A Primer on Bitcoin Governance, or Why Developers Aren’t in Charge of the Protocol

By September 7, 2016Bitcoin Business

As one of its most important properties and a key selling point, Bitcoin is not controlled by any government, (central) bank or company. Nor is there even an active inventor to call the shots, as is the case in many other open-source projects. But that doesn’t mean the peer-to-peer electronic cash system is not governed by humans at all. Many attribute this governance role to the Bitcoin Core development team. This is a misguided attribution, however. While Bitcoin Core developers may have an influential position, Bitcoin is really governed by only two groups of people: users and miners. Bitcoin Implementations Bitcoin itself is essentially nothing but a protocol; a language shared by computers. And importantly, Bitcoin is an “open” protocol: there are no gatekeepers or requirements to become part of the Bitcoin network, other than following this protocol. Anyone with the required skill-set can develop software to follow the protocol. But the easier option, of course, is to simply download and run software developed by others. There are currently several Bitcoin software implementations to choose from, as well as forks (near copies) of these implementations. The most used of these is probably still Bitcoin Core, the software stack that evolved from Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin implementation. But Libbitcoin , Bitcoin XT *, Bitcoin Classic * and a handful of other implementations all follow the same protocol too and exist on the same network side by side. (*Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Classic are programmed to deviate from the current Bitcoin protocol if certain conditions are met, but do follow the current Bitcoin protocol until then.) Frankly, all these implementations and forks are “governed” by their respective developers in whatever way these developers want. Where Bitcoin Classic developers set up a (non-binding) consider.it page to crowd-source ideas on the […]

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