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Where is the Bitcoin Roadmap?

Scaling Bitcoin Conference — Tel Aviv 2019

I attended “The Bitcoin Edge” conference followed by “Scaling Bitcoin” this week. This was my first time attending a bitcoin developers conference. As you probably are aware, I’m very interested in blockchain scaling and privacy solutions. The purpose of spending four full days in these conferences was to learn about new ideas trending in the industry and perhaps implementing some of the best in my own projects, Ardor, Ignis, and Nxt, in the future.

The sessions at the conferences were a strange mix of technology reviews, half-baked scaling ideas, a lot of privacy discussions, a lot of lightning network discussions, and some hands on exercises. I can swear that one of the presentations described a scaling solution that is 99% similar to Ardor without even knowing about it. What struck me the most about this conference was the lack of two highly relevant words for getting these ambitious projects to market, “Bitcoin Roadmap.” Surprisingly, there were few real roadmap discussions, if any.

I feel a bit sorry for all these wonderful entrepreneurs and researchers working on bitcoin scaling solutions. The chance their code is ever deployed to the bitcoin mainnet is so slim. And for me, as a software engineer, seeing my code deployed to a production system is the ultimate satisfaction.

Let’s face it, bitcoin development has stagnated. Being unable to hard fork to introduce new functionality limits the developers to optimizing the existing code, which they have been doing for years, while speculating about all the wonderful things they could do if, for example, they could just replace ECDSA with Schnorr signatures, use script-less transactions or add this or that OP_CODE to the script.

Jimmy Song, in his impressive introductory lecture for bitcoin developers, mentioned again some of the Satoshi bugs that still exist today in bitcoin and cannot be fixed without a hard fork. Compare this to an imaginary Apple engineer explaining that you have to dial 0 on your iPhone before every number since Woz introduced a bug to the original Apple IIe code, or to Linus Torvalds explaining that you need to store signature data using 71 bytes instead of 64 because he had to rely on Open SSL cryptography when developing the first version of the Linux kernel. Let’s face it, the inability to make changes cripples bitcoin development.

As an anecdote, I recall from my days working on mainframe integration that there was a legend that to add a feature to the IBM mainframe kernel, one would need an approval directly from the IBM CEO. Comparing this to getting changes into Bitcoin, it seems to be a simpler task.

The Bitcoin developers themselves seem to be deadlocked in their old beliefs, only being strengthened by the recent increase in bitcoin dominance. For example, Andrew Poelstra said again that “proof of stake does not work … I wrote a paper about this a few years ago.” The whole world is moving to POS, wake up buddy.

The only real innovation on Bitcoin these days seems to be on the lightning network. The way I interpret it is that developers realize that bitcoin cannot be changed so they are trying to go to off chain solutions. But sooner or later these guys run into a wall when they need to make a small adjustment to the bitcoin core itself.

The results? You see presentation after presentation talking about a wonderful improvement idea that is just waiting in vain for a new bitcoin OP_CODE and is therefore doomed.

One of the common practices in the software industry is to publish a product roadmap. This allows users, developers, businesses, customers, prospects and investors a glimpse into the vision of the project developers. This is why Jelurida regularly updates the Ardor roadmap. Bitcoin’s lack of such an official roadmap leads to almost no accountability for anyone “developing” new features for it — and this is a major risk factor.

My conclusion is that the bitcoin dominance is short lived. It is a result of the blockchain industry as a whole failing to deliver a killer application, yet. Once real-world applications emerge, bitcoin will still enjoy its network effect and position as a transition currency between fiat and crypto for a while, but sooner or later, it won’t be able to compete with newer and more flexible solutions.

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