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The past, present, and future of Marlowe: a journey of innovation and community empowerment

Simon Thompson

Simon Thompson

Technical advisor for IOG, and academic at the University of Kent and Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.

· 8 min

The past: the genesis of Marlowe

From its beginnings, Input Output Global (IOG) has been committed to working with researchers, and Marlowe is no exception to that idea. Born out of discussions between Charles Hoskinson, researchers at the University of Kent, Pablo Lamela, and myself, Marlowe was conceived as a special purpose domain specific language (DSL) to support writing financial contracts to run on Cardano. In 2019, Marlowe emerged from the research lab to become a fully-fledged engineering project within IOG.

Three fundamental objectives drive Marlowe. First, providing a turnkey solution for modeling financial transactions with simplicity and security. Financial logic is prone to complexities and vulnerabilities but is critical for blockchain applications. Marlowe was designed to mitigate these risks using a DSL, ensuring secure and error-free financial operations. Second, to demonstrate the power and flexibility of DSLs within the Cardano ecosystem. Just as SQL revolutionized database programming, Marlowe aimed to be a transformative tool for financial transaction modeling on blockchain. And third, while testing Marlowe, it became clear that Marlowe could also be used in DApp development as a component that simplified mapping financial contract logic to smart contracts, integrating with other frameworks. In that, it went beyond serving as a case study for creating DSLs tailored to specific needs, to a DApp-powering tool that significantly lowers the entry barriers to blockchain development.

An ongoing commitment to honoring open source principles and creating a product that serves its user community effectively, securely, and with the greatest ease of use underpins the core technical objectives. For example, that state of every Marlowe contract executing on chain can be read off in human-readable form from the on-chain datum, providing full visibility of contracts. And perhaps the greatest testament to this were the results of Catalyst Fund11, where eleven Marlowe-related projects got funding, collectively receiving over 1m ada for their innovative ideas! This milestone was a clear indication of the excitement within the Cardano community for Marlowe's potential.


The present: transitioning to community-driven development

Today, Marlowe provides facilities (Marlowe Playground and Runner) for users to execute contracts for themselves and infrastructure and APIs (Marlowe Runtime and TS-SDK) to use Marlowe contracts and services as components within complete DApps. Reaching version 1.0 and gearing up to navigate the Conway hard fork represents an inflection point for Marlowe. It is also a time to reflect on its growing community momentum and determine the best possible future path.

With this in mind, I’m excited to outline the plan for the next phase of Marlowe’s journey and its transition towards community-maintained stewardship, marking a new era of decentralized governance and innovation for Marlowe.

To support this next evolution, the repositories in Marlowe will be administered by an independent vehicle, a not-for-profit organization that is currently being set up by the transition team, and which will allow us to ensure community representation and stewardship. This will allow the community to actively contribute to its roadmap and propose updates and enhancements.

With a community-centric future ahead of it, it is important that the project is validated and supported by the wider community in this journey. To ensure continuity in further updates and innovations on Marlowe, I am leading an independent proposal in Catalyst Fund12. To further support Marlowe’s vision, a new Special Interest Group (SIG) is also being established on Discord, focusing on Marlowe’s continued innovation and enhancement, with builders at the heart. As lead of this new SIG, I will be joined by other members of the Marlowe team - also contributing in an independent capacity - committed to further growth of the project. I’m also very pleased to welcome Santiago Camuerga from TxPipe as a key member of the group. Santiago's extensive experience and our long-standing collaborative journey on Marlowe projects bring invaluable expertise to our collective efforts. While no further development work will be undertaken by IOG itself, to support the transition, IOG will provide interim resources to facilitate any essential bug fixes and necessary migrations throughout 2024, as well as funding the Marlowe infrastructure in the TxPipe Demeter environment until the end of the year.


The future: Marlowe in the hands of the community

This is just the beginning. I encourage everyone in the community to support Marlowe’s independent Catalyst bid and join in the effort to create an open, transparent, and community-driven future for Marlowe and smart contracts. With a broader group of community contributors, Marlowe can develop and grow in close sync with the needs of its users and builders. It can - we hope - continue expanding its reach and adoption within the Cardano developer community and even beyond, perhaps serving as a case study for other DSLs, or even exploring integrations with other blockchain platforms. Marlowe’s versatility could even extend to AI-driven development tools, enhancing its utility and accessibility. All of this will bring huge value to the Cardano ecosystem.

Specifically in the Catalyst Proposal we aim to unlock the latent potential of the Marlowe platform by implementing critical updates to the Marlowe validator and tech stack, making these capabilities accessible and of benefit to a wider audience. The updates will create new business opportunities by transforming the Marlowe Runtime backend, protocols, and contracts into highly competitive products. These advances will be delivered through the Marlowe DApp Starter Kit, that will consolidate the documentation, examples and tutorials into an end-to-end guide to design and implementation, through to deployment and maintenance of DApps that leverage Marlowe tools and capabilities. Our goal in this proposal is to make these tools not just accessible but essential for a broad range of users including SMEs, developers, infrastructure providers and SPOs.

In the spirit of community-driven governance, we encourage you to follow the GitHub organization and join the SIG to help shape Marlowe’s future. As group members work on defining a new governance model, we will make sure to keep all the updates in the repositories that will be administered by the not-for-profit members-based organization set up to steward the development of Marlowe.

To join #Marlowe-SIG Discord channel:

  1. Join the IOG Discord server;
  2. Complete the captcha;
  3. Select "Marlowe Community" from the menu in #start-here.

Marlowe’s story is one of continuous innovation, community empowerment, and a testament to the ever-evolving landscape of blockchain technology. As we embark on this new chapter, we invite you to join us in celebrating and accelerating Marlowe's progress and growth into an ever more vibrant part of the Cardano ecosystem.

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