On Bitcoin Bounties

The HRF has awarded two bounties yesterday. The episode exposes some of the problems of the bounties and grants culture that exists on Bitcoin.

First, when the bounties were announced, almost an year ago, I felt they were very hard to achieve (and also very useless, but let’s set that aside).

The first, “a wallet that integrates bolt12 so it can receive tips noncustodially”, could be understood as a bounty for mobile wallets only, in which case the implementation would be hacky, hard and take a lot of time; or it could be understood as being valid for any wallet, in which case it was already implemented in CLN (at the time called “c-lightning”), so the bounty didn’t make sense.

The second, a wallet with a noncustodial US dollar balance, is arguably impossible, since there is no way to achieve it without trusted oracles, therefore it is probably invalid. If one assumed that trust was fine, then it was already implemented by StandardSats at the time. It felt it was designed to use some weird construct like DLCs – and Chris Steward did publish a guide on how to implement a wallet that would be eligible for the bounty using DLCs, therefore the path seemed to be set there, but this would be a very hard and time-intensive thing.

The third, a noncustodial wallet with optional custodial ecash functionality, seemed to be targeting Fedimint directly, which already existed at the time and was about to release exactly these features.

Time passed and apparently no one tried to claim any of these bounties. My explanation is that, at least for 1 and 2, it was so hard to get it done that no one would risk trying and getting rejected. It is better for a programmer to work on something that interests them directly if they’re working for free.

For 3 I believe no one even tried anything because the bounty was already set to be given to Fedimint.

Fast-forward to today and bounties 1 and 3 were awarded to two projects that were created by the sole interest of the developers with no attempt to actually claim these bounties – and indeed, the two winners strictly do not qualify according to the descriptions from last year.

What if someone was working for months on trying to actually fulfill the criteria? That person would be in a very bad shape now, having thrown away all the work. Considering this it was a very good choice for everyone involved to not try to claim any of the bounties.

The winners have merit only in having pursued their own interests and in creating useful programs as the result. I’m sure the bounties do not feel to them like a deserved payment for the specific work they did, but more like a token of recognition for having worked on Bitcoin-related stuff at all, and an incentive to continue to work.

What is better than bounties and grants?