GDAX’D: Growing pains, glitches and strife

I’ve been in this space for 4 years and have traded on over a dozen exchanges since my inception into Crypto. I have traded tens of thousands of orders spread across: Bitstamp, BTC-e, Bitfinex, Mintpal, Cryptsy, Poloniex, BTER, Vircurex, GDAX, Bittrex, 1broker and simplefx. I’ve examined and played around with the interfaces of Mtgox, Okcoin futures, 796, Huobi, Bitmex and Bitflyer and several others.

I don’t think I’m the best person to be a final decider of what is right, or wrong, when it comes to the user interface and performance of an exchange. At the end of the day it is rather subjective question to answer, people’s opinions will differ. And I’m neither a professional coder or interface designer. The only standpoint I have is my experience using these platforms and my personal opinion on what I felt they did right in their systems. I’m drawing on this experience to explain where I’m coming from with the problems on GDAX as I think they are broad enough to seriously dampen their competitive advantage vs. other companies providing similar products.

At the end of the day, I want the best for everyone. The owners, the users, the spectators. But to get there I think we have a few problems to address that I’ve come to see over the last 2 years on GDAX:

  1. Placing\canceling orders can lag badly. When you cancel an existing limit order, your account balance doesn’t update accordingly. You force me to F5 and refresh the page every time I cancel an order so the website will actually update my account balance and allow me to place a new order. This alone is one of the most serious issues as it directly conflicts with the ability to execute orders.
  2. Awful awful lag on their exchange recently with the website realtime-data going down all the time. They have been having extreme difficulty scaling the platform to the new user growth of the last few months so to a degree this is understandable… but Gemini, Bitfinex, Bitstamp, BTC-e and many of the other major long-standing exchanges have not had this issue. The only other honorable laggy mentions are Kraken and Poloniex, along with Bitfinex in 2015 (Alphapoint).
  3. Interface is horrible and has not been updated\upgraded or addressed at all since their launch 2 1\2 years ago.

3.1) Very poor use of space for order books, price chart, order depth chart and ticker.

3.2) Integrated chart is probably the worst I’ve ever seen on any exchange in this space.

3.3) Order entry form is poorly setup. Not intuitive at all to use, I shouldn’t still be making mistakes after using the platform for over two years.

3.4) Order entry autofill doesn’t function correctly. It does not take into account fees when executing limit orders that take liquidity after having autofilled the quantity. This is most common when a bot places a 0.000001BTC order in the spread which causes part of your order to take it’s liquidity. The system will say you have insufficent funds and you have to manually lower the quantity of the order so that it is allowed to execute. I’ve never seen such an oversight on any other exchange.

  • Limit-stop orders are difficult to find because of the “advanced” dropdown box, 99% of people probably don’t know how to find them, much less use them. Bitfinex and Okcoin integrate advanced order types in a much more professional way IMO.
  • No option for orderbook grouping, a lot of the best exchanges have this feature. Bitfinex, Bitmex, Okcoin, etc. Cryptowat.ch and Bitcoinwisdom also both have it.
  • There have been no upgrades to the exchange since they launched at the end of January 2015. It looks identical to day one. They have zero development ouside of new trading pairs and margin trading. These problems I’m listing have existed for months or years. Bitfinex has gone through 78,000 UI implementations\tweaks and that is why I consider them one of the best in the space. They’re making an effort to improve it constantly.
  • No advanced order types (trailing stop, iceberg, TWAP, etc). Limit-stop is a step… but there are so many more that can be done.
  • Inability to customize the UI which is becoming more and more common (E.g able to hide certain elements you don’t want to maximize the use of space from the ones you do want).
  • Poor trade history records. What trade history is available is in a very marginal format, difficult to consume\analyze, and doesn’t offer many datapoints. Data that could be included: Fees paid, fee rate, order price, executed quantity in relation to how much large the parent order was, the symbol, order type.
  • Many exchanges provide additional information about their market (swap stats for Bitfinex, open interest and margin usage for Okcoin futures, p\l trade history on poloniex, etc, etc).
  • API to Cryptowatch and in general is horrible, the order book represented on Cryptowatch is very glitchy and shows very little bearing to what liquidity is actually on the book. A good example is this which happened today: https://twitter.com/IamNomad/status/879157328536367104
  • Lack of addressing any of these problems. I have emailed some of these concerns to support and spoke with someone on reddit around a year ago ago suggesting on how they can fix some of these glaring problems, specifically #3.4. To this day they remain.
  • As an entrance\exit to the Cryptocurrency space with your bank account, Coinbase works quite well. I trust them. The broker service… usually works, though lately it has gone down frequently. They have made great strides in easing the ability to enter\exit the space. However, as an daytrading exchange experience, I’d rate them among the worst in the market.

    The icing on the cake or the straw that broke the camels back was how their trading engine handled liquidations last week. There are many options for safeguards that could have greatly reduced the severity of this event. When a large market order caused a cascade to $220, stoplosses and margin calls took the price from where it would have stopped (

    $220) all the way down to 10 cents. If it was a “small” move from $330 to $200 I would be more understanding, but the fact that their trading engine allowed complete execution of almost the entire orderbook shows a deep flaw in their margin trading risk management system. This would have liquidated everyone who was margin long at a leverage greater than 1:1 relative to ETH.

    I believe Bitfinex has the right mindset in how to handle this. They introduce speed bumps, sort of similar to limit down on traditional stock markets. The end goal of both systems are to prevent egregious mispricing events by allowing the order book and market participants to recover for a short period of time – preventing gigantic margin\stoploss cascades as one order triggers the next one in the asset. Additionally, and this is my speculation, is that many liquidations were probably insolvent. Thousands of coins were sold at $2 and 10 cents. If some of those were liquidations from a far higher price and did not return the required capital to the lender, then both parties lost. These are situations that must be avoided at all costs.

    Coinbase, Brian, Adam, please. You guys have the biggest venture investment in the Cryptocurrency space I know of. You structured your company properly to bring yourselves to the forefront of the interface between the traditional banking system and Cryptocurrency through your broker system. You have the skills to execute a good exchange. You can hire the best talent. But judging by your actions since launching GDAX, you aren’t. You haven’t learned from what other exchanges do right (or do wrong). You aren’t continually trying to improve the experience because, like I said earlier, it is almost entirely unchanged from when you launched 2.5 years ago. You guys can do better. And hopefully this helps you in the right direction.

    One further point I’d like to make is how we could move on from here, and try and be a bit constructive. I understand GDAX being a sister to Coinbase, you have to cater to new users just joining the cryptocurrency space for the first time. A deluge of features and a complex interface (Bitmex) discourages people from using the products. Why not make a second trading page for GDAX? Start from the ground up and redesgin a more advanced interface for trading, while leaving the basic page intact for those who more prefer that type of interface. (I think?) it would be far easier to implement instead of modifying the existing page.

    And finally I suppose I should mention some short opinions of other major exchanges in the marketplace. That being said this is my opinion, your trading or usage of these sites may vary from mine, and thus the impact of their features or skillsets may be different to you.

    Bitfinex: 8\10. One of the best user interfaces, but banking problems of the last several months, the hack last year, and the lawsuit against Wells Fargo institutes high counter-party risk for having your funds on there. Venture at your own risk, they aren’t as rock solid as other exchanges, but by features and technical performance the platform is quite good.

    Gemini: 7/10 or 10/10. One of the worst user interfaces (separate page for buy\sell? wtf?), but run by the Winklevii twins so it is a highly trustworthy and prestigious exchange. I haven’t heard much about the platform reliability, but I’ve heard nothing about glitches or problems. Almost a 10/10 company if you aren’t planning on daytrading.

    Bitstamp: 7.5/10 The old guard. Trustworthy and regulated with SEPA transfers, but they lack features. Interface is decent. Only just now adding more trading pairs outside of BTCUSD and Ripple.

    Okcoin: 8/10. They used to be the gold standard in user interface, but this gap has been erased by Bitmex and Bitfinex. Not as trustworthy to western citizens as they are China-centrist.

    Huobi: 7/10. Worse UI but the fundamentals are the same as Okcoin.

    Bitmex: 9/10. They know what they are and who they cater to. First to offer fully customizable UI which is among the best in the space. Volume has exploded over the last 6 months from growth among the trader community.

    BTC-e: 5/10 or 8/10 depending what your use is. Another of the old-guard from the Gox days. Very shady operators, shady wire transfers. However, they are rock-solid reliable. Almost no downtime. No glitches. This is big to me which is why I rate them highly. Lots of trading pairs but liquidity is thin.

    Update, 30\7\2017: BTC-e gone, showing weight to what I said about very shady operations and wire transfers. However I still stand by my assertion that technically, they were, in my opinion, the most reliable and bug-free platforms in the space.

    Kraken: 4/10. Very glitchy, laggy, horrible UI, but fundamentally a trustworthy company. Would only recommend as entrance\exit from bank account with SEPA. Not good for daytrading.

    Poloniex: 3/10 to 7/10. Very glitchy and laggy as well, some problems are worse than GDAX or Kracken. Major exponential growing pains, I don’t envy their ops or support team. Major regulation hurdles with margin trading considering they’re in the USA. I’m also amazed they haven’t been hacked considering they have dozens and dozens of different Cryptocurrency wallets to manage and mitigate attacks from. But their liquidity and presence is unquestionable.

    There are dozens of others, but I simply don’t have experience enough to comment on them in this manner.

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