Steward of Bitcoin Software Explains Why She Nixed an Acrimonious Code Debate

"All it was doing was generating noise," the Bitcoin Core maintainer Ava Chow says of Luke Dashjr's pull request, which would have severely curtailed the use of Ordinals inscriptions, sometimes known as "NFTs on Bitcoin."

AccessTimeIconJan 11, 2024 at 7:22 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 7:49 p.m. UTC
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This week CoinDesk recounted the saga of Bitcoin developer's Luke Dashjr's proposal to amend key open-source software in a way that would have severely curtailed the use of data-oriented applications like Ordinals inscriptions – sometimes referred to as "NFTs on Bitcoin."

Several days ago, as detailed in the piece, Ava Chow, a Blockstream developer who serves as a maintainer of the popular Bitcoin Core software – think of the position sort of like a glorified moderator or even a high priest or priestess – abruptly shut off discussion of the proposal on the GitHub platform.

We sent Chow a series of questions and did not hear back before that article went to press.

Chow subsequently came back to us with a pretty detailed response by email. She requested: "If you quote any of the following, I ask that you use the statements in full and with context."

Typically we don't have space to include such responses in their entirety, and we also try to distill information for the benefit or our readers.

In this case, we're making an exception – because the matter goes right to the heart of the governance of the Bitcoin blockchain and the thrust of the main question raised in our original article: Who gets to decide which transactions are appropriate for the $900 billion blockchain, and which ones aren't?

It's the kind of existential question that all the new investors in bitcoin ETFs might need to ground themselves in at some point.

Below are Chow's verbatim responses to our questions regarding her decision to close the proposal, technically known as a "pull request" or PR:

We were wondering if you had any comments on why you closed the pull request?

Chow: As I said in the comment I left when closing the PR, it was obviously controversial and had no hope of reaching a conclusion acceptable to everyone. PRs that are unlikely to achieve (rough) consensus for merging should be closed.

The PR was additionally locked since all it was doing was generating noise. Bitcoin Core uses GitHub for code collaboration and it is essentially the developers' place of work. When someone makes a bold claim on twitter that angers people, and then encourages them to leave comments on GitHub, they end up disrupting the developers. These comments often contain accusations of bad faith, poorly informed statements about the code, and demands for the developers to make major changes, which drag the developers into arguments in order to defend themselves and correct misconceptions. Since there are commenters in favor of both sides, there were also discussions amongst them that did not involve the developers at all, but still sent a notification to everyone. Overall, this has a negative effect on productivity, results in a more toxic environment, and drives away developers from their place of work.

Was this a decision you took independently or did it follow discussions behind the scenes with other Bitcoin Core contributors/maintainers?

Chow: The decision to close it at that time was made independently by myself. It was done after reading review comments from several long time contributors that NACK'd the PR and also suggested that it should be closed. These review comments provided technical criticisms that generally concluded that the PR in its current state was not [a] good idea and was potentially harmful.

We were curious if you have received any backlash and/or comments behind the scenes following the decision to close that PR?

Chow: Yes. As with any other controversial PR, there are two camps within the wider Bitcoin community – one for merging and one against. Any action taken with the PR will of course result in both camps expressing their feelings on that action. This is expected.

Dashjr has asserted that the PR was “inappropriately” closed – curious if you might have a comment on that?

Chow: Since I closed the original PR, I do not believe that it was inappropriately closed. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Edited by Marc Hochstein.


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Bradley Keoun

Bradley Keoun is the managing editor of CoinDesk's Tech & Protocols team. He owns less than $1,000 each of several cryptocurrencies.

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