Bitcoin Terminology is Completely Broken


#1

Some very interesting quotes by Andreas Antonopoulos:

In Bitcoin, every single term and design metaphor is absolutely and 100 percent wrong and broken.

A wallet is something that stores money — not in bitcoin it isn’t. The money isn’t in the wallet. The money is on the network. The wallet contains keys. So, it’s not a wallet, it’s a keychain. How can you tell it’s not a wallet? Can you copy a wallet? No. But you can copy a key. A keychain is a far better metaphor because if I have a keychain — imagine a big ring of keys like a janitor or custodian. I have a bunch of keys. I can go to a shop and have all of those keys duplicated and create a second keychain. Both of those keychains will work interchangeably in all of the locks that the original keychain works. That’s how a keychain works. So, if you understand what a keychain does, then you will understand how a Bitcoin wallet works because you can copy it — you can make copies of the keys.

Bitcoin. Coin — what a terrible, terrible word. What a terrible brand. Coin — take the most abstract form of money we’ve ever created that is based on a completely decentralized network that has no coins and then name it Bitcoin. Just to confuse everyone. A coin, which is two generations of technology back — a far less abstract, much more tangible, physical representation of money. So, you took the most abstract representation of money and named it after the most tangible representation of money. Only an engineer could come up with that brand.

100% agree with all of this. At Onename, we’ve had quite a few conversations touching on these points.


#2

Kudos to Andreas on that talk at MIT. I have to agree with him on many of his points on how the terminology of Bitcoin is broken. Although I don’t feel it is broken it was never really there to begin with. As @ryan has pointed out…

“Bitcoin. Coin — what a terrible, terrible word. What a terrible brand. Coin — take the most abstract form of money we’ve ever created that is based on a completely decentralized network that has no coins and then name it Bitcoin. Just to confuse everyone. A coin, which is two generations of technology back — a far less abstract, much more tangible, physical representation of money. So, you took the most abstract representation of money and named it after the most tangible representation of money. Only an engineer could come up with that brand.”

I strongly feel that engineers need to involve more mainstream marketers into the fold of their idea and creation process. It is important for technologies to get this right from the beginning or at least a basic marketing foundation in place first. It does not need to have a crazy “wow factor”, even if they would just follow the KISS (keep it simple stupid) model. A great marketer can iterate with something simple later down the road.

Having said that I have felt that the technology needed to take off amongst the developer community for it to gain mainstream traction. This however could have been accomplished by introducing a simple conceptual naming convention that describes the technology. Take the term “blockchain” for example. It does a great job of describing blocks that are set along a timeline or “chain”. I feel that blockchain is probably going to be bitcoin’s saving grace. Simple and somewhat mysterious.


#3

Continued conversation from the Blockstack Slack…

@josh wrote:

I think the brand is stuck at this point

For the currency. Yes and no. It would be extremely difficult to rename it now but could be done. One way would be that when the “blockchain” term becomes as common place as “the cloud”, there will be an opportunity for the “bitcoin” currency community to take one last stab at a renaming. I feel a spin off of the term “blockchain” would be a wise choice at that point.


#4

On somewhat of a side note, reporting that the term “blockchain” is officially a part of the oxford dictionary.


#5

i agree @ryan … web3.x terminology needs more work …

my perspective is shaped by niklas luhmann’s work on social systems … about luhmann

where structural differentiation is determined by language …

so the language used within law is different from the language used within health …

i added a glossary of smart contract terms into this linkedin discussion, to address the issue of uncommon vocabulary … smart contract vocabulary

but still feel that some terms need to be displaced … because as andreas points out …

some ‘metaphors’ are simply wrong …


#6

i also think …

establishing the unified terminology for web 3.x …

is an opportunity for this community …

especially as [ you | it | we ] grow …


#7

Thanks for starting the thread, @ryan. @glepage - been thinking about this some more, a few points:

  1. While I agree with Andreas about wallets vs keychains, I think the concern about the “bitcoin” brand being bad or misleading is way overblown. Of course bitcoin isn’t a tangible coin, and the name is therefore in some minimal way misleading. But the main branding challenge for peer-to-peer cash isn’t explaining to users the details of how it works - the main challenge is explaining that it is money, a unit of value that can be freely and easily exchanged. Like a coin. I’d rather have a brand that clearly communicates the use-case and misleads on the technical details than the other way around.

  2. Even if you don’t buy (1), it’s only a real problem if you think the meaning of the metaphor won’t shift. If bitcoin ever reaches mass adoption, it probably will. Technology is littered with these. You could make the same point about calling internet messaging “e-mail” despite having nothing to do with the post office, or calling a pocket computer rarely used for audio communication a “phone”, or saying “online” when there’s rarely ever a cable involved (from the users perspective, anyways).


#8

I think one of the issues is that “bitcoin” sounds kind of like a toy. It just sounds like a joke.

Meanwhile digital currency and even cryptocurrency sounds interesting, intriguing, robust, serious, and impressive.

Also, as Andreas mentioned, the playful “I can’t take this seriously” logo is actually a really really big problem.


#9

More to @ryan’s point…

To everyone, born before 1990, This is what Bitcoin reminds them of… The Fisher-Price cash register coins. They used coins because babies can’t play with bills so they are given coins… :expressionless:

The coins sitting in front of the register, seen above, are what finance guys visualize when they hear the term Bitcoin.


#10

I think one of the issues is that “bitcoin” sounds kind of like a toy. It just sounds like a joke.

Meanwhile digital currency and even cryptocurrency sounds interesting, intriguing, robust, serious, and impressive.

Also, as Andreas mentioned, the playful “I can’t take this seriously” logo is actually a really really big problem.

Agree that digital currency is a better term. If other crypto tokens end up having widespread use comparable to btc, it might be that in 5 years we more often talk about “digital currencies” than any particular one, which solves your branding problem in the general case.

I still think it’s a minor issue not worth worrying much about, though. Most people think bitcoin is silly because of what it is - magic internet money invented by a mysterious hacker - not what it’s called. I’ve never seen the toy association myself, but even if that’s true in the NA context I doubt it applies much outside of the english-speaking world.

Also @glepage - I had that toy as a kid. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind the name?


#11

@josh a big part of it is subliminal. Just look at a single segment on CNN. The way the word “bit-coin” rolls off their tongues and they say it with confusion or silly-ness. The way the two visuals they show are the silly logo and a bushel of coins. It’s so ridiculous and someone seeing it represented that way would just think it’s a joke. And they do for good reason. Of course there are many other reasons - for example, Mt. Gox and Silk Road didn’t help. But I feel that if it was known as something like “digital currency” people would be more likely to conclude that it’s futuristic and it’s a big deal, and it’s simply just being adopted early on by jokesters and criminals, rather than judge the currency harshly. The word “blockchain” seems to be resonating well in the media, on wallstreet, etc., whereas bitcoin still has yet to resonate anywhere big. Of course there are differences in connotation, technology and focus, but I also think that branding, perception, and presentation plays a big part.


#12

I posted this on Reddit. Seemed appropriate for this conversation:

Bitcoin has a naming problem. The protocol, currency, unit of account, and network, are all called Bitcoin. Let’s compare this to the hierarchy of things that compose the web:

  • HTTP, Web Page, Web Site, Internet
  • Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin

One of the reasons Bitcoin has not yet achieved mainstream adoption is because it’s very difficult to describe. Imagine a different scenario:

  • Protocol: BDP (Blockchain Data Protocol)
  • Currency: Bitcoin
  • Unit of Account: Bits
  • Network: Blockchain

If this were the common vocabulary used to describe components of the Bitcoin ecosystem, we’d all have a much easier time communicating.


#13

I like this way of thinking. No one confuses TCP/IP with a webpage. The underlying technology (blockchain) is confused with higher-level problems like an exchange shutting down because the headline is “Bitcoin is not secure!”. Also, I’ve seen resistance from respected researchers who don’t want to get involved with the controversy/drama of “Bitcoin”. Trying to convince them to start working on Bitcoin becomes an uphill battle.


#14

Hmm… I partially agree but we are still left with that “B” word. I would like to alter @Wayne’s naming convention.

Protocol: BDP (Blockchain Data Protocol)
Currency: Linq
Unit of Account: Linqs
Network: Blockchain

I like something like Linq as it is a play on words, works great for SEO and is distinct. The only collision I see is that LINQS is owned by MS as Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) is a set of features introduced in Visual Studio 2008. Not a very well known term.


#15

What’s the motivation behind Linq? Just curious.


#16

Now we’re getting somewhere :sunglasses:

To build on this:

Protocol: BTXP (Bitcoin Transaction Protocol); blockchains can use different transaction protocols, so it is important to specify that we’re talking about the Bitcoin Transaction Protocol, as opposed to the Ethereum Transaction Protocol or the Ripple Transaction Protocol.
Currency: bitcoin, lower-cased, like “dollar,” with the currency code “XBT” in line with ISO 4217.
Unit of account: bits, 1/1,000,000 of 1 XBT. Most people will speak in terms of "bits."
Network: Today, Bitcoin, tomorrow, the Blockchain (to give a crude analogy, think ARPANET, NSFNET, etc -> the Internet, or, generically, many IP networks -> the Internet).

The reason I believe there will eventually be “the Blockchain” is because a blockchain is only worth using if it is secure, and blockchain security is a mutually exclusive affair. If validators can commit to securing (or attacking!) two blockchains at once with negligible marginal cost to doing so, then the blockchain which is worth less in terms of market cap and block reward will always be vulnerable. If a validator must choose between two blockchains to secure, then they will always choose the one which will provide them with the greatest profit if they hope to maintain a competitive advantage and stay in business. This includes proof of stake systems, where the “mining rig” is a stash of stake that must be purchased ahead of time. Where this mutually-exclusive-security dynamic differs is in trust-based consensus systems, which can operate in parallel with negligible marginal cost while at the same time have an equally high cost of attack for each parallel blockchain; the validator who attacks one such system will lose all of the trust that nodes have granted them in every system.

Regarding Andreas’ comments and the comments of others in this thread, I personally do not mind the name Bitcoin. It does place more emphasis on the “p2p electronic cash” aspect of the system (as intended) than the “global consensus for transaction ordering in a distributed ledger” aspect of the system i.e. the blockchain. This could be regarded as a mistake, but it got the right demographic excited enough that in just over 6 years we now have a $4-billion-and-growing piece of public infrastructure that can be used for all kinds of cool things. By drilling into people over and over “it’s used for payments, it’s used for payments, it’s used for payments,” Satoshi gave the blockchain a clear use-case where people might otherwise have looked at the system and said, “distributed timestamping? meh.” I think Bitcoin could use better marketing, and am always interested in seeing new takes on the branding, but the name is something I am happy to promote.

The “negative stigma” that the “mainstream media” dumps onto Bitcoin (perhaps at the behest of advertisers and special interests who feel threatened by it?) does not bother me any more than the “negative stigma” of the early Internet bothers me. Ever heard of the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse? History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme, and the captured media’s stigmatization of Bitcoin is no different. Try as they might, they cannot kill Bitcoin.


#17

I assume Linqs as in links in a (block)chain?


#18

Linq is just an example of what could have been a better name for bitcoin with only 5 seconds of thought. It shows the amount of thought that actually went in to the branding of Bitcoin. The name Bitcoin was not very creative and not as representational of what bitcoin actually is as it could have/should have been.

It would be easier for all of us if we could shed the Bitcoin name.

Just my 2 cents or 0.000084 XLQ for what it’s worth.


#19

Offhand, do you know of a more accessible summary of Luhmann’s work? The wikipedia entry doesn’t really help.

tia.


#20

ummm @gjhiggins … i’m a big fan of luhmann …

i found ‘the reality of mass media’ encapsulated/applied his ideas re general systems theory … to the media system …

his languaging requires a bit of negotiating … eg generalised symbolic system of exchange includes but is not limited to things like money …

i turned this shortish book into a series of utterances … because i also like his communication model re [ information | utterance | understanding ] … which i’ve then mapped to a learning approach based around ‘surprise’ …

reality of mass media link

nowadays however, i find the most compelling thinker to be peter sloterdijk … who treats a lot of established thinkers with disregard … and luhmann with considered respect …