In this research piece, we examine the popularity and features of different blockchain software development ecosystems. The research has been done by analysing questions and answers data on the world's number one programmer forum, StackOverflow.
The results of this research allows us to better understand the blockchain developer landscape, help businesses make decisions on blockchain adoption and to help blockchain communities to benchmark their community activity amongst their peers.
- This study focuses only on the popularity of software development aspects of blockchains. We do not examine matters such as; end-user adoption, fair value of cryptocurrencies and where these technologies add value.
- Blockchain development popularity is in decline based on StackOverflow data.
- Ethereum Virtual Machine-based blockchains dominate the software development, as expected. Ethereum and EVM-compatible blockchains cannot be differentiated, as they are more or less clones of each other and thus any question to Ethereum could be also a question to Binance Smart Chain, Polygon and others.
- Solana, the first runner-up as an independent ecosystem, is ~1/6th of EVM's popularity, followed up are NEAR protocol and Bitcoin, though Bitcoin development interest peaked in 2014.
- We can identify two waves of developer interest, following the cryptocurrency bull markets of 2018 and 2022. The blockchain development activity has returned to the same level it was prior to the 2020 cryptocurrency market bull run.
- There are various alternative blockchain technologies that have not taken off in development by popularity over the years.
- Private blockchains, namely Hyperledger, peaked in 2018. In fact, Hyperledger temporarily surpassed Ethereum in popularity. But since then, Hyperledger has been in decline and is mostly irrelevant today.
- We see some positive, and somewhat surprising results, such as the activation of the Hedera Hashgraph and WalletConnect communities.
- Some of the latest technologies such as Aptos and Sui are using Move programming language, or Radix DLT with Scrypto programming language, are too fresh to have meaningful fingerprints in the data.
- Bitcoin development interest has not changed over a decade - it is not dead, but nothing happening either.
The data is not fully representative, as it focuses on a single forum, StackOverflow, of which popularity has declined over the years. The StackOverlow datasets end in May 2023 and have not been refreshed anymore. As StackOverflow stopped publishing data, and the dataset is getting stale, this research is more useful to examine history, not to make future predictions.
This research notebook was created to answer questions like "Is blockchain development dead?" or "Does a viable blockchain development outside EVM today exist?".
- The research was conducted out of curiosity to see if "blockchain and cryptocurrencies are dead" and to have evidence to direct this discussion. However we need to be more granular in our discussion; is it all blockchains that are dead? are some blockchains more dead than others? how many dead blockchains are there historically and why?
- There was a recent incident with the founder of MakerDAO, one of the oldest Ethereum projects, praising Solana, the second most popular alternative for Ethereum Virtual Machine ecosystem.
- As MakerDAO is one of the foundational protocols on the top of Ethereum, the Solana comment caused a lot of drama.
Research source code and data
About StackOverflow and its data
StackOverflow is, and has been, the number one software development questions and answers (Q&A) forum for over a decade.
- We know the popularity of StackOverflow is in decline, and it has been declining for many years before the AI boom started.
Decline is caused by:
- The inbound of low-quality users with low-quality questions flooding the forum which turns people off who have the interest and knowledge to answer the questions.
- Toxic moderation.
- Toxic moderation seems to be especially an issue with cryptocurrencies, as people vote down questions for ideological reasons, not technical reasons
StackOverflow posting is down 50% of an all-time high in 2015, back to 2011 levels. We also check if the overall decline of StackOverflow popularity has any significance for our analysis.
Some blockchain ecosystems run their own StackExchange sites. A StackExchange site is similar to a StackOverflow programmers Q&A site, but for a particular topic and is not exclusive to software development.
- Other StackExchange posts represent end-user questions along with software developer questions.
- These datasets were not used due to lack of time, as analysis of the data would require manually building tag maps of hundreds of tags.
- Including ethereum.stackexchange.com, software development questions would likely increase Ethereum dominance by a factor of 5x - 10x but might not be a good representation of early adopter interest.
- We may publish more research notebooks on these datasets in the future, so please follow our channels for updates.
Here is a short overview of different blockchain ecosystem StackExchange sites we are aware of:
- Ethereum - 60k questions
- Bitcoin - 30k questions
- Tezos - 2k questions
- Substrate (Polkadot) - 4k questions
- EOS - 2k questions
The StackOverflow-only dataset used in this notebook has ~30k questions.
More on data and what does it say
We believe StackOverlow represents mainstream software development interests. Although in decline, the 2023 data should still give a good approximation for this analysis.
For early communities, the interaction usually happens where the community founders are. They often do not follow or answer questions on StackOverflow. Developers involved know how to reach the founders and do not post on StackOverflow, as they know their questions would go unanswered there.
Furthermore, software development communities, both early and established, are increasingly using other tools to answer questions such as:
Because these mediums do not have solid structural data (tagging) or access (data dumps), analysing software development interests from these sources is much more difficult.
Benchmark of unrelated technologies
To understand the nature of the StackOverflow data better, we plot some unrelated technologies and see how their popularity on StackOverflow has developed over time.
- Web frontend development technologies: jQuery, Angular, React, Vue.js, Svelte
- Database technologies: SQL, Firebase, MongoDB
Based on the insights we can see there is a less to no activity for Svelte on StackOverflow, however most Svelte-related developer interactivity happens on a private Discord questions and answers forum.
Researched blockchain technology tags
Here is an overview of tags examined and their lifetime counts.
We only present tags with more than 125 questions. If you wish to see the full comparison view the original research notebook and run it yourself.
Blockchain questions data
- We have collected ~30k StackOverflow blockchain development-related posts over the past decade.
- The first posts around 2010 were only Bitcoin-related.
- Since Ethereum mainnet became useable for generic software developers around 2017, Ethereum has dominated blockchain development.
Top blockchains by developer interest
Here we plot the developer popularity for the top four blockchain ecosystems, as inferred from the domain-specific knowledge.
- Ethereum, Bitcoin, Solana and Near Protocol have so much developer interest that it does not make sense to plot them on the same scale as the other chains, for that reason the other chains are plotted further down.
Note that due to EVM-compatible clones it is impossible to distinguish Ethereum questions from example, Polygon and BNB SMart Chain questions, so the Ethereum category should be treated as "all EVM blockchains".
Top blockchains by developer interest, adjuted to StackOverflow's decline
- Here we present blockchain posts as % of overall posts of StackOverflow.
- This shows any correction for the general trend of StackOverflow decline.
- After adjustment, the blockchain interest downward trend corrects a bit, however this change does not seem to be significant.
- Here, we analyse tags for blockchains that are begining to gain traction, have not yet gained traction, or did not gain meaningful traction in the past
- These are plotted on their independent chart, as the Y-axis would be too skewed by the top blockchains.
- As of 2023, Hedera seems to have gained traction amongst developers.
- Tron, despite the reputation of its infamous founder, enjoys developer interest - from other contexts we know this to be popular in Asia.
- Polkadot made a lot of noise in the 2021 bull run but has since become quiet.
Generic blockchain tags
- Here we analyse the trends of generic blockchain development tags.
- These tags cannot be associated with any blockchain or specific technology.
- Here, we compare blockchains that are likely to have little relevancy today.
- After the 2018 bull market, EOS had the best chance to become an alternative for the EVM ecosystem.
Based on the domain-specific knowledge, EOS failed not due to technical reasons, but because Block.One, the company behind the original implementation did not allocate or misallocated the capital that was purposed for EOS development.
Centralised exchange API developer interest
- We compare centralised exchange (CEX) API developer questions.
- These questions are related to CEX APIs, automated trading, and trading bots.
- This gives us a reference point in blockchain infrastructure and decentralised ecosystem comparison.
- The X-axis is binned yearly because of low activity on these questions.
Binance Smart Chain vs. Ethereum
- By active addresses count, Binance Smart Chain is the most popular EVM-compatible clone chain due to its push from Binance, which has, at the time of writing, 50% CEX market share.
- We have made the comparison with Binance branded tags against their native Ethereum counterparts.
- However, Binance has not succeeded in creating a vibrant credible ecosystem around it and mostly attracts clone projects or no-substance memecoin projects, which may eventually lead to the downfall of BNB Smart Chain.
Uniswap vs. PancakeSwap
- We compare the developer interest of leading DEXes of Ethereum and Binance Smart Chain ecosystems.
- Uniswap is the leading decentralised exchange.
- Uniswap is Ethereum-centric, whereas PancakeSwap is Binance Smart Chain-centric.
- PancakeSwap is the only Uniswap competitor with meaningful mainstream developer ecosystem in 2023.
Fungible vs. non-fungible tokens
- Here we compare the developer interest of NFTs against value transfer tokens.
- This comparison is not specific to any particular blockchain.
- This particular comparison has somewhat difficult data, as people do not tag their questions
erc20even if it is a token-related question. The
tokentag is reserved for generic programming token related questions.
We compare Ethereum integration libraries for various major programming languages such as:
- Here we plot what is the popularity of different Web3 frontend integration libraries for Ethereum.
- Wagmi has 32 total questions (Sept 2023), but due to the old data is too new to show in this comparison.
New smart contract programming languages
- Here we take a look at how new smart contract programming languages are progressing.
- We do not benchmark against Solidity as it would skew the axes.
- With the launch of Aptos and Sui chains, originally developed for Facebook's Diem blockchain, Move is gaining in popularity this year.
- AssemblyScript is used outside smart contracts, but it saw a spike in popularity on Near blockchain.
Smart contract framework popularity comparison
- Here we compare the popularity of different smart contract development frameworks for Ethereum.
- Foundry is taking over from Truffle and Hardhat.
- Foundry is too new to be included here.
- Foundry support is mostly kindling support on the community Telegram chat.
- Brownie is now unmaintained and being replaced by Ape.
- Remix has been included, even though it's web IDE and not a framework per se.
Solana tags breakdown
- Here we examine what are the various Solana question sub-tags and how are performing.
BNB Smart Chain tags breakdown
- Here we examine popularity of different BNB Smart Chain related tags.
Wallet connectivity questions
- While MetaMask is not a programming interface, but a single implementation, developers tag their questions with "MetaMask" as they do not correctly understand what a blockchain wallet is.
- New, mobile-friendly, WalletConnect interface standard has been in progress since 2021.
- WalletConnect is one of the blockchain developer interests that is increasing today.
Decentralised application (Dapp) related tags
- Here we benchmark some popular Dapps and protocols that are not blockchains themselves.
- OpenSea has been included, although it is not a truly decentralised application, open source and thus does not have a developer community.
Private or public blockchain popularity comparison
- Hyperledger is the most well-known implementation used on private blockchains.
- Private blockchain peaked in 2018 and never recovered - enterprises are now looking to implement their use cases on public blockchains, subnets or similar.
Ethereum vs. Hyperledger vs. all blockchain questions-to-answers ratio
- We compare the questions-to-answers ratio of different technologies.
- A good questions-to-answers ratio is a sign of a healthy open-source community. Lower is better: it means more questions get an answer.
- We check how the Hyperanswer questions-to-answers ratio compared to the more community-oriented public blockchain folk questions-to-answers ratio.
- We compare all blockchain questions, Ethereum and Hyperledger.
Some speculation about the results:
- As discussed earlier, StackOverflow is in decline and we can see this as well by having more and more questions going unanswered. Either questions are low quality (written unprofessionally or have little value) or people have stopped bothering to answer for other reasons.
- We can see the quality of both Ethereum and Hyperledger communities degrading over time.
- This is likely due to more low-skilled developers entering the industry, whereas early on the community consists of professional developers only.
- We also can see spikes around the launches of Bitcoin and Ethereum communities, when the community was small and consisted only of domain experts.
Community developer relations health indicator
- We check the all-time questions-to-answers ratio for every tag we have collected.
- We have sorted tags by healthiest (most answers to questions) to unhealthy (questions go without answers).
- We have not conducted time analysis for trends, however we have just taken the lifetime value for each tag. Overall the Hedera Hashgraph community seems to be doing an excellent job answering questions.
- Some blue chip projects like Uniswap, WalletConnect and FileCoin have low scores, indicating that most questions go unanswered. These projects should likely invest more time in basic documentation and developer support.
- Ethereum and its clones are dominating the developer interest, and although other ecosystems are significantly smaller, they exist.
- Almost nobody develops on Bitcoin, relative to its dominance in cryptocurrency industry.
- Based on this dataset, although blockchain developer interest is in decline, it is still healthy and seems to follow market cycles.
- This could be due to a bull market runs attract developers who are mostly motivated by money and high salaries.
- There are some specific technologies like WalletConnect and Hedera Hashgraph that are seeing increased developer interest today.