Interview with Vitalik: The community is far more important than the code

Interviewed: Vitalik Buterin

Interview & Writing: Li Hua, Retric @ 橙皮 书

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the establishment of the Apache Software Foundation. As a representative of the Internet open source community, Apache projects support more than half of the Internet, and Apache Hadoop projects have almost formed the entire big data ecosystem. The core principle of Apache is "community over code".

As a representative of the blockchain open source community, how does Ethereum view the open source community and how to build an open source community? For this we interviewed Vitalik Buterin.

The power of the open source community

Q: As the largest open source community in the blockchain field, is the community the most important for Ethereum?

Vitalik: I definitely think the community is the most important part of Ethereum. The code determines what a platform can do now, and the community determines what the platform can do in the future. What's more, no matter for the blockchain or any software ecosystem, it is very important for people to participate and feel friendly, and this can't be achieved by code.

Q: What advantages does the open source community have over traditional software development?

Vitalik: The amount of work involved in developing projects like Ethereum is too great for traditional software development companies to accomplish. The work to be faced includes not only the development of blockchain clients, application layer software, etc., but also training, documentation, developer experience, etc. The community can complete these tasks together, but a single company can only do it on its own. Difficult to do.

In addition, for those very smart and talented people, money is only a factor in attracting them. They will also be attracted by a healthy and exciting environment, because they feel that they are doing something meaningful to the world Things that feel motivated, these are things that money can't buy. If you try to replace these things with money, you will quickly spend a lot of money without necessarily getting the results you expect.

Q: Do you think open source culture exists in other fields? Fields other than software and code?

Vitalik: I think something similar exists in other areas. For example, many people who work in the city government often go to chat with each other and share their ideas. Many intellectual communities, such as mathematics and humanities, operate in a similar way. I think human beings naturally like to cooperate, but sometimes, between countries, between companies and companies, the incentives generated by competition can hinder such cooperation.

Ethereum open source community

Q: The first time you consciously felt that Ethereum had a "community", when was it? What did the Ethereum community look like at that time? Can you describe it briefly?

Vitalik: It should not be felt at a certain moment, but a gradual process. For example, in the past few years, I went to a new city every month and went to a new place. I could hear or see some new Ethereum applications every time. In 2015, if someone did something on Ethereum, I would almost immediately know. But now, I feel like there are more and more projects and more and more things I don't know. Sometimes I even feel that in this community I started myself, I am like an outside tourist. The Ethereum community is now so large, and it has indeed grown amazingly from the initial community to today.

Q: Some reports show that 18% of the developers in the blockchain field belong to the Ethereum community, and this number is 4 times that of the second place. What do you think is the most important reason why developers are willing to "work" on Ethereum?

Vitalik: I think people see the Ethereum community as a place where a lot of the most interesting work is happening. These jobs can be in the field of cryptography, in the field of economic mechanism design, or in the development of blockchain protocols. Field. And people will find that the Ethereum community is promoting the development of society and technological progress, and it is not just focusing on the price of coins.

Of course, Ethereum is not the only crypto community that focuses on these aspects.For example, Zcash is also a very powerful community. They have made important pioneering efforts in the field of zero-knowledge proofs, protocol management, and developer incentives. Work, but the Ethereum community is the biggest one.

Q: The reason why Ethereum can have such a strong community and open source ecosystem is because what important things are done right? Many public chains are also building communities, but progress does not seem to be very good.

Vitalik: I don't think you can forcibly create an "ecology". The ecology needs to grow by itself, and it must have ideas and values ​​that can be shared to attract people to join this community. I think the reason why most projects fail is that they think money is enough, and economic incentives can create a community. In addition, projects with unique ideas (such as Tezos, I personally do not agree with the on-chain governance method, but at least they are using new and unique methods to do things) tend to be more successful.

Q: Can Ethereum developers be "stolen"?

Vitalik: Many people try to steal it! For example, TRON provides economic incentives for Ethereum developers on many occasions and advises them to move to TRON. There are also many blockchain project teams trying to come to the Ethereum conference and then introduce themselves as friends of Ethereum, but actually want to chat with the developers and convince them to move to their platform. Of course, this strategy usually doesn't work.

Q: What are the current development work of the Ethereum open source community? Are they all financially supported by the Ethereum Foundation?

Vitalik: At this stage, the most active development activities on Ethereum occur in the following areas:

  1. Zero-knowledge proof technologies, including privacy protection in transactions, privacy protection in voting, and improvements to the protocol itself (such as the PLONK protocol and the STARKs protocol).
  2. Layer 2 scalability, especially work on ZK Rollup and Optimistic Rollup.
  3. Wallet design and other items that improve the user experience.
  4. Ethereum 2.0 client team.
  5. Short-term expansion of Ethereum 1 and new clients (such as Nethermind).

Most of these projects are supported by the Ethereum Foundation to varying degrees, and they will also seek financial support through other channels, such as from companies like Consensys or other fund projects, or investing in starting their own companies.

Construction of open source communities

1. "Reputational incentives" and "economic incentives"

Q: What do you think of reputational incentives and economic incentives? Cryptocurrency introduces a means of economic incentives. What changes do you think it has brought to open source development?

Vitalik: I have recently read a few books on the new Internet economy in the first decade of this century, including The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkle and Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge. One of the things that touched me here is that I found that as early as 15 years ago, intrinsic motivation was considered an important basis of motivation theory. Intrinsic motivation is that people will do things out of the pursuit of reputation, fun, and sense of meaning. .

In this sense, there should be many things similar to Wikipedia in the world, but this is not the case. This model sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails. For some types of projects, people will happily do it based on intrinsic motivation, but for other projects, this method is not enough.

Cryptocurrencies provide a new model, which brings the possibility of economic incentives for open source software development. I think this is an important reason why Ethereum and many other projects can be carried out. But in 2017, "prosperity" happened too quickly, and economic incentives quickly became very large and dominated, which led to the emergence of some projects purely for making money. Their goal is not to make the world more it is good.

So I think that a single intrinsic incentive or a single economic incentive is not sustainable. To have a healthy project and community, you need to combine the two.

The biggest challenge facing economic incentives is how to provide funding for the project. Most of the funds are distributed in a one-off manner (including Ethereum pre-mining), but this method cannot guarantee continuous funding. The Zcash community is experimenting with community voting to determine which project gets development compensation. This is a program that provides continuous funding for the project, and the results of the experiment may be very important; the second-party financing that Glen and I are exploring is also a type of problem Potential solution.

If a project is nominally decentralized, but the funding method is centralized, then even if it pretends to be decentralized, people also know who has the real authority, because that authority determines who can get it next month. remuneration. In fact, decentralization is very important. No matter it is a highly democratic way of quadratic financing, or at least, there can be multiple large funding agencies at the same time. Project parties can seek from these agencies. stand by.

Q: Economic incentives need to constantly explore better ways. Does reputational incentive need to think about the design of the mechanism?

Vitalik: I definitely think that social incentives need to be improved. Social mechanisms, especially those on the Internet, tend to over-reward those that are loud, obvious, and easy to understand, while quiet, hard work is not rewarded enough.

I think we can find a way to solve this kind of problem, but we need to take a closer look at the platforms where these behaviors occur and think about how the platform's incentive mechanism works.

2. "Management" and "Autonomy"

Q: The Ethereum Foundation no longer distinguishes between external developers and internal developers from this year. The method of resource allocation has changed from "salary system" to "project system". Is this to give the project more autonomy?

Vitalik: This approach allows teams to have more meaningful autonomy, and they can choose how they want to operate. Ethereum is a global project, and its teams are distributed around the world. It will be difficult to manage these teams directly, and given that these teams perform almost independent tasks, such management is not necessary.

But this approach does not completely eliminate management. The Ethereum Foundation still decides which teams to fund, and these teams also need to adjust their work to meet the Ethereum Foundation's priorities.

Q: Is the Ethereum Developer Conference an effective tool for balancing management and autonomy?

Vitalik: The members of the Ethereum community are geographically dispersed, and everyone is far away. Therefore, the conference is definitely an effective tool for community solidarity. But I think we should have more frequent, local events or meetings, and focusing on one meeting like now is not enough.

Q: Some people think that the evolution speed of the Ethereum Foundation has not kept up with the development speed of the Ethereum community. What do you think?

Vitalik: The Ethereum community must be evolving faster than the Foundation. To some extent, this is a situation we want to see. The center is often more blind than the edge. In this case, do something well. You must be willing to trust the wisdom and goodwill of the community itself.

3. "Community" and "Leader"

Q: As a leader of the Ethereum open source community, how do you define or understand this role?

Vitalik: I think my role has changed over time. At the beginning, I was a core researcher and developer of the community. About two years ago, I was only a core researcher. Most of the development work was done by the community. Now, more and more research work is being done. Happened spontaneously.

I really have been thinking about my role in the community, and I think it will become a higher-level, more abstract-level thing over time, it contains the work of a spokesperson, thinking from a philosophical level, and in my Research in areas that are best able to contribute.

Q: What is thinking from a philosophical level?

Vitalik: The philosophical level refers to what is important to the Ethereum ecosystem from a certain height, so as to provide a reference for the development of the Ethereum platform and ecosystem: what people want to do with Ethereum, how does Ethereum What can be done to meet this need and what are the key challenges.

4. "Donation" and "Investment"

Q: Does the foundation need the ability to continuously raise funds?

Vitalik: The foundation has enough funds to operate for 5 years, so there is no need to worry about such issues in the short term. If someone wants to donate money, I think a better way is to donate directly to the development team of Ethereum 2.0, such as Prysmatic, Status, or donate to MolochDao or Gitcoin Grants (Editor's Note: MolochDao and Gitcoin Grants are new financing Mechanism of attempt).

In the long term, I will continue to explore ways to organize funds through the mechanisms built into the agreement. This approach means that the protocol itself has a set of governance mechanisms that can define who has contributed to the ecosystem and allocate part of the transaction fees or newly issued tokens to those who have contributed. But its implementation is not so simple. We must avoid cartels using this mechanism to allocate funds to themselves, and unnecessary chain splits caused by differences in funding allocation.

The built-in mechanism of the protocol also includes another way, that is, the developer of the smart contract can get a profit every time the contract is called.

Q: You mentioned that you allocate some transaction fees or newly issued tokens to developers. Is this allocation reasonable?

Vitalik: This approach faces some challenges. People are very vigilant about the underlying agreement becoming neutral, as this could pose a potential risk of "political" dominance. We look forward to some small-scale experiments in the internal ecosystem of Ethereum and external ecosystems such as Zcash to see what happens.

Q: Are new financing methods like MolochDao and Gitcoin Grants investment or donation?

Vitalik: I think both.

5. Public Goods

Q: Are there any topics that you think are important but we haven't talked about?

Vitalik: I mentioned this in my previous question: I increasingly think that the crypto ecosystem needs to take seriously the issue of funding public goods. This public good includes protocol development, research work, marketing work, training and documentation, application software and application development, and many other jobs included in the blockchain ecosystem.

The early crypto-punk ideas that led to the birth of Bitcoin were influenced by Austrian economics and liberalism. It had many good things, but a big problem was that it did not give public goods the attention they deserve. People either assume that the company can provide sufficient funding, or that everyone can get enough motivation for social incentives, and think that this is sufficient.

But in fact, we need to find more systematic solutions. The problem of public goods is very important, especially in this information age. We need to invest a lot of effort to find a way to fund public goods. This method is decentralized and respects the value behind the blockchain platform, but it must also be effective and provide the public that everyone needs. Items.

Q: Have you found an effective method?

Vitalik: I think we need time to try some different solutions, see how they work and think about how to improve them. Quadratic financing is one of these options.