Decentralization and open-source software are two of Bitcoin’s core tenets, yet industry conferences tend to be centralized affairs, typically funded, sponsored, planned and coordinated by companies and protocol teams.
Now there’s a fresh effort afoot to decentralize what might be the most basic but often quite political element of conference planning – the agenda.
Two crypto executives are organizing what they are describing as the first “open source” conference for Bitcoin developers, in a reimagining of the TABConf gathering that’s been held for the past five years in Atlanta.
TABConf 2023 in September will allow members of the public to recommend what topics they want discussed and which speakers they want to hear from, according to planners of the event.
“Anyone can open an issue and the issues are not selected based on whether a sponsor decides to give us money, or whether a person has a certain status in the community,” said Brandon Iglesias, co-founder of TABConf LLC, the company behind the event. “The issues are solely chosen based on merit.”
Atlanta Bitcoin meetups
TABConf grew out of a series of popular Atlanta Bitcoin meetups organized by Iglesias and Michael Tidwell. Iglesias also serves as director of product at decentralized storage firm Storj Labs and Tidwell is director of infrastructure at Bitcoin gaming and payments firm Zebedee.
The conference debuted in 2018. Last year, TABConf had over 500 attendees and dozens of speakers, including a panel with Bitcoin Core developers Andrew Chow, Gloria Zhao, Murch and Pieter Wuille. Developer Jeremy Rubin spoke about Bitcoin smart contracts. Ruben Somsen discussed Silent Payments – single reusable addresses that can receive multiple payments from different people without compromising their privacy. Zebedee CTO André Neves delivered the keynote speech.
Historically, the responsibility of coming up with an agenda for the conference has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Iglesias, Tidwell, and a handful of other organizers.
What makes the 2023 event different is that anyone can submit a recommendation for a speaker or topic through the conference’s GitHub repository, making it the first open source Bitcoin conference, according to Iglesias.
“What we're doing is we're having people go on to a GitHub repository and submit ideas for workshops and panels and talks that they want to either see at the conference or give at the conference,” Iglesias told CoinDesk in an interview. “This is all public and transparent.”
More than 20 people have already submitted proposals (referred to as “issues” on GitHub). David Samson, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Toronto, wants to discuss “The Human Trust Paradox” – a conversation about the evolution of human trust and ultimately to “highlight the newest innovation to the trust paradox – Proof of Work.”
Naval Kohen, a PhD student in mathematics at Indiana University, submitted a proposal for a workshop on zero-knowledge proofs – a cryptographical technique used to prove the validity of information without revealing the information itself. Kohen formerly worked as a software engineer at Suredbits, a firm specializing in bitcoin derivatives.
Attendees will be able to support submissions by adding likes and comments to each proposal (here’s an example). Conference organizers will then select proposals with the most engagement a month before the event. Relevance and the amount of effort invested in a proposal will also influence selection.
“The level of detail and time potential speakers put into their issues will show and help us decide what issues will bring the most value to the TABConf 2023 attendees,” Iglesias explained. “If we don't select an issue with a lot of conversation or emojis compared to the rest, the attendees at least have transparency and can hold us accountable.”
So control will still ultimately be up to the organizers, but it’s likely to end up being a lot more community-driven than is usually the case.