On October 31, 2008, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto submitted their white paper outlining “Bitcoin: A Peer-To-Peer Electronic Cash System” to Metzdowd.com’s cryptography mailing list. Shortly after the project’s launch in January 2009, a mailing list subscriber named Dustin Trammell began contributing to the project, asking questions and submitting bugs to the paper’s author and becoming one of the first people on earth to be “orange pilled” by Bitcoin’s formative outline.
“When first reading it, I remember being impressed that someone had discovered a way to prevent double-spending with digital currency,” Trammell recalled. “Being fairly Libertarian minded and interested in alternative currencies and economic systems, I was excited for the software to be released so that I could take a look at it in action.”
Nakamoto’s paper outlined a vision of digital currency that would enable direct payments between parties “without going through a financial institution.” It explained the potential roles of digital signatures, a network of nodes screening for valid transactions and the incentives of block rewards and transaction fees. And, looking back some 14 years later, other aspects of the introduction seem particularly prescient to Trammell as well.
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“When I initially read the paper, the importance of the proof-of-work consensus mechanism didn’t really sink in, whereas today I’ve realized that proof-of-work consensus really is the innovation,” he said. “I also first read the paper with more of an eye to the technology, whereas reading it today it is a bit more obvious that there was an inherent, generalized decentralization philosophy to it as well.”
Corresponding With Satoshi
Trammell, aka I)ruid, is an information security research scientist, venture capitalist and avid cosplayer. That inaugural White Paper Day (as October 31 is now known in the Bitcoin community) served as his introduction to digital currencies, but he quickly found that the project sparked an enduring interest. He became one of the first Bitcoin miners, back when it was possible to successfully find blocks with a CPU, and he received bitcoin directly from Nakamoto.
“From my brief correspondence with Satoshi, they seemed to have a very pragmatic view of technology and seemed to be open-minded to suggestions and advice, whether they ended up going that direction or not,” Trammell explained. “Satoshi and I specifically had some conversation around the insecurities of the ability to send bitcoin by IP address, and Satoshi ended up dropping that feature from the software entirely.”
Based on that original experience, Trammell encourages anyone celebrating this year’s White Paper Day to think of Nakamoto’s seminal work as a practical blueprint, outlining a project that should be somewhat amenable to change if it has buy-in from its community.
“I think had Satoshi stuck around longer than they did, they would have been open minded and willing to work with the consensus of the Bitcoin developer community to take Bitcoin in the direction that was best for Bitcoin, whether it stuck to the original outline of the white paper or not,” he said. “I think Satoshi was pragmatic enough to do what they thought was right for Bitcoin at the time and under potentially ever-changing circumstances.”
From A Cypherpunk Mailing List To $396 Billion
Despite its inauspicious beginnings and straightforward nature — running less than 3,500 words yet introducing the underpinnings of blockchain technology and a $396 billion asset to the world — the Bitcoin white paper has come to be akin to a religious text among diehard Bitcoiners, and it has inspired pale imitations from countless altcoin pumpers. Hosting the white paper text has become an act of defiance against those who might attempt to co-opt the open-source revolution and, as one of Nakamoto’s few messages to the world, it has become much more than a technical roadmap.
But for Trammell, “Bitcoin: A Peer-To-Peer Electronic Cash System” ranks as a dictionary-definition white paper, despite any reading between the lines that Bitcoin Core’s proponents or detractors may attempt.
“White papers are essentially a technical description of a problem and a proposed solution to that problem, and Satoshi’s Bitcoin white paper fits that definition perfectly,” he explained. “Anyone that then tries to pigeonhole a technical project into a white paper’s original definition or description of it, like for example the ‘Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision’ folks, are inhibiting the project’s growth and development, and ultimately its success. Technology rarely can continue succeeding without modification, and must be free of constraints to do so, such as any perceived limitation of its original design documentation.”
Celebrating White Paper Day, 14 Years Later
With a unique perspective on how the idea of Bitcoin resonated in 2008 compared to today, Trammell noted that, if anything, Nakamoto’s invention is even more desperately needed now than when it was first introduced.
“The economic environment seems much more dire today than then,” he explained. “Obviously, Bitcoin was released during the 2008 economic crisis, but since then we’ve had multiple other crises, and today we’re actively observing fiat currencies fail around the world… This seems to be a near-perfect storm of the economic environment within which Bitcoin was designed to thrive.”
Still, it is a uniquely Bitcoin thing to do to commemorate the publication date of a brief technical document as much of the world is turning its attention to spooky costumes and trick or treating. But refocusing on Bitcoin’s humble, pseudonymous introduction, its technical underpinnings and quietly-revolutionary fundamentals can serve this community well, as long as the simplicity of its origins aren’t overblown.
“As a big fan of Bitcoin-themed holidays and a big fan of Halloween, I now celebrate both holidays on October 31,” Trammell said. “While the Bitcoin white paper is obviously a very important historical and technical document, we need to remember that it is what it was, which is simply a white paper. It’s a statement of a problem, and a proposed technical solution. Satoshi also coded the solution and released it to the world, and shepherded it for a short time, but beyond that, Bitcoin has a life of its own and technology always grows beyond its original specification, its original function and its original community, including its founders. This is the nature of technology.”