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The coolest thing on earth no one knows about has finally turned into reality a long-held dream in the digital currency space –  the Facebook like button where you just click.

MetaMask, a spoke of Consensys, has launched a Chrome plugin which on the surface looks too simple, even for my grandma. You click to install it like any chrome plugin. Once done, a tiny fox appears on the toolbar. To start using it, you just enter a password. Then, you’ll be very unimpressed. There’s nothing here but a buy or send button – because that’s all you need to do to open a completely new world.

Dan Finlay, Lead Developer of MetaMask, explained to CCN:

It’s blockchain in the browser. MetaMask exposes the Ethereum blockchain in the form of a javascript API. This allows normal websites to read from the blockchain without providing their own blockchain connection.

This allows websites to do what previously was impossible. For example, we all hate those newspaper paywalls asking us to spend 30 minutes and subscribe for a month or year to just read one article. MetaMask replaces all of that with just one click. In four lines of code even a non-programmer can read, a pop-up button asks visitors to pay, say, 5 cents, to view the page:


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web3.eth.sendTransaction({ from: web3.eth.accounts[0], to: yourAddress, value: web3.toWei(‘0.05’, ‘ether’) }, function (err) {console.dir(arguments)})

You click the button and then, as a security precaution, are asked to approve:

MetaMask - Click and Done

MetaMask – Click and Done

That’s all. It’s done. No send to address, no copy paste, no credit card numbers, no phone or QR code, no sign-up, just click and done. If the MetaMask wallet is locked then you, of course, need to enter the password and unlock it. If you do not have ETH in the wallet, then the little fox plugin tells you how to get some.

It is currently integrated with Shapeshift and Coinbase where you can buy $5 worth of ETH with a current max limit of $50 without having a Coinbase account nor needing to sign up for Coinbase. I tried to go through the process. It asks me for an e-mail address, but I’m from UK so I can’t proceed as it is currently limited to the U.S. We can presume however that once you enter the e-mail address, Coinbase asks for your card details and we’re done.

With funds in the account – either sent from another ETH address or bought from Coinbase – paying on the Internet has turned into a one-click experience.

Finlay said:

I was actually thinking I should publish a donation button soon, it would be so small. If you wanted to do that previously, you’d need to host your own blockchain server, and then you’d have to hack together some way for your users to import their key file (which they shouldn’t trust you with), or you’d give them some command line prompts. With MetaMask, you write some code.

This, of course, isn’t limited to donations or newspaper pop-ups. Any website that requires payment can increase user convenience and speed up the checkout process by just asking users to click and done. No need for that dreaded feeling of having to find the card wallet, entering all those numbers, waiting for Visa to do its thing and then patiently waiting for it to be finally confirmed, to say nothing of the 3 percent transaction fees.

All, instead, can be over in about, currently, 17 seconds. ETH plans to reduce its confirmation time to around three seconds, so, soon, the payment would be pretty much instant and the fees, well, for ETH’s network they are currently as good as non-existent.

This is the most obvious use case of this magic plugin, but as ETH has smart contracts, it is still very much just the surface. Numerous Dapps have or are in the process of integrating MetaMask, including Gnosis, MakerDAO, Rouleth, and others. That’s because the plugin sends the blockchain very much at the backroom where you code the smart contract which allows for the verifiably fair rouleth or prediction market etc.

As far as the user is concerned, as long as they have MetaMask installed, they are just dealing with a website that magically does a lot of things that were previously impossible by just clicking around.

The Backend

Readers are strongly warned, however, that MetaMask is very much in Beta. It has come out just a couple of weeks ago and it has not yet undergone a full security audit. There is a very high likelihood any funds will be lost. In that sense, if it is to be used, it should be considered as literally a wallet – a place where you keep say ETH worth $10 or $20 dollars and if they fall off your pocket then no big deal.

Security wise, Finlay says they have no control over private keys:

Users have their keys locally, encrypted with their password. They sign transactions cryptographically, and send those to us. At that point, they’re public knowledge. There’s nothing secret they transmit from metamask.

Metamask runs a node for you to which you connect through the plugin. It uses Microsoft’s Azure solutions to run a cluster through Infura, another spoke of Consensys, which is implementing a scalable blockchain backend:

We have a partnership with Microsoft, and part of that is that they’ve made it very easy to run ethereum clients on their cloud.

So, you need to trust Microsoft’s nodes. Although of course, Microsoft is a very established and reputable company, a rouge admin might decide to play. However, they cannot steal your coins, says Finlay. They can only manipulate the data you see, such as showing you have no funds when in reality you have two ETH, which can easily be checked by entering the address on another blockchain explorer. Alternatively, you can just connect the plugin to your own node or a trusted node of your choice as MetaMask provides the option.

As this is brand new, it is very much in the bootstrapping stage currently going through the cycle of websites/dapps implementing it with users asked to install the plugin. It is also in the process of cross-browser implementation with firefox and, as stated earlier, it is very much beta. So, there isn’t much end users can currently do with MetaMask, but the new world it opens makes this project the most promising in the entire ecosystem and all of blockchain’s history as well as the strongest contender for that killer app everyone has been waiting for.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

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Posted by Andrew Quentson

Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any information you may have.