3 min read

#9: Progress at the cost of unfortunate incentives

#9: Progress at the cost of unfortunate incentives
Photo by Aditya Joshi / Unsplash

Congratulations fellow Zenon Aliens on a successful network upgrade! Thank you to all who contributed and made it possible.

Prior to this upgrade, the last update to the go-zenon codebase was on April 14, 2022. So it has been pretty much been exactly a year since our last upgrade.

A lot has happened since then. Our community has welcomed new Aliens and new Pillars which I am proud to be a part of. We have defined new goals and refined our vision as we continue to adapt in this fast paced industry.

This upgrade enables new ways to get on-boarded and begin experiencing the Network of Momentum. I am optimistic that more builders will soon learn about the amazing work we have done so far and will be eager to make their own mark. We still have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, so I think it is worth reflecting on what we can do better as the pace of our work hopefully picks up.

We should first acknowledge the challenging market conditions under which we operate. Over the past year, people have wondered if the project has been abandoned when we tell them that the wider community has taken on development. Many community members likely view our network as having hit "rock-bottom" with nowhere to go but up in price. Many have expressed sentiments of a hard $1 floor.

Momentum. For a young network like ours, any change is exciting news, especially given our market conditions. And indeed we must strive forward and demonstrate progress.

Many community members who have taken up the call for wider community development and ownership have wondered how the community would come to agreement on what changes to accept, particularly when it came to backward incompatible protocol changes.

Would Mr. Kaine assume responsibility for due diligence and design soundness? Or would we be left to our own devices?

My approach has been to prepare the community to be as resilient as possible, to ensure that, in what most would probably consider the worst-case scenario of absent founding developers, that the community could adapt and thrive.

Whether or not it was his intended or ideal path, Mr. Kaine has unilaterally pushed our network forward when it came to this upgrade.

In many of my writings, I often present a more idealistic position. I believe that ultimately the network will be delivered by those who strongly believe in the bitcoin ethos and the ideals of free and open source development. In other areas of my life, I have seen how passionate groups have persevered to defy the odds and fundamentally change the world for the better.

But a community must survive in order to achieve its aims. Nothing ever goes perfect and compromises must be made. So while I always push forward ideals, at the end of the day I am a pragmatist.

I am excited to see our community move forward. But an honest assessment must also recognize the costs. We have now set the precedent where we have asked the wider community to take on ownership of development without giving them a meaningful say in governance. This is a recipe for discontent. I have spoken in private with several productive community members who have expressed that they have less enthusiasm now to take further responsibility for various aspects of the project.

I empathize and have tried to represent their concerns. Yet I also understand when decisive executive action must be taken.

In theory our network is governed by pillars. In practice, most of our pillars do not have the ability or capacity to do so. Until a critical mass of pillars believe they have something to lose and demand to have their concerns heard, it is likely that we will continue with the precedent we have set. But how do we get there?

The damaging aspect of this is that the precedent created does not incentivize contributors to help the wider community understand the network or make them want to take ownership. It is anti-collaborative in nature. If the expectation is that Mr. Kaine will unilaterally upgrade the network, then the rational contributor will optimize efficiently and develop with Mr. Kaine as the primary intended audience. I believe this is already playing out and that it damages our credibility when we say we emphasize "community".

It is unfortunate because we have community members who are interested in contributing and playing a greater role in the community. And these are the very community members who are likely contemplating whether or not they want to operate a pillar and commit to the network long term. Until Mr. Kaine sets other expectations or enough pillars demand governance, the precedent and incentives created will perpetuate itself.

I think there are several realistic paths and preconditions when it comes to pillar driven governance. One of my next posts will go over this.