Substrate ecology v0.2

Darwin’s survey ship the HMS Beagle

Substrate ecology v0.2

*Post updated 21.11.22 to v0.2 after feedback. *
Please continue to add comments to document.

What is Substrate?

Substrate strives to be the best blockchain framework in which to build your custom blockchain. Substrate is not a blockchain in itself, but akin to a blockchain SDK framework. Substrate empowers you to build beyond the capabilities of others, giving you the freedom to define your chain however you want. Substrate

In practice is Substrate more than an SDK?

Currently Substrate’s use-cases, value accrual and collaborative potential are still a matter of heated debate - which is perfectly normal in the early stages of a novel technology.

Its emerging open source ecology is rooted in shared trust assumptions, shaped by both off-chain and on-chain entities of varying scale, sustained through new monetary systems and governed through developing structures of digital governance that aim to attract, empower and sustain supra-national and hyper-local contributions.

Unlike Bitcoin or Ethereum, governance and decision making over the network base layer are explicit in its design, the thesis is concretely that of intentionally directed development.

It is therefore perhaps better understood in practice as a social technology for developing sovereign digital organisations.

Given the fluid nature of this multi-chain ecology, It is intuitive that the current form is far from its final form - if indeed its form does finalise in any meaningful sense.

Further, for the Substrate ecology to survive and indeed thrive long term, it is intuitive and entirely natural that it will need to reinvent itself, its assumptions, framings and perspectives.

In this way, it is impossible to define - which is the point, it can become anything, and by recursive logic, if it is to become something truly important, we would not recognise that today.

As someone wise once said, you can only join the dots looking backwards.

Joining the dots

Currently disagreements usually emerge as a result of incomplete context, definitions and assumptions about certain emerging social conventions e.g. should a Free Market Parachain be able to receive Relay funding - and if so, under what conditions.

In almost every debate, the answer can be both very simple and very complex, but the low bandwidth of communication systems - text, chat and very little IRL, tends towards a narrowing of thinking, miscommunication and the retreat into binary positions.

If Substrate is to truly develop productive new organisations using novel governance systems, then there is a requirement for documenting these evolving cultures.

Substrate Ecology v0.1

The below is an evolving attempt at surveying, deconstructing and defining the established and emerging characteristics of each particular species of Substrate chain.

Their philosophies, design frameworks, definitions, traits, social conventions and narratives.

It is not, nor could it be exhaustive - it is designed to be a living, breathing, emerging document chronicling the current state as experienced by those inhabiting its territories.

The aim is to evolve shared context and outline current consensus positions to provide consistent definitions from which more orderly discussion, debate and innovation can emerge.

This approach will also naturally lead to the discovery of new species and also the predictive capacity to develop new ones as the philosophical landscape emerges.

This is a start

Corrections, clarifications and additions will be needed - this is just my own particular scavenging for meaning and definitions as a way of understanding the challenges and opportunities - others will be able to contribute their own perspectives and interpretations.

Please comment on the Google doc which can transition into a Github repo.




I will be honest, this was a hard thread to process for me.

I think it would be great if you can clarify what kinds of outcomes you would like to achieve given this ecology table, and the discussion you wish to have.

I also think it would be good if you spent time to write down more comprehensively what you see as columns on the table. I assume the definitions with question marks are not perfectly clear to you?

Additionally, Parathreads are not in this table, but seem particularly relevant to have.

I will also leave some notes, where I think things are being misrepresented in the table.

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Current communication of what is / isn’t a Common Good Parachain - is unclear. This is to expected, but the impacts of these emerging definitions has real impact, on historic development and moving forward and so a definitive effort to share the current thinking of those definitions is vital.


Clarity is needed on the context, terminology, lexicon, parameters and narratives of Substrate’s emerging ecology, even if it highlights irreconcilable tensions between some parachains and emerging common good infrastructure.

That’s what this Substrate ecology aims to begin framing.

From here, we can all better understand the challenges, tensions and opportunities…


Substrate is a technology, but what it enables are more akin to social networks - digital organisations within some bounded on-chain range who are each aiming to survive - by being economically sustainable, operationally useful and culturally relevant.


So what I’m trying to address is that there are some generally communicated categories of parachain such as Relays, Common Good, System and Parathreads (as you add).

These are both technical platforms that offer different functions and lifecycles per @rphmeier

The multi-chain of tomorrow consists of blockchains that scale and shrink on demand. It contains ephemeral chains spawned by on-chain factories, spun up by contracts and imbued with automated purpose - to complete their work a few hours later and disappear. Our goal in Web3 is not to maximize the number of blockchains. - Blockspace over blockchains

But the tech then becomes adopted within social systems - which also introduces new vectors of development, purpose and evolution that are not predictable, though they can be directed to a certain extent via governance.

As I understood it, originally CGPs did not have tokens, this has since changed.

Then there are the Free Market Parachains.

This categorisation tends to produce economic models that are good for pitching to retail and lead to hypey headlines and the locking up of relay tokens through slot auctions, but may struggle to sustain without financial support.

As I understood it, originally FMPs did not have the right (via social convention) of proposing funding to relay treasuries, this seems to be changing… or is certainly a subject of heated debate.

We’re seeing issues emerge around the Snowfork CGP funding proposal.

The rationale behind the need for common good parachains is that the use case will benefit projects and users across the ecosystem, but the fact that it is not economically viable ensures that it will not be built and implemented unless granted a parachain. The fact that both Darwinia and Composable have built or are building trustless Ethereum bridges demonstrates that there is no need for a common good parachain. At this stage of the game, it would be unfair competition to existing projects that have been building with community support and investment. It’s completely inappropriate.

TBH i think snowfork is exactly the type of project that should receive funding, but since there is no agreed framwork for assessing the relative merits of different chains, nor structures to frame arguments, and how funding may be available to under certain conditions.

Obviously this becomes infinitely more messy with Gov2 - though perhaps more definitive answers will only come through on-chain mandates and precedent?

I also think it would be good if you spent time to write down more comprehensively what you see as columns on the table. I assume the definitions with question marks are not perfectly clear to you?

Yes, am working on that, its just a much longer post, so wanted to share a first outline.

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This TL;DR has a good point, I think it’s not totally clear for the community what exactly means to be a common parachain, at the moment I think its definition is very subjective and I’ve seen different people give different answers.

When proposing Kreivo(Virto on Kusama) as a common good chain, part of my intention was to challenge what being a common good parachain actually means and hear what people had to say about it(sadly there wasn’t much feedback and it got forgotten).
Perhaps many people won’t like that a common good chain can have businesses making profits but I’m still convinced that the goals of our Local Incentives Protocol are very aligned with the idea of being common good, not because it doesn’t have its own token to monetize the protocol as most do(dangerous IMHO), but because of its focus on wealth redistribution and local empowerment, providing a shared infrastructure for autonomous local communities that can tax real world marketplaces in the form of autonomous commercial communities that operate in a way more similar to co-ops* rather than the very profit driven model that many DAOs seem to follow probably to satisfy hungry investors.

*an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise

As I’m not a fan of the current common practice of giving up considerable control of potentially crucial internet infrastructure to a few venture capitalists, I’m still hoping to find the sweet spot that will enable projects like ours to thrive. It seems that spot can be somewhere between being a common good and regular parachain, even though we can go the crowdloan way rewarding supporters with the tokens from our first guest marketplaces this is not ideal and has questionable long term sustainability, instead I’m more inclined to wait for parathreads support to be ready.
On the funding side, our tax system can be used not only to support local communities and other social impact/green initiatives but to make the system and its development sustainable, what’s still difficult is the bootstrapping phase where I see big potential for treasury funds to help, and not as a form of charity but more as an investment because we can give value back to the ecosystem.

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Updated to Substrate ecology v0.2

Becoming clearer how to frame things as discussion progresses.

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