An Apology to Mike Hearn

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I feel a large chunk of the community owes this Mike. I know I certainly do.

The blocksize debate had been brewing for years and years. I’d sometimes sit back and watch the backwards and forwards between Andresen and Hearn, and Todd and his team. Mike always seemed the more logical person in his approach. At times fiery in his demeanour, but someone who always knew where the goal posts were.

Hearn was a former contributor to Bitcoin Core. An astute developer, one who understood the economic model of Bitcoin better than most. It was often interesting to see both Gavin and Hearn being on the same team, but with Mike always being the louder of the two in his condemnation and his dismissal of points he did not agree with. Gavin was usually more diplomatic in nature.

Among other things, Mike was heavily critical of RBF (Core’s replace-by-fee implementation), and the 1MB cap.

But the frustration with failing to get any traction on the blocksize issue led to Gavin, Hearn and company implementing Bitcoin XT with an 8MB blocksize, doubling every two years. Bitcoin XT implemented Gavin’s BIP101 to raise the limit. The idea was that once 75% of blocks were voting in XT’s favour, the rules would be adjusted for bigger blocks.

If Mike thought he had already seen the worst, then he was in for some shocking treatment.

It was at this point that mass censorship began. Nowhere on the main forums were the words “Bitcoin” and “BitcoinXT” allowed. No links, no references, no criticism of Core allowed from that point on. It was around this time where I got my first glimpses of censorship. In fact, at that time, I actually agreed with some moderation – and agreed with some that a competing client threatens the overall perception of the system. I was wrong.

“If you haven’t heard much about this, you aren’t alone. One of the most disturbing things that took place over the course of 2015 is that the flow of information to investors and users has dried up.” – Mike Hearn on censorship.


Moderator of r/bitcoin ‘theymos’ famously posted – “Everyone needs some time to calm down. In particular, posts about anything especially emotionally-charged will be deleted unless they introduce some very substantial new ideas about the subject. This includes the max block size debate”. He also stated: “people are continuously spamming links to inferior clones of /r/Bitcoin and the XT subreddit — these links will be removed and the posters banned”.

I never agreed with the extreme measures taken, but I was also not willing to be part of a schism in Bitcoin.

Unknown to myself and some others at this point was Core’s resolute stance on the blocksize. Many of us knew that Maxwell and company were fixated on keeping the cap, and didn’t want to budge on it. What I certainly wasn’t aware of was the extent of their stubbornness.

I always held the belief that when the blocks start to fill-up, and the economic pressure builds, the system and its maintainers would be ‘forced’ into removing the cap. After all, economic pressure is a powerful thing. I genuinely expected that, and I had no doubts.

BitcoinXT then faced waves of DDoS attacks on nodes running the client. The extent of the attacks showed that the entity responsible was well funded, and willing to go to any lengths to stop the opposition. Mike Hearn stated “The message was clear: anyone who supported bigger blocks, or even allowed other people to vote for them, would be assaulted.”

XT continued gaining momentum however, so Core arranged a series of conferences called “Scaling Bitcoin”. From the majority of the community’s perspective, this genuinely looked like a good thing, and it certainly appeared to show willingness that the Core devs had the best interest at heart.

Mike laments “this tactic was devastatingly effective”. Many miners, and individuals such as myself included (I won’t gloss over that), believed Core would eventually scale Bitcoin. No one wanted the negative publicity that would come with news of ‘in-fighting’. The conferences worked very well in stalling negative opinion about Core – long enough to see BitcoinXT fail.

In January of 2016, Mike Hearn wrote “The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment”, where he laid it all out. The frustration and anger that built up as a direct result of multi-faceted attacks. Censorship, lies, DDoS attacks, personality attacks, smear campaigns, and quite frankly, terrible choices of committed code for Core were too much, and Mike quit.

Many new users may not have come across the piece, but in my opinion, it is a timeless paper worth cementing in the annals of Bitcoin history. It encapsulates the worst of Blockstream and Core on a single webpage. Hearn’s criticism and statement of the failure of Bitcoin became a widely publicised piece which hit mainstream media and resulted in a sharp turn, and a dramatic fall of price.

The reception of his piece from within the Bitcoin community was highly negative. I certainly did not welcome it – at the time. In fact, it led me to write my first ever piece on Bitcoin and I criticised him heavily.

I’m sorry Mike. For one I was most blind to the level of crap you went through. I was also a victim of the censorship. I agreed with the changes BitcoinXT sought,  but I, like many others, were convinced that when the time came, and when it was crunch time, that Core would in fact raise the limit and enable more transactions. I figured, with a wave of people screaming for more transaction capacity, that the walls of political persuasion would crumble. They didn’t.

Then we ended up hitting the ceiling again and again. That’s when many of us woke up and realised that Mike was right all along about every thing he ever said of Blockstream, and he was right to the most minute detail.

In my piece criticising Mike, I wrote “Where Mike appears to have been gunning to be proactive in changes, the truth is that the changes to bitcoin will come about in a reactive capacity. Yes, we have seen backlogs and queues created supporting Mike’s arguments, but the community will by all means, see that those limitations be rectified out of necessity”. I was convinced that as pressure builds, the pipeline would burst. But nope. The reactive changes I very much anticipated did not come about either. I criticised Mike for joining paypal, and I was one of the ones that stated that he’d joined the opposition and was “one with the bankers”.

“Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”.

I’ve lost count how many times Core and Blockstream have tried to fool us. The “scaling” conferences, the “Hong Kong agreement”, everything they did to XT and to the BitcoinClassic teams. The censorship endured by the Bitcoin Unlimited team. The list is endless.

Anyone who can’t see what’s happening now chooses to be blind. Ignorance is no excuse.

I’m sorry Mike. I know many people in the community who feel they owe you an apology. Ironically you became a sacrificial lamb of sorts. Your sensational exit actually opened the eyes of many. So no matter how ‘effective’ Core were at their tactics, I believe you had the last roll of the dice. Your hard work in BitcoinXT has finally now come to see the light of day. Your shared vision for Bitcoin lives on.

Eli Afram

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