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PROTOCOL MAINTENANCE AND MODIFICATIONS

The original Bitcoin client was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Nakamoto continued to support the maintenance and releases to the Bitcoin client until mid- 2010 where he was replaced by a small group of Bitcoin developers.

The Bitcoin core developers have the authority to make all the necessary modifications to the Bitcoin protocol; according to the Bitcoin Github repository, all radical decisions require consensus among all the developers. For example, in the Bitcoin client version 0.8.2, the developers unilaterally introduced a fee policy change and decided to lower the default fee for low-priority transactions from 0.0005 BTC to 0.0001 BTC. Clearly, this empowers the Bitcoin developers to regulate and control the entire Bitcoin economy.

Bitcoin Improvement Proposals

In order to affect the Bitcoin development process, Bitcoin users are requested to file a Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) [39] that is assessed by the Bitcoin developers. The developers then unilaterally make a decision whether such a proposal will be supported by the future Bitcoin releases.

This limits the impact that users have, irrespective of their computing power, to affect the development of the official Bitcoin client. Recent events reveal that contributing within the Bitcoin community is not a trivial process [49,50].

Recently, several of the original lead developers of Bitcoin decided to stop supporting the system due to a large debate on the future of emerging currency. At the core of this debate lies deep misunderstandings about the source code governance namely, with respect to expanding the block sizes in Bitcoin. More specifically, a subset of the core developers were in favor of increasing the block size beyond the default cap of 1 MB in order to better cope with the growth of the network, while the rest of developers opposed such a move in the fear of changing/worsening the current network dynamics. In theory, such a debate should be resolved by the computing power in the network (i.e., the miners). Note that most of the computing power was collectively held at the time among two Chinese mining pools; these considerably biased the decision of keeping the maximum block size at 1 MB. Some allege that this decision was politically motivated by the desire of the Chinese mining pools to prevent the growth of the system [50].

This large debate resulted in the exit of developers who were favoring the increase of the maximum block size; another immediate outcome of this debate was that Coinbase—one of the known Bitcoin start-ups—was banned from community forums for siding with those developers [50]. These events clearly show the lack of democracy in the governance of Bitcoin even among those developers who are behind the Bitcoin core software.

 
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