What People are Saying About Mike Hearn’s Bitcoin Takedown

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The Bitcoin debate continues. Photo: Shutterstock

Mike Hearn’s a big deal when it comes to Bitcoin. The Former Googler has been contributing to the project for years in ways big and small, has a close relationship with former lead developer Gavin Andresen and has always been well respected within the community.

So when Hearn talks Bitcoin, people listen.

Since he published his scathing takedown yesterday—that he believed the “experiment” was an “escapable failure”—the price of bitcoins is down 15 percent.

Here’s what people are saying:

Nathaniel Popper, NYT:

The current dispute, though, is a reminder that the Bitcoin software — like all computer code — is an evolving product of the human mind, and its deployment is vulnerable to human frailties and divergent ideals.

Kashmir Hill, Fusion: Hill described Hearn’s blog post as a “screed,” adding that it was “flavored by the sour grapes of losing that battle”—referring to the ongoing debate Hearn has waged with Blockstream’s Gregory Maxwell over how to scale Bitcoin.

She also makes a good point. If you’ve been following the industry, most of Hearn’s concerns won’t surprise, as they were “first raised last year when the Bitcoin XT debate was in full swing.”

Bitcoin reddit community: One user cannily pointed out the R3 connection, citing a video of yesterday’s Brookings Institution blockchain panel, in which former Commodity Futures Trading Commission COO and current R3 managing director Charley Cooper notes that the Hearn announcement is coming out any minute.

It’s not much of a conspiracy theory. It’s very likely that the timing of Hearn’s announcement was part of an overarching strategy to maximize its impact. That doesn’t mean that Hearn isn’t being honest in his assessment.

Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures: Prominent east coast VC and long time Bitcoin supporter generally agrees with Hearn’s points but has a more pragmatic take. Bitcoin might stumble and the price might crash, but such dramatic turns wouldn’t bring the end, rather they’d represent new beginnings as these events would force people’s hands. Wilson compares the situation to the US Congress:

Sometimes it takes a crisis to get everyone in a room. That’s how the federal budget has been settled for many years now. And that may be how the blocksize debate gets settled to. So if we are going to have a crisis, let’s get on with it. No better time than the present.

Wilson’s fund is invested in four Bitcoin companies including Coinbase.

Gavin Andresen, Prominent Bitcoin developer: Although Andresen might agree with Hearn on many issues, he’s generally taken a softer approach and isn’t prone to hyperbole. We also know that he shares Wilson’s take on how this thing might go based on what he told the NYT—that if the current Bitcoin development team doesn’t step up, they’ll be replaced. Of course, that doesn’t mean Bitcoin will fail.

So when Timothy B. Lee over at Vox asked:

Andresen answered:

Which more or less matches our take from yesterday. Hearn makes some good points and has the credibility and influence to have those points heard. At the same time, the definition of “fail” in the context of the story he’s trying to tell is subjective at best.

Izabella Kaminska, FT Alphaville:

FT Alphaville met Hearn last year in an off-the-record encounter with a bunch of hedgies, who were sounding him out on whether or not bitcoin had legs as an investment. Hearn himself struck us as very reasonable. He was down to earth, pragmatic and totally open about the challenges bitcoin was facing. He was, nevertheless, still optimistic.

Having met Hearn in 2013 while reporting for VICE, I agree with that assessment.

No matter what your take is, Bitcoin is losing a valuable advocate.