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How to decentralise the Bitcoin Foundation

Op-ed - How to decentralise the Bitcoin Foundation

At the first evening of the Bitcoin conference in Amsterdam, about 20 Bitcoiners from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands and the UK gathered around a dimly lit table in the first floor of a café near the conference venue to discuss the Bitcoin Foundation’s efforts to start “national chapters“. There had been some irrititation about the Foundation’s plans and not everybody was happy with the way they were executed.

So it became obvious that a meeting of the founders of national Bitcoin associations would make sense. Having met many people from many countries at international Bitcoin conferences this year (in San José, London and New York) and being involved in setting up a German association, I initiated the meeting and started a Google group to keep the conversation going.

Some of these associations – or associations-to-be – were among the “chosen ones“ which had received drafts for so-called affiliation contracts by the Bitcoin Foundation. These contract drafts were generally perceived as “one-sided“ and “top-down“. Some international association founders were so upset by them that they questioned whether to cooperate with the US based Foundation at all.

I was a bit suprised by this, as in a meeting in Berlin with the Foundation’s executive director Jon Matonis, my impression was that Jon prefers a truly decentralised model. He described his plan to set up an umbrella organisation based outside the US with the newly founded local associations as its members, and to me it seemed that he really wanted to change the current US-centric structure of the Foundation in order to reflect the global, decentralized nature of Bitcoin.

A lot of criticism towards the US Foundation stems from its mixed nature: it has members from all over the world, but it is registered under US law and all board members are US citizens. Some people have the impression that international member fees and donations are spent on US lawyers to solve US problems. Jon was aware of this and I understood that the board had agreed to re-invent the Foundation.

Yet nothing of this was expressed in those drafts, which reminded some of McDonalds franchisee contracts. I don’t know why and how this happened. But in my opinion, it is not the point whether the conditions how to divide member fees and donations described in these affiliate contracts are fair or not. I don’t think a contract between the US Foundation and any association in another country is needed at all. There is no reason for the US Foundation to play a special role; it should be one member of a global “Federation of Bitcoin Associations“, without any special privileges or “superpowers“. Such a global federation would need some slim by-laws to define its purpose and structure, but nothing more.

Some people in the meeting questioned whether we need a global organisation at all. They argued that although Bitcoin is a global phenomenon, the job to educate regulation authorities and politicians about Bitcoin needs to be done on the local and national level. Most participants in the meeting, however, believe that being part of a global network does provide everyone with a better standing in talks with local politicans and media – just like Greenpeace usually has a far stronger impact than a local environmental group.

When we had to leave the Amsterdam café (as they wanted to open their dancefloor which we had occupied), the general mood was very positive and optimistic. It was a pleasure to see many people for the first time and to find out that we all have very similar views on how to work together. Our overall consensus was that we do want to cooperate with the US Foundation, and that we do think that some global organisation makes sense, but a global “Bitcoin Federation“ (or “Bitcoin Alliance“, as the Star Wars fans prefer) should be built not from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. It should be as decentralised as possible, without a strong headquarter, rather a loose network of local nodes that enables its members to exchange ideas and experiences and to join forces when necessary.

A truly global Bitcoin Federation should follow the good old principle to “think globally, act locally“.