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Who is Fabian Vogelsteller, the Forgotten Father of ERC-20?

May 19, 2022

8 min

Who is Fabian Vogelsteller, the Forgotten Father of ERC-20?

Chi è Fabian Vogelsteller? Uno dei primi collaboratori di Vitalik Buterin presso l’Ethereum Foundation, Frozeman (questo il suo nickname) ha sempre lavorato dietro le quinte, progettando le fondamenta della blockchain. Il suo contributo ha portato ETH ad essere un modello tecnico per tutti i progetti crypto: lo standard ERC-20, le caratteristiche essenziali per creare token ethereum compatibili, porta la sua firma. La semplicità è il comune denominatore del suo lavoro: proviamo a trovare la storia, lo stile inconfondibile e il nome di Fabian tra i punti chiave della DeFi.

Who is Fabian Vogelsteller? One of Vitalik Buterin‘s first collaborators at the Ethereum Foundation, Frozeman (his nickname) has always worked behind the scenes, designing the foundations of the blockchain. His contribution has led ETH to be a technical model for all crypto projects: the ERC-20 standard, the essential features for creating compatible ethereum tokens, bears his signature. Simplicity is the common denominator of his work: we try to follow Fabian’s story and his unmistakable style and name among the key points of DeFi.

Simplifying Bitcoin

Fabian Vogelsteller did not start out as a frontman, he first preferred to collaborate on promising projects rather than represent them. In fact, his story was not made public until he decided to found Lukso with Marjorie Hernandez: an original blockchain, for which he is also Chief Architect.

Let’s proceed in order: Fabian was born in Germany in 1984 and still lives in Berlin. He specialised in web development and audio and film technologies and received a Master of Fine Arts, while also gaining experience with some programming languages at the University of Buffalo.

His original education made him a versatile web developer and designer, engaged in code writing and interface design. In 2012, he experienced the common journey of every Crypto Hero: Bitcoin, which, with its revolutionary concepts, “will most likely challenge the internet and change the way we transfer and manage money online and off”, so he wrote in his blog frozeman.de. Showing amazement at BTC’s performance, he predicted a potential price of $50,000, correctly. 

However, he expressed his disappointment at the absence of simple tools: the lack of the necessary media to make Bitcoin everyday, so as to replace credit cards, was too great an obstacle to cryptocurrency adoption. Today there are multi-signature wallets and layer 2 solutions such as the lightning network, but back then there were only Bitcoin forks: the Satoshi Era had just ended.

Thus, Fabian designed a Bitcoin Browser Wallet as an extension for Google Chrome. One word recurs in the presentation of the project: simple, simple! Innovations must be user-friendly to hope to succeed, this is Fabian Vogelsteller’s philosophy.

fabian vogelsteller

Instruments for an easy web3

In this interview, Fabian recounts that after witnessing the birth of several Bitcoin ‘copies’, in January 2015 he joined the Ethereum Foundation, the beating heart of the ETH blockchain, its innovation engine. This led to his evolution from ‘web developer to web3 developer’: here he built many basic tools to make the developer’s job easier.

His assignment also included the design of simple interfaces for smart contracts and the creation of user-friendly decentralised applications (dApps).  

Fabian’s contributions are countless: first and foremost, the Mist browser, an interface to access all the dapps available in the Ethereum ecosystem. However, the project was discontinued in 2019 due to security issues. Later on, he created the first Ethereum Wallet, as well as the web3.jr Javascript library, the most widely used to design dapps capable of interacting directly with an Ethereum client (in a nutshell, a collection of codes to build applications).

A token standard: ERC-20

His most revolutionary and impactful idea, however, was yet another: the Ethereum Request for Comment 20 (ERC-20). First of all, as the Ethereum protocol was constantly evolving, there was a need for a formal and practical way to propose improvements: the EIP (Ethereum Improvement Proposals). EIPs “are how people propose, debate and adopt changes”, and consist of a brief description of the technical specifications and motivations for an innovation for Ethereum.

There are different types of EIPs, including ERCs: standards for building smart contracts and applications. These are a set of rules and guidelines to simplify development on blockchain, of conventions such as the requirements for an ethereum token to be compatible with the rest of the ecosystem: this is why Fabian suggested the ERC-20 standard.

Vogelsteller calls ethereum tokens just smart contracts with a balance’: by creating a standard template, any dapp or smart contract will interact with any ERC-20 token in the same way, as if they were all the same. Indeed they are, the required fields are common to all, only the values entered change.

For example, Young (YNG) is an ERC-20 token, what functions had to be implemented to create it, exchange it and deposit it in your wallet? 

  • Token Name: Young
  • Symbol: YNG
  • Decimals: 18
  • Total supply: 100,000,000

In addition to an identity, each token-smart contract must have other IT functions to enable various operations: balanceOf, to discover the balance of an address, transfer to move ERC-20s between different wallets, among others. In addition to this, certain functions are essential to create ‘events’, necessary for the verification and signing of transactions, such as approval.

The internet of Blockchains and universal identities

The ERC-20 rules, proposed on 19 November 2015, were widely adopted, giving rise to the ICO phenomenon: countless DeFi projects raised funds in exchange for ERC-20 ethereum tokens, including Tezos, Filecoin and EOS. Curiously, the final form of the standard was only approved in 2017, at the same time or even after some Initial Coin Offerings, although its structure did not change much.

Yet, Fabian claims to be against authority: his commitment to standardisation automatically brought him into the world of standards, but his intention was not to create rigid schemes. Later, he himself broke the paradigm: his new Lukso blockchain uses a different standard, ERC-725.

This standard, retaining the basic technology of Ethereum, implements a new function in smart contracts: the Universal Receival Function, which will support any type of cryptographic asset, past, present and future, simply by recognising it through an ID. This will allow all personal blockchain addresses to be combined into a single profile, compatible with all types of tokens and blockchains.

This is Lukso‘s mission, to create unique identities on the blockchain with attached photos, links to one’s own sites and socials, but above all to display the list of assets stored: tokens, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, so as to decentralise profiles and make blockchain explorer (private and centralised solutions) obsolete. However, ENS already provides a similar service: domains registered on the Ethereum blockchain, reducing the complexity of wallet addresses. Fabian, however, can boast universal compatibility, not only with the Ethereum ecosystem. Fabian’s new protocol has the potential to simplify the use of the blockchain and bring the world closer to Web3. By the way, Fabian believes that the future will see not just one winner, but a dense network of blockchains, each with its own utility, collaborating to open-source progress: how will they interact if not through the universality of ERC-725, an evolution of ERC-20?