Babbitt Column | Understanding the Decentralization of Cryptocurrencies

In early 2020, the co-founder of the cross-chain star project Cosmos Jae announced that he would leave Cosmos. Many people joked that this move can effectively promote the decentralization of Cosmos. BCH started to show a case of decentralized governance to the coin circle in 2020. Satoshi Nakamoto's departure from Bitcoin has become a story of decentralization in the currency circle.

But except for Satoshi Nakamoto, the founders of other projects left and put on a decentralized hat, which seemed more hypocritical. The current situation of BCH's power is more and more laughed by outsiders.

Do a hypothetical experiment. Imagine going back to 2011. When Satoshi Nakamoto suddenly disappeared, did the people in the bitcoin circle feel good or bad?

Why is this happening? How should we understand decentralization?

The power center of cryptocurrency

The so-called power center refers to something or an organization that can significantly affect the development of coins, the allocation of chain resources, the allocation of chain operating costs, and the mindset of holders.

The active node software (full node) is a power center, because the node software defines all the consensus rules of a coin or chain, and the characteristics of the coin. Like bitcoin core of BTC; bitcoin abc of BCH; parity of ETH.

But node software is made by people, so the owner of the power behind it should belong to the developer of the node software. Developers can decide what rules to write. Like Bitcoin Core Dev of BTC; Bitcoin ABC Dev of BCH; Ethereum Foundation of ETH.

Node software will be downloaded and used by users eventually, and a place is needed. This is the node software publishing website. This website will show the most important rules and nodes, software nodes, and links to related ecological resources.

This site determines what node software users will use. The users here include exchanges, wallets, miners, and ordinary holding users. This website also determines the "authenticity" of ecological resources in a coin, such as wallets, blockchain browsers, exchanges, and so on. The vast majority of users will generally consider this website as the "official website". Although this is not in line with the decentralized tone, the objective fact is that the "official website" is important. Such as BTC's bitcoin.org; BCH's bitcoincash.org and bitcoinabc.org; ETH's ethereum.org.

Correspondingly, the holder of the "official website" domain name and the operator of the website have great power. It's like cobra at bitcoin.org; Amaury at bitcoinabc.org.

The miner (pow is the miner + mining pool; pos is the super node) is the organization that runs the node software. The miner has completed all the on-chain calculations, verifications and broadcasts of a chain. At the same time, miners are also the biggest beneficiaries of block rewards. Miners have the power to decide which node software to run, which can affect the consensus rules of a chain. Miners can also determine the user experience. This is also a center of power.

Correspondingly, large miners and mining pool owners have corresponding powers.

The exchange is another center of power. Exchanges have great ability to determine the price of currency, the convenience of trading, and even the name of the currency. The exchange is also the largest wallet and the main place for users to deposit coins.

Correspondingly, the owner of the exchange has corresponding powers.

KOL, and important media sites are another center of power. Their power comes mainly from the voice of users, creating momentum, which affects the mentality and attitude of other power centers, and affects the price of coins.

There are also composite power centers, that is, people or organizations that can have multiple power centers at the same time. For example, if a developer can write code, write articles, give lectures, and draw big pie, the power will be greater. This is how BSV's CSW became the center of superpower.

The following figure summarizes

Decentralized governance process

The so-called governance is the process of determining the characteristics of the chain and coins, resource allocation, power allocation, cost allocation, and other factors.

BCH's recent "Compulsory Miner Donation Development Fund Proposal (IFP)" is a classic case of decentralized governance.

The first is Jiang Zhuoer, who is the KOL and the two power centers of the mining pool, and published a draft of a governance proposal for discussion in the form of an article.

The draft will soon be responded by other power centers. For example, node software developers and "official website" holders, Amaury immediately responded, posted support on social media, and implemented further plans, such as application layer software and important wallet developers, also KOL, jonldfyookball, also posted support. Next, Rogver, the owner of the exchange, the owner of the media, and the owner of the mining pool, is also the operator of the "half official website", and it is KOL. As a result, it has aroused heated discussion among various media platforms. Especially on twitter and read.cash, those who care about BCH come to discuss.

As the node software, Amaury, the two main power centers of the "Official Website", released the node software code and displayed it on the "Official Website" for users to download.

Opponent Bitcoin Cash Node also announced the establishment of a node software developer and pulled a group of well-known developers to the site to support it. And announced the node software will be released soon, and "official website" to fight Amaury.

Next, what has not happened, but what can be expected is that the major mining pools need to download from the "official website" and run the node software, and then express their support by voting and the public announcement of the boss or the official website of the mining pool Or against the change of agreement.

Potentially, these power centers will be recruited for an offline meeting, or an online meeting. (But I think the BCH's IFP proposal is unlikely to reach the stage where a meeting is needed.)

In addition, the exchange will issue an announcement in support of or against May 15th.

The final result may have several types. One is to maintain a chain and maintain the current power structure, but IFP is activated or not activated. The other is to split into two chains and form a new power structure.

But for the time being, I judge that the possibility of this division of BCH is too low, IFP cannot get support, and BCH's power structure will continue to be maintained.

Evaluation of the degree of decentralization

Whether the five centers of power really exist, are independent of each other, and whether they each have competitors, are the most important indicators of the degree of decentralization.

For many coins, these five power centers do not exist at all. Basically, the developer and the official website are the project party and the sole power center. The others are in an irrelevant position. This center can do almost anything. Other centers do not even have the ability to check and balance. This kind of currency cannot be called decentralized.

Some coins seem to have these five centers of power, but in fact, one exists overwhelmingly, others are subordinate. But this overwhelming existence, if accidentally died / destroyed, or apparently betrayed the purpose of this coin, will be revolutionized by other centers of power and re-maintain the previous order. This type of decentralization can allow strong centers to make some smaller decisions, and other centers can be exempt from judging these decisions. It is good to listen to strong centers directly. But when it comes to the purpose level, the strong center cannot do whatever it wants.

ETH is a typical category. The Ethereum Foundation has absolute authority, but even if it is destroyed, it will not destroy the purpose of Ethereum. This purpose is difficult for the Ethereum Foundation to betray.

Whether these five major power centers have competitors, even if they are potential, is a very important decentralization indicator. Like exchanges, there must be competitors. Mining pools and KOLs often have competitors.

The center of node software is the most difficult to have competitors. Including BTC and ETH, a development team has the final say. "Official website" often has only one, it is difficult to have competitors. But if the node software and the "official website" belong to the same person or organization, then the center formed by the two is very strong.

The BTC node software and the "Official Website" are independent, which creates a great mutual check and balance. I don't know if it was intentionally arranged by Satoshi Nakamoto. When he chose to retire, he gave bitcoin control of the code warehouse on github.com to Gavin, but the two sites bitcoin.org and bitcointalk.com were controlled by others .

Cobra, the operator of bitcoin.org, once publicly expressed his support for BCH, which caused a strong panic among Core developers. They specially launched a discussion group on github to ask cobra to surrender control of bitcoin.org.

If there are competitors, you can further judge the degree of decentralization, that is, whether these competitors have different financial interests, geographical locations, countries, cultural regions, and so on.

Judging from these standards, the only effective decentralized coins are BTC, ETH, and BCH. The others are more or less left to the hands of a few people or subjects.

Pros and cons of decentralization

Decentralization does not necessarily mean that it is good. The advantages and disadvantages of decentralization are very obvious.

The advantage is that it can't be killed, and it won't fail because of a single point of failure. It is quite obvious that external forces such as the government cannot kill a decentralized coin. The wrong judgment of a single developer will not lead to the survival of the decentralized coin.

The disadvantages of decentralization are more obvious, low efficiency, internal peeling, and serious waste of resources. Just like BCH's IFP proposal this time, most people think it is a joke.

The advantages and disadvantages of decentralization are the two sides of a coin, which you can only accept in its entirety.

How to effectively follow a chain

Finally, talk about how to effectively understand the existence of a decentralized. One possible approach is to focus on all these authorities at the same time. This consumes resources.