Ethereum Name Service founder reveals Vitalik Buterin’s timely grant intervention

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Nick Johnson wasn’t sure how much capital he would need to build Ethereum Name Service (ENS), but when he submitted figures to the Ethereum Foundation for a grant, Vitalik Buterin gave him double the amount he had asked for.

ENS’s founder spoke exclusively to Cointelegraph at ETHGlobal in London, reflecting on the development of the project that allows users to create human-readable Web3 addresses that can double up as a Web3 wallet for cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), as well as a domain for decentralized websites.

ETHGlobal co-founder Kartik Talwar in conversation with ENS founder Nick Johnson in London. Source: Gareth Jenkinson

The New Zealand-born software engineer worked for Google before being introduced to Bitcoin and Ethereum. Johnson said he was drawn to Ethereum due to its programmability:

“I learned about Bitcoin not long after it came out. I initially thought this was really cool, but then I realized it is just money. There’s no programmability here.”

Johnson began to tinker with Ethereum coding in his personal capacity. A strong background in infrastructure, tooling and libraries allowed Johnson to write his own Ethereum strings library.

A string is a programming data type representing text rather than numbers. This is typically a sequence of characters containing letters, numbers, symbols and spaces. Front-end software engineer Jeffrey Jenkinson described string manipulation as one of the most complicated tasks in software.

“Anything that is human-readable can be considered a string, and when developers write code that needs to be parsed into machine language, that starts with string manipulation,” Jenkinson told Cointelegraph.

The Ethereum Foundation eventually hired Johnson, and one of his first projects was to start work on the name service. Initially working for the EthSwarm team — its in-house decentralized data storage and distribution technology — Johnson was charged with addressing a gap in the infrastructure.

“There was a shortfall they had identified; their content needed naming. I said, well, so does everything else, accounts and so on. So that became my project there. When I moved off the swarm team and onto the Go Ethereum team, I kept it on as my side project,” Johnson said.

The Ethereum Foundation encouraged Johnson to work full-time on the project by creating a separate organization funded by a grant. The ENS founder drew up rough figures to support a two-year roadmap with a small team. That’s where Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin intervened, as Johnson explains:

“They took it to Vitalik, and he said, ‘No, that’s not nearly enough, take twice as much.’ That’s how it started. If he hadn’t got involved, ENS would have sputtered and failed.”

Users have registered over two million ENS addresses since the service went live. For Johnson, this metric is not as crucial as others, which are arguably more difficult to measure. He would prefer to better gauge what portion of users are entering crypto addresses into their wallets instead of DNS names:

“Unfortunately, that’s almost impossible to directly measure. So instead, we have to look at things like adoption in terms of number of names, registrations and renewals.”

While he anticipates a gradual growth in the number of registered ENS names, Johnson says the team focuses on taking the service to networks that could benefit from Web3 utility.

Related: Ethereum Name Service founder reflects as 2 million registration mark nears

“ENS needs to come to users where they are, so to speak. If there is a new distributed content network that is being widely used by users, then ENS should support it. We need to be there to allow people to get that improvement in usability,” the founder said.

ENS intends to roll out Ethereum layer-2 infrastructure in the next couple of years, and Johnson hopes to make the service more “plug-and-play” friendly.

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