Harsh Rajat: EPNS is ‘the missing piece of Web3 infrastructure’

By Anna Akopyan

Anna Akopyan talks to Harsh Rajat about EPNS, Web3 infrastructure and security

Currency.com journalist Anna Akopyan speaks to Harsh Rajat                                 
Currency.com journalist Anna Akopyan speaks to Harsh Rajat – Photo: Harsh Rajat (private archive)
                                

Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS) is a DeFi protocol that enables any dApps or smart contracts to send blockchain agnostic, incentivised and dynamic notifications. EPNS hopes to become an important part of Web3. Currency.com journalist Anna Akopyan spoke to EPNS founder Harsh Rajat about the company's future.

Anna Akopyan (AA): Let’s start with your background. Where and when did you found your company?

Harsh Rajat (HR): The first step towards founding the Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS) was an eventual discovery rather than a sudden realisation. It all started when I first noticed Ethereum in 2018 after investing in bitcoin (BTC) for two years. When I stumbled upon Ethereum, it didn’t take long for me to understand the vast possibilities it brought into the online space. 

After realising what Ethereum had to offer, my co-founder Richa and I spent time exploring, researching and understanding the weak points in the decentralised Web3 world. We compared the experience on Web3 and Web2 to search for missing links in the space. 

Back in the day, decentralised protocols and applications were still in very early stages, and this space was burgeoning with new ideas and innovations. But the deeper we dived, the more apparent the lack of a solid communication layer for decentralised platforms to communicate with their users became.

That need for a communication layer in Web3 to allow decentralised platforms to effectively communicate with and notify users is what led us to lay the foundation for Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS).

AA: You said that EPNS was “the missing piece of Web3 infrastructure”. Could you please explain how that works, in simple terms?

HR: We’re a generation of people who wake up more easily to a series of push notifications from one of our most-used mobile applications than we wake up to our alarm clocks.

Push notifications have completely redefined how internet applications and users interact with each other. Web2 apps can easily send push notifications to our devices to notify us about all sorts of events that happen while we’re not using the apps. 

The same isn’t true for Web3 platforms – yet. Whether we speak of lending platforms or games or exchanges on Web3, they still need their users to check back every time they want an update on what’s happening within the application. If that remains the case, Web3 will have a very low engagement rate. Ask yourself how many times you’d actually check all the applications you use if it weren’t for push notifications?

EPNS will change that. It’s a decentralised communication layer that functions based on two smart contracts: the first is the Ethereum-native smart contract EPNS Core, which is where all Web3 services must create a channel to start sending push notifications to the users who subscribe to them. The second is the EPNS Communicator, which is responsible for sending notifications to subscribed users of EPNS Core channels.

The EPNS Communicator can be deployed across blockchains so all Web3 services can send notifications to their users irrespective of what blockchain they’re based on. What EPNS does is that it enables Web3 applications to trigger notifications based on certain predefined parameters and carry them to the Web2 interface of the EPNS application, where users can view the notifications.

These notifications can have integrated multimedia content such as images and videos, Call to Action links (CTAs), and voting options such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for governance proposals.

All in all, it’s everything that Web2 notifications are, but better, as users have the option to opt-in and opt-out of notifications, and they’re also incentivised for enabling notifications from Web3 services. So it’s a win-win.

AA: What about security? Do you screen apps in any way? What measures does EPNS have to avoid fraudulent abuse and cyberattacks? 

HR: As of now, any Web3 service can create a channel on EPNS and start sending notifications to its users. As a security measure, there are push nodes that consistently verify all notifications sent out by services from across blockchains.

These primarily check for two things: whether or not a service trying to send a notification has a channel on EPNS and whether or not the user a service is trying to send a notification to is subscribed to its channel. This prevents services from spamming their users with irrelevant push notifications.

Moreover, the smart contracts also provide an additional feature of delegated notifications – for example, allowing a specific user or contract to send a notification on behalf of a particular channel. However, in order to ensure the procedure is done with utmost security, the channel has complete authority to add a delegate notification sender of their choice or remove them at any given time.

Regarding the inherent security of the EPNS smart contracts, we’re fairly confident we’re doing everything to strike out every bug and make the contract resistant to cyberattacks. We’ve also had our contracts audited by the renowned smart contract-auditing firm ChainSafe, which further verifies that our contracts are safe to use.

AA: Can you give me a sneak peek at the EPNS roadmap? What should the crypto community expect in the near future? 

HR: To say there’s a lot to do in the near future would be an understatement. In 2021, we’ve reached a lot of milestones: from launching the two smart contracts to introducing push nodes and announcing the progressive decentralised governance of EPNS to eventually making EPNS decentralised. But that’s just scratching the surface of what we intend to do in the Web3 space.

Although it is named after Ethereum, one of our primary missions is to become a blockchain-agnostic system while the core security layer of EPNS resides on Ethereum. And as you can guess, there are a lot of promising blockchain layer 1 (L1) and L2 networks, and scaling across all of these will be a time-consuming task. 

We also have to take care of the progressive decentralisation so that we can eventually offer the control of EPNS back to the community, thus maintaining the true ethos of Web3. This will include upgradeability of EPNS and its rules through online voting, incentives towards developing third-party channels via the protocol and incentives for active participation in the protocol.

Besides that, we have a lot of development to do for our frontend, backend, and PUSH Mobile SDKs and Toolkits, subgraphs, and EPNS DApp. Then we have new additions to make to our existing mobile application for iOS and Android, and we’re also planning a browser extension so users can receive notifications from Web3 services right on their browser.

All in all, there’s a lot of exciting work to do.

AA: Last but not least, I'd like to hear your forecast about the future of crypto. When will Web3 completely replace Web2?

HR: The growth of crypto and the entire ecosystem around it speaks for itself. At this point, we’re still in the discovery phase. People are still learning about what blockchains and cryptos can make possible for the online world. A vast majority is yet to explore crypto beyond a currency and all the amazing use cases that blockchain technology has brought forward. 

The most exciting of it all is, of course, the decentralisation of control in finance, social media, games, content-sharing platforms and so on. Besides, no other industry has been able to offer to users what crypto and blockchain offer – the utmost transparency, freedom and control.

DeFi [decentralised finance] has enabled people to take advantage of far better wealth-accumulation opportunities than were ever offered by traditional finance. Blockchain-based games have defined a completely new way of gaming, allowing users to earn while they play. Social media and content-sharing platforms integrating blockchain are offering incentives to creators and allowing them to monetise their audience properly, without the need for a central entity. Take Reddit’s latest announcement – they’re planning to convert people’s Karma points into crypto tokens, which are likely to hold real-life value.

Given all this innovation and the industry’s user-centric approach, it’s easy to say the crypto space will only go up. It’ll garner even greater support as it shows more people how it can impact their lives.

Speaking of Web3 replacing Web2, it’s hard to predict when that’ll actually happen or if it’ll ever happen. For now, however, we clearly need Web2 to build a better Web3. There’s also a great chance that Web2 and Web3 will co-exist in the future. It’s not that Web2 is ineffective, it’s just that people are concerned about tech behemoths controlling the Web2 space.

Web3 will certainly keep growing, and its use cases will be way more vast than they are now. You can compare it to how Web2 was in its early days. Once people know Web3’s potential, it won’t take much time for it to onboard new users. Its growth may very well outpace that of Web2 back in the day as people are already accustomed to the web and all they need is a reason to try out a new paradigm.

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