Most companies, products, or organizations have a single person who speaks for them. Whether a CEO, founder, or other public spokesperson; no such mouthpiece exists for bitcoin. What if it had one that was smart-contract-based?
Not having a mouthpiece is largely a good thing because the bitcoin community then remains decentralized and distributed. It doesn’t become monolithic regarding political, economic, social, or even religious ideology.
Bitcoin isn’t controlled by any single person or group of individuals. It has no gatekeepers who decide what information to share and what to censor. Furthermore, the decentralized ecosystem eliminates both the misuse of power by individuals and single points of weakness, both of which are prevalent in centralized projects.
There are drawbacks to not having a mouthpiece, though. When the bitcoin community needs to communicate in one clear voice, it doesn’t do so effectively, either among its members or with the outside world.
For instance, on August 17, 2016, the community woke up to find a message on Bitcoin.org that alerted miners, especially, that state-sponsored actors were planning to attack the soon-to-be-released Bitcoin Core software upgrade. The alert read:
“Not being careful before you download binaries could cause you to lose all your coins. This malicious software might also cause your computer to participate in attacks against the Bitcoin network.”
A few hours later, it became apparent that some core developers weren’t aware of the threat. Even more, they did not take kindly to the message. One of them, Eric Lombrozo, responded:
“The maintainer of the bitcoin.org site posted an advisory of an apparent threat he’s been informed about – without consulting anyone else. There’s absolutely nothing in the Bitcoin Core binaries, as built by the Bitcoin Core team that has been targeted by state-sponsored attackers that we know of at this point.”
The role of Bitcoin.org
The conflicting messages led to a debate on various bitcoin forums about how to properly manage the communication channel of a decentralized project such as bitcoin. It was especially important in this case, given that the information shared was sensitive enough to influence the standing of bitcoin and its price in the currency marketplace.
Many have viewed Bitcoin.org as an ideal mouthpiece for the ecosystem. Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of bitcoin, and Martti Malmi, the second developer to join the project, registered the site’s domain in August 2008 in one of their first steps toward releasing the cryptocurrency to the world.
When Satoshi left the scene in mid-2010, the site came under the control of a group of non-developer admins. Satoshi chose non-developer admins so as to prevent a single person or a group of people from hijacking the bitcoin project through the site.
Bitcoin.org has since served as a dependable launching pad for new software versions of the bitcoin client. It is also a go-to resource for anyone looking for comprehensive information or guides on how to use bitcoin services, such as wallets and exchanges.
The site also serves as a notice board where news alerts about the cryptocurrency are shared. Even though this doesn’t happen often, the site assures readers of the credibility of the information it publishes. On its “about us” page, it states that “all regular activity is organized through the public pull request process and managed by the site co-maintainers.”
This ensures that some form of internal peer-review mechanism is in place for any content that is published. Since the site isn’t secured with technology, however, anyone with login credentials to the dashboard could craft a message, upload it, and hit the publish button.
Securing the channel
After the August 2016 incident, many bitcoin enthusiasts on forums like Reddit shared the opinion that it wasn’t right for a single person to be able to publish on Bitcoin.org without first subjecting the message to the scrutiny of others.
Some went further and wondered whether there were technical solutions to the problem. For instance, one redditor asked, “Is it even possible to make a website which can’t be changed by a single person?”
In theory, there are possible ways to use technology to enforce a peer-review process. Then a community-owned site like Bitcoin.org would no longer need to rely only on the goodwill of its admins that they’ll subject their content to scrutiny before publication. As another redditor explained:
“In theory, you could use some HSM which will hold SSL keys and will enforce multi-sig update rules. Then, assuming HSM and CA are not compromised, the site will never host unauthorized content.”
That basically means accounts on the website would be meant solely for the purpose of publication and would be guided by smart contracts. Bob, for example, couldn’t publish until both Alice and Jane approved the content.
Nothing yet is concrete, though, to suggest this is implementable. If it is, however, this solution could boost the credibility of information that is published on Bitcoin.org. The site could then become bitcoin’s smart-contract-based mouthpiece.
Others might find it useful, too. Corporate, community, and even government blogs, news site, and notice boards could use similar smart-contract mechanisms to avoid the posting of harmful content by disgruntled, misinformed, or hacking individuals.