21 Inc Pledges Support to Bitcoin’s Vanishing Nodes

Bitcoin nodes map

21 Inc, the best-funded company in bitcoin, has pledged to support the network’s declining number of nodes.

In a blog post co-authored yesterday, CEO Balaji Srinivasan said the firm wants to maintain and incentivise the “critical mass” of full nodes, which form the collective ‘backbone’ that stores and relays all bitcoin transactions.

Today, there are 12% fewer full nodes than this time last year. This continued decline means the bitcoin network – which finds strength in its distributed design – is becoming less stable.

The post reads:

“Bitcoin full nodes help preserve the health of the bitcoin network by validating blocks and transactions, and then serving those validated transactions to lightweight clients and other full nodes … As lightweight clients currently make up a significant and growing part of the network, it’s essential that we help them maintain their high level of security  –  which means maintaining a critical mass of full nodes.”

To do this, 21 has partnered with the BitNodes project, created in 2013 by developer Addy Yeow to assess the health of the network by finding all its reachable nodes.

According to the blog post, Yeow’s index, which crawls the network every five minutes to tally up the number of functioning full nodes, will now be hosted by the firm “in perpetuity”.

Incentives

Unlike miners, who earn freshly-minted bitcoins for their computing power, nodes receive no compensation: often, they are run by enthusiasts altruistically.

To counter this, Yeow created his own Bitnodes Incentive Program, which allows nodes to get a bitcoin reward. This weekly incentive increases as they join the network, for example with 5,000 or more it will be $10, and with 9,000 or more it will be $30.

It’s not currently clear if the program is paying out, as it lists only 175 eligible nodes of the 5,974 on the network at press time, while the lowest parameter is 5,000. However 21 is promising to extend the scheme to buyers of its 21 Bitcoin Computer, its first consumer product which debuted two weeks ago to mixed reviews.

The blog post reads:

“As a generalization of the Bitnodes incentive scheme, you will be mining more bitcoin on a 21 Bitcoin Computer if you run it in full node mode. Think of this as the extra BTC that you earn for being a good member of the Bitcoin community.”

The company says all its products will include full node functionality as standard, however it’s unclear whether compensation for users of 21’s computer is contingent on Bitnodes reaching a certain figure.

Back in February, Yeow told CoinDesk he was funding the program himself. Whether 21 will now provide these rewards remains unclear.

Foundation’s exit

Until last month, the BitNodes project had received support from the Bitcoin Foundation, however director Bruce Fenton told CoinDesk its sponsorship was not renewed due to “budget and focus considerations”.

Following a messy and very public rethink last year – the “lean” organisation is now focused on core development, he said, as its upcoming DevCore workshop indicates.

Though he expressed a wish for projects like BitNodes to be funded in a ‘decentralised’ manner – ie companies supporting projects they like – he added:

“A non-profit organisation can do some things that a for-profit organisation cannot and can sometimes help with convening power and neutrality.”

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