Vitalik Buterin described Ethereum in 2013 after he had done work and research in the Bitcoin community. This was followed by Vitalik publishing the Ethereum white paper, describing the rationale and technical design for Ethereum’s protocol and the smart contracts’ architecture. Vitalik formally announced Ethereum in Miami, Florida at the North American Bitcoin Conference in January 2014.
Launching a new blockchain and cryptocurrency not only requires developing the software, but also a massive effort to gather the resources required to get it started. To fund a big network of investors, miners, and developers, Ethereum conducted a presale of its currency unit, ether. The financial and legal complexities of holding a presale to raise funds resulted in various legal entities being created, amongst them the Ethereum Foundation (Stiftung Ethereum) established in Switzerland.
The initial allocation of ether was distributed from July 2014 via a public ether presale lasting 42 days. This netted 31,591 bitcoins, valued at $18,439,086 at the time, in exchange for some 60,102,216 ether. The revenue from the sale was initially used to pay for the months of development that had not been paid for yet, mounting legal debts and to finance Ethereum’s ongoing development.
Ethereum development was formalized after the ether presale under ETH DEV, a non-profit organization. The organization’s directors are Vitalik Buterin, Jeffrey Wilcke and Gavin Wood, and it manages Ethereum’s development under contract from Ethereum Suisse. Throughout 2014, interest from developers in Ethereum grew progressively as the ETH DEV team delivered various proof-of-concept (PoC) releases to the development community for evaluation. The ETH DEV team also frequently posted on the Ethereum blog, keeping the momentum and excitement around Ethereum going. A growing user-base and increased traffic on the Ethereum subreddit and forum are testament to the platform attracting a devoted community of developers.
The DEVCON-0 event was organized by ETH DEV in November 2014. Ethereum developers from around the globe congregated in Berlin to discuss a wide range of technology topics. Various sessions and presentations at DEVcon-0 later drove significant initiatives to improve Ethereum’s reliability, security, and scalability. The event also served to galvanize developers while working towards Ethereum’s launch.
The DEVgrants program
Ethereum announced the DEVgrants program in April 2015. The program provides funding for projects based on Ethereum and contributions to the Ethereum platform. Many developers were already donating their thinking and time to open source and Ethereum projects. The program supports and rewards these developers for their assistances. The DEVgrants program is still operating to this day.
Open testnet, bounty program and security audits
In the early years, a series of proof of concepts were released, ultimately resulting in Olympic, the ninth POC open testnet. Developers were invited to test the network’s limits and substantial prize money was allocated as awards for those succeeding in breaching the system or holding various records. A month after Olympic was released, these rewards were officially announced.
The Ethereum Bounty Program was launched early in 2015. BTC rewards were offered for uncovering any vulnerabilities in Ethereum’s software stack. This increased the Ethereum community’s confidence in the technology and added to the security and reliability of Ethereum. The program is still active with no end date intended.
Ethereum security audits started in the latter part of 2014 and carried on during the first half of 2015. Several third party software security firms were engaged to conduct end-to-end audits of all critical components in the protocol, including Proof of Work, networking and EVM. Security issues that were uncovered during the audits were fixed and retested, ultimately leading to increased security for the platform.
On July 30th, 2015, Ethereum’s Frontier network was launched and developers started work on writing decentralized apps and smart contracts to deploy on the network. Miners also joined the network to earn revenue from mining blocks and assist in securing the Ethereum blockchain. Although the release of Frontier was the 1st milestone of Ethereum and it was only supposed to be used by developers in beta, it proved to be more reliable and capable than expected. As a result, developers quickly started building solutions and improving Ethereum’s ecosystem.
In November 2015, DEVCON-1 was held in London. The event lasted for 5 days and more than 100 lightning talks, panel discussions and presentations were given. The 400 + participants consisted of entrepreneurs, thinkers, business executives and developers.
With big companies like IBM, Microsoft and UBS being present, it is clear that enterprise is interested in Ethereum’s technology. At the event, Microsoft announced that Ethereum would be offered on its new ‘Blockchain as a Service’ on Azure. The announcement will surely go down in history as the moment blockchain technology went mainstream, and Ethereum was at its center.