Districts: A Brief Introduction

There is no there there.

—Gertrude Stein, quote from Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (1937), often taken to be referring to the city of her childhood, Oakland, California

I am rather bemused that, at this point of my blogging odyssey, I now get enough traffic (averaging over 1,000 blogpost views per day in the past couple of weeks) that the news sometimes comes to me, instead of me having to go out in search of it.

So it was that, about a month ago, I received the following message via my Contact Me page about yet another blockchain-based virtual reality platform currently in development, called Districts:

Hi, I read the article with great interest https://ryanschultz.com/list-of-social-vr-virtual-worlds/. I wanted to point out that the list is missing at least one project: project Districts, which is in the launch phase and consists of a 360-degree virtual world ecosystem with a proprietary and original blockchain. I leave the link of the site hoping to do what I like https://districts.io/. Thanks and good job.

There are a couple of things that set the Dubai-based Districts platform apart from other blockchain-based virtual worlds which I have already covered on this blog (here’s a handy link to all my blogposts on that topic):

  • It is apparently based on the Unreal game engine (a relative rarity); and
  • It is based on a new blockchain called 3DCoin rather than on Ethereum.

According to the FAQ located near the bottom of their homepage, which for some unfathomable reason features an executive looking out over a ruined, post-apocalyptic city overgrown with jungle:

Why create a new blockchain instead of using Ethereum blockchain?

The main reasons is that Ethereum blockchain is expensive, limited, and cannot handle interactions in VR World. So the 3DCoin blockchain was born to ensures the decentralization of the Districts platform, live action hosting, decentralized application script hosting, DAPP [Decentralized App], land ownership and the vote system. A custom script system had to be created to improve and simplify contracts and DAPP creation, both have dedicated creation visual tools. Also, a safe script module that keeps unspendable transactions, defective contracts and DAPPs out of the network, thus protecting users and saving resources. 3DCoin as new crypto currency has many features that we judge very useful for people, instant and programmable transactions, coin blending for transaction anonymisation, and external key support.

According to their website, Districts has been in development since 2016, but they don’t seem to have a lot to show for it yet. At least with the three front-runner blockchain-based virtual worlds (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space), there is an actual platform that you can visit. Districts appears to have a blockchain and cryptocurrency…aaand that’s about it so far, from what I can tell. There’s a lot of future tense in the FAQ: we will do this, we will do that.

The link to their user forums appears to be broken. Although their GitHub appears to have been started back in 2016, there’s precious little in it for what is supposedly a multi-year, ongoing project.

There is the usual blockchain babble (the power of decentralization, blah blah blah), with all the requisite use cases listed, including a few I had never encountered before:

Bored? We’ve got you coveredTired of browsing through the same sites repeatedly? Fed up with seeing the same mundane and recycled content on social media? Then come into the Districts ecosystem. Content? Where is the content here?

Investment opportunities? The Districts 3D world is an investor delight. Simply recruit content creators in the 3D world, enter a mutual agreement backed up by 3D coin smart contracts, and then develop your dream virtual solution.

A place of recluse for shy people?!?? Now that’s a new one. Are they aiming for people in self-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic?

I’ll give the company behind Districts points for some unintentional humour.

So, bracing myself, I perused their white paper, trying to parse all the cryptojargon. Here’s a representative sample:

Project Districts is the world’s first fully capable decentralized virtual ecosystem designed to project real-world and ethereal experiences to users all over the globe. Its robust architecture and highly competent development portal (the Districts Visual Studio), makes it the perfect candidate for bootstrapping real-world ideas and solutions. Districts is dissimilar from conventional virtual realities in that it is run and governed by its thriving community. Users who power the blockchain network by functioning as nodes hold the power to create and modify rules governing the ecosystem. Quite practically, its strength is in its numbers. It is this expansive number of users interconnected by the blockchain that has made Districts a hub for social interaction and innovation.

Unlike in the classic blockchain systems (BTC, DASH…), 3DCoin transactions are not placed at the base of a Merkle root, but they are directly arranged into The real-time outputs list. The Merkle root is created only after the reception of all the transactions to be integrated into the block, but the RTOL list is hashed every time a transaction is added to it in all nodes, eliminating the need to duplicate the last transaction in case of an odd set. the final hash (3DCoin root) is what replaces the Merkle root in the block. This change adds new functionality (instant validation) while keeping the same level of safety.

You follow all this? It makes my eyes glaze over (then again, I admittedly am not the target audience here). And honestly, after reading all this, I cannot for the life of me tell what’s actual deliverable product and what’s simply vapourware and handwaving. And believe me, the promotional videos don’t help (the first one is irritatingly vague):

And, as far as I can tell, there doesn’t even seem to be a client program for Districts (what the company calls their Explorer, which is referenced in passing in this video, is basically a website that seems to list the 3DCoin blocks as they are mined).

The second video is a bit more interesting, but I ask myself: Why would anybody want to do this, when you can just set up an online web store using Shopify? Who is going to put on a VR headset to go retail shopping? This reminds me of nothing so much as Mark Space’s vapid, abandoned shopping mall concept, except it does appear to actually be based in real virtual reality this time, instead of just 360-degree photos. Again, I have no idea if this demo is actually available to visit, because I cannot find any trace of actual client software anywhere on the website or on the GitHub.

The third and final 2-minute promotional video I will show you dates from 2017, and is supposed to show you what Districts are supposed to look like, but again, there’s no way of knowing if this was just a high-end model of a house interior used to create some slick-looking visuals, or an actual virtual place you can visit (and there’s zero sign of avatars). The video ends with an exhortation to join their crowdfunding campaign, but I can find no record of this campaign on the internet, or whether or not it met its goal. Troubling.

So, if you are still interested at this point, you can go to their website, take a peek at their GitHub, or follow Districts on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Reddit, and (of course!) Telegram (because like a website with an .io domain, every blockchain/crypto project has to have a Telegram…).

What do I think about Districts? As Gertrude Stein said up top, there seems to be no there there. I am mystified as to why the company even bothered to approach me to blog about their nascent platform. I mean, they must have read some of my earlier, sharply critical blogposts about other blockchain-based virtual projects like Mark Space. There are dozens of them, and many of them appear to be failing, hard.

Then again, I could well be wrong, as I freely admit I was wrong about Cryptovoxels (which, by the way, is having their final auction of land parcels, a roaring success). My track record for predictions in this space has been lousy.

But frankly, the world does not need yet another blockchain-based virtual world in these perilous times of pandemic, when people have other, much more pressing problems on their minds, and holding firmly onto their wallets and purses. So I am going to take a hard pass on this one.

As before, I am not investing a single personal penny in any blockchain-based platforms, and I would very strongly caution you to do every single shred of your homework before investing in any crypto scheme. Caveat emptor!

Sigh…yet another mystifying, opaque image from District’s whitepaper
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