It was only a year after the launch of the Ethereum mainnet that Nick Johnson began building the Ethereum Name Service, or ENS — a tool for assigning human-readable names to otherwise-complicated sequences of letters and numbers that describe Ethereum addresses.
“It was one of the first projects I started working on at the Ethereum Foundation and then spun out to its own organization,” he says, “and we’ve been building it ever since.”
“I’m incredibly impressed with what we’ve achieved,” he says, “but, you know, it’s only the beginning of what we’re working on.”
On the 0xResearch podcast (Spotify/Apple), Johnson details his vision for the future of the service, with plans to make the service “even more useful” with layer-2 support, an improved user interface and greater functionality.
One priority, Johnson says, is that a user should expect to be able to enter an ENS name anywhere that an ether (ETH) address can be entered. A user should “be surprised when it isn’t supported rather than having to check that it is,” he says. “I think we’re close, but not there yet for that.”
Another crucial element of the vision involves increasing transparency and lowering costs. “That’s our big focus at the moment.”
This work involves rolling out layer-2s for low-cost registrations, Johnson explains, as well as adding enhancements that make it easier for users to issue subnames. These improvements would enable organizations like Coinbase to use either a layer-2 or “host names entirely off-chain.”
With these improvements, name owners would have greater control over the “trust model” of how their names and subdomains are managed, Johnson says. “We’re focusing on that mostly at the moment by building tooling that makes it easier for people to work on [layer-2],” he says.
Johnson adds that while it’s been possible to host names on layer-2 for more than a year, it needs to be easier to set up. “What’s been missing is the easy plug and play tooling that makes it trivial for someone to do that,” he says.
“At the moment, the integration overhead is a bit higher,” he admits. “So that’s our main focus on the back end. And then on the front end, it’s all corresponding work to make the usability meet the feature set on the back end.”
Johnson says the company has been speaking to wallet providers to enable the naming of wallets, “which has always been a long term vision of mine.”
“The wallet sign-up flow should include naming the wallet,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to even know or care what your Ethereum address is any more than you do what your IP address is.”
“If I asked you what Google’s IP address was, you couldn’t tell me because there’s no reason you would know that — and there’s no reason you would want to know that,” he says. “And IP addresses are a lot shorter than Ethereum addresses. They’re a lot easier to memorize.”
“The same degree of usability ought to apply to Ethereum, to crypto in general.”
Setting up a wallet should involve picking a name, Johnson says, that can be pseudonymous and disconnected from other wallets to ensure privacy. “Ultimately, we create accounts because we want to transact with them,” he says.
“At some point, that involves giving that address to someone else or some third party or site or whatever, and this just makes that an order of magnitude easier.”
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