Bitcoin SV in 2019: An Interview with Jimmy Nguyen
After enabling Bitcoin SV on their algorithmic trading platform last month, the SFOX team was honored to interview Jimmy Nguyen, the CEO of nChain Group, Founding President of bComm Association, and global ambassador for Bitcoin SV.
A lifelong advocate for cutting-edge technologies from the Internet to cryptoassets, Nguyen spent over two decades as an IP and technology lawyer before turning his attention to crypto. We sat down with Nguyen to get his perspective on everything from the value of Satoshi’s original intent, to the rhetoric of debating what constitutes the “real” Bitcoin, to the good and bad of social media in the crypto industry, to lessons from the November 2018 Bitcoin Cash hash war, to what 2019 and beyond holds for Bitcoin SV.
If you’d like to check out the video recording of this interview, you can check it out here. The full transcript of the SFOX interview can be read here.
SFOX: Welcome to SFOX’s interview with Jimmy Nguyen. We’re so excited to have you, Jimmy.
Jimmy, you are the CEO of nChain Group, but you’re also the Founding President of bComm Association and a global ambassador for Bitcoin SV. Could explain the overall network of companies that you’re involved in and how they relate to each other within the crypto ecosystem?
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah; so first of all, thanks for having me on. Greetings from Singapore, which is where I am today in my global life these days on behalf of Bitcoin.
I have a variety of roles and they’ve been rapidly broadening—particularly with the rise of Bitcoin SV, which we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about today. Since my entry into Bitcoin world, I had primarily worked with the nChain group, which has a number of companies, most known for its research and development business led by Dr. Craig S. Wright, whom many people know. That company has been a big supporter of the original Bitcoin vision, and, for a period of time, we believed that vision was best represented Bitcoin Cash.
Since the contentious Bitcoin Cash hard fork on November 15th of this past year, there’s been a split to Bitcoin SV. As Bitcoin SV has emerged as its own separate chain and token, there’s been a lot of work needed to help grow, develop, and lead a new BSV ecosystem. The bComm Association had been formed last year as the first industry association that wanted to gather businesses to focus on the growth of bitcoin commerce, called bCommerce. It gathers merchants, developers, application companies, big enterprises, miners, and anyone else who’s interested in participating in a bitcoin business and commerce ecosystem.
Once Bitcoin SV had to split off from BCH, I think there was a recognition that we needed to grow the ecosystem. I got asked to take on the role of president of the bComm Association. While I’m still working with nChain, I am focusing more and more of my time on this broader role of helping the entire BSV ecosystem.
SFOX: You had a storied law career before you moved into crypto. What inspired you to move from the law into crypto and blockchain technologies?
Jimmy Nguyen: I was an IP and digital tech lawyer in the United States for 21 years—I’m dating myself, now—and I got into that field in the 1990s, because I got out of law school in 1995. I finished law school earlier than most other people; so, as a 22-year-old, baby lawyer, I wanted to make a name for myself—you know, like any ambitious young professional does. And the law is a profession where people move up relatively slowly compared to, for example, the technology space, where young people can have a great product and a great idea and, boom, you become the next Mark Zuckerberg. That doesn’t happen so much in the corporate legal world, which is very much a progressive industry for moving up the ladder.
So, I wanted to figure out how to make a name for myself. This was at the dawn of the Internet when I first got into law school; I was watching businesses and our clients, and the legal industry kind of struggled with how to cope with this exciting digital era—because there was a time when the Internet was the big new thing. And so I decided that was a really good place to go. I was interested in technology; I wasn’t a scientist, or an engineer, or a developer, but I had an interest in it. So, I made my way into becoming a young lawyer focused on the digital and Internet areas.
That led me to a career of becoming a tech and intellectual property lawyer for a number of years. I was a partner in a lot of the big major corporate U.S. law firms. I represented clients ranging from big multinational corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, motion picture studios, and the Motion Picture Association, all the way down to emerging startups, so I always had my eye on what was new technology trends because that was important for what I did—I had to stay at the cutting edge.
I learned about Bitcoin and virtual currency early on its life. I wouldn’t say that I spent a lot of time paying attention to it, but it’s one of those things I had to pay attention to: I had a number of clients in the online gaming industry, for example, which was the first major industry to really adopt Bitcoin as a payment system, and then I had some clients in the fintech space as well. It was that combination of things that led me to what I’m doing now. I didn’t necessarily seek out cryptocurrency; cryptocurrency kind of found me.
So, Bitcoin found me through that combination of things. I had a client that was interested in virtual currencies, and that client ended up being the nTrust business that was part of the nChain Group—it actually preceded nChain, and was a company in Canada in the money-remittance base. They were looking at virtual currencies as a cheaper, more efficient way for people to send money across international boundaries. We did some patent and IP work for them; at the time when the nChain Group more formally got formed in London and Craig Wright got moved out there, I had been looking to do something else after two decades of law. Some conversations happened, and poof: I ended up joining the nChain team.
SFOX: It’s clear from watching you speak about crypto that you’re deeply, authentically passionate about it. Given that deep passion you have for the space, what does Bitcoin mean to you, personally?
Jimmy Nguyen: One of the things that you have to understand about the legal world is that, as a private practice lawyer, I would represent and work with many companies and clients at a given time in a number of industries—entertainment, consumer products, retail, finance—and that’s exciting in some ways, because you get a lot of variety. When I was looking to leave the legal profession and make a big career shift, I really thought about what it was that I wanted to dedicate the next chapter of my life to. Not that it was necessary, but I was looking forward to diving deep into something, as opposed to working across multiple areas, while also finding something that touched multiple areas and industry segments with a broad impact since I was used to working with companies and advising them across industry sectors. So I thought, “let’s try to find a balance,” or something like that.
I explored different avenues, and people started talking to me about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. This was before the big media frenzy of last year when the price went skyrocketing and everybody wanted to get into crypto; Bitcoin was in a bit of a lull or recovery stage at this point. What fascinated me about Bitcoin was the simple idea of a technology system—as well as an economic system, because Bitcoin is almost more an economic system than it is a technology system—that could really change the world.
I chose the Internet and digital technology sectors as my first big professional chapter as a lawyer because it looked like they could change the world in the 1990s—before people realized that they did change the world. All of the opportunities I had, including starting startups myself, were interesting, but none of the other opportunities gave me what I’d call “the Oprah”: the “a-ha” moment where you look at it and say, “Wow, this could really change the world.” I wanted my next chapter to be to be a deep dive into some product, industry, company, or business that could really change the world—because, you know, we only get so many professional chapters in our lives, right?
I was making a big leap to something else, and Bitcoin was what caught my attention as I learned about it more. And it wasn’t purely just the idea of being able to send value (money) anywhere across the world that I thought was fascinating. It wasn’t just the idea of not having a central authority that was fascinating. I think that, to me, the bigger power was the idea of the Bitcoin blockchain being able to change how we record, conduct, and execute transactions of all types—data transactions, as we see in our token smart contracts.
Finally, I would say that there is the part of me that is very much a contrarian in a lot of ways, even though I’ve lived a very corporate life and operate and interact very well with institutions. You know, I’m the kid who grew up in the United States as an immigrant, racial minority, gay kid. Even though I do very well in what people consider normal corporate and establishment life, I’ve always been the one who looked for how you do something different, and Bitcoin is about as different as you can get.
SFOX: That’s true enough, especially back when you were first getting into Bitcoin.
Jimmy Nguyen: It was the obvious thing, right? And I think a lot of people get fascinated by it. If you’re a developer or a cryptographer, then in the technological sense, Bitcoin is absolutely fascinating. For me, who doesn’t come to it from a technical background, it’s more about what I want to spend my time thinking about, talking about, and advocating for. Because that’s one of the things I know I am good at: if I believe in something, I’m very passionate, as you say, and I can be an effective advocate for it. So I had to think: “What do I want to spend the next chapter of my life advocating for?”
SFOX: One of the common mantras of multiple crypto factions and communities is that “X is the true Bitcoin,” to the point that it can almost become a vacuous statement if you don’t dig in and really think about what’s at stake or what it is for something to be “the true Bitcoin.”What exactly do you believe is at stake in arguments about what constitutes the “real Bitcoin”?
Jimmy Nguyen: I think that requires going back to the beginning of Bitcoin and looking at how its creator, or creators, defined Bitcoin in the first place—and that begins with the white paper. I don’t want to treat the white paper like it’s a Bible or some religious document, but it lays out the concept: a system that defines what Bitcoin is and that defines a coin as a chain of digital signatures. And this is where I look at what the fundamental elements of Bitcoin are, so that we can have a frame for our question whether a coin is truly Bitcoin or not.
It’s a chain of digital signatures. It’s a way, obviously, of neatly transferring value, defined to be a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. So, the coin and value need to act like cash, meaning they need to be able to be transferred easily, cheaply, and quickly. The Bitcoin white paper is very clear about its reliance on proof of work as not just the measure of providing computing power and security for the network, but, in my view, as the governance model as well. And if you read the white paper, you can tell that there is a lot of intangible value put into the belief in proof of work. So, those are some of the tenets—along with, obviously, more and more specific things—that, in my view, define what Bitcoin is and should be.
There are also the early digital writings of Satoshi, in which Satoshi talks about Bitcoin and its blockchain being more than just the mechanism for transferring units of monetary value, but also foreseeing that its blockchain would grow in scale—very large, surpassing Visa (one of the early Satoshi posts talked about Bitcoin having the ability to scale now, surpassing Visa’s throughput processing capability)—and also be used for variety of other types of transactions. You can see the early Satoshi writings envisioning the blockchain for more than just transferring Bitcoin as money units.
And then there’s obviously the original protocol, in its core design: Version 0.1, the Satoshi client that was released, with Satoshi writing that it was locked in stone for life.
Those elements together define, for me, what Bitcoin is and should be.
The reason we even have this conversation about whether Bitcoin Core, or Bitcoin Cash, or Bitcoin SV, or whatever is “truly Bitcoin” is because—and many people who follow this space will agree with us here, no matter what his position they are in the political debate—the BTC path has significantly veered away from that original vision and design for Bitcoin, mostly by not believing in the power of on-chain scaling: not raising the block size significantly, nor conducting all the transactions on the chain, instead exploring Layer-2 solutions such as the Lightning Network in order to create a system where you have millions and millions (if not billions) of transactions being processed. For example, the introduction of Segregated Witness—a technical mechanism designed to try to increase the capacity of a single block by segregating the signature data, which takes a bigger chunk out of the data—changes, in our view, that Bitcoin definition, in the white paper, as a chain of digital signatures, because the digital signatures essentially get cut off from the chain in some way. (This is in its simplest form: obviously, it’s more complicated than that.) And so, because the Bitcoin Core development team and that network did not follow the path for many years and veered away from it, it raised this debate, as most of us who have followed this in the Bitcoin community know, with people outside of Bitcoin Core saying, “Well, you’re not scaling Bitcoin: you’re not allowing it to become what its creator intended.”
That led to the fork of Bitcoin Cash in August of 2017, a little over a year ago, because there were proponents in the community who wanted the chain to have more massive, on-chain scaling—to raise the block size to get it to be a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, as opposed to just a settlement layer where you would settle transactions that are conducted somewhere else. I think that’s the big philosophical difference when people ask “What’s Bitcoin”: Is the Bitcoin blockchain supposed to be where all the transactions happen, or do they happen somewhere else and periodically just get recorded to the blockchain?
So, Bitcoin Cash emerged, claiming, for a lot of people, the mantle of restoring the original vision of Bitcoin; that’s why we supported it after it was created and birthed. We and other groups in the Bitcoin looked at that and said, “Yes, that’s more representative of the Bitcoin vision.” We threw the full weight of nChain’s organization behind Bitcoin Cash, along with our allied partners, such as CoinGeek—you know, Calvin Ayre has been a huge advocate for the original vision of Bitcoin, and Craig Wright as well. And we supported that for a good year, until it became clear to us that the development path being led for Bitcoin Cash (BCH) was again starting to veer away from that original concept and vision of Bitcoin, that core design, in a very simple way.
I don’t know that they mean it with ill intention, but sometimes protocol developers have this itch, this need, to put their ingredient into the recipe, you know, when you’re cooking. Instead of sticking to the original recipe, they change the recipe: they say, “Oh, instead of putting basil in, I want to put paprika in, and I want to change my spaghetti sauce by adding squash instead of eggplants,” where the original recipe didn’t call for that. And as someone who really believes in the recipe we’re trying to cook here with Bitcoin, I and the other folks that I work with looked at the situation and said that the ABC development team and other protocol groups in the Bitcoin Cash world were wanting to make significant technical feature changes to the Bitcoin Cash protocol, which, unfortunately, again veered away from the original path and design of Bitcoin.
That is what led to the battle over the Bitcoin Cash chain that happened just a couple of months ago, in November 2018. We felt we had to take a stand along with CoinGeek and Calvin’s organization, saying, “No: don’t mess up Bitcoin again. Let’s have a protocol and a chain which just retains the original Bitcoin vision and design.” And while the hard fork was definitely dramatic, contentious, and caused a lot of heartburn for many people—us included—I ask you to think about it this way: For those people who really believe in the original design of Bitcoin and were attracted to it once they read that white paper, had we not taken a stand and fought that hash war and created Bitcoin SV, and had Bitcoin ABC implemented the changes they did in November—canonical transaction ordering, OP_CDS, OP_DSV, and there’s some others they have on their roadmap—had that happened and we had not created Bitcoin SV, today there would be no chain that continued and preserved the original design of Bitcoin. You would have Bitcoin Core, which we think has really veered off, and Bitcoin Cash/Bitcoin ABC chain, which has significantly veered off.
The response to the hash war from the ABC camp has further demonstrated and confirmed what we were saying all along: Developer groups are willing to make fundamental, big, technical changes to the original Bitcoin design, all because they wanted to, or because they were fearful of what might happen to their chain. You know, that bothers me, but I’ve also gotten to the point where it’s time for us to turn the page and build what we think is the original Bitcoin.
So that’s, in summary, why there’s this discussion of “What is Bitcoin”: It’s because the original plan for it has not been followed by those who have led its protocol development. And so here we are, 10 years later, where we felt someone has to stand up to the original Bitcoin, and that’s what we’re doing.
SFOX: Let’s dive further into this question of what the value of original intent is. Original intent is this interesting idea that’s prevalent in a number of different debates and communities. We’ve seen it in Bitcoin, and very similar things happen in discussions of constitutional law here in the U.S.: People debate what the original intent of the Framers was when they wrote the founding documents of this country. And I can imagine a devil’s advocate asking what the value is in preserving that “original vision” at all costs.
For instance, go back to your cooking analogy: Suppose Italy had come up with a recipe for pizza, in the first instance, that was just white pizza and didn’t have tomato sauce, right? And then suppose that other people asked, “What if we modified the recipe with tomato sauce and made a better pizza?” What is the intrinsic value, if any, in preserving the “original vision” for something? And if there’s no such intrinsic value, then why go to such lengths in order to preserve it?
Jimmy Nguyen: I think that’s an excellent question. As a former lawyer, I’ll say you’re right: It gets very similar to constitutional law issues, or to any type of interpretation. What lawyers do is interpret something that’s written in law. And they have that debate all the time in constitutional law in the United States: “What did the Framers of the Constitution really intend?” For example, in the gun-control debates that rage in the U.S. about the Second Amendment, we ask all the time: “What did the Framers mean at the time they put that amendment in, when they said that you have a right to bear arms in the United States?” So I fully understand the argument, and I respect that there shouldn’t be necessarily some single source that is the absolute, frozen-forever-in-time approach to Bitcoin.
With that said, I think there needs to be enough respect for the system and design laid out by Satoshi Nakamoto, which is very carefully balanced. If you follow digital currency, you know that there were attempts to create a digital cash before that didn’t work. For some reason, Bitcoin stuck, and has worked, and people recognize it. The reason I think it’s important to therefore try to understand the original design is more than just a technical reason: Bitcoin has worked because it’s a very geniusly crafted economic incentive system, and when you make fundamental changes to the design—how it works, technically—you can disrupt that economic balance.
And I get it: Satoshi’s not sitting around publicly, telling us, “This is what I meant or didn’t mean.” So it’s very hard to read the white paper and Satoshi’s early writings and know what is meant at all, at times. I get it. And that’s why I say, it doesn’t mean there can’t be basic improvements to fix bugs—but you shouldn’t be messing around with core principles.
A good example is the block interval of 10 minutes. There’s talk, I hear, from the Bitcoin Cash community of reducing that interval to a shorter time frame, maybe two minutes. And some people will say, “Well, that’s not a real change.” And those of us on the other side look at that, and say, “Well, yes, that may disrupt the whole balance of the system, economically. Are you sure you want to do that before you see how Bitcoin grows up into its full potential?”
Perhaps the best way to think about it is that it’s fine if you want to make changes that are fundamental, but just don’t call it Bitcoin: change it into something else. I know you’ve interviewed Charlie Lee; when Litecoin was created, that’s what happened: it’s basically a variant of Bitcoin in a lot of ways, reducing the block interval to create a “speedier,” in their view, network. What did they do? They changed the name. They didn’t call it “Bitcoin.” They changed it to “Litecoin.”
I get that it’s a tough issue. Am I one of those people who are so absolutist to say that you can never make a single change? No: there are things that people discover, bug fixes for example. But, I do believe we have to draw a line at making such fundamental changes that would constitute a “constitutional amendment”—let’s use that analogy—to the economically-crafted balance system, or to the technical system. How you draw that line, I know, is hard, and that’s why these fights have happened. But I think there are some things that should be clearer than others.
Not lifting the block size on Bitcoin Core past a megabyte: that clearly, in my view, violates the Satoshi vision and design, because the Satoshi writings make very clear at the very beginning of Bitcoin—in its first year, Satoshi was writing—that it could scale to be as fast and have the capacity of Visa.
Satoshi also envisioned in early writings that it wouldn’t just be home users running nodes—Satoshi envisioned that there would be big data server farms. So this idea that we have to protect the ability of every single individual to run nodes, I think, sounds nice, but is not really what the design of Bitcoin was meant to be: It was designed to grow to a large scale. So we shouldn’t make changes or restrict the growth of Bitcoin in a way that prevents that, adding all of the operating codes (opcodes) that some developer groups want to add in and that were not in the original Satoshi design. I think that’s problematic.
I’ll tell you, without disclosing who said it to me, that during some of the discussions we had preceding the hash war, when we were trying to see whether there were paths around it, I had one of the most important people in the cryptocurrency world, who was in the ABC camp, say to me, “Jimmy, we can add all those old Satoshi opcodes back, and then we can add hundreds of opcodes, whatever ones you want!” To which I said, “That’s exactly the problem: we don’t want protocol development where the groups are considering adding dozens or hundreds of opcodes over time, because the more you do that, the more you are screwing up the recipe, technically, and also introducing economic factors that you don’t know the impact of.”
So those are examples of how I look at it, but I fully understand that it requires deducing what the original intent of Bitcoin is: there’s no person sitting here telling you, publicly.
One thing I want to say for people reading this is that I know that our Chief Scientist at nChain, Craig Wright, can come across in a way where it hard for people to hear him. There are people who love Craig, and there are people who hate Craig. I ask people to sit back and listen to the substance of what he says. And for those who do, I think they understand more why he’s fighting for this original vision of Bitcoin. If you sit back and listen to what we’re saying about why it’s important to preserve the original design of Bitcoin, it’s not crazy. People may think Craig is a little crazy sometimes, but the idea is of protecting that system—especially because it’s never been allowed to really flourish the way it was meant to.
And that’s my argument: Before we start making drastic changes to it, can we just get it back to its core design and protocol and give that a try, and allow that to grow and flourish? Because if it works like everyone believes it should work, why are we preemptively making all these dramatic changes to it?
SFOX: Your mention of Craig is a good transition to another topic that I’m interested in hearing your perspective on: the value of rhetoric and personalities and the crypto space. You, Jimmy, are clearly a very accomplished public speaker—well-spoken, with a background as a lawyer. Craig—you said it, not me!—is a very strong personality. We live and work in this interesting industry where, despite being at the cutting edge of technology, oftentimes it feels as if many of the decisions being made and the swaying of public opinion happen on forums like Twitter, where people wield rhetoric as their argumentative tool rather than something like data or technological innovation. With that in mind, what roles you believe rhetoric and personality have to play in the crypto sector?
Jimmy Nguyen: Boy, that is a loaded question!
I have followed the growth of social media since its early days. I’m friends with some of the earliest Facebookers, got a Facebook account authorized for me before it was open to the general public, so I’ve been following the space for a long time. I will say my personal opinion is that the rhetoric, especially online in the cryptocurrency community, is toxic. It’s why I choose not to engage in the horrible and negative commentary. That doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes have an opinion and criticize things—I mean, yes, there are times where even I will feel like I need to say something. But for the most part, I just find it so unproductive.
You know, there’s this phrase that’s been going around for a while about how Bitcoin has turned into “proof of social media” as opposed to proof of work from the hash power; I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I think it’s unfortunate that this world has turned into a situation where there are paid shills, people who have an economically-directed incentive or are just paid outright to show up at events, to comment about things, and to upvote and downvote things on Reddit. I feel like it’s just so childish. I want to make it clear that we do not pay people just to sit on Twitter to say bad things about other groups. If they do, it’s their own opinion—people are free to their own opinion.
It is important to have discourse—I’m a huge free speech and freedom-of-expression proponent; I was a competitive speaker and debater for much of my young life, and I used to coach speech teams, and train people, and try to figure out how to empower even the shyest person to get up and say what they feel. So I fully support the need to have public discourse, and to engage in discussion about Bitcoin. But what I watch online, I just find unproductive, and I sometimes wonder, “Geez, how do people have so much time to be sitting on Reddit and Twitter and Telegram like all day, constantly?!” I look at these conversations, and I participate because it’s necessary as part of our industry and my job, but I’m just stunned at how much activity there is sometimes!
I wish the rhetoric was more about the substance than it was about pure personality. And I know that’s—I don’t want to say it’s “naive” to say that—but this happens in the world; it happens in political debates, too. Look at the U.S. presidential election a couple of years ago: That came down to more of a personality clash between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and what people liked or not; it wasn’t necessarily about substantive issues.
During the hash war, I really saw this. Other people have said it, so I’m not going to say they anything that other people haven’t said, but that whole fight came down to a group of people who joined in support of ABC’s camp in what started as a technical disagreement but turned into, “We just don’t like Craig; we hate Craig, and, therefore, we’re going to oppose Bitcoin SV.” I understand how that happens. I find it unfortunate. I wish people could have discussions online in the cryptocurrency world without automatically calling the other person “evil,” or thinking that they’re bad, or that they have ill intent. You can have disagreements with people without thinking they’re evil.
This is also part of my message that I’ve been giving a lot lately about how it’s time for Bitcoin to grow up. I mean that from a transition to a more robust and enterprise-caliber blockchain; I mean that from professionalizing the approach to the development, and engineering, and security for Bitcoin; I also mean it from the attitudes of the people who work in this world. It’s about time for tech to grow up. We want this to work and we want this to be big and change the world, you know? It’s time to grow up!
SFOX: How has your perspective and the BSV camp’s perspective more broadly shifted in the wake of that hash war? Do you feel that there are lessons to be taken away from the hash war? And, if the hash war did show that there is a risk of crypto communities fragmenting and turning on each other, what do you think are the best strategies for mitigating that risk?
Jimmy Nguyen: So, let me be clear: We did not want a chain split. A lot of people would like to say we just wanted to split the chain. No, of course not! Why would our businesses and our partners, who were among the most invested people in the Bitcoin Cash world before this, intentionally want to split it? Of course not. So that’s an important lesson I learned from the experience: people can attribute some false motives to you, and it’s hard to correct that. No matter what you say, how you say it, how you explain it, as rational as you feel you are about why you are taking a given position—what’s unfortunate is that, sometimes, people don’t care. They make their conclusions and they move on.
So, how have our position and philosophy changed since the hash war? First of all, I will say it’s unfortunate that it had to happen. We didn’t want to be in the situation that everything is in now; but now that it’s happened, in some ways, it was necessary to have a clear path to restoring the original Bitcoin vision. Something I’ve learned is that, for one thing, there is a much larger—but less vocal, normally—community of people out there who do believe in our path for Bitcoin as the original Satoshi vision, and they don’t want the protocol disturbed. There is a huge contingent of people who want to see much bigger blocks and massive on-chain scaling of the network faster than the Bitcoin ABC team was willing to do with Bitcoin Cash—and certainly, they want to go much faster and in a different way than Bitcoin Core. And so that’s what we’re focused on, and it’s driving our thinking and planning for 2019.
Now that BSV is its own chain and token, we are throwing as much concentration and focus as we can, with nChain’s team in particular, on scaling initiatives, because we’re trying to listen to not just our own instincts, but to people who are also very passionate about this world and about what they want to see happening with Bitcoin SV. For a lot of us, that comes down to scaling BSV quickly and proving it can scale so that we can get more enterprise-level adoption. So the battle forced us to really think about what it is we’re fighting for and how we are going to achieve it with other people in the community.
I also learned that it’s unfortunate when former friends and allies have to divorce themselves from each other, even if it’s not forever. I want everybody out in the Bitcoin community to know that no matter where you fell in this debate and this conflict, Bitcoin and its original vision are open for everyone. I want people to know that there’s always an opportunity to support Bitcoin SV. No matter what positions you’ve taken before—it’s ok to have strong opinions and change your mind later. So I don’t want people to think this is some forever-split of this whole Bitcoin community. It looks like that kind of split now, and there are some people who will probably never come support our path or our vision, in particular because they don’t like certain personalities. But, like anything in life, you can always come home.
SFOX: That note you ended on, I think, is perfectly representative of the positivity that you radiate. How would advise others to advance that same kind of positivity in the crypto sphere—a sphere where, as you’ve discussed, there is so much negativity and risk of fractured communities? Is there a way to make conversations as productive as possible and veer away from toxicity?
Jimmy Nguyen: Sure. You know, it’s very simple. Focus on what you believe in and are fighting for, more than what you are fighting against. It’s human nature—and you see it in political elections and campaigns—to like the drama of a fight. It is human nature to geared toward towards that. So, talk about why you believe, and why you want other people to believe, in Bitcoin, and in your version of Bitcoin—and for us, it’s Bitcoin SV.
Yes, you do have to compare, sometimes, to other coins. You know, I have friends ask me, “Why should I buy BSV versus ETH,” or whatever. And obviously, you should be able to draw the distinctions in your mind about why one is better than the other, but you can do it in a way which doesn’t turn into, like, playground-kiddie name-calling, right? Come on, people, let’s be adults! I prefer and believe Bitcoin SV is the original vision because it follows a massive on-chain scaling path; it’s not going to disturb the protocol, which is important for stability to get big businesses running applications and projects on Bitcoin SV. The other chain doesn’t provide that, for whatever reason—that doesn’t mean I have to sit around and call them evil, right? So, I would tell people to focus on that. That would improve the rhetoric online: to accept that people can have different opinions and different philosophies than yours, but to persuade people doesn’t require tearing everyone down. Push up what you believe in; don’t spend your life energy tearing other people down unnecessarily. So that’s the thing I hope that the community out there and supporters of Bitcoin will start doing more of.
The other thing I want to say is about fracturing the community—I know there is a lot of concern about that, not just from the personal relationships that were disturbed by the hash war. I recognize there is an effect on splitting resources. Development groups, investment: now, instead of being concentrated all in one single bucket of Bitcoin Cash, it has to be split off into Bitcoin Cash over here and Bitcoin SV over there. That is unfortunate. I think the other camp probably realizes that as well. And I would say, looking back to them, “You know, that that’s definitely a factor that people should have weighed before it got to the point that it did,” because I think people didn’t think we were serious about pursuing the Bitcoin SV path as we were.
SFOX: Good life advice and good context around the hash war all at once!
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, think about it this way. I don’t have children, right, but when I watch people who parent: Do you want your child growing up spending their life energy being mean to people, or do you want your child growing up spending their life energy being the best person he or she can be?
SFOX: Switching gears now and hopefully not giving you too much whiplash: as I’m interviewing you right now, we are in the midst of a 51% attack on Ethereum Classic. Both Bitcoin SV and Bitcoin Cash have a fairly smaller overall hash rate than Bitcoin Core. With that context in mind, how does that issue of mining security factor into nChain’s security model and choice to support Bitcoin SV versus something like Bitcoin Core?
Jimmy Nguyen: I think that’s something you always have to be mindful of with any newer chain. It takes time for more miners to find it and decide to mine on it. So I obviously am cognizant of the fact that it’s necessary to grow the hash rate of Bitcoin SV, just like Bitcoin Cash needs to grow its hash rate in order to improve the security of the chain. But I will say that I don’t think most people sit around thinking about attacking other people’s chains. I think most people are focused on building their own chain.
I would say the things we’re doing are establishing the value of Bitcoin SV by growing its ecosystem and by continuing to work on technical measures to demonstrate its scaling capability—the team back at nChain is very, very much focused on that right now. That should bring more miners into the network, grow the hash rate, and then, over time, secure the network even more. I think that’s all you can do: that’s all any chain can do, and that’s what we must do. We want more miners coming onto Bitcoin SV. We have talked to more: there’s a number we know that are considering coming on. And that doesn’t mean that we have to tell them that another chain is bad. We are out selling the virtues, communicating to them why Bitcoin SV is a good investment for them.
SFOX: Sure; staying positive, exactly as you said before, right? [inaudible response from Jimmy about ETC 51% attack]
SFOX: nChain has an interesting R&D model, according to which some of the things that they develop and innovate are released as open-source and royalty-free, whereas others are proprietary products that can then be licensed. How do they decide which of their research goes where—and how can that be extrapolated, if at all, to their broader approach to innovating in the crypto ecosystem?
Jimmy Nguyen: The short answer is that it is a work in progress. nChain’s IP portfolio and the amount of work that is being done there is very large: it’s not as if there are just five things to decide if they go into the bucket of providing free-usage or not. And so how I would describe it is that it is evaluated over time as the inventions and IP portfolio grows. There are over one-hundred eighty patent applications filed already, I think. So it’s not necessarily just a clean question of, “This goes on one side, and this goes on the other side.”
I will say that Craig began with documenting and having us protect, from an IP perspective, a lot of core, fundamental techniques and inventions—he calls them his “Lego building blocks,” basic “Lego pieces” that are key to any structure you create; they’re the foundation. Some of those more core and general inventions, I think, are the ones that are most prime for providing for free usage to, in this case, the Bitcoin SV blockchain: we want more and more people using them, since they’re fundamental.
And then there are inventions that he and the team create that are more specific, let’s say, to particular industry sectors, or particular solutions and use cases. Those are not necessarily things that we have to give out for free to the whole world; those are things that might be licensed commercially because they are solutions that are unique to particular industries and sectors.
So that’s how I look at it in terms of the advice I’ve been giving to the nChain team, but I can’t say that’s set in stone. I can say there is a clear commitment to providing free usage of very key aspects of nChain’s IP portfolio on the Bitcoin SV blockchain because we want people doing some of these things, and we’ll be working with a lot of companies to develop solutions to them. I know that is not a very specific answer, but it’s because the portfolio is so large that it’s hard to generalize.
SFOX: You’ve talked a lot here and elsewhere about the value that blockchains and BSV will have for enterprises, and how having this larger, more stable blockchain will be really useful for things that enterprises want to do with the technology. Beyond peer-to-peer cash, what do you see as the most viable use cases in the short-to-mid-term for businesses that want to develop things using blockchain technology?
Jimmy Nguyen: Let’s start with why I think Bitcoin SV is the enterprise blockchain. If you want the biggest companies in the world operating on a blockchain, whether they’re using it as a payment system, as currency, or building interesting applications on it, it needs to have a lot of capacity. Bitcoin Core is not going to ever be that, because it’s limited to a megabyte block in size and they’re focused on Layer-2 solutions for payment processing. So it’s never going to be the enterprise blockchain. And then you have Bitcoin Cash, which is pursuing a path that is not as aggressive, fast, and scaling as we are in Bitcoin SV, and also with a less enterprise-friendly mentality in their development team. But I think they’re just less focused on becoming enterprise-caliber.
That’s where Bitcoin SV comes into play. In addition to fulfilling that original Satoshi vision of a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, we are following a scaling roadmap that is necessary to reach the gigabyte- (and maybe, one day, terabyte-) sized blocks that are needed for Amazon, Walmart, Microsoft—all those companies who say, “Hey, I want to do my applications on that blockchain and make the digital ledger of the future.”
What are the kinds of things that I think will happen early? I know there’s lots of talk about all the power of the blockchain. I am a realist, and I know that’s not all coming tomorrow—or this year, or next year. I think the things that are more likely to be early enterprise usages are tokens. There’s already, obviously, a very good tokenization protocol for the BSV blockchain, Tokenized—it won the CoinGeek contest last year, the £5 million contest to find, at the time, the best token solution for Bitcoin Cash. They have thrown their full support behind Bitcoin SV, and so their token protocol’s now for Bitcoin SV. Not only does it allow any business around the world to create a token: one of the reasons that we and our review team really liked it and chose it as the winner is that it has a very business-friendly approach to make it easy for a business to comply with regulations in their particular jurisdiction that would govern what the token would be, recognizing that a lot of tokens will trigger, probably, securities and other laws. And so that’s already available for use. I have been directing to the team companies that have approached us at nChain to explore tokens and why they should do them on Bitcoin SV.
So I think that’s an obvious first enterprise use case: you’ll start seeing, I think, tokens for different classes of financial assets. It won’t be just the ICO tokens you see today: it might be things like tokenization of common stock, shareholder rights, bonds, and other forms of financial instruments. I think that’s going to be a really interesting first use case.
Secondly, things in the supply-chain-management and provenance space, I think, are excellent candidates for early Bitcoin SV blockchain use because they take advantage of a public, transparent ledger that is auditable: you can then have confidence in the information you’re getting to track, let’s say, the shipment of parts, or the shipment of agriculture, or food, to its destination; you can trace its chain of process with much more assurance.
From the lawyer point of view, one of the things I think is going to be a great enterprise early use case is chain of title for things like real property. When you’re buying and selling real property, you have to go get title searches and pay someone to do that. That could be tracked much more easily on a public blockchain.
Intellectual property: I think about IP as an IP lawyer, because clients would contact me and say, “Hey, Jimmy, we want to acquire the rights to this book and turn into a movie,” which happens a lot in Hollywood, “but we want to make sure it hasn’t been sold or optioned before.” Well, there’s no easy way to do that in law, because you sometimes will record at the U.S. copyright office that I bought rights to your book to make into a movie, but not everyone does that—you’re not required to. If you go search in the copyright office, it’s very manual: you have to literally hire some service to go through files, pieces of paper that date back decades. They’re starting to make it more electronic, but there’s not an easy way to do that. Recording that type of information onto a public blockchain would make it much easier to track whether an asset has been sold, licensed, etc.
So, I think those are some early, great use cases that you could see from enterprises. There are definitely more: people talk about, for instance, more sophisticated smart contracts. I think that’s going to take longer—you know, if we’re really honest, that’s not coming in the next year or two. But anything that involves recording data that can be publicly looked at, examined, and tracked—such as the chain of title, or financial assets, or supply-chain provenance—I think those are the things that’ll come first.
SFOX: There’s there’s this term in the crypto community of “Bitcoin maximalism.” Do you see yourself as “BSV maximalist”—that is, do you think that, in the long-run, crypto will, or ought to, coalesce around BSV? Or, do you think that there are use cases out there that would be better served by other blockchains, and that we will, therefore, have a plurality of blockchains in the far future of the industry?
Jimmy Nguyen: To answer that question, we again have to go back to defining what we mean: What’s a blockchain? Our view—and Craig is very blunt about this, I’ll describe it more than he does—is that a lot of the “blockchain projects” out there aren’t really blockchains. A private or permissioned blockchain isn’t really a blockchain: it’s a fancy database. In our view, a true blockchain is public. It’s obviously distributed, and it should be accessible and usable by anyone, without permission. It shouldn’t have a central authority that determines what data goes on it or not. So that’s why a lot of the “blockchain projects” out there really aren’t blockchains.
With that said, I do believe that the world will coalesce, one day, onto a dominant, single, true blockchain. We believe that it’s going to be Bitcoin SV because it’s the only one project for Bitcoin now that is believing in and following a path to get to the scale you need for that to happen.
Think about it this way: Do we all operate on multiple internets? No. We operate on a single Internet. There are many intranets and extranets in the world that are run by private companies. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense: If there were 100 internets and you were starting a business running a website and I was a consumer, for me to access your website I’d have to say, “Well, which Internet do I go on? Do I go on Internet ABC or do I go on Internet Core?” How does that make sense in the world, right? If you think about it, that would be laughable.
Is it possible to have more than one Internet and to interconnect them? Of course it is. And that can happen with blockchain. But for a true, global blockchain to reach its full potential, it should massively scale. It should allow all enterprises to be able to operate on it. We should allow all kinds of data and records to be recorded on it, as opposed to having different ones for different purposes. You could have different chains for different purposes, but is that really efficient? Is that really going to rise to the top?
The cream always rises to the top, and I think if you do it all on a single blockchain then there are all these new usages and functionality that can come because of that, as opposed to saying, “Oh, here’s the blockchain for the trucking industry, and here’s the blockchain for insurance—you want to write a smart contract for insurance, you do it on this one.” But maybe your insurance relates to the trucking industry and they need to interact. Why are we adding this extra layer of complexity in trying to have different blockchain projects for different purposes?
So I think there will only be a single dominant global blockchain; we believe that’s going to Bitcoin SV. Does that mean there won’t be other projects out there? Of course not. People are free to have their own projects if they want. But I think things will coalesce because of the network effect and the value of seeing that people should build their projects and do things on that single blockchain.
In addition, from the pure cash/currency perspective—where Bitcoin first birthed this idea of an electronic cash system—for there to be really a global digital currency, there needs to be one. Right? Imagine if I’m going to buy something on Amazon: What are you going to give me, a drop-down menu with a choice of 25 cryptocurrencies to pay for the thing I want to buy? Yeah, you could do that. But is that really efficient?
We believe in a single, global, digital currency—the world’s new money. That’s going to be Bitcoin. That’s what started all this. All of the other attempted coins out there are just variants taking advantage of the birth of Bitcoin to try to make something new.
SFOX: Jumping off of the apt Internet analogy: I read this press release that came out a little while ago from nChain about the “Metanet,” and, I’ll be honest with you, I understood very little of it. So I was hoping, in an open-ended way, to give you the opportunity to talk about what that project is. Once it gets off the ground, what difference, if any, will the Metanet have from the ordinary Internet in the eyes of the average end-user?
Jimmy Nguyen: The Metanet is a very broad and mind-blowing concept, and I recognize it’s hard for people to understand. I think it’s even morphing in our minds at nChain.
Craig and I were actually on holiday together, because he invited me with his family for his vacation, and I was there the day he looked up, on the deck of a boat, and said, “A-ha, Jimmy, I think I’ve solved something that I’ve been trying to solve forever!” He explained it to me. I probably had the same reaction you did, which is, “I’m not quite sure I understand that.” And then I fleshed it out my mind…
Let me describe for you how I envision the Metanet—my concept. Craig, being its key constructor, may describe it differently. Here’s how I would describe it to the average person: The Internet today is a technical mechanism for communicating and transmitting information—data, as well as content, which is just a form of data. When we go on websites, data gets compressed and decompressed in order to display the things we see. So it’s a vehicle for transmitting data information. When you want to pay for something and conduct a financial transaction on the Internet, that is a component that is added on separately, and there are functions to do that— credit cards, payment processors, etc. It’s not native to what is the Internet.
What Craig is envisioning for the Metanet is essentially taking advantage of the Bitcoin blockchain’s power to be able to essentially do both together: people think of Bitcoin as a financial transaction, sending money, but then you can also use the Bitcoin blockchain and its transactions to compress and decompress what is also Internet-like data and use it to essentially have web pages operate, for example, with the Bitcoin blockchain doing it in a transaction that’s also a financial transaction. You’ve changed the game: you have now opened your mind to the idea of a network that operates natively as both, and that means when you are displaying web pages or running Internet searches, micropayments can be done simultaneously, as opposed to saying, “Hey I’m going to go on this website and I’m going to click to pay because I want to access some content—I want to watch a video.” That can all be embedded into the same thing and change how business models are done.
Think about it this way: One of Craig’s examples is with an Internet search. Right now, we go on Google, we search for something, and we don’t have to pay for it, but we get ads displayed. Not everyone likes the ads, and, of course, it also affects the credibility of the results, because some ads are sponsored at the top. But what if we lived in a world where the Internet search engines were powered through the blockchain? Instead of having ads, anytime you searched and got a result, that would be powered through a blockchain transaction—data that’s compressed and uncompressed—and little microtransactions, payments, are made by you to the Internet search engine so that you avoid ads. That could all be done in a combined, native way.
I think that’s sort of the simplest explanation of how I think the Metanet, as a start, can transform how the Internet works. The Metanet subsumes the Internet, that’s why we’re calling it the Metanet: there’s the Internet that’s the transmission of data, and then there’s the power of the Bitcoin blockchain to do that plus simultaneously combine it with the ability to have financial transactions—which would be tiny, tiny amounts of money—and therefore change how we access and interact with Internet content, e-commerce transactions, and other things we do.
SFOX: So the tradeoff in that search engine example, then, is that it would no longer be really free, in the sense that it is now, to search for your results, but you would get more efficient results—results that are closer to what you want—because they’re not fueled by ads. Is that the idea?
Jimmy Nguyen: Correct. It offers the opportunity to change the business model of search, right, in ways that some people may view as better. It means that, as consumers, we might pay for things in ways which we won’t mind. Because they’re tiny amounts that just get withdrawn out of your bitcoin wallet. Think about it this way: Imagine a world where have a new generation of young people who are used to the fact that they just have a bitcoin wallet, and all of their daily activities and services sort of go in and out of that and get paid for by that. Maybe they are paying little amounts of money, but then they’re free from ads. Maybe their email systems are run through that, but then—with Gmail, as an example—you won’t get sponsored ads in your Gmail anymore because instead of paying a subscription fee you may be paying through usage, through lots of microtransactions.
That’s just one use case I can think of for this concept of the Metanet, which starts with the idea that you can compress and decompress what we now know as web and Internet data through Bitcoin transactions, and then says, if you can do that, then how can you combine it with the micropayment capability that’s inherent in Bitcoin to do something new. I think there’ll probably be lots and lots of different ways to do things with this Metanet concept that we haven’t even thought of.
A good example is Keyport TV. I don’t know if you’ve used Keyport TV; it operates on the Bitcoin SV blockchain exclusively. It’s like YouTube, but for the Bitcoin world. People can upload videos like the Skype interview we’re doing now to Keyport, and instead of having ads served on like we get now on YouTube, they can use the power of the Bitcoin SV blockchain for people to make small payments—to access the content, to tip people… You could have a system where, the longer you watch, the more comes out of your bitcoin wallet in micropayments: to get to certain key points in a video—Oooooh, that ending of this super-cool video!—to watch it, maybe you need to make micropayments, which might be automated. You can do that now with the current technology that exists, but I can see definitely ways where a combined Metanet system makes that more automated, more efficient.
Craig posted something just this past week about file storage and how you could make a smaller, more secure version of, let’s say, Dropbox on the blockchain using some of his intellectual property. That can easily become a Metanet concept, where the file storage, how you pay for it and how things get displayed to you once you take something out of your file storage combine aspects of what we know today as the Internet with the Bitcoin blockchain.
SFOX: I’d like to sketch out one aspect of these examples a little further, because as I’m tinkering with this concept, I’m cognizant of the fact that a pitch saying “Imagine a world where it’s the Internet, but you have to make micropayments for everything” is not a super-enticing pitch. But I’d assume that what we’ve been discussing so far is just one part of a broader ecosystem, in which, presumably, ordinary users of the Internet wouldn’t just make micropayments for things like search engines, but they might concomitantly generate microrevenue—for example, earning small amounts of bitcoin for their data, whereas advertisers currently just collect and profit off of that data for free.
Jimmy Nguyen: Absolutely. Yeah, we’ve talked about consumers paying, but it’s the flipside as well. You know, there’s a lot of talk about people having identity objects, and giving companies access to their information—which we essentially give away for free now, but there are ways to earn money back. I want to make clear: this is not the whole idea of, “Let’s make people pay for the Internet.” It’s about transforming the business approaches, models, and processes that are possible using the unique characteristics of the Bitcoin blockchain: the ability to combine data recording and distribution with a financial transaction.
SFOX: Right. So it sounds like it’s the idea of combining the Internet with financial transactions to make both of those systems more efficient for consumers and businesses.
Jimmy Nguyen: Correct. And I know Craig doesn’t quite summarize it that way, and he may have a little bit of a different take than I do. [inaudible content from Jimmy]
SFOX: As you look forward in this new year, 2019, to what’s going to happen in crypto, what most excites you and has you feeling optimistic about the future of the industry?
Jimmy Nguyen: For 2019, I am most excited about helping to work with other people to lead growth and building, as opposed to spending a lot of our effort dealing with conflict and fighting over the direction of Bitcoin. I want to focus this year on the Bitcoin SV chain’s growth, without hurdles and hindrances in front of us—just showing what is possible. I know the team nChain’s working very hard on scaling initiatives. They’re going to be planning to work with a professional stress-test team to do more to tests to really show the growing block-size capacity.
You probably saw that recently—January 3rd, the 10th anniversary of the genesis block for Bitcoin—a world-record-breaking 103 MB block was mined by Mempool, out in China, on the Bitcoin SV chain. That sounds big compared to what we’ve heard for Bitcoin, but we think that’s just only the beginning. To achieve this Metanet future and this Bitcoin future that we want, you need huge blocks. So I’m excited about that.
I’m excited just to focus on building and growing and not having a year where we’re fighting with other people, and I’m sure that people in other cryptocurrency ecosystems are feeling the same way. I’m excited about having Bitcoin restart—ten years since its birth going out and communicating, because that’s what I will be doing a lot this year: going out and explaining to people what Bitcoin SV is, why it rebirths the original Bitcoin, and why we believe it’s the path for both investors—people just out in the everyday world—as well as the big enterprises. So that’s exciting to me.
I am also excited about a year where my own expectations are going to be challenged all the time. An example is the Metanet. Craig and our team would come up with things like this, and I would be like, “Woah! What is that? I hadn’t thought of that.” That’s really exciting. I think that’s going to be more and more possible this year, once we unleash the true power of the Bitcoin SV blockchain.
Thanks to Jimmy Nguyen for taking the time to share his insights on the past, present, and future of crypto with us.
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