Cardano Summit 2023 Hackathon: Transparency for Governance

The first-ever Cardano Summit Hackathon precedes the Summit’s main event and is already happening online. Final submissions close on 14 September 2023, with an expert panel from the Cardano Foundation and EMURGO judging each entry to decide which participants will take home the top prize—USD $10,000, plus a $5,000 travel and accommodation allowance for attending the Summit in Dubai. Notably, the winner will be formally announced during the Gala Awards Dinner on day 2 of the Summit.

The Age of Voltaire, the governance phase of the Cardano blockchain, places significant emphasis on transparency. This focus will require accessible solutions, tools, and interfaces that anyone can quickly understand how to use, including those outside of the Cardano ecosystem. However, only a few such options exist today—the Cardano Summit Hackathon aims to tackle this challenge.

A route to transparent governance

Hackathons play an important role in fostering innovation and collaboration in fast-paced environments. They bring together diverse minds to solve problems creatively, often resulting in rapid prototype development and fresh perspectives on technology and solutions. Hackathons also encourage learning, teamwork, and the exploration of new ideas. As reiterated during the Hackathon webinars, competitions, workshops, and similar events often generate immense value for the community, contributing to the growth of individuals and the broader ecosystem.

The Summit Hackathon looks to address issues specific to the governance phase of Cardano while also providing participants with an opportunity to showcase their abilities and develop their skills. As such, the Hackathon challenges participants to develop technology-driven projects that promote transparency in governance. The resulting solutions should enable individuals and organizations unfamiliar with blockchain to access and understand governance actions, policies, and decision-making processes.

The Hackathon started at midnight on 10 August and will close on 14 September at 22:55 BST. We’re excited to partner with TxPipe, one of the most experienced development teams in the Cardano ecosystem, to provide participants access to the Demeter platform for this Hackathon.

The Demeter platform will help participants access the Cardano blockchain, ensuring they do not need to set up their own node or other infrastructure components. Like platforms Blockfrost and Koios, Demeter provides a set of tools and resources that Hackathon teams can use to build decentralized applications, smart contracts, and unique digital assets on the Cardano network. Participants can sign up to access these services via the Demeter platform website.

Kicking off the Cardano Summit Hackathon

The Foundation has organized several workshops to support participants, starting with the Cardano Summit Hackathon Kickoff Webinar. This introductory webinar provided an overview of the rules and guidelines while also introducing some judges from the Foundation and EMURGO. Participants first heard from Takashi Hayashida, who joined EMURGO in 2019 after more than a decade of experience in investment banking.

After Hayashida provided feedback on how to onboard more people to the Cardano ecosystem, Kenny Wu of EMURGO shared his thoughts on how teams can develop viable business models despite bear market conditions. Wu noted that while Cardano has a large developer community, every blockchain ecosystem struggles with bringing viable projects to market. The key lies in understanding market pain points and developing solutions that effectively address the issues. Additionally, projects must establish a long-term revenue model that makes their business sustainable—an important consideration incorporated into the Hackathon judging criteria.

Thomas Mayfield, Lead of the Foundation’s Decentralized Trust and Identity Solutions Team, provided insights into the digital identity tools available to the broader ecosystem and Cardano users in particular. Mayfield highlighted recent developments from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which established version 1 (v1) standards for decentralized identities over a year ago. Institutional and academic digital identity implementations have since occurred across the US and UK, mainly among retailers and supply chain stakeholders. Meanwhile, the introduction of version 1.1 (v1.1) standards allowed to express credentials in a cryptographically secure, machine-readable, privacy-preserving way. The European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI) is also working to support cross-border applications, driving electronic ID (eID) and national identification systems to self-sovereign, interoperable identities.

On the other hand, the Global Legal Entity Identifier Foundation (GLEIF) handles the regulation and application of its legal entity identifier (LEI), which underpins financial stability, oversight, and regulation. Additionally, its verifiable legal entity identifier (vLEI) has increased adoption and enabled automatic authentication and verification in a scalable manner. It provides a blockchain-agnostic solution designed to work with decentralized environments.

Regardless of the specific use case, Mayfield reiterated that these standards and protocol implementations primarily focus on scalability, interoperability, security, and privacy. For Cardano-centric development, several projects offer digital and decentralized verifiable credential implementations, with the Developer Portal serving as the best knowledge bank.

Fabian Bormann, Lead of the Foundation’s Ecosystem Architecture and Engineering Team, then examined the strengths of the Cardano developer ecosystem. He explained that the ecosystem has several great tools, but significant barriers to entry still remain when migrating from other blockchains. For this reason, APIs from Blockfrost and Koios can prove particularly helpful when tapping into the Cardano blockchain ecosystem. In addition, Fabian Bormann pointed to the importance of templates and example repositories that developers more familiar with Web2 or other blockchain protocols can copy and paste.

The panel closed the discussion by exploring the educational initiatives the Foundation and its partners undertake. Mel McCann, Vice President of Engineering at the Foundation and one of the Hackathon judges highlighted the importance of education to help startups thrive regardless of market conditions. In fact, the Foundation envisioned the forthcoming Cardano Academy as a key component of driving adoption and fostering longevity in the ecosystem. Similarly, Mayfield reiterated the significance of hackathons and the value of open source repositories for knowledge transfer.

How to build on the Cardano blockchain

The second Hackathon webinar introduced building on Cardano, including an overview of tools to support participants, such as:

  • Blockfrost and Koios: Querying data directly from the blockchain can prove tedious and also has limitations when it comes to complex queries like account balances. Blockfrost and Koios allow simple, REST API-based access to diverse data from the Cardano blockchain. Both tools can be deployed in a decentralized environment—with user-provided infrastructure, or consumed conveniently using an “as-a-service” model.
  • Mesh.js: Mesh.js is a framework that, like others, conveniently packages recurring tasks for developers so that, for example, connecting a web application to a Cardano wallet becomes as simple as calling a few functions. Frameworks like this exist for other programming languages, but Mesh.js is easy to integrate with common technology stacks for building web applications.
  • cardano-connect-with-wallet: The Cardano Foundation developed this small library to unify the way applications can connect to Cardano wallets and get access to functions like signing transactions. The library has an independent frontend framework component but also offers integrations for the popular React framework.
  • Yaci: A collection of developer tools created to enhance Cardano development with the Java development language. The most remarkable tool from this collection is yaci-devkit which lets users spin up a local Cardano network by calling a single command, offering an experience similar to the one Ethereum developers are used to from tools like Ganache.

Following a comprehensive review of these tools, Mateusz Czeladka, Senior Developer and Cardano SME liaison at the Foundation, discussed how to harness the power of smart contracts with Aiken. This novel, easy-to-learn programming language resulted from the combined efforts of multiple ecosystem stakeholders and was created to simplify as well as boost the development of smart contracts on the Cardano blockchain. Notably, it comes in a straightforward syntax designed to support effortless integration with other tools and languages. In addition, Aiken introduces multiple state-of-the-art features that meet the discerning needs of developers.

The Hackathon judging criteria

In the third webinar of the series, the Foundation prepared an ask-me-anything (AMA) session and answered incoming questions. With more than 300 registered participants to date, we first addressed questions related to team sizes, programming languages, Demeter alternatives, and best practices for presenting solutions.

Participants should note that the Foundation does not favor any specific programming language for the solution. Demeter is not obligatory; teams can choose their own node setup or use providers like Blockfrost, Koios, or others to build their solutions. Likewise, we acknowledge the significance of team size and community standing, having an appreciation for smaller developers due to their substantial contributions to the Cardano ecosystem.

However, we do not exclude larger teams with an established presence. In short, this Hackathon emphasizes execution and ideas, encouraging participants to elaborate on their concepts comprehensively, even without immediate source code development. Each component of the judging criteria reflects this ethos.

Innovation & Necessity: 30%

The process starts with an appraisal of the concept based on its novelty and ability to address a crucial requirement within the Cardano ecosystem. Specifically, the judging panel will assess whether the submission is desirable or valuable to the Cardano community.

Product & Tech Maturity: 30%

The implementation of the concept then gets judged from a technical standpoint, examining the solution’s strength, preparedness, technological choices, level of completion, and suitability for actual deployment. The evaluation of technical contributions will revolve around their feasibility, usability, and clarity. Code quality, adherence to best practices, and the potential for independent execution and expansion qualify as key factors in assessing technical skills.

Additionally, when proposing solutions or user interface designs, the execution and presentation hold significance. A well-structured submission with clear documentation, including a table of contents, easy-to-follow logic, identified gaps, and outlined next steps, if applicable, demonstrates thoroughness and awareness.

Usability & User Experience: 20%

The product’s user interface is analyzed, focusing on the accessibility of the developed solution, its design aspects, and how effectively it caters to the requirements of blockchain users. The criteria here encompasses security as well as user-friendliness and visual attractiveness. For example, when creating software, participants need to consider the nature of their user interface, like whether it should involve using an API.

An API might suffice for a B2B audience or when the project serves another platform. In either case, comprehensive documentation about how to use the API becomes essential. On the other hand, providing a frontend developed for mobile or web platforms would be expected if the proposal focuses on end users, such as when building a Cardano voting center for Voltaire governance. In this scenario, the application would require a submission for thorough testing by the Foundation. Alternatively, if UI implementation poses a significant challenge, making a timely proposal impossible, a basic design or conceptual idea with novel features could instead be submitted.

Go-to-Market Strategy: 10%

On top of the more technical aspects, the judges will equally assess the team’s ability to promote the concept, delving into the strategy for product introduction, methods for acquiring users, and approaches to nurturing the product’s community. The evaluation will center on the feasibility and potential impact of these strategies. This criterion reflects key points raised during the first webinar, particularly in discussions with EMURGO representatives, wherein submissions should foster a sustainable business model alongside technical support.

To deliver on these points, Hackathon participants will need to share their revenue generation strategies, substantiating the potential for revenue from their solution. For example, a solution might scale with hundreds of users paying lesser fees or cater to larger B2B clients where only a few clients suffice to make the platform viable—a situation akin to exclusive luxury brands. In summary, the Foundation encourages entrants to craft compelling approaches to captivate venture capitalists while presenting robust go-to-market strategies and comprehensive analyses of revenue channels.

Team: 10%

Finally, examining the individuals driving the concept forward, judges will consider the team’s competencies, track record, and collective makeup. The emphasis lies in assessing the team’s capability to realize the project’s goals and effectively launch the product. Likewise, the team’s aptitude in presentations and interactions with the Hackathon organizing committee will be factored in.

Entrants need to present their backgrounds, define whether they are students or enterprises, and detail their motivations for joining the Hackathon as well as the reason underlying their enthusiasm for Cardano. While the prominence of large companies will not outweigh individual contributors, the Cardano Foundation and EMURGO strongly endorse the value of community participation in the Hackathon. Nonetheless, the focus will always remain on gauging the team’s capacity to realize project objectives and effectively introduce the solution to the market.

A final Hackathon webinar will take place on 31 August to clarify how to make a submission’s deliverables more competitive. In the meantime, the Foundation invites all interested parties to sign up for the Summit Hackathon. With the submission deadline set for 14 September, participants still have time to help shape the future of Cardano.