by Eliot Harkin
In a detailed, no-holds-barred blog post, long-time Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn announced his withdrawal from the Bitcoin project and revealed his concerns regarding the future of Bitcoin:
“…despite knowing that Bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly.”
He lays out, step by step, a chain of events that led to the descent of Bitcoin Core into a state of disarray, lacking any clear vision or form of hierarchy to guide the program towards a cohesive goal. Alternative programs, such as Bitcoin XT, Bitcoin Classic, and Bitcoin Unlimited have developed into legitimate options for the Bitcoin community, but Hearn is concerned about how organisation around Bitcoin Core has reacted to its program’s competition. He writes:
“Bitcoin has gone from being a transparent and open community to one that is dominated by rampant censorship and attacks on bitcoiners by other bitcoiners. This transformation is by far the most appalling thing I have ever seen, and the result is that I no longer feel comfortable being associated with the Bitcoin community.”
Hearn goes into greater detail about this “rampant censorship,” referencing his experience regarding an online thread that was designed to generate open dialogue amongst its users.
“[A bitcoin.org admin] decided to do whatever it took to kill XT completely, starting with censorship of Bitcoin’s primary communication channels: any post that mentioned the words “Bitcoin XT” was erased from the discussion forums he controlled, XT could not be mentioned or linked to from anywhere on the official bitcoin.org website and, of course, anyone attempting to point users to other uncensored forums was also banned. Massive numbers of users were expelled from the forums and prevented from expressing their views.
He includes a warning to investors both within and outside of the Bitcoin community:
“For the first time, investors have no obvious way to get a clear picture of what’s going on. Dissenting views are being systematically suppressed. Technical criticisms of what Bitcoin Core is doing are being banned, with misleading nonsense being peddled in its place. And it’s clear that many people who casually bought into Bitcoin during one of its hype cycles have no idea that the system is about to hit an artificial limit.”
Hearn announced he had sold his remaining Bitcoins, demonstrating that he believes that Bitcoin Core’s future is bleak. He cites fundamental oversights, such as the imposed limits in the block chain’s network capacity, which he believes are intended to “try and stop Bitcoin [from] becoming popular”. These limits cause delays when users attempt to access their bitcoins, damaging the reliability of the currency as a means of day-to-day transaction. Hearn blames the capacity limit on a handful of Chinese miners who own over 95% of the hashing power.
“the […] reason is that the Chinese internet is so broken by their government’s firewall that moving data across the border barely works at all, with speeds routinely worse than what mobile phones provide. Imagine an entire country connected to the rest of the world by cheap hotel wifi, and you’ve got the picture. Right now, the Chinese miners are able to — just about — maintain their connection to the global internet and claim the 25 BTC reward ($11,000) that each block they create gives them. But if the Bitcoin network got more popular, they fear taking part would get too difficult and they’d lose their income stream.”
But Hearn saves his most scathing indictments for Gregory Maxwell, Core developer and most adamant opponent of Hearn and Andressen’s scaling proposals. Hearn accuses Maxwell of holding views antithetical to the core values and goals of Bitcoin.
“In a company, someone who did not share the goals of the organisation would be dealt with in a simple way: by firing him.” But as Hearn points out, there isn’t a mechanism in place to fire anyone. “Once the 5 developers with commit access to the code had been chosen and Gavin had decided he did not want to be the leader, there was no procedure in place to ever remove one. And there was no interview or screening process to ensure they actually agreed with the project’s goals.”
Hearn’s retreat from Bitcoin has sparked debate about the prospect of a more centralized organization taking charge of Bitcoin’s activities in the future. Hearn’s describes a “civil war” amongst the Bitcoin community, with competing personalities and ideologies blockading Bitcoin from taking any progressive strides forward. He believes the solution is to step towards decentralization, as “Bitcoin has no future whilst it’s controlled by fewer than 10 people.”