Kuan Huang got into blockchain technology in late 2017. At that year's Devcon, he met some developers working on databases based on blockchain transaction data. Some companies, he noted, were even building applications on top of their databases to try to better understand the information.
"To me, that was actually a very stupid idea," Huang told ETHNews. "Why would anyone keep doing the same thing?"
Huang, who has a background in big-data analytics, naturally concluded that a solution was needed for the blockchain industry's data problem. What he proposed was Scout.
Blockchain's Data Problem
You might not think Ethereum has a data problem.
After all, block explorers, such as Etherscan and Etherchain, allow individuals to see a record of a blockchain's transactions. Generally free to use and easy to access, these explorers have become important components of a blockchain developer's toolbox. Instead of sifting through a litany of code to locate transaction details, which appear in different places on a ledger, individuals can see that information in consolidated form on an explorer's interface.
Though these tools come in handy when piecing together the different components of a transaction, explorers may not provide the data insights a company needs. Imagine trying to analyze companywide trends using such an interface.
Recognizing the limitations of block explorers, Kuan Huang and Chunxi Jiang founded Scout to help Ethereum-based organizations gain insights from their data. Like an "internal block explorer," Scout customizes data dashboards so that organizations can see the information relevant to them, whether that's economic activity or governance. Simply put, Scout aims to distill and translate data into a form most understandable and valuable to a company.
Scout in the Field
Huang and Jiang began bootstrapping the company at the beginning of 2018. In the first few months of the new year, Scout provided several blockchain organizations with a free prototype of its product, then called Supermax, so that it could gather feedback, learn what these companies needed, and arrive at a better idea of what it should build. By May 2018, Huang and Jiang knew Scout was the route to pursue, and the two have since worked to improve the platform's user interface and experience. Now, Huang believes, the product is "ready for market."
Although the premise of Scout is simple (data-visualization tools aren't novel by any means), the product has provided value to several Ethereum-based organizations. One example is Livepeer, a decentralized video-distribution platform.
Here's the short of how Livepeer works: Transcoders in Livepeer's network convert a broadcaster's video stream into another bit rate or packaging format. These individuals are nominated by token holders, called delegators, who stake their coins toward quality transcoders.
Huang said Livepeer was interested in, among other data points, ensuring transcoders were properly rewarded over time, tracking token distribution, and identifying top performers in the network. Scout has been able to assist Livepeer in accessing this information. Doug Petkanics, founder and CEO of Livepeer, told ETHNews that Scout "has been an invaluable tool for the Livepeer community." He continued:
"I, and many community members check [Scout] multiple times daily for a few reasons:
"1) It provides a nice, configurable dashboard for high level data about the use of the Livepeer protocol. For example how much token is currently staked? What is the current inflation rate? If there's an important parameter in your protocol you can easily add it to your dashboard.
"2) It has the power to record data at a point in time, and you can reference and query this data. Kind of like a database index. This is not functionality that the blockchain itself provides, so Scout lets you view how data changes over time, which is very valuable.
"3) Scout also indexes every single protocol transaction and event, and makes them searchable. So you can use queries in Scout to debug what users are actually doing in your protocol – when did they bond, when did they unbond, when did they submit jobs to the network, etc? It's a very nice transaction explorer."
One of Livepeer's community leads, who goes by "velvetdoctor" on the team's Discord server, also believes Scout "is pretty good in providing key stats," but occasionally "some of the metrics lag behind the actual network." That said, velvetdoctor asserts that if Livepeer did not have Scout, it would be "almost impossible for a non techie to find out about these metrics on a daily basis."
Livepeer is not the only group satisfied with Scout. Decentralized governance network Aragon has also teamed up with the block explorer solution to learn more about how its organizations are being used, participation rates (through voting, for example), and other data points. Brett Sun of Aragon told ETHNews that the team is "still getting [its] dashboards built but in a very quick amount of time (<1-2 months)," Scout has been able to provide Aragon with "a pulse on [its] desired metrics."
Jorge Izquierdo, co-founder of Aragon, also chimed in, enthusiastically noting that Scout is "really great and we are really really happy with the dashboard they have built."
With the tools provided by Scout, though, one might wonder whether conventional block explorers are still useful. Why use a seemingly convoluted interface when a customized dashboard can be created with an organization's specific interests in mind?
Huang, however, does not see these traditional explorers as Scout's competitors. Everybody has access to a tool like Etherscan, and developers can visit this explorer to see everything about the Ethereum blockchain. Scout, on the other hand, is more focused. Because of this difference in scope, he maintains, Etherscan and Scout are solving different problems.
"The analogy is that those block explorers are Craigslist, and we are probably Airbnb," he said. "We only do one thing and make sure that thing is really, really [good]."
Dog Years Ahead
Huang and Jiang have made significant progress in a relatively short amount of time, transitioning their product from Supermax to Scout in less than a year, but this is just one step on Scout's roadmap. In the near future, Huang hopes to integrate with more companies and gain further insight into how these organizations use Scout. In the longer term, he aims to bring Scout to a level where other developers can build on top of it.
Ultimately, Huang envisions an interoperable future for blockchain technology. In three to five years, he thinks separate blockchain protocols will "talk" to one another through EDCCs (aka smart contracts). He explained:
"Imagine, let's say, how one is using Aragon to create an organizational blockchain. What that organization does is run a transcoder for Livepeer, and once they're making Livepeer tokens, they want … to use their tokens to borrow money on MakerDAO … [then] they use CryptoKitties as collateral to borrow money on the dollar. All these use cases will link these protocols together."
Organizations interested in integrating with Scout can join the team's waitlist, which, at this point, has around 10-15 companies on it. Although Huang would like more companies to use Scout, he and Jiang are only able to "serve one company at a time" due to their limited bandwidth.