Transparency and Openness Out of Uncertain Beginnings: The Bitcoin Foundation
The Bitcoin Foundation receives a lot of hate from the community. Criticisms come from a variety of directions, but far and away the most common are those who criticize the foundation without understanding what it intends. To clear away some misconceptions, the Bitcoin Foundation was begun in September of 2012. At that time, there was an unelected Board created – the members are a recognizable bunch, and at least one name on the list will make you cringe, but forgetting to recall that our history includes mistakes is to forget our humanity:
– Gavin Andresen, current Bitcoin Chief Scientist, all-around good guy
– Mark Karpeles, disgraced Mt. Gox CEO, crasher of Bitcoin price
– Jon Matonis, oft-accused of wrongdoing but completely unconvicted of such
– Charlie Shrem, who visits conferences as an iPad-segway, because he is under house arrest in NY state for money laundering charges connected to Silk Road and his company BitInstant (also an all-around good guy in the eyes of just about everyone except the Feds)
– Peter Vessenes, accused (and again, unconvicted in the court of public opinion) of mishandling of situations connected to Bitcoinica and CoinLab
Take the links on Vessenes and Matonis with a grain of salt, please – Ryan Selkis may be “Bitcoin’s Most Insightful Journalist,” but he also has a tendency to take claims he makes to an unwarranted extreme; an issue I can empathize with, of course.
Roger Ver was a founding member – although not a member of the board – and remained an advisor to the board for a while, although he was never in a formal position of power on it. To my knowledge, everyone likes Roger Ver. Especially how he deals with hackers.
But, to return to our point, this is where the issues with the BTCF began: an unelected board. This makes sense, of course. How can you elect a board when you’re starting a membership-based organization? So they began – 2 years and 1 month ago – with an unelected board. The plan? Board members would each step down in turn, with elections being held by the membership. So, although it may seem that the Foundation changes slowly – perhaps thanks to the distortion created by the blazing speed with which Bitcoin itself changes – it’s actually moving along at quite a reasonable pace for industry bodies like this. Perhaps it’s just the community around Bitcoin that needs to pace their own expectations. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.
In 2013, the Board voted to add two seats, making it a 7-member body composed of 3 individual members, 3 industry members, and 1 founding member. Those two seats were filled by two people who were elected by the members at the time, in May of 2013.
As an aside, I hate to reference gender at all when discussing matters like a board, or a political contest, or a business dealing, or any other situation where it ought to be a meritocracy. Someone’s gender has almost nothing to do with their qualifications in those situations. But I still remain immensely thankful that at the first opportunity to do so, the membership voted in Elizabeth Ploshay to the board. Beyond the fact that she is an extremely well-qualified individual member, she is one of a very few women who is an active voice within the Bitcoin community, a community unfortunately dominated – as much of the burgeoning tech industry is – by an absolutely overwhelming quantity of men (and white men, at that). I hope to see more female candidates for future openings on the board, but I have resigned myself to the likelihood of having to wait until the gender divide of the membership itself closes somewhat before getting my hopes up. Before I end this lengthy aside, though, a word of warning to the Bitcoin community: Regardless of your intentions, appearances matter, and people will draw conclusions based on those appearances. An industry organization such as the Bitcoin Foundation has an important role to play in public relations – and so it would be for the best if the board was made up of a more diverse collection of individuals than it has been so far. Not just for appearances, though appearances alone would be enough of a reason, but also for diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and diversity of philosophy.
Elizabeth Ploshay is a current employee of BitPay as well as the former communications director for Bitcoin Magazine – a double whammy of working for one of the most respected companies in Bitcoin and organizing one of the most consistently influential industry periodicals. She was joined on the board in May of 2013 by Meyer Malka. Malka is founder and general partner at Ribbit Capital, a venture capital firm with investments in a variety of Bitcoin companies, including but not limited to Coinbase and BTCJam.
A special election was held in March of 2014 to fill two vacant Industry seats – seats vacated by Mark Karpeles and Charlie Shrem. They were filled by Bobby Lee, CEO of BTC China, and Brock Pierce, a child actor who became a technology entrepreneur with a heavy presence inside of the online gaming and virtual goods marketplaces.
So as it stands now, the board is Brock Pierce, Bobby Lee, and Meyer Malka in the industry seats; Gavin Andresen, Elizabeth Ploshay, and Jon Matonis in the individual seats, and Peter Vessenes in the founding member seat. Mr. Vessenes’ seat is vanishing soon, as the board voted unanimously this month to replace his seat with one described as a Chapter Affiliate seat, in order to “better reflect [the Bitcoin Foundation’s] global team and presence.”
So that brings us to today. The Bitcoin Foundation just published a blog post in the hopes of drawing some attention to this last wave of change coming upon it. What’s the significant event that they want people to pay attention to? Elections are coming up. Peter Vessenes and Gavin Andresen’s seats are both up for election in January of 2015. This will mark a large transition moment in the board’s history, as it moves from a slight majority of elected members (4-3) to a dominant supermajority of elected members (6-1) with only Jon Matonis remaining on as one of the original unelected board members. It is appropriate that Matonis is the last one off, as he has been so intimately connected to the workings of the Foundation. Matonis’ seat will come up for election next year, at which point the community will be able to blame only itself for anything that goes wrong at the Foundation in the future. So if you’re committed to making the world a safe place for Bitcoin – perhaps for all cryptocurrency – then get involved. The Bitcoin Foundation attempts to run a relatively open and transparent organization, but it’s lacking in one precise area: community participation. Their bylaws are on Github (if that wasn’t a sign of how well the Foundation represents the community, then I don’t know what is). Any member who wants to run for a seat can do so. Any member who wants to work on the nominating committee may apply to do so. As the end of the Bitcoin Foundation’s release from today states “Want to see a change? Don’t just talk about it. Do it!”
Heed their words and build a better tomorrow – or don’t. But if you choose the latter, then please, for all of our sakes, don’t complain – you won’t have earned the right.