As bitcoin approaches a particularly tense and uncertain period, it might seem like a strange time to map out the cryptocurrency’s future at all.
Eyes are glued on two competing scaling projects aimed at boosting bitcoin’s transaction capacity, which are set to come to a head at the end of the month. The best case? Bitcoin could see a smooth capacity increase. The worst? Bitcoin could split into two networks and competing assets.
Yet, that isn’t stopping developers from stepping back from the current quagmire to look at the longer term technical picture and how bitcoin could be improved over the next few years. In fact, most bitcoin developers don’t seem interested in the debate at all, focusing instead on a range of other forward-looking projects.
One example of this long-range focus came Tuesday when developer Paul Sztorc proposed a new scaling roadmap to a popular bitcoin mailing list, charting out an admittedly rough path for future bitcoin development.
In conversation with CoinDesk, Sztorc stressed the roadmap is very far from official as it’s “just one man’s work.” He even admitted to not agreeing with all of his own roadmap’s contents.
But, he wanted to open up a conversation about what experts think bitcoin’s next steps are.
To begin, Sztorc’s new roadmap continues to include Segregated Witness (SegWit), the code optimization at the center of bitcoin’s scaling debate, but also outlines a timeline for the Lightning Network, transaction compression and Schnorr signatures.
The Lightning Network Network could help to increase capacity by allowing transactions to be made without being broadcast to the entire network. Sztorc argued it’s complete, except the implementation still needs SegWit to activate to function best.
Schnorr signatures could shrink the size of transactions, further boosting bitcoin’s limited capacity. Sztorc put down a tentative deadline of Q4 of 2016.
The roadmap also includes his own proposal, Drivechain. A sidechain proposal, Drivechain acts as a two-way peg, allowing participants to move their bitcoins to a sidechain while remaining a part of the bitcoin network. The goal is that it will not negatively affect the main network while enabling it to host other assets, but there’s been some discussion about whether this is possible.
While Sztorc admits to be campaigning for his proposal (and also a distinction between “scalability” and “capacity”), and a few developers have given the idea their blessing.
“Maybe everyone will hate it. I don’t know,” Sztorc told CoinDesk.
Overall, Sztorc’s goal is to refresh an older roadmap.
In December 2015, Blockstream CTO and Bitcoin Core developer Greg Maxwell wrote an email to a popular bitcoin developer list outlining various promising methods of boosting transaction capacity.
You could argue that it spread to become bitcoin’s de-facto scaling roadmap, as many users and those in the technical community often link to it as an informal guide.
But, in Sztorc’s opinion, it’s age is starting to show; many of the changes Maxwell outlined have since been pushed through.
He told CoinDesk:
“People still talk about it as if it’s important. But it’s pretty old. Parts of it aren’t even right. It’s just obsolete.”
The idea of a new plan sounds innocuous enough, right? Yet, some Bitcoin Core contributors responded to Sztorc’s proposal with reluctance, making it clear they believe the original roadmap did more harm than good.
Maxwell, author of the old roadmap, remarked that he wished he had not posted it at all, going as far as to argue that it “harmed progress in our community.”
“What I wrote was carefully constructed as a personal view of how things might work out. It never claimed to be a project roadmap,” he said.
Maxwell detailed reasons for opposing Sztorc’s proposal, namely that many of the technologies listed are not far enough along for developers to have a clear idea of whether they are reasonable to promote.
Bitcoin Core contributor Bryan Bishop was also hesitant to support a new roadmap for the same reason Maxwell does in that the deadlines provided could be construed as solid and agreed upon, leading to confusion. This is especially important, he continued, because Maxwell’s original roadmap has been used to distort Bitcoin Core’s point of view.
“I think it’s very quick to reach the point of unethical to advocate a perspective that there’s guarantee [that] things will happen according to that timeline,” Bishop wrote.
Still, Sztorc suggests the new roadmap is needed because Bitcoin Core developers are not sufficiently communicating with the outside world about which technical proposals they support.
Communication has long been perceived an issue in the community, especially given that technical changes to bitcoin are often complex and difficult to understand. Some even argue miscommunication between various stakeholders has contributed to bitcoin’s current state, with users supporting competing scaling proposals that could lead to a split of the network.
Of course, Bitcoin Core is a loose group, composed of open-source developers who each have their own opinions and often disagree on technical issues. Yet, as is the case with Segregated Witness (a technical optimization at the heart of bitcoin’s current debate), developers sometimes do share similar views about the best way forward.
According to Sztorc, Maxwell’s roadmap highlighted where there was consensus from experts. He believes his new roadmap is much like that. While the ideas might not be ready for primetime yet, they are all ideas prominent developers are working on today.
“There should be clarity,” he said, arguing a new roadmap might achieve that.
Although, he stressed the proposal is by no means complete. He invited suggestions, rewrites or even several competing roadmaps highlighting expert’s visions.
“It would be better than what we have now, which is a tangled mess of random social media commentary. I don’t think that really works at all.”
Paul Sztorc image via the Scaling Bitcoin conference