This is a copy of the AMA held by Patrick Murck on the 5th November, 2014 and provided in an easier to read format.
Q: What is your agenda?
A: I wrote a brief summary here. The quick version is that I want to get the Foundation back to its roots. That would probably look a lot like the Linux Foundation or the Apache Software Foundation. Here's Gavin's original post discussing the idea of a Foundation in the first place.
Q: The Q3 grant awards were supposed to be announced within 6 weeks of the deadline (September 1) – when can we expect the announcement?
A: Soon, hopefully by the end of the week. But at a higher level I don't think the grant program is something that we've done a particularly good job managing. We need to evaluate how the grant program is managed and whether we are accomplishing our goals by administering it. Doing a grant program right takes a lot of time and resources and focuses attention on projects instead of the people doing the work. I'm partial to dropping the grant program entirely and replacing it with a Fellowship model where we just fund a person who is doing great work in the community.
Q: How do you plan on engaging the new Republican controlled US Congress with regards to bitcoin, and more broadly cryptography? Any shift in strategy given the changes? Additionally, any course of action with regard to Wall Street, or is regulation a prerequisite (hence my first question)?
A: I've found that bitcoin plays well with both political parties in US. Sometimes for different reasons. For us the strategy is to be a resource on the technical rules that govern bitcoin and the social contract that allows the bitcoin network to regulate itself. We can be that resource for politicians or other groups and associations doing work on the ground. For a lot of the traditional financial companies (banks and other investors on Wall Street), regulation is seen as validation. Whether you agree with that or not, some level of appropriate regulation will bring in new participants to the bitcoin ecosystem and seems inevitable. Keeping that regulation sane and focused on actual risks is important.
Q: Thoughts on pushing for Bits? Personally I'd like bits to be called "bitcoins"
A: I'm a big fan of bits.
Q: Hey, this isn't an automatic bad thing. I've known an anarchist trial lawyer who was amazing at defending his client's Constitutional "rights". Are you one of those?
A: Most trial lawyers I know seem to have an anarchist streak in them.
Q: What do you worry about most?
A: The community pulling itself apart before bitcoin reaches a tipping point in adoption.
Q: How do you see the Foundation evolving as the space evolves and needs evolve? For example, do you see splitting off industry/consumer concerns, instead of mashing them together?
A: Most people I speak with agree that bitcoin as a community needs a few things: 1) a more formal approach to technical standards, 2) policy and advocacy work, 3) promotion and evangelism of bitcoin's benefits, and 4) some sort of self regulatory body (for things that code can't regulate, yet). When we started the Foundation we didn't define ourselves clearly as any one of those things and so people expected us to do all of it. Now that there are other groups and initiatives stepping up to fill in some of these needs, we have an opportunity to focus our approach, in particular on #1.
Q: Given the strong trend of (over) regulation being applied to bitcoin in US, any plans to make the foundation more international as a counter.
A: The Foundation operates as a distributed team. We don't really have any offices (except in London). We have team members in the UK, Europe, and the US and one team member who could be anywhere (I think Mexico right now).
Q: What do you think the impact of NYDFS regulation will have on other states? Any chance the foundation is working with states to build something less onerous?
A: We have had plenty of discussions with State regulators and they are watching how things unfold in New York. That doesn't mean they are interested in following New York's approach per se, but the "bitlicense" proposal has garnered a lot of attention both here and abroad.
What State regulators seem most concerned with is consumer protection and what happens if the citizens they are charged to protect lose their life savings in a bitcoin exchange meltdown. I think they would love to hear constructive thoughts on how they can do their job without getting in the way.
But if you do reach out to your State regulator keep this in mind. As you pitch this cool new technology (or your business), you will tend to highlight all the ways that technology is different from everything out there in the market. When a regulator hears that something is "different" they think about how much work it's going to take them and their staff to understand how to deal with it. It's usually better to tell your friendly regulator all the ways that this new technology (or your business) is the same as something they already know how to deal with. That puts things in a useful context for them and let's you focus on the consumer benefits.
Q: You said in your blog post at the Foundation's website that it is a business and that it would be managed as such. Can you give some more detail in how the Foundation will sustain itself and generate revenue?
A: We have been explore some ideas around: developer workshops and trainings, software certifications, crowdfunding initiatives through Lighthouse. I also think we need to build out our membership benefits so people can see the value in becoming part of the Foundation beyond just charitable intent.
Q: May I ask what are your top 3 priorities for next year on this role?
A: My top three priorities are: Refocus the Foundation around technical standards and the Bitcoin Core reference implementation of bitcoin. This includes developing a more formal technical standards approach to bitcoin development. Creating a better member experience for our supporters. Being more transparent in what we do and engaging in a dialog about our priorities. Developing a sustainable business model so that bitcoin's development isn't at the mercy of bitcoin price swings. This should also help align the Foundation's future with the value it is providing to the community.
Q: As for other ideas, how about certifications/workshops/trainings for lawyers. With so much regulation it is going to be important to have trustworthy counselors that know what they are speaking about and consulting for businesses in the ecosystem. This can get tricky, but there is a ton of money to be made there.
A: Workshops and training for lawyers and other professionals is interesting. There's a company called the Digital Currency Council (maybe more) that is doing some things along these lines (including certifications). When possible I'd rather partner with someone like that and help support others in the community. I'm hesitant to get into consulting, that seems like we'd be stepping on our member's toes. Again, maybe if there was an interesting partnership approach where we can support others and add value.
Q: You mention the idea of Bitcoin reaching a tipping point of adoption. What do you think that point is and how can the average user help it happen?
A: I think the best way to view bitcoin is as a technology platform. Platforms aren't really that interesting from a business or consumer standpoint when you only have ~5mm users (most not daily or even monthly actives), where bitcoin is at today. Email, wireless communications, social networking all get much more useful and interesting once there are 50mm or 500mm active users. Getting the next 50mm people actively using the bitcoin network seems pretty critical over the next couple of years.
Q: What do you say to people who complain that the foundation is not fully democratically accountable. I am thinking specifically about the founding board members who I believe cannot be removed unless they resign?
A: When we started the Foundation we wanted to make sure that we could go fast and build something, that meant appointing an initial Board largely from the founders. We also created a membership class called Founding Members that controlled one of the (then 5) board seats. Everyone had a two year term. In hindsight a two year term was probably too long and we would have been well served by moving to a fully elected board sooner rather than later. However, the Board has amended the by-laws to remove the Founding Member's board seat and all the appointed board member terms are expiring at the end of this year. It took longer than it should have, but the Foundation will have a fully elected board with no founder influence in just a couple months.
Q: Given recent regulatory trends around the world concerning Bitcoin—bans in some countries, open dialogue around regulation in others—how do you see the overall map shaking out in the next 3-10 years? Is there a common thread among those who are banning it so quickly? Which countries are shaping up to be the most friendly jurisdictions or most aggressive in competing to attract Bitcoin innovation as an industry?
A: This is probably a better question for Jim Harper. I think two of the biggest factors at play are rate of adoption in a given country (i.e. do they need to care) and cultural differences (some countries ban first and relax later, others are predisposed to regulated markets).
Q: Any suggestions for steps attorneys should take who are looking to get more involved in the digital space with Bitcoin but are more junior?
A: Join a startup or build your own.
Q: Looking at the international affiliates at the Bitcoin Foundation's website it appears that there's a huge task to spread awareness around the world. Is there a concrete plan to bridge the knowledge gap on Bitcoin in some areas where is needed the most? Namely the third world, Africa, LatinAmerica, where people could reap the benefits of using an open-source exchange.
A: This is probably a better question for Mark Woods who helped spearhead our international chapter efforts. We would certainly love to help people promote bitcoin along the lines you've expressed.
Q: What's your take on CurrentC? Does the Foundation have any plans to assemble a coalition of retailers to embrace an open standard like bitcoin?
A: Sounds like a good idea. Not sure the Foundation would best suited to take it on though. Maybe it's something that BitPay, BitNet, GoCoin, Coinbase, etc. would be able to rally around. Certainly we'd love to support that type of initiative.
Q: Hello Patrick, I would really like to know whether you personally support integrating more anonymity into the Bitcoin protocol? As it currently stands, it appears to present substantial privacy problems, revealing one's entire Bitcoin wealth to anyone that they interact with… Unless someone wants to fracture their accounts across countless wallets and/or store their accounts with a larger entity (which seems to ignore the real advantage to be one's own bank). Thanks!
A: User-defined privacy on the bitcoin network is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the radical transparency that open-ledger systems require to operate.
What I don't support is touting things as anonymous when they really aren't. That seems reckless and will simply lead to people doing stupid things that they will later regret. True anonymity in an online digital environment is rarified air that few can attain and fewer still can maintain for long. I'm not convinced that it's a solvable problem but people should and will try to solve it.
I like to focus on privacy and how we can give people more choices in how they manage their own identities and their personal data. Anything that gives people more choices around privacy on the bitcoin network I'm in favor of.
Q: Is Mr. Woods holding an AMA any time soon?
A: I'm sure he'll jump in here. You should start seeing more of the Foundation team interacting here and other places. Part of transparency is knowing who you're dealing with at the Foundation and that we're people not some cold monolith.
Q: Do you feel the BTC Foundation could play a greater role in attracting merchants to the the digital currency space. Certainly BitPay, Coinbase et al are doing a great job and have led the way but the motives are less about higher adoption /proliferation and more about profits. We need an well positioned agnostic marketing campaign that will tout the benefits of Bitcoin, the blockchain and work towards making it a household topic.
A: I'm happy to support those companies, or others, if they want to create an initiative like this. I agree that a well done promotional campaign could be effective in driving awareness and adoption. I'm not convinced this is something the Foundation is best suited to lead on at the moment. Maybe we could crowdfund for a Bitcoin Foundation Marketing Fellowship to help drive this?
Q: Would you consider scholarships for young bitcoin enthusiasts and activists like myself?
A: Maybe, if we had the resources to support it the right way. College internships for CS students could be very interesting.
Q: You mentioned in your last blog post that "my first priority is to cut out distractions and focus the Bitcoin Foundation on the areas where we can add the most value for the bitcoin community". Regarding this statement: According to you, what should be the Foundation's primary and essential mission? (please name only the most important one)
A: Supporting standardization through the Bitcoin Core reference implementation of bitcoin and providing better avenues for new people to build out core infrastructure.
Q: Regarding standardization and development, what additional steps will the Foundation take to support core development? If you have some concrete proposals I think we would all love to hear them.
A: I think a fellowship program and developer workshops would go long way. Also shifting our website to more of a resource hub for alternative implementations, open source libraries, etc. Shall we do a workshop in Montreal?
Q: Membership has been slow to rise and as far as I can tell there is a revenue problem. What additional revenue streams will you seek?
A: We need to do a better job of creating value for our members and providing outreach to the community. When we do those things well I'm sure our membership numbers will go up and correspondingly our revenue. Some ideas for additional revenue streams are software certifications, the developer workshops and trainings (maybe webinars) and sponsorships from our existing corporate members.
Q:Do you think the affiliate program has so far been a success?
A: No. Much like the grant program, doing the the affiliate chapter program right is a project that requires a serious commitment of resources from the Foundation not the least of which is creating an effective marketing and sales process that our chapters can leverage for their local community. It's a priority for us to engage in a conversation with our local affiliates to chart a better course forward.
Q: In the long-term, do you think Bitcoin's main function will be as a store of value, a means of payment or both?
A: Don't know, probably both since the two reinforce each other.
Q: Do you consider the rise of cryptocurrency 2.0 platforms as positive, neutral or negative for Bitcoin?
A: Very positive. The first killer app for the blockchain is money and payments. More apps will bring more people to the network and benefit everyone in the community. This is particularly true with the advent of sidechains.
Q: Have you given any thought about the sidechains project?
A: Yes. I read Adam's first proposal and knew this was a game-changer for bitcoin.
Q: Where's the proof that KnC Miner truly did pay for their Platinum Member to join The Bitcoin Foundation, given that such is no state secret because bitcoins were supposed to be used and full-transparency is what TBF adheres to?1
A: I double-checked and we sent KNC Miner an invoice via BitPay for $100,000 USD (Platinum Membership price), which they paid timely.
Asked by Bruno "PhinnaeusGage" Kucinskas. I guess he is not dead after all. ↩