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Push Notifications Will Pull Blockchain Out of the Stone Age of Communication - Unhashed #1

It is as if blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and the decentralized network of applications have weaved an entirely new world of innovative solutions. Who would have imagined in 2009 that Satoshi Nakamoto’s vision of providing the world with a decentralized, peer-to-peer payment solution would age so well, so fast, and so far beyond what he envisioned!

Being involved with a cryptocurrency project or two can give you a sense of how rapidly this space is evolving and how far-reaching its effects are. It’s a young industry that is challenging the way we conduct business, interact with internet applications, and go about our everyday tasks.

It is this youthful vision, the burning enthusiasm, and the prudent innovation of crypto projects that I intend to bring forward with my content series, Unhashed.

This is the first article of Unhashed, where I interviewed Harsh Rajat, the co-founder of Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS).

About 12 years ago, the push notifications we so love were not a thing. And today, we cannot imagine how our days would be like without push notifications telling us about every deal, every update, every scheduled call we never want to miss.

And when Harsh sat to brainstorm and pinpoint a missing piece of the Web3.0, he was awestruck by how push notification, one such tiny yet critical feature, was missing from the equation. That’s how he came up with the idea of starting EPNS.

In this interview, we explore the story of EPNS and what it aims to bring to the world of decentralized applications.

1. Everybody in the crypto and blockchain space has a unique story of how they started out in this industry. What is your crypto/blockchain story?

Harsh: It all started back in 2016 with my introduction to Bitcoin. Unwilling to let go of this opportunity to invest in an asset I thought had great potential, I started trading with whatever I knew about trading — buy low, sell high.

It was in 2018 when I discovered Ethereum and its potential to support decentralized applications. That’s when things in crypto turned more interesting for me. Very soon, I was headed down the rabbit hole to explore the pain points of blockchain.

I wanted to take the traditional route to do things — learn, research, take my time, explore, innovate. Sticking to my plan, I joined a blockchain company to explore the industry and the technology. Later, I dropped out from there to embark on my own journey to create something for the love of blockchain and crypto. I wanted to create something to improve the blockchain and crypto space as it stood back then.

2. Most likely, you’re the first to bring push notifications to the decentralized world. How did the idea of Ethereum Push Notification Service come by?

Harsh: I along with my wife, Richa Joshi, started my ‘decentralized’ entrepreneur journey through exploring and observing a multitude of dApps and Smart Contracts=. The point of the exercise was to contrast the Web3.0 experience with traditional Web2.0 and see if there were any missing pieces we could add to the bigger picture.

Our Eureka moment was when we found a very obvious problem, lack of push notifications. You see, the whole of blockchain infrastructure suffers from a communication void that Web2.0 solved back in 2010, when Apple introduced push notifications.

If you think about it for a moment, all your current virtual interactions are guided by push notifications, and the services come to the users in Web2.0 rather than users having to check every application 10 times a day.

Apple introduced push notifications just about 11 years ago, and the rest is history. From messages to emails and shopping deals to client calls, we rely so heavily on push notifications today that not having them in our lives can turn our world upside down.

Contrast this experience with any dApp, smart contracts, or services you interact with on Web3. There’s no way to inform users (wallet addresses) about any important event that occurs. Instead, the applications rely on users to go back time and again to check if there’s any activity.

For instance, liquidation on AAVE or Compound, DAO Governance proposal (Yam!), or ENS/dEx orders. Each of these scenarios is a reality right now but no solution exists to notify users about them who would be interested in them.

You are not foreclosed by your bank without proper notices that reach you, but DeFi — while enabling awesome use cases — does that to you. And we wanted to fix that.

That’s how we started on our journey to pull the blockchain world out of this stone age of communication. And we founded EPNS.

3. Can you explain in more detail how this will benefit the crypto and blockchain community?

Harsh: Currently, there are many tremendously innovative blockchain & Web3.0 applications being deployed, especially those laying the foundation for decentralized finance (DeFi). But they all face the issue of not being able to communicate with their users directly. This tends to be a huge barrier for mainstream adoption, and for customer retention and engagement rates.

Ask yourself, how many times would you open WhatsApp, Twitter, Amazon, or any other applications for that matter, if it were not for a push notification showing up on your screen? Push notifications play a major part in today’s customer retention strategy and increasing engagement rates.

The possibilities for push notifications in Web3.0 are endless. Blockchain services, dApps, and developers will be able to effectively communicate with their users and the community as a whole.

And you, as a user, can finally be notified when you’re about to get liquidated on AAVE, Compound, or any other DeFi platform. You’ll always know when a DAO Governance proposal has been listed for you to vote on or when your ENS domain name is about to expire.

If you’re a gamer, you can get notified every time a new in-game NFT is listed for sale. Or, if you enjoy the guilty pleasure of participating in prediction markets, you can get notified whenever a new prediction is listed. You could get notified when you win the lottery on PoolTogether, when Loopring lists a new trading pair, or when Yearn Finance lists a new yVault, and what not!

The list of use cases can go on, but the point is, push notifications have as much importance in Web3.0 as they had in Web2.0.

4. How do you intend to prevent spam notifications, which are extremely common on Web2.0?

We have carefully designed the EPNS protocol such that it implements ‘game theory’ in a way it disincentivizes services from spamming their users.

Firstly, users have the power to opt in to channels to start receiving notifications, and if they choose to unsubscribe to a particular channel, they cannot be added back by the channel. This ensures services are incentivized to only send notifications that are relevant to the user’s interest.

Secondly, we also have a spam throttling mechanism in the works. It will ensure that a service that started off sending relevant notifications doesn’t turn malicious at a later stage. We attach a spam score to them which is controlled by both positive actions (higher number of subscribers, the passage of time, etc.) and negative actions (unusual number of notifications, a higher number of unsubscribers, etc.). When this score crosses a certain threshold, it activates the protocol throttle mechanism thereby ensuring that it’s always in the best interest of services to not spam their users.

We are also planning verified badges in the future to ensure that EPNS allows everyone to create a channel and opt in, but makes a distinction between spam channels and verified ones.

5. EPNS uses the Matic Network at its core. What prompted you to choose the Matic Network over others? How will EPNS and, more importantly, its users benefit from the use of Matic Network?

Answer: High gas fees have been plaguing the Ethereum ecosystem for quite a while now. And although Ethereum is awesome, if we want users to completely enjoy the Web3.0 experience, we need to go better, faster, and cheaper; which is not so much the case with the scalability trilemma that we have now. And for this reason, we are actively exploring L2 solutions to deploy EPNS to.

We have also won a grant with Matic and have been working on Matic integration in parallel as we see awesome benefits to launch a hybrid protocol. We have always envisioned our protocol as a scalable and fast solution that can fill the communication void between services.

In addition to this, we think that meta transactions and the game theory that allow users to earn passively will take care of the same in the short run, and hopefully, EIP-1599 and ETH2.0 will take care of this in the long run.

6. How far has EPNS come in its journey to bringing push notifications to the decentralized world?

Harsh: We have had an awesome journey! We took our idea and research to the Ethereum Foundation, where the concept of EPNS was greatly supported. We went to the EthGlobal HackMoney 2020 where we built the proof of concept for EPNS. We were also selected for Gitcoin Kernel fellowship and made it to the top 20 projects! Followed by that, we entered Gitcoin Grant round 7 (top 5 projects/210+ contributors), which led us to raise our seed!!!

We recently completed our seed round and were backed by some renowned Web3 leaders including Balaji Srinivasan (Fmr CTO of Coinbase and General Partner at a16z.), Kenneth Ng (Ethereum Foundation), Scott Moore (Co-founder, Gitcoin), Mariano Conti (Fmr Head of Smart Contracts, MakerDAO), Anthony Sassano (EthHub/TheDailyGwei), DeFiDad (COO, Zapper), Ravindra (Frontier Wallet), Preethi Kasireddy (Fmr Partner at a16z), and several more awesome people!

All in all, it has been a great journey and we have so much more from protocol audit to mainnet launch and beta releases coming up very soon.

Disclaimer: The sole purpose of Unhashed is to unhash (decode) information about projects innovating using blockchain and cryptocurrencies and bring it to the forefront for the community to be well-informed. The writer neither has any vested interest in any of the projects covered herein nor shares any investment advice regarding any crypto tokens. This article was first published on HackerNoon.

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