Mike Hearn: Underfunding is Leaving Bitcoin Development in Crisis

The bitcoinj developer has said development of the bitcoin protocol is in a "crisis period" through lack of incentive.

AccessTimeIconJun 25, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 10:55 a.m. UTC

Acclaimed bitcoinj developer Mike Hearn has expressed his concerns over the apparent lack of progress in the development of the bitcoin protocol.

In an audio interview with Epicenter Bitcoin, Hearn indicated that there are simply no incentives for developers to spend time and effort on basic development, and that the bitcoin protocol is already suffering as a result:

“I’ve been very worried for a long time that the core bitcoin system is radically underfunded and underdeveloped from where it needs to be."

Because developers are not incentivised, he argued, they simply don’t tend to tackle the big problems and little progress is being made.

The result is that development of the bitcoin protocol has ground to a “complete halt”, Hearn added, describing the situation as a “crisis period for bitcoin, in this respect”.

Crowdfunding for bitcoin

Now, Hearn wants to do things differently – raising funds for bitcoin development through Lighthouse, his new crowdfunding platform which he compares to Kickstarter. The platform would allow people to pre-pledge and support projects without necessarily funding them, explaining:

“It’s just a promise. People could go back on that promise.”

The approach would allow developers to see whether their ideas can gain enough traction and funding before they actually start raising money. Hearn says a lot of people have already expressed interest in his concept.

“To start with, it would just be me. I want to see whether I would actually be able to make a living this way,” he said. If he is successful, Hearn expects more people to join the platform and contribute.

Community support

Hearn sees Lighthouse as a marketplace that will allow the bitcoin community to effectively ‘vote’ on the direction of bitcoin's development.

“We don’t want bitcoin to be controlled just by rich people. There has to be some reason to it,” he said.

“The companies have the funding, they’ve got their profits, they’ve got their venture capital. They need bitcoin to work well, so my plan is to mostly get these companies to pledge,” said Hearn, adding:

“BitPay or Coinbase or whoever – none of these companies wants to be the sucker that is always paying for the upgrades to bitcoin.”

Hearn argued that such an approach would level the playing field and benefit both big companies and startups.

When asked whether his plan would further centralise development, Hearn said it should do the exact opposite. “If I was to be working on it and I had a sustainable income stream, this could only decentralise it further, even if it’s just me,” he said. “This is free market-driven development.”

Developer issues

Hearn further took time in the interview to have a dig at the core developers, saying that nobody should be concerned by the direction they are taking, as they are doing very little:

“The only people doing any kind of heavy lifting on the protocol today are people paid by the Bitcoin Foundation. When I say ‘people,’ what I actually mean is Gavin [Andresen]. There are only three people paid by the Foundation to work on bitcoin, code-wise. And of those, Wladimir [van der Laan] and Cory [Fields] refuse to work on the protocol, partly because of the social issues that have come up.”

“There’s almost nothing happening on bitcoin core development. Only Gavin is working on any major updates and he can only tackle one at a time.”

This is not the first time Hearn talked about the lack progress in core development. Back in February he also indicated that too few people are putting in any real effort.


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