Update: ECC proposals and plans for decentralizing Zcash and future focus

In May, Zooko announced that ECC had restructured to better serve the interests of Zcash while reducing costs and increasing sustainability of the organization. In that post, he summarized two categories of our efforts moving forward: further increasing Zcash decentralization and focusing ECC. This post is intended to provide more detail and an update on our current plans. We welcome the community’s feedback. 

Increasing Zcash decentralization

Our objective in the further decentralization of Zcash is to meaningfully improve Zcash’s resilience without unduly increasing centralization risk. An example of a change that would not improve resilience would be transferring responsibility to the Zcash Foundation (ZF). Because ZF manages the Zcash trademark, its Zcash Community Advisory Panel, and the Zcash Community Forum, and because they now offer their own consensus node (Zebra), adding more reliance on ZF would not make Zcash more resilient against single points of failure. 

Transitioning some of the work ECC owns, or has owned in the past, to others in the community will:

  • Increase Zcash sustainability and resilience, through a greater distribution of responsibility
  • Increase goodwill and accountability with the community
  • Increase opportunities for others who have demonstrated reliable participation in the ecosystem
  • Free ECC to focus on improvements to the project that we are uniquely qualified to deliver

This process will take time, as ECC develops and rolls out mechanisms to ensure functions transition smoothly and safely to trusted members in the community. 

Transitioning some responsibilities may seem counterintuitive, as ECC’s existence depends on Zcash community funding. However, it is precisely because our funding comes from the community that we are bound to honor the best interests of ZEC holders with good stewardship and leadership.

Focusing ECC

Our mission is to empower all people with economic freedom, and our “North Star” is delivering a world class UX for ZEC. In the near to mid term, as announced, we are focused on empowering ZEC holders and giving them a voice.

This specifically includes the following objectives:

  • Create an excellent user experience for proof-of-stake ZEC
  • Build and support a commercial wallet — built by and for Zcashers — that is easy to use and accessible for anyone
  • Build and support a mobile-wallet SDK that is useful to other Zcash builders
  • Ensure ZEC, self-custody, and staking remain viable in the USA through focused policy work

Timeline and specifics

ECC uses an OKR process for prioritizing and delivering measurable work on four-month cycles. Typically, our terms are: February – May (Term 1), June – September (Term 2), and October – January (Term 3). Due to ECC’s restructuring and our focus on exiting emergency mode, we moved the kickoff date of Term 2 to July 10. Term 3 will kick off, as usual, in October.

Term 2, 2023

The priorities set for the remainder of Term 2 are:

Before the end of July

  1. Exit emergency mode
  2. Release the Z.cash website, version 3.0 (completed)
  3. Release the new ECC SDKs (iOS and Android), version 1.0
  4. Release the new ECC commercial wallet, version 1.0
  5. Release version 0.1 of our proof-of-stake design recommendations

The lionshare of our immediate focus remains on exiting “emergency mode,” which we anticipate will be possible this month, depending on how quickly wallets are able to integrate with our new SDK.

The new ECC SDKs will support pre-sync fund availability.

ECC’s wallet will be announced and made available for early testing. This release will be a professional, but no-frills, basic wallet that will serve as the foundation on which to meet the specific needs and wants of Zcashers. We will drive feature development based on ZEC user feedback. Future wallet features might include such things as ZEC holder polling and staking functions, for example.

Our research team will publish a top-level roadmap and proposed timeline to move Zcash from proof of work to a hybrid solution, and then potentially pure proof of stake. We’ll publish this information this month and then host a workshop at Zcon4 to continue the discussion. This version 0.1 proposal is an early step in the design process, published specifically to garner feedback and collaboration across the Zcash ecosystem, and to ensure this significant transition proposal is well understood and addresses community needs.

August – September (Remainder of Term 2)

We intend to pause new development efforts on PoS research and commercial wallet and SDK development in order to focus on decentralization activities. Our OKR planning for the remainder of Term 2 will be focused on:

  • Clearly defining the specific use cases where ECC will focus
  • Identifying use cases well suited for decentralization, to improve resilience and sustainability
  • Mapping out the transition between ECC support and end-of-support for specific use cases (i.e., Do we stop working on these things completely, wrap them up, and/or transition them to others?)
  • Meta transition planning where appropriate, including how to identify and safely transition responsibilities to other Zcash contributors
  • Beginning the transitions

Some efforts will be relatively swift, as is the case with ending ECC support for global regulatory relations. Others will take more time, including the transition of some functions currently supported by ECC in Zcashd (pending final determination of which use cases ECC will continue to support). Others may take significant planning and time, due to complexities and in order to minimize any disruption. 

One such complex decentralization effort referenced in the restructuring announcement is the management of digital properties. This includes the z.cash website, the Zcash Twitter account, Zcash.readthedocs.io, and the Cypherpunk Zero assets. Our objective is to empower the community to contribute to, help steward, and better utilize these assets over time. 

The stewardship of these digital properties, platforms, and assets are incredibly important and complex, so transition efforts will take considerable time and diligence to execute safely and in a way that will foster the best possible outcomes. In these cases, we believe “meta transition planning” is most appropriate. We have been studying this for many months and will provide a recommended approach to the community in a blog post next week. We have requested that the Zcash Foundation provide ECC with time and space for community engagement on this topic at Zcon4, with an intent to begin approach and planning efforts in August. We look forward to working with qualified members of the community on this effort and will provide more detail soon.

October – January (Term 3, 2023/24)

Much of the decentralization efforts, formalized in Term 2, will occur during these months. As we are able to wind down and transition work, we will turn our attention back to new research and development on the ECC defined focus areas. As previously stated, some transitions may be quick, and some may require months to years.

February and beyond (Term 1, 2024 – )

While we focus our research and development efforts as stated above, we will roll out updated roadmaps and plans based on the funding available to ECC under the current development fund, which ends in November 2024. 

The community is currently discussing the possibility of a new development fund and possible structures. When we gain clarity on the effort and time needed to decentralize core capabilities, we intend to provide a proposal to the community on what we plan to accomplish and at what level of funding over another term. 

Further decentralizing Zcash by focusing ECC’s efforts on fewer things is a meaningful contribution to the project and ZEC holders in support of our mission. It will result in a more diverse group of contributors and set up ECC to iterate on new innovation, more quickly and less expensively, by focusing on those areas we are uniquely qualified to deliver.

I look forward to seeing you at Zcon4! Please grab me for some time there if you’d like to explore any of this in more detail.

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