nCent Labs - test and code review
nCent has a mission to "create a freer and fairer decentralized Internet where the users directly benefit from the network effects they create and own".
If anyone, as we do, feel that this mission statement sounds slightly vague and abstract, then this example from the nCent Litepaper is quite illustrative:
"In 2009, DARPA hosted the Red Balloon Challenge. The first team to find 10 red balloons scattered across the USA would win a $40,000 prize3 . Shockingly, the MIT Media Lab organized a team that solved the Challenge in less than 9 hours, with only a few days of preparation. Their solution used recursive incentives to reward all the people who helped recruit balloon finders: If the MIT team won the challenge, $4000 would be allocated to each balloon’s chain of finders & recruiters: $2000 to the person who found it, $1000 to the person who recruited the finder, $500 to the person who recruited the person who recruited the finder, and so on ."
This comes across as quite mind blowing concept to us as it allows all actors in a network to be rewarded for participating in achieving objectives according to their individual contribution. No wonder that names such as Raval Navikant and Winklevoss Capital can be found on the list of nCent investors.
The attentive reader realizes that this solution can be generalized to everything that encompasses a task with defined objectives and a network of actors to support its completion, e.g. online retail sale, real estate brokerage or staff recruitment which already relies highly on referral rewards but fail to capture the full value of all network participants and incentivize them for contributions.
And what would be more suitable for tracking these contributions and assure that participants are rewarded fairly than blockchain!
At this point we are getting interested in how nCent are thinking to realize their concept on a technical level and eager see how far they are in their solution (and as usual encourage readers not wanting to dive in the technical aspects to skip to our conclusion section at the end of this article).
As nCent has not published a Whitepaper at this time, we are confined to look for clues in their Litepaper and github.
The Litepaper contains the above illustration of what nCent is set too achieve, and comes in comparison table format used by many projects. We are not very impressed by this and would advocate to abstain from these 'apples to oranges' comparison tables, e.g. in reality chains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are also working intensively on these solution categories and are far more advanced and proven than nCent is at this point, so comparing what nCent aims to be with what other chains are currently doesn't make much sense.
The nCent homepage doesn't provide a github link, but after some digging we find it at https://github.com/ncent/ncent.github.io. (we also confirm with the nCent team that we in fact found the correct one)
The first impression after downloading the github is not very good as source code files are all mixed together with lack of clear structure. It seems like the team has put the code out there but without really expecting anyone to actually look at it.
Apart from the nCent website we can see the following elements:
API ("coming soon")
Application (web, old/depreciated)
Core ("coming soon")
Logo Assets (no source)
MediaKit (no source)
Mobile App (has source code)
Request for Startups (no source)
SDK ( "coming soon")
Sandbox (has source code)
Tools (Telegram Bot)
The only folders of interest are Mobile App and Sandbox. We start by trying to run the Mobile App on Android (React bootstrap) and fail to make it work. The github contents provide little clue to how to build it by we assume that the app is depending on somewhat outdated library environment and begin to debug the React code.
After struggling a bit we manage to build the right libraries (although nCent uses npm which should give the right dependencies).
Fast forward a couple of days and the App is running on the server.
To start using it we scan the QR code and install another app (https://expo.io) client side from App Store. Viewed from the mobile device it looks like this.
We also find that our server and the mobile device needs to be on the same WiFi network for this to work (and actually need to install two apps to make the mobile app work).
This is not a native app. It seems that the App is more or less HTML forms, without any real logic or no encryption etc.
We are not sure nCent can do everything as an “online wallet” without having need to store anything locally. However, the existing solution with Expo underlay is not usable for the mass market. A naitive app or a React without Expo is needed.
The code itself is solid and clean, not very advanced but keeps a good standard. At a glance the Sandbox is on a similar level. The accompanying documentation is at best average.
The nCent team comments that the current github contents should be viewed as experimental. We agree with this and our impression is that this is still on early prototype stage, where a fundamental rework of the technical concept is most likely necessary.
Conclusion: The conceptual idea of nCent truly excites us and we think that they are solving a very real problem where blockchain fits in perfectly. We would love to see solutions based on their generalized concept becoming a reality.
The technical outline of the complete solution are hidden at the moment and we believe that the nCent project has a long road ahead based on what is available in their github (also bear in mind that no Whitepaper is available at this time).
The solution we have looked at is an experimental prototype lacking any business logic, and needs to be fundamentally reworked to be suitable for production and mass-adoption. The time line for the project in view of this concerns us a bit, and it might be delayed by the process of finding core tech team resources to support development (nCent recruitment ads indicate this).
However, with the strong backing nCent has received by investors and advisors lined up, we don't believe recruitment of tech talent will be a major issue and looking forward to follow how their ideas materialize.
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