The Big Interview

MyEtherWallet’s Brian Norton explains why they’re ‘doubling down’ on Ethereum this year

MyEtherWallet is going from strength to strength despite the bear market and doubling down on Ethereum. Find out why in this exclusive interview.

Exuding personality and warmth, MyEtherWallet COO Brian Norton is bubbling over with enthusiasm about the company’s latest developments. It’s not really surprising. Anyone who regularly uses ETH will have noticed MEW’s complete design overhaul, something Norton calls a “night and day step forward in user experience”. But there are so many other projects afoot that many users may not be aware of.

I sat down with Norton at the Paris Blockchain Week Summit last week to find out what brings the company’s COO to Paris, what he’s most excited about, and why he’s so confident in the longevity of Ethereum. Check it out.

MyEtherWallet has a lot of products in the pipeline

MyEtherWallet’s EthVM blockchain explorer was released into alpha mode last month. Not only will it provide users with live data from the Ethereum network, but they can also see ledger history, pending transactions, smart contracts, and more…

But that’s just one of several reasons bringing Norton to Paris, he reveals:

“We have introduced several new products since the beginning of this year. We did a top-down redesign of MyEtherWallet a little earlier this year. We’re still making improvements on it but it is a night and day step forward as far as user experience is concerned.

We also launched MEWconnect which is our own mobile hardware wallet without the hardware using the secure element of the phone to sequester the private keys.

And then, of course, EthVM, which we’re really excited about because”, (he laughs out loud) “a block explorer is a huge undertaking! We think that it’s going to offer the Ethereum community a lot of options, not only in terms of ease of use but also as an open source project giving developers a lot to sink their teeth into”.

Norton explains that MEW has also incorporated a DApps page in the new design, which is intended to offer more to developers and end users alike.

The team decided to integrate it with the platform so that new users can come to the site and “rather than just create or open a wallet”, they can interact with different decentralised apps beyond just your “standard swapping tokens”. Then, says Norton, “they can really get a taste for what other options there are for crypto users in the Ethereum space, whether that’s staking solutions, or non-fungible tokens, gaming, things like that”.

The company is confident in the longevity of Ethereum

Clearly, there are plenty of developments in the pipeline. However, the Ethereum community has come under a lot of pressure lately in terms of scalability and other issues. Why is MEW so bullish about its future?

Norton pauses for a moment before nodding his head slowly.

“There are a lot of scalability solutions on the table, and I think that no matter what happens, how things play out, Ethereum is still going to be the go-to network for smart contract solutions. I don’t see that going away even now with all the pressure, it’s still the go-to place for developers…

We don’t have any reservations about the long-term viability of the Ethereum network. Obviously, the scaling aspect is not coming fast enough for some people. But we are convinced that we’re going to get there and that’s why MyEtherWallet is going all in on Ethereum… We’re doubling down on it this year really”.

MEW is focused on enriching the ecosystem

The majority of MEW users visit the site to create a wallet and send tokens. End of story. But Norton and his team have a bigger goal: to ‘enrich the ecosystem’. That’s what’s behind so many of the company’s new initiatives, in fact. He explains:

“We’re really focused on ecosystem enrichment, in as many avenues as possible. So it’s not just giving people a good user interface but exposing them to different aspects of the ecosystem. That’s what’s behind our DApps page, for example”.

One of the biggest criticisms of blockchain solutions is that their interfaces are not user-friendly or that they are too clunky and confusing. It’s easy to understand the rationale behind the MEW site redesign. But I’m curious to know how many people have accepted the all-new MEW with open arms. (I hate to confess, but whenever I visit the site, I rapidly click back to the vintage version). Hopefully, other users are better at embracing change. He says:

“Well, we only collect aggregate data so we can’t say for certain. There are some holdouts, I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I can say that the bulk of the population went with the new site. We’ve seen the traffic steadily drop on the other site, and the majority of traffic is definitely going to the new site”.

How much has MEW been affected by the bear market and price of ETH?

Despite a recent bullish breakout in ETH, we’re still in the midst of a savage bear market. Just how much of a direct impact has that had on MyEtherWallet? That’s actually a question that’s harder for Norton to answer than you might think. He explains:

We don’t actually know that information because we don’t collect user data. It’s partially an ethos decision but also a security decision. If we know and track the number of wallets created through MyEtherWallet then we have to make sure that we don’t have that wallet information to protect users”.

He then reveals:

“We don’t actually know everything that people are doing on the site when they are doing it”.

Norton recognises that MEW, just like all crypto businesses, has taken “a hit since the beginning of the crypto winter”. However, he’s confident that things are beginning to stabilise and are even starting to “move in a more upward trajectory”.

So, as a free service and an open-source code, how does MyEtherWallet make money? What are its main sources of income?

“Third party APIs”, he replies, “our exchange partners like Bity, Changelly, Kyber Network. We’ll be taking on a few new partners later on this year and we have our partnerships with hardware wallets.” He pauses, “we still get a significant amount through donations but not as much as in the early days…”

Bear market?

“Yes”, he laughs, “But also, MEW’s been around since 2015. So in the early says ether was raining down on us! I remember when someone donated 10 ETH and we said “great, we can go buy a cup of coffee now!” Things have changed a lot since then”.

Just how much of a target is MyEtherWallet to hackers?

As a COO, I want to know how much of Norton’s time is spent fending off cyber attacks, and if that’s one of the main challenges for the business.

“Phishing is a really big concern of ours, it’s something we are really vigilant about. We do in-house monitoring of potential malicious URLs and then we contract with two excellent security agencies and they also monitor for us and facilitate takedowns of active attacks and anything else that could potentially be suspicious.

As an open source solution, the code is readily available, and we believe in maintaining that because it helps facilitate innovation in the space. But we also realise that it’s a vulnerability and it’s our responsibility to protect users. So, yeah, that’s a full-time concern.

We’ve seen great success though! The number of phishing attacks has actually dropped significantly since we started contracting with our security partners and also the time that they are active is very very small. We had one active attack taken down in 13 seconds”, he laughs, “it was like swatting a fly!”.

Norton acknowledges that the bear market may have also had something to do with the declining number of attacks. But, he says that with the “quickness that these things are being taken down, we’re hoping that people are realising that the rate of return is not very high and the success rate is very very low and maybe they should move on. So that’s the long-term hope, but we will remain vigilant”.

What else is on the roadmap for MEW for the rest of the year?

As if the redesign, blockchain explorer, hardware mobile wallet, and DApps page weren’t enough, the company has a few other tricks up its sleeve.

However, Norton reveals that its main focus right now is expanding on the DApps page and “bringing EthVM out of alpha in the next month or two and launching that on the mainnet”.

With so many blockchain projects struggling in the current market conditions, it’s really encouraging to see the ones that are doing well. And with so many innovations and focus on user experience, it’s clear to see that MyEtherWallet will be in it for the long run.

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