Back in August, Bitcoin lead developer Gavin Andresen mentioned in an interview that there might be some big news coming in September. He thought he was just making an offhand remark that would amount to nothing – instead it got published and rampant widespread speculation began. Well today, the speculation is over. In a forum post today, Gavin officially announced the official formation of the Bitcoin Foundation. So what is the Bitcoin Foundation and how does its existence affect you?
To truly understand the Bitcoin Foundation, you must first understand its role model: The Linux Foundation.
The Linux Foundation is a non-profit entity chartered to foster the growth of the Linux operating system. Its primary goal is to promote, protect and standardize Linux by “providing a comprehensive set of services to compete effectively with closed business platforms.” Basically, it’s a non-profit entity explicitly designed to help Linux succeed. It does this by acting as a neutral spokesperson, building networks of Linux users and developers, promoting the use of standards to make developers’ lives easier and so on. They also sponsor a number of key developers financially, turning what would otherwise be a hobby into an actual pays-the-bills job, thus allowing the developers to remain independent and work full time on improving Linux.
So essentially, take everything I said about the Linux Foundation and replace “Linux” with “Bitcoin.” In the Bitcoin Foundation’s own words:
Bitcoin Foundation standardizes, protects and promotes the use of Bitcoin cryptographic money for the benefit of users worldwide.
Much like the Linux Foundation, the Bitcoin Foundation lists its main goals as “standardizing, protecting and promoting Bitcoin” – a goal I’m more than willing to applaud.
Like everything Bitcoin, though, there is always a dissenting voice. In this case, much of the dissent seems to be around the initial choice of board members:
- Gavin Andresen
Best known as: the lead developer of Bitcoin
- Mark Karpeles
Best known as: the CEO of Mt. Gox, currently the largest Bitcoin exchange
- Jon Matonis
Board Member and Secretary
Best known as: tech contributor to Forbes Magazine and editor of The Monetary Future
- Patrick Murck
Best known as: Principal and founder of Engage Legal PLLC
- Charlie Shrem
Best known as: CEO and co-founder of BitInstant
- Peter Vessenes
Executive Director, Chairman of the Board, Treasurer
Best known as: founder of CoinLab
So what’s wrong with that list? Well according to the dissenting voices, it’s representative only of the “big business” side of Bitcoin, not the actual users. It seems logical to me that such businesses have the most obvious vested interest in Bitcoin’s success and promotion, and to an extent I can see their point: Bitcoin users do need just as much representation as Bitcoin businesses, but I also think there are a couple flaws in their logic.
Flaw #1: The representation of the users doesn’t necessarily happen in the foundation, it happens in the code. Nothing about the way Bitcoin development happens is changing and the Bitcoin Foundation in no way controls the code – not any more than the Linux Foundation controls Linux. This seems counter-intuitive since both foundations exist partially to pay the key developers’ salaries, but they’re not designed to exert control over the code itself. Bitcoin is still open source, you’re still free to brew your own variant, branch the existing code, add features, fix bugs, whatever you want – and if your code is good and the community and devs like what they see, your stuff still goes into the project. It would be far more accurate to think of the Bitcoin foundation as a bunch of cheerleaders and lawyers than a central organization “pulling the strings.”
Flaw #2: The Linux Foundation has been incredibly successful at promoting Linux and related technologies, and their board doesn’t look much different. It’s chock full of businesses with a vested interest in Linux’s success and plenty of clout to put behind it.
But, of course, the decision is yours to make, not mine. If you love or hate the Bitcoin Foundation you’re free to vote with your wallet – The Bitcoin Foundation is entirely funded by donations and memberships, after all.
You’re also free to vote here, for what it’s worth – which is practically nothing, but aren’t polls fun?