Beyond the Decentralized Chain

Decentralization ≠ Democracy

We’d like to believe that once your network is decentralized you’re done, everyone is free to participate, free to have a choice, free to do whatever.

However the blockchain is far more than software, it is also the ecosystem and leadership around it. My own opinion is that decentralizing these other components is as important as decentralizing the blockchain.

Below I will lay out some examples of the consequences of centralization. Discuss the difficulty of determining the “right” course of action. And give an example of how ETC is approaching decentralization.

If a decentralized blockchain is so important then shouldn’t the rest be as well?
Image courtesy of Tommasso Galli

A History of Centralization

Centralized ecosystems/leadership have caused various community splits. A few notable ones are:

  • ETH and ETC — Split over immutability
  • BTC and BCH — Split over block size/transaction malleability
  • XRP and XLM — Split over business direction

These splits are all very different in their motivations but their ultimate cause is that one group (ETH, BTC, XRP) possessed more decision making power than the other (ETC, BCH, XLM). One group controlled the programmers, the subreddits, the marketers, the websites, the leadership, the forums, the chat channels, and the other did not.

A lack of leverage can lead to misguided decision making on both sides of the split.

The end result is that a community is divided. Resources that once went towards one blockchain now need to be split among two. And a fledgling currency, intended to be used by all, has already started to determine who is not welcome.

It’s not about who is “right”

If some of your favorite groups above are in the majority then maybe you’re just a tad bothered by the insinuation that your decision was made unfairly.

If some of your favorite groups are in the minority then you’re maybe feeling a tad justified that you’re following the right path despite the majority.

Maybe you’re mixed between the two groups and have both feelings (as the author is). But neither of these feelings is correct, there’s no good way to determine what was the “right” course of action. “Right” is subjective after all.

There’s no good way to determine what was the “right” course of action. “Right” is subjective after all.

Sometimes going with the grain is correct, sometimes against is better, in either case sticking to one or the other will ultimately result in a sub-optimal solution.

Image courtesy of David Lofink

Decentralize your Ecosystem

So then how do we know which decision is “right” in all cases? The short answer is we don’t. The longer answer is that we can get a better “right”.

One way to get a better “right” is to distribute who holds power in your ecosystem. Distribute ownership of various centralized systems and you’ll end up with a more decentralized community that is more resistant to the whims of a small leadership. In such a system leaders need to act to maintain their position rather than have it be a consequence of design. And members need to participate as part of a whole rather than separate camps.

This is no easy task but in the ETC community I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it so far. We’re also not the only ones pursuing this path, for example Monero is another popular blockchain with a highly decentralized community.

To give a concrete example I’ve laid out the control of the ETC community below. Obviously many of these have overlap in moderators so I’m listing who has the final say in each.

  • Development: ETCDEV, IOHK, and Ethereum Commonwealth (all independently funded)
  • GitHub (ethereumproject): Multiple people (Igor, Elaine, Cody, etc.)
  • GitHub (others): IOHK and Ethereum Commonwealth
  • Website: Myself and ETC Cooperative
  • Funding (independent of development): ETC Cooperative, ETC Labs, and Community Fund
  • Twitter: Kevin and IOHK
  • Slack: Myself
  • Discord: MiKo
  • /r/EthereumClassic: OmniEdge
  • Forums: Yaz
  • Telegram: Various users. 10+ specific-language / alternative options
Leaders need to act to maintain their position rather than have it be a consequence of design. And members need to participate as part of a whole rather than separate camps.

The design above has proven highly advantageous. You cannot have contentious changes in the ETC ecosystem, you cannot act extremely in your own interests, and you cannot censor one direction over another.

Has ETC successfully deployed changes? Yes.

Have we turned down contentious changes? Yes.

But we need to have massive agreement to do so. If a contentious change arises then it is more likely to be subject to revision than acceptance. We must work together, it’s not simple or fun, but it is necessary to maintain ETC’s goal of being a decentralized blockchain.

In Conclusion

Maybe ecosystem centralization works. Maybe decentralization works. But ask yourself, if a decentralized blockchain is so important then shouldn’t the rest be as well?