NXT: Start With a Solid Foundation, Allow the Architecture to Remain Decentralized
Most people who have been exposed to blockchain technology are fully aware of the benefits and power of the decentralization movement and its decentralized technologies such as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Decentralization makes systems more resilient by distributing the load such that there is no single point of failure. This minimizes the ability of authoritarian regimes and institutions to exert control over systems that are best left to the people, such as money.
Bringing decentralization into practice, however, can be much more difficult than it might seem in theory. If the system is distributed, then there is no single individual or group making decisions for how the system should evolve and be applied to our daily lives. Organizing decentralized technologies and systems in such a way that they function smoothly yet without any degree of centralized control can be quite a challenge.
The Bitcoin Foundation, an American nonprofit corporation founded in September 2012, with the mission to “standardize, protect and promote the use of Bitcoin cryptographic money for the benefit of users worldwide”, continues to struggle with such challenges. The Foundation operates under funding received primarily from for-profit companies who rely upon Bitcoin. This, from a foundational level, makes it difficult for the Foundation to operate in accordance with the principles of decentralization. The for-profit companies have their vision for how Bitcoin should be applied to the world that doesn’t necessarily jive with the principles of decentralization, yet because they fund the Foundation their vision impacts the decisions made by the Foundation more than it probably should.
Perhaps as a result of its funding challenges, the Bitcoin Foundation has traditionally operated under a sort of identity crisis. It’s tried its hand at organizing conferences, launching education initiatves, thought promotion, community leadership, and development direction without ever choosing a simplified focus and committing to it. It has thus been nearly impossible for the Foundation to make solid decisions and sustain any tangible influence on important topics like the block size, so much so that Foundation member Gavin Andersen in 2015 ‘forked’ Bitcoin and made what has been dubbed asBitcoin XT in an attempt to address the block size and scalability issues currently facing Bitcoin as it evolves.
The Foundation’s inability to be adept at managing the evolution of Bitcoin continues to further compound its funding challenges. The Foundation is nearly bankrupt and wants to raise funds from the Bitcoin community in order to assist the development of a plan. The community, however, is not interested in donating to the Foundation if there is no plan in place. To make matters worse and perhaps more complicated, two Foundation members have recently left the Foundation. Jim Harper and Olivier Janssens claim to have been forcibly removed from the Foundation after some internal disagreement concerning a vote on whether or not the Foundation should be disbanded. The result of all of this has been a sort of stalemate that has left those working on Bitcoin unable to take action on key issues related to its ability to fulfill its proclaimed role as the people’s cryptocurrency.
The NXT Foundation, modeled after the Linux Foundation like the Bitcoin Foundation, has taken a different approach to empowering a decentralized technology used by a decentralized community and has experienced a certain level of success in carrying out its mission unknown to the Bitcoin Foundation.
The NXT Foundation has set its sights primarily on being a facilitator more so than being a leader. The NXT Foundation does not wish to represent the entirety of the NXT community and act on its behalf. Its mission is more simple: to facilitate the adoption of NXT as a platform for individuals and businesses.
This mission puts the NXT Foundation in a position where they have to fall into alignment with what the community wants in order to be effective at doing their work. If the community were to fall into disagreement with the Foundation’s self-imposed mandate, the Foundation would become powerless and obsolete.
The primary difference between the NXT Foundation and the Bitcoin Foundation is that the NXT Foundation has always had a clear mission and mandate, while the Bitcoin Foundation has always struggled to find its role, trying to do too many things at once and being ineffective at most of them as a result of being spread too thin and lacking a clear purpose. They’ve squandered a lot of money trying to find their way and carve their niche.
Perhaps the Bitcoin Foundation can check the egos, internal politics and for-profit interests at the door and take a page from the NXT Foundation’s book and begin anew by establishing a clear mission and mandate in the name of empowering Bitcoin and its users.