Deconstructing StellarX, the Decentralized Exchange That’s “Not an Exchange”
10.02.2018

The first thing you see when logging into the newly launched, decentralized cryptocurrency exchange StellarX is a note that it’s “not an exchange at all.” Rather, it’s a “public marketplace,” through which people can send and receive tokens directly from their own wallets, no intermediary required.

This differs from centralized exchanges like Coinbase, where the platform takes a fee for every transaction and there’s a clear hierarchy—a company led by a CEO, Brian Armstrong, out of a San Francisco-based “glass fortress.” StellarX, on the other hand, is free. “We aren’t here for a cut,” cofounder Christian—who does not provide a last name—wrote in a September 28 Medium post announcing the platform’s official launch. Since StellarX is built on the Stellar network, which houses the cryptocurrency Stellar Lumens (XLM), it, too, is maintained in a decentralized fashion. However, the company that created StellarX and “runs” it is Interstellar, a new operation also based in San Francisco that has a CEO, Adam Ludwin.

StellarX offers tokens tied to six fiat currencies—the U.S. dollar, Chinese yuan, Hong Kong dollar, Nigerian naira, British pound, and the euro. Users can trade big name cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, and Bitcoin Cash along with the lesser known Metal, Kin, Chainlink, and Basic Attention Token.

In the future, StellarX aims to be home to “bonds, stocks, real estate, commodities, and so on,” according to Christian, offering users a place to trade Litecoin directly for these more traditional assets and bringing together the new and old worlds of finance. For now, though, the platform just supports XLM markets.

What’s so great about a decentralized exchange?

A decentralized exchange tracks with the overall decentralized promise of cryptocurrencies. Right now, using Coinbase is kind of like using a bank. It has the power to shut people out of their accounts, like it did in Wyoming earlier this year after the state decided Coinbase fell under the Money Transmitter Act. This meant Coinbase needed to hold fiat currency to back up all the cryptocurrency users in Wyoming held, which Coinbase couldn’t afford. It “solved the problem” by simply pulling out of the state, leaving some users barred from their accounts.

On a decentralized platform like StellarX, users have sole access to their own keys and therefore to all of their crypto assets. Unlike with Bank of America (and even Coinbase), if you forget your access code, you can’t email the company saying you forgot your password and answer a security question about your mother’s maiden name to get into your account. If you forget your keys to your StellarX account, tough luck. When I signed up for an account just now, however, I did get a string of words that serve as my account recovery code and sound like a poem about the Doge getting excited for spring cleaning (“myself eager…truly broom”).

People are in favor of this because it takes the power out of the hands of big bank-like institutions and puts it in the hands of individual asset holders.

But is StellarX really a decentralized exchange?

According to its own website, no. “Although StellarX might feel a lot like a DEX [decentralized exchange], because you’re trading from your own wallet and all your actions are settled on-chain, StellarX isn’t an exchange of any kind,” the website claims, instead identifying the product as a “graphic user interface—a really nice one.” It’s not as if StellarX has created its own system for trading currencies. It’s a platform where people can perform the actions they normally would through an exchange, but its real service is just being a user-friendly interface for moving money around or exchanging one type of crypto for another.

Those who are concerned that StellarX is deep down a centralized service have their reasons. It’s run by a single company that’s led by a CEO. But since the company can’t access users’ funds, its centralized nature doesn’t mean much. Then there’s the fact that one of Ripple’s co-founders, Jed McCaleb, created Stellar. Ripple’s cryptocurrency, XRP, is largely controlled by Ripple, the company. Those who associate StellarX with Ripple because of McCaleb may be wary of the former’s decentralization claims, and they’d be right. Ninety-five percent of XLM is held by the top 100 accounts, according to AreWeDecentralizedYet.com (that’s compared to 19 percent of bitcoin held by the top 100 accounts). However, the more people who use StellarX, the more people will start using XLM, diversifying holders of the cryptocurrency and moving it further away from centralization.

In short, StellarX is about as close to a decentralized exchange as you can get.

Do other decentralized exchanges exist?

Yes—you can find a long list on Github. StellarX seems to stand out because of its user-friendliness and because users can directly deposit fiat currencies into their accounts. People have also compared StellarX to Robinhood, another no-fee crypto trading platform, but the latter is still a centralized exchange.

What are people saying about StellarX so far?

People seem to find the interface convenient, and they think it’s great news for Stellar, since every transaction requires the use of XLM. People on Twitter are already asking about trading for Canadian and Korean fiat currencies. Others are skeptical of its decentralized nature.

On the StellarX website, there’s a chat box in the lower right corner, perhaps inappropriately called “Trollbox” because for the most part the comments have been very polite. While some users have taken issue with the platform’s lack of Dogecoin, others are talking about making their own native token on the site, which users can do if they follow Stellar’s guidelines and fill out some forms. Some are concerned about McCaleb “controlling so much XLM,” and some people just want to talk about buying shitcoins. But a lot of people in the Trollbox just seem to think StellarX is “legit.”