After a year of explosive price growth, forks, unsuccessful forks and much more, associated with bitcoin in 2017, there is much to tell. A big step forward has been made, and a lot has been learned. But, as we continue to advance into uncharted territories, the further development of events causes as much controversy as before.
At the heart of both last year’s drama and the remaining uncertainty about the future lies the simple question: is it possible for bitcoins to scale while continuing to attract the attention of the masses, or will it be a victim of its own success, and will it be circumvented by alternative crypto currencies waiting for its time?
Of course, no one can honestly answer this question with complete certainty. Predicting the future is a difficult task, because the future is constantly changing. It can not be fixed or predetermined. The future is formed and created here and now by those who are not happy with the present.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote:
Comprehending this exciting year and thinking about the possible challenges of the future, it makes sense to pay special attention to those unreasonable men and women who are engaged in creation.
In early November, 2017, with the assistance of Stanford University, one of the oldest and most famous technical conferences in the block sector was held: Scaling Bitcoin (Bitcoin Scaling).
The Scaling Bitcoin conference for the fourth time brought together scientists, developers and entrepreneurs from the entire block-ecosystem, many of which have been in the thick of crypto-currency ideas and developments for many years. Such a long and deep experience generates a sense of perspective and priority of priorities, which should not be neglected.
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For those who are looking forward to the future of the Crypto-currency and want to know what is hindering his offensive, there is no better place to start.
The editor-in-chief of CoinDesk, Peter Rizzo, immediately drew attention to the fact that, despite such a rare concentration of veterans of the industry, most of the recent hot topics prevailing in the crypto-currency news cycle were ignored in the discussion.
Although the conference remained true to its title and included presentations focused on the possible optimization of Bitcoin Core and second-level offers, the controversial themes of forks and block size during the conference were rarely addressed. Participants did not show any particular concern about such seemingly pressing issues as the Seqwit2X fork, and most of those present, including myself, were confident that he would die before he was born.
Such a belief and attitude quickly confirmed when 2X was canceled already a week after the end of the conference.
Therefore, it is good or bad, but bitcoin will not increase the base block size. The opposite vision of much larger block-size limits for bitcoin will now be implemented only in Bitcoin Cash. This caused a lot of forecasts about the fact that Bitcoin Cash and other alternative crypto currencies will beat bitcoin, as its block-size limit becomes a limitation for its adoption.
With a few notable exceptions, most Scaling Bitcoin visitors did not show that they consider this an important issue. However, this does not mean that those present did not speak about any urgent technological challenges. Judging by the wide range of topics of presentations, this is far from being the case. But, one way or another, all participants agreed with one much larger and more fundamental problem for scaling this still emerging ecosystem: the lack of quality talent-developers.
As the developer and conference participant Jimmy Song said:
Thus, the feature of the Scaling Bitcoin conference this year was not only its holding in Stanford, but also the fact that the organizers tried to solve this problem directly.
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Bitcoin Edge Dev ++
The organizers of Scaling Bitcoin have established the master class Dev ++ with the only mission – to train and help to join the work of beginning block-building developers, and for this, star names were involved.
As part of the opening of the Dev ++ program, dozens of attendees attended presentations and step-by-step demonstrations from well-known industry representatives. These include the aforementioned Jimmy Song, developer of Bitcoin Core John Newberry, Thaddeus Dryidge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many others.
This ensemble of technical experts read a short course, covering everything from Bitcoin’s cryptographic fundamentals to the theory and implementation of second-tier networks. The latter included a live and interactive demonstration of the Lighting Network software in the test network, which was personally conducted by Dryidge, co-author of the original software document.
However, probably no less cognitive than the actual demonstration of Dev ++, was a fleeting commentary by Dreiji, who surprised some attentive listeners and reported everything that one should know about the need for such an event.
When asked if a small Lightning Network option was already implemented, Dryja replied:
This funny but sincere answer reveals the true limitation imposed now on the scaling of bitcoin and block-technology. As always, time is the most scarce of all resources. It’s impossible to control the course of time, but we can better manage it. The search, motivation and development of those unreasonable people on whom any progress depends is the only way to bring the future closer.
As the developer of the Lightning Network, Jack Mullers wrote on Reddit:
The same mood is expressed by the CEO of Lightning Elizabeth Stark, who says:
The number of developers involved in such an expected technology full time can surprise you:
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Time and talents
Given the central importance of developing a second level in the current scaling debate, the fact that only 10 developers are working on the Lightning Network over the Lightning Network, should become a wake-up call for many. But the problem of unsatisfied demand for developers in the crypto-currency ecosystem has even deeper roots.
Conferences, such as Scaling Bitcoin, are distinguished by their continuous series of presentations about some of the latest areas of research and development. You can easily be filled with excessive enthusiasm for such a large number of innovations, seemingly close to implementation.
However, many are more restrained. Those who have long been in this space are able to pacify their expectations, but it’s those who have experience in software development who understand best that progress is usually slower than desired.
Take, for example, Segregated Witness, which took three years to implement and activate Bitcoin, despite strong support from the community of open source developers.
Those who have at least some experience in programming, this should not be shocking. At any level of programming, ideas appear easily, but they are difficult to implement. When you create even the simplest, at first glance, programs or options, there are always hidden complications and subtasks that require careful consideration and solution. Therefore, when it comes to developing anything in this unprecedented ecosystem of distributed financial software with increased security requirements, this depressing reality multiplies many times.
And, as if it did not complicate the progress, the developers face another problem: to decide what to work on first.
Crypto-currencies and lock-ups are a young area with a lot of uncertainties. These uncertainties give rise to a large number of possibilities, but also endless disagreements.
As the Scaling Bitcoin conference demonstrated, at each moment a lot of competing ideas are explored, many of which attract public attention. But the public seldom notes that most of these ideas later fade into the background, giving way to more promising developments, or even in the basket.
Although this may seem like a problem, it is a necessary and desirable consequence of exploring unexplored territories. Sometimes it’s obvious whether the idea will work or not, but often it is not.
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In the end, as the developer of Bitcoin Core Peter Todd said:
Such dynamics leads to a variety of discussions not only about what the technology can be implemented, but also that the need to implement and where the article of IT to focus the most effort, taking into account different threat models.
The result of all this is the inability to find the same evaluation of any proposal or idea among developers, let alone a consensus about where the most appropriate additional research and implementation efforts are. Therefore, the only way for us to determine what works and what does not, is actively trying and making mistakes. To do this, of course, requires more and more qualified developers.
It is this task that Dev ++ and other programs try to solve, such as the training courses from Chaincode and Programming Blockchain Jimmy Song. But although these activities gradually increase the number of available educational tools, resources and courses, becoming a blockbuster developer is a long and difficult path with many challenges.
However, most of them are psychological.
Beginning of blocking developers can easily be frightened by the inevitably steep learning curve, naturally represented by this area. As a former student and then an assistant professor at Ironhack Fullstack Bootcamp, I know from my own experience that fear is the main obstacle for any student who wants to learn some kind of programming.
Paradoxically, the depth of knowledge of course instructors, such as Dev ++, can further exacerbate the students’ feelings and the seeming futility of achieving the same level of skill. They can also strengthen the attitude of Bitcoin Core developers, observed in the well-known and extremely critical process of peer review.
I got an illustration of this when I asked the developer of Bitcoin Core Peter Vuile what the easiest way for a developer to participate in the repository. “Definitely, checking the code,” he replied, before quickly clarifying his claim.
Bitcoin Core’s rigorous approach to code quality is well founded, and reaching the level of knowledge of developers such as Peter Vuille and John Newberry can really seem daunting. However, any programmer should start from something, and for beginner block developers it will be a big mistake to confuse the high bar of this particular repository and the level of qualification necessary to make a meaningful contribution to the ecosystem as a whole.
Countless projects, in addition to Bitcoin Core, can greatly benefit from additional talents and are able to provide less experienced programmers a platform in order to try themselves.
As Elizabeth Stark points out:
The large-scale development and testing that remains to be done to fully explore and make it possible to mass adoption of the Lightning Network is just one example of a possible starting point for less experienced developers. But there are other, even more affordable options.
Since I’m a web programmer, I was asked to provide Scaling Bitcoin with feedback on at least three different APIs. APIs allow other developers to use blocking options, such as proof of existence, without burdensome maintenance of a complete node.
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Developing and participating in such a digital infrastructure is not only necessary for the development of the ecosystem, but also provides an excellent accessible opportunity for developers with little experience with the blockbuster. Such opportunities allow making meaningful and necessary contributions to the ecosystem, while introducing developers to deeper technologies. If you look carefully, there are no shortcomings in such work.
Securing the future
In 2018, all attention will be focused on the exciting and easily visible.
The headlines and attention of the masses, as usual, will dominate the movement of prices and intrigues of the industry, acting as catalysts for a lot of clicks, tweets and comments.
But the real and underappreciated history, as always, is made by craftsmen, and not only by those who participate in the development of Bitcoin Core or Lightning Network. Those who remain in the shadows, dealing with subtle and esoteric tasks, are no less important.
These are those who, despite one obstacle after another and lack of fanfare, tend to gradually change the state of affairs and create a better world. It is they who undertake step-by-step and often seemingly inconsistent steps, which in their totality move the ecosystem forward.
Be that as it may, 2018 will not be for bitcoin or crypto-currency in general decisive.
The time horizons and rewards for the most important and fundamental work are far from being limited to the next year. These efforts are not focused on drama, PR campaigns, or even on technology itself, but on people who develop it and will develop it.
How, again, Jimmy Song said directly:
Perhaps, traders drive markets, but it is technicians who really determine the future. And in the new year we need them as much as possible.
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