Jonas Schnelli on Why Elected Officials May Not Be Good for Bitcoin

Bitcoin Core contributor Jonas Schnelli was recently featured in a panel discussion about improvements to Bitcoin at the 2016 MIT Bitcoin Expo. During the Q&A portion of the panel, an audience member asked the participants about the previous presentation by the World Bitcoin Network’s James D’Angelo in which he articulated the idea of replacing miners with elected officials.

In general, the panel, which also featured Blockstream core tech engineer Mark Friedenbach, Blockstream mathematician Andrew Poelstra and Lightning Network co-creator Joseph Poon, had a negative reaction to the concept of using democracy to handle changes to Bitcoin’s consensus rules. Schnelli used his experience with direct democracy in Switzerland to make his points.

Voting Requires an Informed Public

Although Schnelli has a positive take on Switzerland’s use of direct democracy, he does not view the system as a useful option for Bitcoin. In his view, the intricate, technical details of Bitcoin make direct democracy a poor choice for governance. Schnelli explained:

“Voting or democracy is good, but I live in Switzerland ‒ one of the only countries where we have direct democracy ‒ and with democracy you need to understand the topic you’re going to vote about. Who is able to vote about Bitcoin technical topics? Even the miners ‒ they don’t really get the technical essence of the problem.”

Indeed, many representatives of Bitcoin’s network hashrate have decided to default to Bitcoin Core on development issues. Although there is widespread support for a 2-megabyte block size limit among Chinese exchanges and mining pools, those companies are, as of now, willing to accept that change only if it comes from Bitcoin Core.

On the topic of voting on changes to the Bitcoin protocol, Schnelli added:

“Voting means you really need to fully understand what you’re going to vote about. As soon as you say everybody needs to vote ‒ everybody needs to study the problem for a couple of days ‒ is it realistic? Who is able to judge?”

Lobbying and Propaganda Come with Voting

Schnelli also is uncomfortable with bringing some of the negative aspects of politics into development decisions related to Bitcoin. He noted:

“With voting comes also, kind of, lobbying ‒ people and companies collecting money to influence people. I see that back in Switzerland where we vote about law changes, not the president. It’s all about money and propaganda.”

Trace Mayer, a longtime investor in Bitcoin and Bitcoin-centric companies, recently shared similar thoughts on who should be making decisions related to the protocol. In his view, there is no competition for the experienced contributors to Bitcoin Core. Mayer also has stated that Bitcoin is a meritocracy, which is a form of governance where power is awarded to individuals based on their abilities.

Proponents of a more democratic approach to Bitcoin governance, such as Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong and Bitcoin Classic developer Gavin Andresen, say their vision of Bitcoin governance would allow the protocol to evolve and adapt more efficiently over time.

Bitcoin Is a Technical Topic

Schnelli summed up his thoughts on democracy for Bitcoin governance during his final comments in regard to the audience member’s question. He stated:

“I mean, I like [the direct democracy in Switzerland], but it’s this political thing; it’s not technical stuff. It’s something everybody can talk about. But can the people in Bitcoin talk about what they really want?”

Kyle Torpey is a freelance journalist who has been following Bitcoin since 2011. His work has been featured on VICE Motherboard, Business Insider, NASDAQ, RT’s Keiser Report and many other media outlets. You can follow@kyletorpeyon Twitter.

 

 

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OpenBazaar Integrating InterPlanetary File System to Help Keep Stores Open Longer

OpenBazaar is integrating the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) into their decentralized online marketplace. While no official announcement about this move has been made, OpenBazaar developer Chris Pacia, who is currently working on the IPFS integration, has shared some of the details related to this change with Bitcoin Magazine.

According to Pacia, the main advantage of integrating IPFS into OpenBazaar will be the increased availability of storefronts. Currently, a store operator must maintain his or her own server at all times or pay someone else to do it.

What Is IPFS?

IPFS is a hypermedia distribution protocol that enables the creation of distributed applications. The team behind IPFS is creating a peer-to-peer file system that can be accessed by all of the computing devices in the world. The brains behind this new protocol, Stanford graduate Juan Benet, has said that IPFS allows people to create websites and web apps with no central server. He added, “They can be distributed just like the Bitcoin network is distributed.”

What Are the Advantages of IPFS for OpenBazaar?

Since OpenBazaar is a marketplace with no central server, IPFS appears to be a solid option for hosting storefronts.

Pacia agrees with this sentiment. He told Bitcoin Magazine, “The main advantage is data will become more distributed and most of it should be viewable even if the originating node is offline.”

Pacia went on to describe the current issues with OpenBazaar when it comes to opening and operating a store on the network:

“We have a situation now where you have to fetch store data from only one person, and if they have a slow or buggy connection (or if they get attacked), then you can’t access that data, despite potentially hundreds of other users having that data from a previous download.”

Essentially, IPFS will allow OpenBazaar users to connect to specific stores via many other peers who already have that data rather than just the owner of the store.

Pacia continued:

“So IPFS seeds everything you download which makes the data much more permanent. It also provides a more robust DHT implementation than what we have written, and it’s better to spend our resources collaborating than trying to maintain our own.”

Many early users of OpenBazaar have complained about having to operate a server 24/7 to keep their stores “open” on the network, which is why the removal of this requirement has been a top priority for the development team behind the project.

Layering Anonymity on Top

Other commentators have wondered whether Freenet may be the best option for OpenBazaar, but it appears the network’s developers have no intention of going in that direction at this time. Pacia noted, “I don’t know [enough] about Freenet to comment on it. But what attracts us to IPFS is its scalable approach to data replication.”

Although OpenBazaar launched without native support for anonymizing networks such as i2p or Tor, OpenBazaar project lead Brian Hoffman recently reiterated the development team’s dedication to privacy.

“Anonymity can be layered on top of [IPFS],” Pacia told Bitcoin Magazine. “It won’t be too much work to enable onion nodes to connect to each other.”

OpenBazaar’s support for IPFS is not strictly theoretical, as code related to this change is already available on GitHub.

Kyle Torpey is a freelance journalist who has been following Bitcoin since 2011. His work has been featured onVICE Motherboard, Business Insider, NASDAQ, RT’s Keiser Reportand many other media outlets. You can follow@kyletorpeyon Twitter.

 

 

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Code to Inspire: Bitcoin Gives Afghan Women Financial Freedom

One nonprofit organization is going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to empowering underprivileged women in Afghanistan.

Code to Inspire (CTI), led by founder Fereshteh Forough, started an after-school program in January 2015 followed in November of the same year by the opening of its first coding school for girls in Herat, Afghanistan. Forough’s aim was to empower half of the Afghanistan population through education to improve the economy, while putting underserved women on a path to financial independence.

Currently providing a safe educational environment for 50 female students aged 15-25, Code to Inspire is helping change the way women are seen in a country where women face barriers among conservative families and extremists.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Forough said it can be challenging to work in an environment where women are not encouraged to receive the same education as their male counterparts.

“Girls in Afghanistan lack safe places to study and learn. Girls in Afghanistan lack employment opportunities, specifically in technology,” she said. “Only 16 percent of Afghan women are employed while 2014 saw only 20 percent of public universities taking in female students.”

In a bid to bridge the gap between female and male education, Code to Inspire’s goal is to improve women’s economic and social advancement in Afghanistan’s growing tech industry. By offering courses in coding, access to technology and professional resources in addition to job placement, CTI students have a greater chance of attaining employment that is both financially rewarding and socially accessible.

“Access to the wealth of the global technology economy enables CTI students to add unique value to their households and their communities, and to challenge the traditional gender roles in Afghanistan with the best argument out there–results,” said Forough.

In a part of the world which has islands of human population separated by forbidding terrain, where safety and security make it impossible for women to travel, and where wired Internet isn’t common, phone coverage is the next best thing. So much so, that according to recent statistics from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, more than 89 percent of the population has telecom coverage with 23.2 million phone users in the country out of Afghanistan’s population of around 33 million.

Not only that, but 51 companies have been issued licenses to provide Internet services while around 3 million people (10 percent of the country’s population) have access to the Internet.

The Internet’s universal accessibility allows women the opportunity to work from home; however, in order to do so they have to be able to offer something to potential employers, which is where Code to Inspire is making a positive change.

“In areas where women’s travel can be heavily restricted, the ability to work remotely is a key tool in the push for equality,” said Forough.

Considering that CTI has only been around since 2015, it has managed to receive funding and donations through individuals and corporate donors who believe in its mission to help the women in Afghanistan.

“Last summer, CTI did its first online crowdfunding through Indiegogo where we raised $22,000,” said Forough. “We’ve also received donations from Github, Malala Fund, GooglersGive program, BitFury, and 20 laptops from Overstock.”

Using Bitcoin for Financial Freedom

Of course, once the women graduate and find jobs through the Internet there is still the issue of how they get paid.

In Afghanistan payment processing can be quite difficult. PayPal does not operate in Afghanistan, and while Western Union is available, its fees are very costly. Forough said that to deal with the issue of payment they turned their attention to Bitcoin.

“With my former foundation Digital Citizen Fund, we used to pay our content providers in Afghanistan through our corporate partner BitLanders, which was formerly known as Film Annex, in U.S. dollars,” she said. “The majority of users were girls who were too young to have a bank account or they were unbanked, so to make the payment process faster and more reliable, with lower fees per transaction, we switched to paying our users in Bitcoin.”

The use of Bitcoin is an important initiative for Code to Inspire, as it provides women in developing countries with a powerful tool that enables them to connect quickly and affordably with the global economy.

Not only are women in Afghanistan gaining access to an education, but where it is taboo for women to step out of their doors unattended, Bitcoin allows them to fully participate in the world.

Code to Inspire’s objective is financial inclusion, which is not just about having a bank account. For an economy to be inclusive, women need equal access to opportunity, which is where the nonprofit is making headway.

“What social media did for communication, cryptocurrency promises to do for women’s autonomy. In a society that lacks banks, blockchain technology like Bitcoin offers a secure, transparent way to add value,” said Forough. “Most importantly, it affords those marginalized by the brick-and-mortar finance system a chance to participate in the economy on their own terms.”

While it is easy for women in Afghanistan to sign up to access Bitcoin, Forough notes that there are challenges within the country that make it difficult for people to embrace digital currencies.

“There is no platform that can support converting Bitcoin to Afghanistan’s currency,” she said.

This, however, seems to be a minor issue considering the massive strides that Afghanistan has made for gender equality over the past 15 years. Once women were barred from receiving an education, working outside the home or even dressing as they saw fit.

During the Taliban regime there were only 900,000 male students in the country; however, this has now increased to 9 million students including 4.2 million females. Additionally, during the 2014 elections, 40 percent of those who voted were women; and four out of 25 cabinet ministers are now women.

“Thanks to recent technological innovations it doesn’t matter where you are located as long as you can access the Internet,” said Forough. “If you combine education with technology, students will be more innovative and productive so they can access the most up-to-date information and be inspired by the achievements of others.”

The most important thing for Forough is that by working online and getting paid online, the women can become financially independent, a goal that Code to Inspire continues to accomplish.

 

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