Since it was first proposed as a research project in 1991, to its use as the base technology for Bitcoin in 2009, blockchain has grown in utility. This has all happened while spurring applications in non-cryptocurrency transactions including non-fungible tokens, smart contract and storage.
Depending on the type of blockchain they are built on, every few seconds, these use cases produce data that in turn become potential resources for building Web3 applications, data dashboards and conducting analyses.
However, extracting usable data, which could be anything from owners of crypto assets and total supply of an asset directly from blockchains is time-consuming and complex. This is because they are programmed into smart contracts which to the ordinary eye are a string of alphanumeric codes on the chain with little information, discomfiting efforts by developers and people seeking access to the bank of data locked in blockchains.
In 2017, three software engineers, Yaniv Tal, Brandon Ramirez and Jannis Pohlmann, collaborated to solve this problem which frustrated nearly everyone in the Web3 circle. They created The Graph Protocol and by December 2020, they launched the project in mainnet.
The Graph is an open source software that facilitates information retrieval from blockchains. It analyses and gathers blockchain data before storing it into different indices called subgraphs through which applications send queries to the protocol and receive responses. Applications query or interact with Subgraphs using GraphQL.
What Google does for the web, The Graph does for blockchains. Google underlies the traditional web just like The Graph underlies Web3, Tegen Kline, co-founder of Edge and Node which helped launch and monetise The Graph, told Arweave News.
“Thousands of decentralised applications build on The Graph and create DApps for all current use cases of the internet such as social media, art, NFT market places, metaverse, gaming, decentralised finance and decentralised autonomous organisation.”
Over 39 blockchains and networks are indexed by The Graph, including Ethereum, Polygon, Avalanche, Arbitrium, Binance Smart Chain and Arweave, Kline said. The Graph Foundation decides which blockchain or network to index based on the usage and demand of each chain and its strategic plan for the future of multichain.
The Graph is here to index all of the world’s data, no matter the chain it is on[… ] The goal is for permissionless additions of chains on The Graph Network so that anyone can add any chain in the future, she said.
In The Graph’s operation flow, nodes perpetually scan blockchains and networks for new data to add to applicable subgraphs. The data goes through an organisation process which involves users like Curators, Delegators and Indexers playing different roles for a fee.
Subgraphs on The Graph are open source, making it possible for anyone to build them. There are over 59,000 subgraphs, this makes it difficult to easily identify subgraphs with reliable data. Curators help to spot subgraphs with quality data and signals to Indexers to list them.
Indexers are node operators that provide indexing and query processing services. Nodes identify information that match queries from subgraphs. Graph tokens or GRT that are staked by Curators to indicate subgraphs with the more quality information also help to guide Indexers’ decision. Delegators stake GRT to Indexers to enable them to process more queries. They earn a portion of rewards Indexers get.
In The Graph’s ecosystem, the GRT which has a capped total supply of 10 billion and ranks number 62 as of the time of writing, plays both utility and governance function by being used in paying rewards and query fees. Users could lose tokens they staked if they act in a malicious way.
After four years in operation, The Graph is now taking steps to fully decentralise. It is moving subgraphs that had been on its hosted service to a decentralised network. The plan to end hosting service by the first quarter of 2023 was announced at The Graph Day in June this year. The Graph said it always had plans to be fully decentralised, which is a core principle of Web3. As the use of its services grow, the decision could help fortify the protocol against the problem of single point of failure.
The hosted service was only ever created to be destroyed. It was needed to prove product-market fit around subgraphs, Kline said, adding that the goal had been achieved and “all focus is on nurturing and expanding The Graph’s decentralised network, contributing to the internet of the future where no centralised entities can be extractive, manipulative or unilaterally authoritative.”
Geo, a newly created Web3 browser is The Graph’s effort to build the internet of the future and advance decentralisation. Said to be the first native Web3 browser, Geo is indexed by The Graph, stored on IPFS and anchored on Polygon. It was built to provide solutions to problems users encounter with Web2 browsers such as data privacy and lack of control over pages that are displayed. Now in beta phase, pages on Geo are curated by the community. Creators of Geo said users are charged $5 per month to guarantee the browser’s financial sustainability, eliminating the need to profit from users’ data.
But Geo’s unique feature could also restrict a broad adoption by the public. It currently supports only iOS operating system that has about 17.46 percent share of the global operating system market, led by Android at 44.17 percent and Windows at 28.96 percent. It is not known when Geo will support other operating systems, but a delay to support other operating systems opens an opportunity for competitors. The monthly access fee of $5 could cut off growing markets in developing countries.
The integrated experience of the iOS software and Apple hardware makes it an appealing first choice. iOS also helps to make Geo sybil-proof, in other words, proof of humanity in Geo is more easily provable thanks to iOS’s face ID feature – an important quality to help combat disinformation from bots and bad actors, Geo’s product management team told Arweave News.
Web3 is at a stage where DApps and protocols are building infrastructure to support the foundation of the third generation of the internet. The Graphs role in making blockchain data accessible is at the core of the entire effort to nurture Web3 and build a sustainable future for it.
There are not many areas for improvement that aren’t already on The Graph’s broader roadmap. Continued prioritisation of developer and customer experience is critical, said Michael LeSane, advocate and contributor to The Graph.
“The Graph is a powerful tool for development in this space.”