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Cardano Improvement Proposals (CIPs) — Benefits & Goals

Part 2: What have we achieved with CIPs so far? What should we expect from the CIP process?

Robert Phair
10 min readAug 14

This 3-part guide is a refinement of our funded proposal for CIP Editing in Cardano’s Project Catalyst Fund 10.

This instalment is a continuation of: Part 1: CIPs — Introduction from an Insider and will conclude in Part 3: CIPs — Challenges: Past, Present & Future.

What general benefits does the CIP process provide to the Cardano ecosystem & infrastructure?

The most basic benefit is that Cardano has a standards process! 😇 A further baseline is that this process has visibility to and auditability by the community through some complex relationships & precedents that I’ll try to explain in this article & the final instalment.

All benefits aside, the CIP process is the most definitive embodiment of Cardano standards, considered part of Cardano’s developer infrastructure itself: repeatedly endorsed by Cardano agencies IOG and the Cardano Foundation. Project Catalyst representatives have also declared that “standards” are part of the development & infrastructure effort.

Beyond that, the most general benefits are:

New applications: The standards process of CIPs not only suggests new Cardano applications, it also identifies entirely new markets for Cardano when more than one agency (e.g. different NFT-based businesses) implements these standards.

Efficiency of Cardano development: It also ensures that the rush to develop new commercial applications does not either a) waste developer time, money and credibility trying to reinvent something already done & documented in the public domain; or b) develop something only to find its commercial life is short-lived due to lack of interoperability with other Cardano products and services.

Educational value: A good percentage of CIPs are documentation themselves: e.g. Cardano’s protocol parameters (and the decisions behind them), wallet keys and addresses, and procedures to evolve languages like Plutus and data structures like the Ledger. Supporting the CIP framework also invests time in quality documentation that developers and new converts to Cardano can learn from quickly.

Open source commitment: Not only are all CIPs open source (free to re-use themselves by open source license) but the methods they describe, being open to the public, also encourage the Cardano community to converge on open-source implementations, and to open-source their APIs and other interfaces even their products may use proprietary components internally.

Number and quality of standards: With community-based developers involved in the review process for nearly every published CIP, their feedback has always guaranteed this growing number of standards will be well received, understood, and maintained by the community going forward.

How can the Cardano Community itself verify that CIPs are making a difference?

The evolution of the Internet, followed by the emergence of astonishingly valuable blockchain assets (many of which are strong competitors to Cardano), has shown us that robust open source standards in Cardano’s design and governance will lead to:

  • higher & more sustainable native asset values
  • more & better interrelated business propositions
  • increased adoption relative to other blockchains
  • an anticipated freedom from regulation if claims of decentralised governance can be upheld.

Also, because the CIP process constantly supports communications with a broad spectrum of developers, it promotes this “feedback” process:

  1. We have a growing number of CIPs, approaching a larger & more diverse body of standards such as seen on Ethereum’s EIPs.
  2. Observers from other blockchains note that Cardano’s standards process demonstrates growing functionality, interoperability, commercial applicability, etc. to support their current and upcoming projects.
  3. Developers migrate to Cardano from other blockchains and bring their ambitious applications and expectations with them.
  4. These in turn require new CIPs to define them, which feeds back into Step 1… continuing cyclically with more CIPs, containing better research and covering more applications, with more standards-driven adoption & developer engagement expanding the Cardano ecosystem. 🤠

Is the CIP process of any direct benefit to the Cardano community and Ada holders?

We can verify that this is already happening in past & current CIP-anchored fields:

NFT standards have supported the most economically valuable of Cardano’s interactive components (as documented repeatedly on the Cardano Developer Portal blog).

Wallet standards will drive many commercial implementations, promoting Ada as a currency and therefore increased market capitalisation and utility driving a higher ADA value.

Governance standards will help dismiss claims of centralised control, including the notion that Cardano is a “security” and must be registered as an investment proposition: while irrefutably decentralised governance will promote less regulated adoption with greater capitalisation and liquidity also supporting a higher ADA value.

Goals of the CIP process

Community goals (engagement)

The initial main output of the CIP Editors team, at the time when I first arrived in biweekly CIP meetings as a regular observer, was in the recorded and eventually transcribed minutes of each meeting. These minutes were posted in the hope that interested members of the community would be able to find & reference items of interest by reading transcripts categorised by the CIP pull request under discussion.

This was outgrown over 2021–2022 for a number of reasons:

  • nobody from the community seemed to read the verbose CIP meeting minutes;
  • transcriptions were horribly flawed, especially for foreign accents, and required more time to correct than the meeting itself;
  • discussions of current CIP PRs were disconnected from the discussions occurring in parallel on GitHub… the latter being where they really needed to be recorded and focused toward resolutions & action items.

Therefore our primary community output has been though GitHub ever since, with our success demonstrated whenever developers and community advocates can follow GitHub threads for the CIP topics they are interested in, and get a complete picture of CIP developments simply by email subscription to all activity on the CIPs repository.

Besides GitHub we have also had to evolve into other message streams to serve the following community needs:

  • Non-developers often feel anxious about committing their thoughts to GitHub publicly and permanently, and so might only feel comfortable commenting on CIPs through social channels like Discord and Matrix or the more narrative discussion format of the Cardano Forum.
  • Non-KYC platforms like Matrix have served users unwilling to offer mobile number- or device-based identity verification as required on Discord.

Therefore CIP discussions often span multiple channels for purposes of polling and temporary discussion. Successful efforts will be seen across a variety of cooperative media:

  • centered on official GitHub activity occurring regularly across all progressive CIP pull requests
  • plus enough peer group postings for the Cardano community as a whole to understand the CIP process itself
  • with confidence (especially for developers) that CIP discussions are taking place regularly, robustly, and inclusively.

Documentation of CIP process, with encouragement of new editors

The CIP editing team currently, as of July 2023, has had 3 routinely working editors (Bitcoin has 2 BIP editors and Ethereum has 7 EIP editors. We may not be in a position where additional editors must be designated from Cardano companies or the community… although logically the survival of the CIP process depends upon the ability for others to step in and expand the group of permissioned CIP Editors in case the group might contract in the future.

These possible changes make it clear to me that the overall process of CIP Editing must be documented far beyond what is currently included in the few Editor related paragraphs of CIP-0001 (beginning here). Currently editors are following a process that they learned by observation over months or years: so, although the end results of the process are always visible on GitHub and other forums, most complexities and demands of our process are still only documented in our own habits and memories.

Unfortunately this does not help with the goal of inviting or even encouraging new CIP editors. For reviewers (often considerable as potential editors), even the review process is lacking HOWTO pages or any other documentation. Periodically, potential CIP editors from the community have asked for such information, and although tempting to say (as we often have) “GitHub itself contains the documentation and the process”, this does nothing to bridge the gap between the CIP editor workflow and the community’s full understanding of this process.

Therefore I’ve included it as the second-quarter milestone for my own Catalyst Fund 10 proposal (see full text on Ideascale or Lido Nation), scheduled for achievement in early 2024, because:

  • Between my previous year’s proposal and this one, and now this current Medium article series, so far I have already gone into more depth than any other Cardano writer about the actual work a CIP editor does.
  • Purists on our current CIP Editor committee have resisted the idea of popular documentation for a subject that should remain completely objective: but due to my experience in community outreach, I am certain I can preserve this objective formality as we make it understandable to the broader community.

Since this “CIP Editor’s workflow” would logically take the form of a GitHub Wiki, it would also become a starting point for other editors to contribute documentation according to their own observations: including some tips, based on years of editing experience, about what it takes to write a “good” CIP. Most of all, this effort will satisfy the repeated but unmet demand from the Cardano community that we provide a “window” into the CIP process.

How should success of the CIP process “feel”?

The CIP process should be generally seen as sustainable.

Particularly, communications and relationships among CIP editors, Cardano companies, official developers, community developers, and observers should be easygoing and without any resentment over not having a “voice”.

This interaction should be frequent and comfortable enough that community members and Cardano employees alike should periodically express interest in joining the CIP process more officially as editors. Even though the CIP team won’t always require new editors, maintaining a healthy interest in others joining should always be considered beneficial.

Cardano’s standards model must be visible beyond the Cardano community.

A positively evolving CIP process — with a solid & growing CIP repository, plus documentation of positive experience & expectations in the Cardano community at large — will remain attractively visible in the next year to developers, companies, writers, investors, and analysts encountering Cardano coming from other blockchains.

This will be especially important in the months following this writing, considering that Cardano’s governance improvements are founded in the CIP process. Beyond helping assure public accountability of these governance standards, a viable and well-documented on-chain governance will be highly beneficial to demonstrate to Cardano’s competitors and critics as well as blockchain regulators and legal / financial executives.

Setting goals for particular improvements

How do CIP editors stay working on medium-term projects most essential to Cardano developers?

Over the last few months, other editors and I have been spending more time on routine CIP issues (Part 3 will explain why this has been happening), and so the prerequisite for improvement is that enough time exists in our personal or employee time allocations to handle the non-routine matters without delaying them indefinitely.

Given sufficient time, the second challenge is to keep routine work balanced over all open CIP submissions: with straightforward, documented GitHub comments and reviews to keep lines of developer communication open. We have seen some cases in point recently which resulted not from explicit lack of time or attention but from not having enough resources to poll developers proactively, as in the following examples:

CIP versioning: A developer for a popular Cardano database aggregator would have preferred versioning for a popular token metadata standard, but was not vocal about their concerns until after the relevant CIP was updated without installing an explicit version number, so the problem had to be addressed retroactively (CIP-0068 versioning and similar cases: issue #520).

CIP support (for updates & refinements): Sometimes a CIP is developed with initial support from its official representatives but then requires additional work for it to meet practical requirements that emerge later (see CIP-0067 | add ADA Handles Virtual SubHandle: PR #504), so development of these standards may be stalled while the responsibility we look for in proposers and CIP authors cannot yet be supplied by editors or advocates due to time constraints.

Currently active CIP editors have been applying conscious effort in advance to address these new types of problems, for instance:

Editors’ employers (and in my case, Project Catalyst) will have to assure a balance of time to cover this expanding scope of work, as well as agree upon goals and metrics for the community to measure its visibility and value.

What “long term” CIP editor projects would help the community most?

Here are some projects which I’ve either volunteered for or suggested in the near future (details in my full Catalyst proposal text linked below):

  • A CIP Editing GitHub Wiki to develop the basic ideas in this article series into a general description of group & community goals, with a flexible but complete definition of CIP Editor workflow;
  • Status tagging to prevent backlog in the list of pending CIP Pull Requests;
  • Development of an improved CIP web site (at or equivalent) to rival the indexable, searchable database for Ethereum’s EIPs.

Stay tuned for concluding Part 3: CIPs — Challenges: Past, Present & Future

To support our work in CIPs and other cryptocurrency standards for security and governance, please delegate to COSD stake pool in your Cardano wallet and follow us on Twitter for related announcements: 🙏

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Robert Phair

Writing & design for crypto standards and online security / self-determination. Supporting rogue investors, creatives, rebels, nomads, and the parallel economy.