Chaincode Devs, Google Alumni Create Industry Group to Help Bitcoin Scale


Scaling has been a heated topic for the bitcoin community for some time. Further, even when a technology does become available, getting people to use it becomes the next big hurdle. Segregated Witness has not been fully adopted by all wallets and service providers, and not all exchanges batch transactions, to name two examples.

Officially announced today, July 20, 2018, Bitcoin Optech (which stands for operations technology) is creating a forum where Bitcoin developers and companies can come together to solve scaling problems in harmony through workshops and online discussions.

The project was initiated by John Newbery and James O’Beirne, developers at New York-based Chaincode Labs, a cryptocurrency development company and a major contributor to Bitcoin Core — Chaincode Labs is paying their salaries to work part-time on the venture. Former Google product manager Steve Lee is Optech’s project manager. Further support comes from Xapo CEO Wences Casares and institutional investor John Pfeffer in the way of seed funding to cover contractors and expenses.

“Our hypothesis is if we can provide forums or bring together other open source contributors and industry players and try to help those industry players adopt scaling best practices, that could be a more fruitful than shouting at each other on Reddit,” Newbery told Bitcoin Magazine.

The group is targeted to Bitcoin’s open source developers, exchanges, wallet providers and other industry players. The idea is to bring everyone together to hash out the best practices for adopting solutions like Segregated Witness, transaction batching and improved fee estimation. In the future, Bitcoin Optech may perhaps also tackle the Lightning Network, Schnorr signatures and scriptless scripts, when these technologies become more mature.

The original idea for the group came out of an email Adam Back, CEO at Blockstream, a company focused on furthering the development of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, sent to a list group late last year. Now, the idea has legs.

Before getting going, Newbery said he, O’Beirne and Lee made rounds to about 20 Bitcoin companies in San Francisco and in New York to quiz them about their Bitcoin pain points, learn what scaling technologies they were using and gauge their interest in contributing to an industry group. As they got positive feedback for starting the group, the trio moved forward with their plans.

Participating in the forum requires a $5,000 membership fee, though Newbery maintains the annual fee is nominal. “We are not aiming to make a profit out of this. What’s much more valuable to us is engagement,” he said, adding that any information they collect is put toward problem-solving.

So far, the group has produced four weekly newsletters and held its first workshop earlier this week in San Francisco. The workshop was attended by 17 people, mostly engineers, representing six prominent bitcoin companies in the Bay area. Optech says it will hold more workshops on the East Coast in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase was among the first to get on board with the idea. “We’re excited to work with Optech on the effort to scale and improve bitcoin,” Brock Miller, lead bitcoin engineer at Coinbase, said in a statement. “By collaborating with leading engineers in this space, we’ll be able to achieve more than we could have by tackling these problems alone.”

Digital payment startup Square has also signed on as an Optech member. “At Square we continue to explore ways cryptocurrency can expand financial access, and we’re excited to help foster a collaborative ecosystem for the benefit of all,” Mike Brock, strategic development lead at Square, said in a statement.

Moving forward, Optech also plans to host online forums, monitor the adoption of scaling protocols and produce a “Scaling Cookbook,” which will include guidelines for implementing bitcoin scaling technologies.

“Optech is the culmination of ideas from lots of different people, and we’re hoping that this will be a community effort with input from across the ecosystem,” said Newbery.

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