2020 was unforgettable, especially for Bitcoin. To help rethink this year for our readers, we asked our network of contributors to think about Bitcoin’s price action, tech development, community growth, and more in 2020, as well as what all this could mean for 2021. These writers responded with a collection of thoughtful and thought-provoking articles. click here to read all the stories from our End Of Year 2020 series.
This year has been one none of us will soon forget. While the world seems like a chaotic place, Bitcoin continues to find its foundation and remain stable, constantly proving its critics wrong, time and time again.
But a lot has also changed around Bitcoin this year. The third subsidy halving happened, we got a Bitcoin hashtag emoji, and our favorite orange coin saw growing adoption among institutional investors. But one topic really caught my eye this year: Bitcoin developer financing.
Although I am not a developer, I think this topic is very important in the future. So I wanted to take this opportunity to dive in a little bit more, and its history.
We all know the importance of open source software. After all, Bitcoin itself is free, open-source software (FOSS), to which anyone can contribute (and audit). This is an important aspect for creating a really hard and scarce digital currency. How do you know what it really is if you can’t check it publicly?
But who maintains that software? Who is working on the code on which Bitcoin is built? You can see all contributions in the Bitcoin Core GitHub (https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin). The beauty of Bitcoin’s decentralization can also be seen in the diversity of its contributors – it’s open to everyone.
Financing FOSS development has always been a bit of a tricky situation. We all know the importance of the software, but due to its open and free nature, there is not much reason to fund it. After all, there is nothing to sell, Bitcoin is free for everyone to use.
Those who understand its importance have participated in developer funding in the past, but something has changed this year. In the past, most of the funding came from small groups or organizations (such as Blockstream, Chaincode, MIT, etc.) that directly hire developers.
2020: The Year Development Grants Got Cool?
Coinbase and Gemini have committed to continue funding developers in the future, and projects such as Edge will recruit and train new developers while offering potential scholarships to experienced employees.
Another new location for supporting open source contributors is GitHub’s new “Sponsors” feature, announced last year. Individuals can donate directly to developers, with recurring payments to support their work on Bitcoin Core or other projects. Bitcoindevlist.com is a website with many individual developers and their backgrounds with links to their “GitHub Sponsors” pages, or BTCPay Server integrations for direct payment with bitcoin.
All these efforts combined have made a significant step forward in funding the important work of Bitcoin Core contributors this year.
Will Bitcoin’s values remain intact?
Bitcoin’s history has been laced with many attempts to fund development, and some have been somewhat controversial. The Bitcoin foundation among other things, tried to address this issue, and while it made some progress, many criticized its direction. The B was a more recent effort that met some backlash from the Bitcoin community.
But why would anyone be against financial support for open source contributors? Isn’t that just a good thing?
A quick look at Twitter highlights some of the common problems: do these larger organizations expect developers to respond? Can less qualified developers receive funding because they are willing to please their sponsors? Isn’t politics getting in the way? Wouldn’t current developers become gatekeepers, making it more difficult for new people to join?
All of these concerns are fair, and I share some of them myself. But it is important to note that Bitcoin is more difficult than any developer. Core developers don’t have the final say on how things are going. Even if every worst-case scenario comes true, users can simply reject the code changes made. Bitcoin nodes are not set to update automatically, which means that node operators must manually accept and implement each upgrade. Users can simply decline the changes, keep using the current version, or use a fork of the software.
That does not mean that the concerns should be ignored, or that this is not an issue we should address. Bitcoin developer funding will always be important, and it will be vital to work on improving that in the future.
The problem with decentralization is that it is sometimes messy. It depends on many individuals taking personal responsibility and ownership and essentially emerging on their own. None of us can tell sponsors how to spend their money, but those unhappy with current efforts can go a step further and offer a different approach. Bitcoindevlist.com, for example, offers everyone the opportunity to help fund development on an individual level.
But is there a way to organize on a larger scale? Is there a need for additional organizations, perhaps made up of individuals with the core beliefs of Bitcoin, to take a step forward in balancing these aspects? What would that look like?
I believe this will remain an important topic until 2021, and I hope there will be more funding efforts. Perhaps we will see more community-led projects, attempting to address these concerns, and continue to balance this important aspect of Bitcoin’s future.
This is a guest post from Justine. The views expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.