Cats and Doge

Dogecoin has been in the dog house. As it approaches its fifth birthday, a new platform update and an unorthodox alliance offer a glimpse of a brighter future.

As befitting a coin that started life as a joke, it was an April Fools Day stunt that generated the latest, somewhat unlikely, twist in Dogecoin’s checkered history.

Earlier this year, the Dogecoin crew—those left behind after the departure of the coin’s enigmatic founder, Jackson Palmer—were short of an April Fools joke. Someone came up with the idea of a buyout by CryptoKitties, a popular game where users breed and trade digital cats, explains Dogecoin developer Ross Nicoll. Being a polite and thoughtful bunch, the team first emailed CryptoKitties developers, Dapper Labs, to check they were OK with the stunt. The answer arrived too late for April Fools but, when it did, Nicoll spotted something interesting in the signature field. Dapper Labs was hiring.

Six months later and Nicoll is packing up his belongings and preparing to move from London, UK, to Vancouver, Canada—the home of CrypotoKitties. But while he’s hopping over the Atlantic in search of work, he’s staying put as one of Dogecoin’s lead developers. In fact, he’s positively bullish about the project’s future, despite the coin losing almost 50 percent off its value in recent weeks. He points to the core platform update (the 1.14 beta)–released this month–the ongoing development of DogePal—which works a bit like Paypal—and the imminent release of Doge Racer, a new platform to support gaming, as reasons to be cheerful. While Dogecoin started out as a bit of a joke, it’s future, according to Nicoll, is a lot more serious.

Straining at the leash

Since the project’s inception in 2013, the project has never had a development schedule or a product roadmap to speak of.

“Many people expect us to have raised a large sum of money, to have a physical office and be working on this full time,” says Nicoll. The reality is far from it. The core Dogecoin team, all four of them, are scattered around the world and all have day jobs, which partly explains the haphazard development schedule. “We’re not founders, there was no founders allocation anyway,” says Nicoll. “This is just something we do for fun, as crazy as that sounds.”

That hap-hazard setup makes Dogecoin one of only a handful of truly decentralized crypto projects–Dogecoin’s co-founder, Jackson Palmer left the project in 2014, handing over the source code permission rights to Nicoll and two other developers. As a result, a community of die-hard fans has helped foster spin-off projects like DogePal while the main team–Nicoll, Max Keller, “Sporklin” and Michelle Sakayama–attend to platform updates. When paired with its massive supply of coins (100 billion), low price and low transaction costs, Dogecoin has stayed, doggedly, in the top 25 most valuable coins. But things are about to change.

Bridge too far?

One of the areas Nicoll and the other developers have been focusing on is “Dogethereum,” the much-hyped and slow to materialize–it’s been in development since 2017–Dogecoin/Ethereum bridge, which would allow investors to use Dogecoin-equivalent tokens in Ethereum contracts.

An alpha version was demo’d on August 20 (after 13 months in development), and immediately caused a spike in the coin’s price. But the team is still awaiting a delivery schedule for the code from Dogetherum developer, Oscar Guindzberg.

“So far, we haven’t chased this up, at least in part out of awareness that most of us aren’t doing this full time, and that impacts [on our] availability,” offers Nicoll. He adds that the judging panel (responsible for releasing the Ethereum bounty for creating the bridge) have also received inquiries from a new team of developers keen to work on Dogethereum and are in the process of responding.

Dogecoin developer Ross Nicoll
Preparing to herd cats, Dogecoin developer Ross Nicoll. IMAGE SOURCE: Ross Nicoll

Meanwhile, Nicoll says that core development on the coin is moving apace, adding that, in the past, shortcuts were made in the belief that it was better to focus on stability by having fewer updates. This has led to technical problems and development stalling. That, says Nicolls, is now firmly in hand:

“We made a big mistake by waiting too long between releases. Essentially, the pipeline went cold, so we’ve had to start all the processes from scratch and that’s taken a lot of time rebuilding. We’ve learned from that lesson, we’re going to keep the process warm and that means that the next two clients [tech updates] are already in progress.”

Releasing the latest update has also reignited the team’s mission to achieve the Holy Grail, listing on the Coinbase exchange. Getting listed is problematic, as Dogecoin has no central, legal entity to manage the currency, but Nicoll points out that other decentralized operations, such as bitcoin and Litecoin, have overcome such obstacles.

Nicoll’s upbeat tone could be reflecting his own optimism. His new position at CryptoKitties is much better aligned with his crypto passion than his current job within the bowels of a mega commerce and cloud computing company (which we’ve promised not to name).

So is there a chance, perhaps, that the two startups may become closer than simply sharing a developer? “This is going to sound really dull,” warns Nicoll. “I had a quick mental thought about the technology stack, and no.”

Perhaps CryptoKitties may really buy Dogecoin? “We don’t have any central organization, so there’s nothing to buy really.” The cat/dog detente is on hold, for now.

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