At the beach, they say, all your problems dissolve.

But this is not quite the case for researchers who spent part of the week at the Crypto Financier 2018 conference on the Caribbean island of Curacao, discussing the decentralization of the two most large protocols of crypto, bitcoin and ethereum – or where they are lacking in this respect.

Presented on March 2, a new article entitled “Egalitarian Society or Benevolent Dictatorship: The State of Cryptocurrency Governance” by researchers at University College London, deepens the subject by measuring how many developers contribute and comment on the basics of cryptocurrency codes

For one, the researchers looked at “commits” – packets of changes that a developer proposes to make at the code base. According to the document, 7% of all Bitcoin Core software files were written by a developer, while about 20% of the ethereum was written by a single coder.

As such, this indicates that the ethereum is “a bit” more centralized than bitcoin in this regard, said Sarah Azouvi, a PhD student in computer science at UCL and co-author of the # 39; section.

This is an interesting point with regard to the ferocious debates taking place within the ethereum community at this time, while two parties are facing an ethericeum improvement proposal. (EIP) 867.

EIP 867 seeks to establish a simpler process for recovering lost funds through software changes – a controversial topic that dates back to The DAO hack in 2016, when the ethereum developers decided to go back and forth. cancel the transactions to recover the funds.

Yet even though many similar discussions are taking place regularly on GitHub, the total number of users involved was more limited than Azuvi, and many others, expected.

She told CoinDesk:

“There are still not many people, most of them only make a few comments here and there, a few people do most of the talking.”

Decision makers

But the ethereum debate over the loss of funds was not the only reason for participants in Curacao to discuss the network. Another reason highlighted by the paper was governance, since most of the major code changes are still written by ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin himself.

“He stands out from the others,” said Azouvi.

The findings are not really surprising, as this has been a point of contention for a while, according to which many believe that Buterin has too much power on the network for it to really be called a decentralized blockchain.

Even the developer Jason Teutsch, who created TrueBit, the ethereum scaling protocol, joked that he could count on Buterin to fix everything when he was not in charge. he was asked questions about governance. Although, on a more serious note, he argued that recent debates show how difficult governance can be in general, it is often impossible to make everyone happy.

Teutsch told CoinDesk:

“It’s a difficult problem, it’s happening in all governance systems, whenever something changes, somebody is unhappy.”

Not so unusual

Yet even though governance seems more centralized than one would expect from projects that promote decentralization, UCL researchers point out that this is not so unusual.

For example, the development of ethereum and bitcoin has participation levels similar to those of other open-source projects, such as the programming languages ​​Clojure and Rust.

“It’s not that different, even though the community is centered on decentralization, they all behave similarly,” she said.

In addition, the article concedes that “measuring levels of centralization by looking at the code or looking at specific sources” is inherently limited.

In the same vein, IC3 researchers supported during the conference that there are also technical means to measure the decentralization of a cryptographic project. change.

In particular, they watched how long it takes blocks to propagate across the network how and geographically distributed nodes are, determining that ethereum outperforms Bitcoin on both fronts.

And a member of the public added another angle, noting that the decentralization of the cryptocurrency economy is also an important factor that has been missed in the research presented at the conference.

The right to vote

But with the growing interest in the decentralization of cryptocurrency networks, one might think that solutions were also envisaged.

Yet the researchers and developers of the conference were largely neutral on the issues facing ethereum and bitcoin, saying that they wanted to avoid policies surrounding decision-making protocols.

“I do not want to take a political stance, I’m interested in technical solutions, but I’m not going to take sides,” said Teutsch about the recent debates of the ethereum, before d & rsquo; Evoke better voting mechanisms. a possible way to deal with contentious debates.

Azouvi seemed reluctant to take a stand as well, saying, “We do not propose a new system, we count how many people do what.”

Even though, she continues, Teutsch said: “[Ethereum] could benefit from a more formal governance model, because even if you want to have a more formal mode of decision, it is difficult to decide who Then there is the question of who will vote. “

“They could try to make sure that all those who can do it can have their vote,” she suggested.

Yet, Azouvi noted the vote opens a brand new Pandora’s box:

“Voting itself is a difficult problem, it’s non-trivial.”

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