Crypto startup Dfinity takes on Ethereum with launch of Internet Computer
It took a while to get here, but Dfinity is finally launching.
In July 2018, I went to the Swiss city of Zug to speak to Dominic Williams, CEO of crypto platform Dfinity. Its blockchain project has impossibly bold branding — they call it “Internet Computer” — and a massive trove of cash. (The company raised $102 million from Andreessen Horowitz and others in 2018.) The goal is to create the best platform for cryptocurrency-based apps.
Back then, Dfinity pegged the first quarter of 2019 as a possible launch date for its mainnet (in crypto lingo, mainnet is when you launch the actual product with a live blockchain to build on). But after some delay, Dfinity has finally done it — on May 7, the Internet Computer is going live.
The technical details of Dfinity aren’t easy to grasp (check out the details here), but the company sees itself as another essential stack of internet protocols that will fuel decentralized apps of the future, other such protocols being the building blocks of the Internet such as TCP/IP. Dfinity also boasts “unlimited capacity” and running at “web speed,” as well as a high level of decentralization, meaning that anyone can join the network, build on it, or use the applications that are built on top of it.
In crypto terms, Dfinity is best compared with Ethereum, the world’s most popular platform for decentralized apps. However, while apps on Ethereum typically have to do with finance, Dfinity advertises itself as a platform for any type of web app. To prove this, the company launched a proof-of-concept, decentralized version of LinkedIn called LinkedUp in 2020, and followed with similar test versions of TikTok and WhatsApp. (All of these projects are still being developed and will launch together with Dfinity’s Internet Computer.)
Williams’ ambitions for the project are massive. “In 10 years, the wider tech community will realize that the Internet Computer is on a trajectory to one day become humanity’s primary compute platform for building software, and the ‘Open Internet’ will predominate over Big Tech’s closed proprietary ecosystem. Finally, in 20 years, the Open Internet will finally be significantly bigger than Big Tech’s closed proprietary ecosystem, which will be in terminal decline, but will take forever to disappear for similar reasons COBOL code is still running,” he said in a statement.
Dfinity is not alone in trying to dethrone Ethereum; other projects, such as Cardano, Avalanche, and Solana, have a similar mission. I asked Williams about Dfinity’s competitive advantage over those other projects.
“The biggest advantage that the Internet Computer has is that it is simply the world’s first blockchain that runs at web speed with unlimited capacity — solving the ‘blockchain trilemma’ by producing a blockchain network that is decentralized, secure, and scalable,” he told me via e-mail. “Another differentiator is in how the Internet Computer utilizes independent data centers around the world. This means it doesn’t rely on AWS or any of the enterprise cloud providers. Instead of using Proof of Work or Proof of Stake, the Internet Computer rewards the independent data centers for the time that they correctly operate standardized computer nodes,” he said.
At launch, Dfinity starts by running on 48 data centers located all over the globe, running 1,300 nodes, and the company says it plans to continue to grow “exponentially,” with 4,300 nodes scheduled to run by the end of the year.
Finally, Williams thinks that Dfinity’s team is among the best around, with numerous cryptography and computer science experts working over five years to bring the project to a complete state. And the Internet Computer is “100 percent complete” at this point, Williams says. “Anyone around the world can jump in and begin building the next mega applications and billion dollar businesses.”
Like most crypto projects, Dfinity’s Internet Computer platform comes with a crypto token attached. The ICP token has a role in network governance, software hosting fees, and as a reward for participation in either the governance or the operations of the network. The token itself will launch on May 10.
As for what lies in Dfinity’s future, Williams says the project’s most important mission is to “onboard as many interested developers, entrepreneurs, investors, and enterprises as possible.”