Why FOSS Development Is Crucial for Bitcoin’s Mainstream Acceptance
Crypto likes to see itself as disruptive, just as Apple disrupted mobile phones (and the camera), Tesla disrupted automotive (and also sustainable energy), Twitter/Facebook/WhatsApp disrupted media and communications (and also digital community building). At OKCoin, we embrace this industry because we also believe that bitcoin and subsequent cryptocurrencies represent a paradigm shift in both our financial system and social fabric. While it’s unclear what this shift will look like, or if it will ever be static, there will always be a need for a technical and financial infrastructure that allows people to easily and safely buy, sell and keep their bitcoin and digital assets in an open, inclusive and free global market. It is this belief that led to the creation of OKCoin in 2013 and has kept us in it for the long haul.
As someone with a previous life on Wall Street, however, I’m also suspicious of buzzwords like “disruption,” “transformation” and “paradigm shift.” I’ve heard those buzz words more than I care to during my more-than-a-decade experience on the “dark side.” Entrepreneurs use them to get funding for their startups or in preparation for taking a business public. But when it is no more than a buzzword, generally it doesn’t take a long time for the market to catch up.
The cryptocurrency industry faces the same challenge. During the ICO boom of 2017, large amounts of capital flooded in for the first time. I was still living my happy investor life and had already invested in OKCoin, then the largest crypto exchange in China. Naturally, there was an influx of ICO white papers in my inbox.
That made me anxious. As an investor, you balance two types of risk. The first is reputational risk: You don’t want to miss out on a good deal. The second is capital risk: You don’t want to lose money by putting any of your eggs in the wrong basket. It took me some time to filter through all the noise. I went through the white papers (which didn’t help), did more research and consulted engineering gurus (which did help).
Ultimately, I’m happy that I didn’t invest in any of those projects. The blockchain technology was not ready. And the bubble went bust. (I did invest in bitcoin and hold onto it still, which has since gone through several price cycles, continued to attract the largest number of developers and remained the biggest and most dynamic asset within the crypto industry.)
So key lesson learned: When you have no real technological breakthrough, you have no real disruptors.
The Cryptocurrency Ecosystem Needs FOSS Developers to Be Disruptive
The cryptocurrency ecosystem is home to two types of developers. First-layer developers are responsible for the foundational work of improving the underlying code of different crypto protocols. Second-layer developers build on these foundations, finding unique solutions for entrenched real-world problems like payments, energy distribution and even measuring climate change. Both types of developers are crucial innovators who drive advancements in our industry.
Without developers, there is no technological breakthrough. Without a breakthrough, there is no disruption. As such, we recently created the OKCoin Independent Developer Grant that embodies three tenets we believe are crucial to supporting crypto developers: focus on free or open-source software (FOSS), protect independence and encourage decentralization.
FOSS Development First: Free and open-source development is critical to technological breakthroughs in crypto. Going beyond the fact that FOSS aligns with its the founding ethos — that participants need unfettered access to the system — to create a sweeping change, you need a variety of opinions and skills that are not constrained by any corporate agenda.
Independence and decentralization: Independence and decentralization are the soul of crypto — it’s why crypto has captured the attention, imagination and resources of so many. OKCoin began as a centralized exchange, not because we dismissed decentralization, but because it’s what our industry currently needs. The key word in “centralized crypto exchange” is “crypto,” not “centralized.” We want to make sure our industry’s genesis spirit is honored and upheld.
This means two things for our Independent Developer Grant.
- Our support is no-strings attached: Developers work independently toward what they believe is necessary for the advancement of crypto.
- We prioritize decentralized protocols, like Bitcoin: Our goal is to provide direct and ongoing contributions to independent developers behind leading and decentralized crypto projects. These grants are awarded on merit without compromising the freedom of their work — we want developers to pursue their own projects, finding solutions to problems we haven’t even imagined yet.
Our Social Responsibility to Support FOSS Development
As a global cryptocurrency exchange focused on providing an easy and safe fiat on-ramp and off-ramp to end users and investors, we also have a special responsibility to support FOSS development and its developers.
Long-term value creation. Investors come to our platform to buy bitcoin and other crypto assets, but it is the developer community that continues to work on the underlying protocols, validate the value proposition of crypto projects, and make them more relevant, secure and easy to use. The quality of their work can decide long-term value creation for the investors.
Mainstream awareness. As the progenitor of all decentralized cryptocurrencies and the first to break into the mainstream consciousness, bitcoin has both the clout and the brand awareness to create real, meaningful change in our society. When bitcoin first entered the public consciousness, the narrative was heavily oriented toward developers because the field was so technical. As exchanges emerged to facilitate trading of the bitcoin and other crypto assets, public attention naturally centered around price volatility and speculation.
As a bridge between cryptocurrencies and traditional finance, we are well-positioned to serve as an industry ambassador, further support research development, foster dialogue around it and help promote awareness for further adoption in the mainstream.
Industry Foundation. We are also among the heaviest users of blockchain networks. We’ve run many bitcoin nodes since OKCoin was founded. We also rely on the stability of the network to ensure secure and seamless deposit, trade and withdrawal of bitcoin for our users. This makes contributing to the technical soundness of the network of even higher importance.
We Are Just One of Many
We hope that initiatives like our Independent Developer Grant will continue to remind all of us that we are all in this together. We have started our grant with Bitcoin Core developers because Bitcoin, the largest crypto asset as it stands today, has always been a community-driven cause and will continue to prosper as such. We are just one of many in this community.
The best way to enable continued progress and real disruption is to stay connected with the community and enable more software engineers to work on the open-source protocols independently and in a decentralized manner. We cannot do much on our own, but together we can hopefully create an exciting new decade for our industry.
This is an op ed contribution by Hong Fang of OKCoin. Views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Bitcoin Magazine or BTCInc.