Bitcoin developers could apparently stop operating the main Bitcoin-dev email list — the most important communication channel dedicated to coordinating the development of Bitcoin Core — by January.
“Users can switch to forums or other websites, or private one-on-one communication. It would remove a point of semi-centralization from the bitcoin ecosystem. It would hasten ossification,” said Bishop.
The non-profit Linux Foundation has hosted the list since 2011 and the Bitcoin-dev-moderation and Bitcoin-core-dev-moderation spinoff email lists since 2015. However, Linux has warned that it would eventually discontinue email lists entirely.
It now appears to be following through on that promise. It will soon discontinue support for Bitcoin-dev altogether with plans to end its service by the end of 2023.
Already, members of the list have started backing up its data onto secondary domains like ozlabs.org. Developers are looking into alternatives for mailing list hosting, including new formats like forums, social groups, or scattered approaches.
However, he also admitted that both were prone to censorship. “Will Google shut it down, will they cut us off, will they shut down non-google users? The same problem exists with other third-party hosts,” he said. Neither are ideal choices.
Members of Bitcoin-dev voiced concerns like Google’s apparent dislike of competition, as evidenced by the occasional lawsuit accusing Google of monopolistic behavior. It might block non-Google email addresses and require mailing list subscribers to sign up for a Gmail account to access the list. Google might also cut Bitcoin-dev off or end Google Groups altogether.
Google has shuttered previously popular services before. It ended support for Google Hangouts in 2020. An attempt to access the old Google Hangouts subdomain redirects visitors to Google Chat. Google also failed to launch its social network, Google+.
Return to BitcoinTalk.org forum roots?
Originally, discussion of Bitcoin Core development occurred on forums, not email lists. Satoshi Nakamoto mostly posted to BitcoinTalk.org, a forum, and only emailed occasionally.
For this reason, Bishop mentioned the option of sunsetting email entirely and creating a new Bitcoin-dev forum. It might be similar to Bitcointalk.org or DelvingBitcoin.
One downside of forums, he said, involved changing the model from sending mass emails to relying on members to regularly log in to a forum. RSS feeds and notifications might mitigate that issue, but might not engage less active members.
However, he noted success stories like Python and Ethereum Research, which migrated from a mailing list format to a forum. He also floated the idea of a hybrid approach: both an online forum plus a mailing list.
He also admitted a harrowing outcome: ending Bitcoin-dev entirely.
“Another option is to do literally nothing. It’s less work overall,” said Bishop. “Unfortunately,” he added, “by doing nothing, there would be no more widely used group email communication system between bitcoin developers. Developers become less coordinated, mayhem and chaos as people go to different communication platforms, a divided community is more vulnerable, etc.”
In short, Bitcoin Core developers might soon lose their primary method of communication. If Bitcoin-dev, the most important communication channel for maintaining Bitcoin’s code, ceases to operate, it will become quite difficult to adopt new features or Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs).
Bitcoiners will be watching the migration of the Bitcoin-dev email list to other formats with great interest over the next few weeks.