The Augur Master Plan (Part 2)

a year ago

6 min read

With the upcoming launch of Augur v2, the first Augur Master Plan from 2017 is now almost complete. The plan was to:

  • Release a v1 that would be cool, but slow and expensive
  • Integrate 0x and release a new version that allows off-chain order placements, modifications, and cancellations to drop the cost of trading
  • Integrate a stablecoin so that people could bet, effectively, in dollars
  • Add contracts that enable automatically rolling over a position
  • Release a new version with high transactions per second and low latency, this solves the second half of trading, enabling fast order fills/settlements

We've now done the first three, will probably skip the fourth, and the fifth should launch sometime in the next year. At that point, Augur will exist as a fully parallel financial system that lets people bet on anything, with low fees, and at scale. We said that if Bitcoin gave us decentralized currency and Ethereum brought decentralized computation, Augur will enable a decentralized financial system.

We had to do these steps to build something beneficial, Augur is a unique product in the sense that it's not a fantastic user experience until all these steps are completed. The "minimum viable" threshold here is quite high. We launched v1 because we wanted to test many of the ideas we had that were merely theory and see how they do in practice. That way, we could learn from it and fix any major issues that popped up in a decentralized system that doesn't happen in a centralized one. It's crazy to build the entire trading and betting software stack from the ground up (most buy it off the shelf). Still, we couldn't do that given that we're building on Ethereum, and it's even crazier to try to make it all from scratch, peer-to-peer, and decentralized (without any points of failure).

The first master plan was written to give people a vision into what we're going to build so that people could understand the roadmap. Also, so they'd be able to be more realistic about what Augur would deliver, and in what order. The universe of people who want to bet on something, have confidence in the price direction of Ether, are willing to pay a few dollars to make an order, and are okay with waiting about a minute for it to get filled is pretty small. With that in mind, it's impressive that in Augur's first year over $20M was matched given those constraints and how slow, expensive, and hard to use it was.

When we started Augur, the first 5 years were a lot of research and development and wandering in the wilderness to solve technical problems thought to be impossible. With v2, we're out of the desert, and now it's time to execute. We built the new interface from the ground up, a full-fledged trading interface that allows trading on anything. Now we can finally focus on rapidly iterating on UI / UX and launching new UIs for the first time, which we're going to continue doing throughout 2020. Augur will change for the better in 2020 in ways that are noticeable to the user more than in the past five years. This is because we finally have all the infrastructure we need to make your very own global, no limit betting platform!

With v2, we've fixed the main barriers to usage:

  • Bets are now dollar-denominated
  • Trading is faster, and market-making is far cheaper
  • The trading interface is robust and makes sense to use
  • You don't need to acquire Ether to trade
  • You can store your funds with a username and password
  • Payouts are significantly faster
  • Markets should not be plagued with validity issues or tricky wording

It begs the question: what's next?

For Augur, our mission is to create a global, no limit betting platform, made for you. Now that we've built the core technology, it's time to accelerate it. Here's how:

Mobile First UIs

As trading and betting increasingly go mobile (along with almost everything else these days) having easy to use, fast, performant mobile interfaces are a priority for Augur. V2 launched with mobile-specific designs, and we'll be continuing to improve them after launch too. Any other UI work we do will be designed with mobile in mind. We don't want people to need a laptop or desktop merely to use Augur.

Market Making Tools

Liquidity formation is crucial for Augur. To realize its potential, Augur needs liquid and deep order books at reasonable prices with low spreads. At the moment, the only way to quickly market make and provide liquidity is through the user interface itself (note that in v2 market makers get a fee rebate for providing liquidity). We'll be writing easy to use Python libraries that enable people to use APIs for algorithmic trading.

Related to liquidity formation, we’ll also be adding a feature that enables iceberg orders. These allow large bettors/traders to place an order without others seeing the size of the order (it appears as a smaller order on the order book).

Finally, there will eventually be "instant payout" functionality, which is the ability for a trader to automatically have their position sold for what it's worth when the event happens minus a small fee. This will form a marketplace where people who want to help pay others out early can fill these orders for markets that are recently expired. The incentive to buy someone else's position and hold it until the market officially resolves is the ability to get a small fee from doing so.

Bringing the Offline Social Experience Online

One thing that's really important in betting is the social experience you have when you're doing it with a group of people. For instance, when you go to the track and bet on the ponies you get to do it with other people, you get to see how their bets are going, and you get to celebrate when one of your friends win their bet. Traditionally, when betting online, you don't get this dynamic; instead, you're all alone by yourself. That's something we want to change. Sometime after V2 launch, there will be comments and chat: the comments will be on a per market basis, so you can talk to someone about what's going on surrounding that market, and the chat will be site-wide. So users will be able to talk to other people about what they're trading on, about current events, about what's going on in various sports, and whatever else they like. Eventually, it might be interesting to have features like leaderboards and the ability to see what the most significant positions held are in a given market.

User Activation

Now that most of the hard technical problems are solved, it makes sense to focus on making Augur significantly more usable and to respond quickly to user feedback. Almost all of the changes from v1 -> v2 were either directly or indirectly inspired by user feedback. Now that the groundwork and infrastructure are more robust, it'll be easier to make improvements at a rapid pace since it'll no longer involve much smart contract work. For the first time we can focus on user experience vs solely backend tech problems.

Betting Interface

The first user interface we launched was focused on traders because we wanted to build the full feature set of what is needed to run Augur first. If we had just released betting early, then the contracts might have had to change drastically to enable trading. So we launched trading first, which is a sort of niche platform focused on crypto traders and politics, but that has the full functionality that we could iterate on. Then, we plan to launch a more mainstream, easy-to-use, betting interface after that. This should go much quicker than it took us to get a usable trading interface out the door because here, we're mostly removing content and simplifying things versus adding new complexity.

This new betting interface is for people who are used to doing regular betting and want to get the benefits of betting on the world's first global, no-limit platform. It'll have the same basic features of the trading UI but framed for bettors using odds and with an experience similar to services like Betfair. It'll show you your odds and what your payout could be in an easy to understand way. Most importantly, it’ll be much more accessible and far easier to understand for most people than the trading interface.

To sum it up, the Master Plan Part 2 is:

  • Create beautiful easy to use mobile-first interfaces
  • Create open-source tools that make it easier for liquidity to form
  • Bring the offline social betting experience online through comments and chat
  • Now that we've built a core platform that people can use, focus on growth and user activation
  • Build an open-source betting view for Augur, so it's accessible to bettors in addition to traders