Fact or FUD — “BlockStream , Inc is the main force behind Bitcoin (and taken over)”


We decided we wanted to start a series of articles trying to tackle smaller subjects rather than producing full research reports like we’ve done in the past. The motivation is to answer new user questions we get daily, there is just a lot of bad sources of information. Bad information is propagated faster in crypto then the correction. Our goal is that this helps some people.

The first user selected topic on “BlockStream” and the perpetuated belief that they are in control of Bitcoin. In typical WhaleCalls fashion, we will address and discuss the verifiable facts first, then our commentary will follow. This way you can choose to stop reading.

To start answering this question, we first have to look at who BlockStream is made up of .

According to https://blockstream.com/team/ there are 39 team members, of which there are (arguably) 24 technically inclined (including tech writters, server admins etc). Of these, based on LinkedIn and githubs, only 10 have a career history of software development of any sort.

Current BlockStream Staff as of 11/26/2017

Next, we have to look at who’s actually doing the work. To quantify this, we look to the bitcoin github itself https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin . Right off the bat you see 483 contributors (and 11,688 forks!) This means that if every technically capable employee at Blockstream contributed to bitcoin , it would make up about 2%.

From here, we have to consider total work and contribution. Did these 10 individuals make up the bulk of work over time? For this you can review https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/graphs/contributors which by default shows top 100 committers since the birth of the repo to present in order total contribution. Of the top 25 by committers, there are 5 BlockStream employees.

Sipa — Pieter Wuille

Luke-jr — Luke Dashjr

Jtimon — Jorge Timón

Gmaxwell — Greg Maxwell

Instagibs — Gregory Sanders

This puts the number at ~20% of all commits ever. But to put this in any real context, we also must look at additions or how much total code have been edited or changed. Commits can be documentation changes or any small thing. What we find is only four of the top 25 additions are members of BlockStream or 16% (Greg Sanders falls off to #40)

Bitcoin Contributors by addition over life span of project

The narrative goes “BlockStream took over the project ” so to be more accurate we need to look at when BlockStream was established. According to https://blockstream.com/about/ the initial seed round was November 2014. So let’s take a look at all of 2014 to now to establish some base line of possible take over

Bitcoin Contributor by addition Starting Dec 28 2013

What we see is that several names change places, most notably Johnson Lau joins the top 25. But no change in total contribution of the 4 contributors from BlockStream out of the top 25.

This leaves us with 16% of the top 25. Of which one only one of the top five.

Next thing to check is who can create release branches i.e. bundled packages that everyone downloads for production. For this, we checked out the release branches list itself.

As you can see from the picture, there are no names that works for BlockStream that have ever created a release branch.

To further flesh this out, we checked out commentary on both open and closed tickets, who closed them, who assigned builds. This is to ensure that requests and comments aren’t being censored or valid complaints being closed in a “BlockStream corporate takeover” The distribution was about the same of around ~16% in total.

The last thing we wanted to look at is the BIPs and features branches. This is to establish if valid works is being pushed down in favor of other work by BlockStream to push their views forward.

BIPS or bitcoin improvement proposals are ways to suggesting and building code improvments, Blfeatures and ideas for the bitcoin protocol before it becomes a feature branch and eventually committed to the core repo.

Comment — “Core” is not a bitcoin term, company or oligarchy. It is a software engineering term meaning a central repository of code that has been approved by (usually) multiple parties and passes all quality assurance tests. Being a release of a “core build” is another way of saying something is production worthy and can be shipped out. A ‘core developer’ is someone who has committed or maintains code in a core repo. Fun historical fact — Mike Hearns is the person responsible for these terms becoming standard in Bitcoin/Crypto.

Doing the same test of top committers from 2014 to today ,we see a lot of differences between Bitcoin core and BIP names but only three member of BlockStream are in the top 25 committers. Luke Dashjr, Pieter Wuille and newly Mark Friendenbach.

Now we are left with 3/25 for BIP side. Or 12%. Or a combined ~14.25% of all work reviewed.

note — we reviewed issues and pull request in the same fashion as with review Bitcoin Core branch and found the same distribution. Not worth detailing again

In conclusion, there is no quantifiable evidence based on publicly available information or actual work to indicate that BlockStream has taken over the Bitcoin repo or BIPs. As a matter of fact, Wladimir J. van der Laan aka laannwj , the main contributor and maintainer of the bitcoin core repo, is not attached to any corporate body, was nominated by Gavin Andresen for that position and has contributed more then any BlockStream employee by a wide margin.

Update — a good point was raised in the commentary on twitter that current employee, contractor or consultant is not necessarily equal to past. Since this type of thing is not public info,we asked Samson Mow , CSO of BlockStream, directly to confirm if any past contractors or consultants were paid to work on the bitcoin repo or submit BIPS and identify who has. He stated that there have been “0 past contractors” that have worked on either project. Whether you take the word of the CSO of a company that there is some level of distrust in by certain parties is not what this article about. Provable data is and still leads to the same conclusion.

Update2 — another good point that came out of conversation was that part of narrative was that current BlockStream employees put the cap in place or that they put it in place after others had been changing it at an incremental level. Actually MAX_BLOCK_SIZE in main.h has been 1MB since 2010(as imported from sourceforge) https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin/commit/a30b56ebe76ffff9f9cc8a6667186179413c6349 . As you can see the commit message isn't very clear but this was the first addition of MAX_BLOCK_SIZE. This decision was reached by Hal Finney and Satoshi in order to reduce the change of spam attack. (this was before 0–0.05 cent transaction spam was an issue). Hal Finney is deceased and was never BlockStream employee

(end of fact only article)


We made some effort to quantify possible social influence using the bitcoin news group and twitter. Unfortunately, this became much harder as many anonymous account popped up that are not attached to any known GitHub , obvious twitters names or companies. If we (fairly or unfairly) bucket anonymous accounts as trolls, we still do not arrive at a substantial numbers.

We made no effort to verify censorship claims. That is an entirely different topic (but potentially related)

Our opinion based on twitter, reddit and the news group is there are some very opposite social and economic views which has become politicized and incentivized. This has provably lead to camps of people who are willing to argue and propagate unsubstantiated arguments to support their view. Whether it really has to do with bitcoin the technology or not.

Further more, one source commented with convincing telegram and wechat conversations that paid social media campaigns have been occurring since February 2017 to push various agenda items forward and slow others (segwitts profit impact on asic boost mining for example). This is not the first time that we’ve seen leaked conversation between parties on wechat discussing a group effort to prevent something such as the segwitt adoption in Litecoin. Never mind the Birds platform on bitcoin.com— which pays in bitcoin for likes and retweet.

If this not paid advertisement were not sure what is.

Finally, we are not just “Core Shills”. One of the five people behind WhaleCalls has 0 btc, two have minimal btc amongst a portfolio of coins and tokens, one purely trades alt coins back and forth to cash (taking advantage of the volatility). Three of us have software engineering backgrounds and believe that forking is a normal part of a software engineering cycle. It is usually done to prove out some breaking change. If it works out, that code can be merged back in at some later point. However, we do not like or agree with smear campaigns to promote an over dramatic narrative.

A solution should win on its own merits, not by the verbal deprecation of others or false narratives.

Thanks for reading

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