Bitcoin needs a visionary and a leader


Q: What do Linux, Apple and Microsoft all have in common?

A: They each were started and led by a strong leader, who had a vision for where they wanted their projects and companies to end up, and the perseverance to make it happen.

Linus is notorious for chastising developers who submit shoddy code in hopes that it’ll be included in the kernel. Not because he enjoys it, but because he knows what he wants for the kernel that is almost his namesake.

Same for Steve Jobs –  employees who produced shoddy work or who couldn’t grasp the vision he had for his projects were at best publicly berated in terms that left no one wondering how he felt. He didn’t hesitate to make forward thinking decisions, even if they seemed outlandish or unpopular at the time, including:

  • Going to Microsoft, hat in hand, and not only negotiating a settlement to the many lawsuits that Apple had launched against them over the years, and even going further to solicit an investment in his company from his arch-rival.
  • Dropping serial and SCSI in favor of USB only connectivity (with FireWire for high-end devices)
  • Dropping use and support of the PowerPC line of processors in favor of using chips from Intel.
  • Producing a smart phone that lacked a keyboard.
  • Ditching CD and DVD drives in favor of distributing software online.

And while Bill Gates isn’t viewed as much of an innovator, none the less it was his vision and business-savy that built Microsoft into the behemoth that it is today, being so ruthless in the PC market that they’ve decimated nearly every competitor that’s either taken them on, or who had staked out a new market that Microsoft found desirable, through ruthless and “unfair” business practices and abuse of monopoly power.

Satoshi Nakamoto birthed Bitcoin and presented it to the world, but he essentially vanished four and a half years ago, and while he anointed Gavin as his “successor”, he took a much more passive role insofar as managing Bitcoin, letting it turn into a consensus-driven project rather than one with a set direction, goals, milestones, etc.

That’s worked more-or-less fine so far, but the cracks are really beginning to show, the weaknesses of management by consensus, in the block size debate that’s come to dominate Bitcoin-related discussion boards as of late.

Increasing the block size isn’t a new debate – it’s one that was first brought up almost five years ago, yet the community seems to be collectively frozen on the topic.

On one hand, we’ve got Gavin reaching out to the community seeking to build consensus to get this change over with before it becomes critical, and on the other is a sizable contingent who are in disagreement for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Fear of transaction spamming.
  • Fear of the rising amount of resources that will be required to run full Bitcoin nodes, which they fear will lead to increased centralization.
  • Or they just have different visions for what Bitcoin should be in the future.

Should Bitcoin be a peer-to-peer payment system, where users are responsible for their coins and transactions occur directly on the blockchain? Or should Bitcoin be more of a “settlement” system, wherein the majority of transactions take place not on the blockchain itself, but on separate ledgers, side-chains, or not on any blockchain at all, but instead simply being recorded in an assortment of databases? Personally, I think that when in doubt, we should refer back to Satoshi’s vision and ideas.

Q: What is Bitcoin?

A: A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.

That’s first sentence from Satoshi’s white paper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System“, and despite having never spoken or messaged with Satoshi (having only first heard of Bitcoin a couple of years after he disappeared into the ether), I feel that if he were still involved with his creation, that this wouldn’t even be up for debate. Such is the power of a visionary and a leader.

My preference for the direction that Bitcoin goes (payment system vs settlement system) and how future development efforts attempt to optimize for whichever role it takes on is secondary at this point. Primarily, I just want to see that the developers can come upon a solution before the red emergency lights start blinking. I can’t help but think that every day that this debate goes on is another day that a company that’s considering utilizing the blockchain for its business processes says to themselves “Hold up! We can’t rely on this technology – no matter how impressive it seems, if the developers can’t reach agreement on issues like this, let alone future issues, how can we rely on Bitcoins blockchain to be capable of handling our needs in the future?”.

Really, this shouldn’t even be a public debate. Steve Jobs didn’t ask the community how they felt about SCSI being dropped from future Mac’s, nor did Microsoft consult the public about whether users wanted Internet Explorer integrated into the operating system. They made their decisions and moved forward.

If Bitcoin’s development is to remain consensus-driven, that consensus should come from private discussions among those that have made the greatest investments in Bitcoin, whether through development time or by creating essential infrastructure and services, to include:

* Core developers.

* Mining pool operators – there are only a handful of them, and they are the ones who are responsible for creating the blocks whose sizes we are are debating

* the largest payment processor, exchanges and wallet providers, such as Bitpay, Bitstamp, Bitfinex, BTC China, BTC-E, Coinbase, Circle, et al. There’s not so many exchanges that reaching out to each of them and recording their opinion on which direction things should go.

What shouldn’t be occurring is this becoming a public discussion. Sure, the public should be able to observe the discussion, via read-only access to message boards or mailing lists on the topic, but that should be the limit. And, to betray my preference for Bitcoin’s future once again, I would personally exclude node operators as well – while they do provide a service to the network, the fact is, it’s commoditized service, not requiring the devotion of hours and hours of development time nor significant investments in computers and infrastructure. If changes need to be made to the blockchain, my opinion is that they should be made, and leave it to node operators to decide if they’re willing to make the required investment in hardware to continue supporting the network, rather than hold the network back in order to accommodate their desire to “support the network” by running a full Bitcoin node on a Raspberry Pi.

Again, my preference on the matter comes secondary. What I really wish to see is a decision made, and the project move forward. If I don’t agree with that decision, I don’t need to continue using Bitcoin, but at least for those that do continue using it, or are considering using it, they’ll know where this experiment is heading. If Bitcoin can’t have a lead developer, then it at least should be managed by a small group who can agree to abide by the outcome of votes cast among the group

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