, the dev-duo behind Tinydancer, a Solana light-client. Both teams expressed their appreciation for the content Bankless has been putting out over the years, with the Tinydancer duo saying it had pushed them to get into crypto in the first place.
These types of interactions at crypto conferences are always gratifying – and endlessly motivating! Every time I get back from one of these events, I immediately node-sync with Ryan about all of these interactions, because I love sharing the immense amount of positivity and good vibes that exist in the IRL context of Crypto.
This is all to say that the IRL Solana community is not that different from the IRL Ethereum community, and it's the more extreme internet leaders of both communities that define the internet-native identities of these ecosystems.
What was the Vibe?
This was the third-ever Solana Breakpoint, the first coming at the absolute froth of the 2021 market, when SOL was drenched in the ecstasy of its $250+ pico-top, and the 2nd being the week before FTX crashed. 😦
It's safe to say that Solana Breakpoint has never been hosted under stable conditions, until now. In my opinion, it's the first time Solana has been able to get a true signal from the community that Breakpoint attracts since, in prior years, it was drowned out by the short-term tourists (and scammers) that Solana attracted during the bull. I wasn't at the first two Breakpoints, so I'm shooting from the hip a bit here. These are takes I've generated after talking to those who did go to these Breakpoints.
The vibe of Solana Breakpoint had notes that I was well familiar with from my early days in Ethereum, but with some unique flavorings as well.
First, there was a pretty clear sense that the Solana community feels like they're sitting on gold. They know that they've got something that the world will one day want, and that sense of "pre-rich conviction" was definitely present. I wouldn't say this vibe was ubiquitous… it was definitely expressed by a minority. The rest of the conference attendees were more indifferent to that aspect, but it was present nonetheless. This vibe naturally brought a nascent sense of optimism and excitement, which I definitely remember feeling during the novelty of my early Ethereum days, especially during my early years at ETH Denver 2018 and 2019.
Solana & Ethereum
The content featured on the mainstage was all about 👏 scaling 👏 scaling 👏 scaling 👏. If there's one bit of Solana Breakpoint content to consume to catch the vibe, it's the 90min opening presentation by various Solana leaders. (It was hosted on Halloween, hence Anatoly is in a green dragon costume)
It was pretty funny to hear direct jabs at Ethereum during the keynote presentation. Jokes about "not needing any layers" and "Ethereum alignment" are actually a pretty core part of the Solana DNA at this point. Here, Crypto Twitter has clearly bled into Solana culture, and it's the part that I find least resonant.
Solana's identity has largely been shaped by having to survive post-FTX collapse, all while the Ethereum community twists the knife over the rampant extraction culture in the Solana app-layer and the claimed incoherence of the monolithic scaling strategy. The Ethereum community was not nice to Solana in the time in which Solana was down bad the most.
And it was at this moment when the Solana community grit its teeth, dug in, chewed glass, and dug itself out of the narrative shithole it found itself in. The narrative around Solana was so bad that it became existential.
VCs stopped funding Solana-based projects just because they were building on Solana. $SOL market cap was at $4B, less than half of the 2018-2019 $ETH market cap bottom of $10, during which Ethereum also was faced with existential concerns about its ability to fund itself.
I'm pretty sure that this is when Solana leadership took a direct, hands-on approach to fixing the Solana narrative before it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was when the Mert reply-guy ratio army started to kick in, and when you would find Anatoly replying to every single tweet about Solana, good or bad. This was when Solana started developing narratives and memes that could revitalize the community around it.
And to their credit, it totally worked. The narrative around Solana has found new meaning, new heights, and an insane level of engagement on Twitter. And to our fault, by attempting to "finish off" Solana by conflating it with FTX as much as possible, the Ethereum community held a large role in creating the negative environment that Solana had to rebuild itself in.
Now, Solana has emerged from the bear market, still intact. The entire Solana project now understands Ethereum to be no friend of it, and as a result, we find jabs and shade thrown at Ethereum on the mainstage of Solana's annual conference.
I'm likely focusing too much on this! But, the collective psychology of crypto tribes is one of the things that fascinates me most about this industry, and while I often find myself playing tribal games just like everyone else, it's always a reminder of how we can all be better, even if our L1s are fundamentally in direct competition with each other.
What is Solana excited about?
There was plenty of excitement around rebirth and being early, but on a technical level, the one thing that nearly every attendee at Breakpoint seemed most jazzed about was Firedancer.
Firedancer is a new Solana client built by the Jump Crypto team. The original Solana client, built by the Solana Foundation, is overloaded with tech debt and isn't optimized. The Firedancer client is promised to bring massive improvements to Solana network performance.
The Firedancer client can be considered as a big network upgrade to Solana, a Solana 2.0 if you will. It's akin to the Ethereum excitement around something like EIP1559 or the Merge, except it's focused on performance.
The Firedancer testnet was announced at Breakpoint, much to the excitement of the entire community. Exploring what this all means for Solana and validator economics is something a bit outside of my knowledge and is perhaps something we will explore on Bankless in the future. 👀
Firedancer also unlocks a critical property of Solana, which is becoming a multi-client network. Single-client networks are fragile and prone to downtime. With Firedancer, Solana gets a second client, meaningfully increasing its robustness.
Granted, having a network that is one part Firedancer and one part the older Solana client from the Foundation is not going to work since the whole network will be bottlenecked by the older client, but in my conversations with Austin, he said the suggested architecture is that Firedancer client operators run the older Solana client as a fallback, with Firedancer as the primary. Apparently, this gets you the best of both worlds, which is neat.
Another thing that caught my eye is Solana's Token22 software package. Token22 is a token software enhancement package that brings a ton of additional functionality to Solana tokens, including custom permissions and confidential transactions, aka privacy.
For further rabbit holes on what is exciting the Solana community, listen to the latter half of my conversation with Austin and Anatoly at Breakpoint!
So, am I bullish Solana?
Solana has certainly captured more of my attention lately. So, what's the deal? Is Bankless finally bullish Solana? Or is David's attention being truly captured by the Solana community engagement-attacking him inside of the arena of Twitter narrative warfare campaigns? Is it something else?
To be honest, I don't have an answer here. Chris Burniske recently attempted to try and shoehorn me into either bullish or bearish SOL on Twitter, which I felt frustrated by.
How I intend to engage with the Solana community, I will let the future decide. I do know that I vibe with the Ethereum community at a very deep level, and that part of that Ethereum community spirit still feels meaningfully absent in the Solana community.
It was disheartening to see a fully packed room during a panel conversation on Solana validator economics, and then when the next panel came on to discuss the future of Solana community governance, the completely full room emptied out.
Putting on my Solana-bear hat, this is the obvious outcome of a network which went-to-mark by compromising on decentralization in the hopes of decentralizing the network over time. This attracted a certain community that does not value decentralization as much as the rest of the industry, and the supply of community attention towards efforts like community ownership and decentralization is reflected as such.
Or maybe these conversations are just getting started, and I'm selling this part of Solana short – time will tell!
For now, that's everything I learned at Solana Breakpoint!