If you know one thing about Chia its that it is the hippie version of bitcoin. If you know two things about Chia the second is that it was founded / invented by Bram Cohen, the original developer of BitTorrent. I want to start this by saying that I have an immense respect for Bram Cohen, and that I do not think any of this is his intention. I think he is a gifted software developer, and might be a pretty good CEO.
But that is not what this is about, this about the rabid fan base that has sprung up around Bram, and how that is spurred on and used by Chia Network in what I think is a short term reckless strategy.
Silicon Valley is all about its founder CEOs. This is known. For better or for worse, if you are a good engineer and you innovate something you will be expected to also be a gifted executive and public representative. Because of that staggering expectation it is likely that a lot of them will not excel in all three roles. This is important to remember when somebody has a critical post or thought about the founder of your favorite tech company, because there is going to be a lot of valid criticism about all of them.
But with Bram Cohen and Chia, this begins right at the source. Chia Project and Chia Network have been very vocal in advertising their association with Bram. It is a key selling point for the product. And they embellish without limit, as you can see from the very start of their FAQ where they refer to him as “the best network engineer who ever lived” which is a tall order considering he had no hand in the development of any mission critical networking protocols, even those developed since BitTorrent.
This might be taken to be tongue in cheek until you consider how much of their actual marketing revolves around Bram. And people are eating it up. All you have to do is search for Bram Cohen on the r/chia subreddit or chiaforums.com and you will see how much of the conversation is polarized around this one man. Whether it is blind trust, or holding him personally responsible for everything you don’t like about Chia, it is bizarre. When Mad Max released his plotter and he had a discussion about it on Github with Bram the community went wild saying how they had lost faith in the development team because another developer was able to optimize their plotting process. Insane.
It is critically important to remember that Bram Cohen is a human person like any other, and he will not do everything perfectly no matter what. And that is not a reflection on the company in either way because the company is also made up of a lot of people other than Bram Cohen. But this is not simply a Chia problem.
When I started writing this, I thought the cult of personality around Bram was an oddity, and deeply strange for such a new product. In Silicon Valley the mythical God CEO is no new thing, with figures such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk deified by their company’s rabid fanbase. But in cryptocurrency the bar for entry for this seems to be remarkably low. To the point where, in context, it almost makes sense that Bram Cohen has been put on a pedestal. After reading, among other places David Gerard‘s excellent Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, about where Craig Wright and David Chaum ended up, to how people lionize Vitalik Buterin to the mythical Satoshi themself this space is very much a breeding ground for pseudo-religious cult leaders.
And there are a lot of cultish behaviors in the cryptocurrency space. Both by extoling a leader and just trying to push at all costs their particular brand. This is a breeding ground for Ponzi schemes and confidence games, and they leverage that feeling of cult community to prey on people. This is why it is so concerning to see Chia Network and a huge part of the Chia farming community lean in to these cult of personality tactics. While it may help with some short term marketing in specific crowds, I think the long term effects on perception of Chia are likely not worth it.
I think Chia Network would do themselves, and the world, a huge favour by not perpetuating this cycle. Do not help to put Bram on a pedestal. Show the team as a team, highlight the contributions that others have made. Don’t make it the Bram show or position your arguments as Bram would do it best in the world so things are safe as long as he says so. That is a logical fallacy, and it seems implicit in the discussions about blockchain security for Chia.
Also, this shouldn’t have to be said. Bram Cohen is not Satoshi Nakamoto. That is fanciful and farfetched, even though it is a fun theory.