The cryptosphere has historically had a consistent culture of open-source code. From the get-go, the cryptosphere has maintained a spirit of community development and integrity-by-collaboration.
When a project is open-source, that means that its code is published online for all to examine. There are a number of ways to do this–some projects have their code independently published on their websites, for example. More commonly, though, these projects make use of online platforms and forums that have been created for this specific purpose.
For example, the Bitcoin network (the first-ever blockchain network) was originally published by its creator on an online forum and has remained open-source ever since.
Crypto Projects May Be Abandoning GitHub–What Could This Mean?
One of these platforms for publishing code, GitHub, allows software creators to upload the code of their projects, where it can be reviewed. Other users on GitHub can suggest edits to improve the code, which is known on the site as “Commits.”
In fact, GitHub is the single largest platform for publishing source code on the internet. It was originally founded in 2008 as “Logical Awesome LLC.” Two years later, GitHub was hosting over a million repositories; it now hosts 80 million repositories that have been published by 27 million users.
Because of its popularity and ease-of-access, GitHub has played a major role in the global cryptocurrency community. However, Finance Magnates has identified a possible trend–it seems that a growing number of cryptocurrency- and blockchain-related projects are choosing not to have GitHub accounts, or choosing not to publish open-source code at all.
The Lack of a GitHub Account Could be Evidential of Vaporware
This is a troubling trend. “Checking a project’s github account is a way advocated by some to determine whether an ICO project is executing on its technical vision or is possibly a scam,” wrote Stephen Graves, CEO of CertifiedTrue, in an exclusive email to Finance Magnates.
And indeed, there are plenty of projects that lack GitHub accounts or open source code anywhere else–or worse, those that say that they have published their code and haven’t. Yael Tamar, Founder of Top of Blockchain, told Finance Magnates that:
“There seems to be a trend lately with many new projects wither not listing GitHub (ioex, Drep, Bolt, Orca, Ncent, Uncloak, Taxa, Hypernet, Xain, Elrond, Toda Network, Beyond Protocol, Investre, Hadron, Marconi, Jura, Lambda, Jupiter Chain, Sparkster, Quadrant Protocol, etc) or listing GitHub with no code to show: Origo Network, Newton Project, DeepCloud AI, Blackbox Network, Chain of Things, MultiVAC, Liquidity Network, etc.)”
Hosam Mazawi, Co-Founder of LemonUnit, told Finance Magnates that he believes that a lack of any open-source code could be in line with the trendiness of blockchain. “ICO’s are issuing tokens just to raise funds, implementing the token into centralized platforms and calling their products ‘decentralized’ to buy the attention of investors,” he told Finance Magnates.
“In most of the cases if you remove the company from the equation or the company will go bankrupt there will be no use for the token.”
Indeed, “anyone in Hollywood can make a movie if they raise the money but there are few truly compelling, original scripts. Similarly, companies can build almost anything today once they raise the money – but will they be building something that anyone really cares about and is willing to pay for?” asked Graves.
The Lack of a GitHub May Be Evidential of…Not Much at All, Really
However, Graves argues that there may be a much less nefarious reason that some blockchain projects are lacking GitHub accounts.
“GitHub is free for open source projects and makes sense when you have a lot of people asynchronously contributing to a codebase,” he wrote.
“Dedicated teams, however, may be using other devop toolchains like Atlassian and may want to integrate project management tools like Jira into their code repositories, which can be made public or private.”
Finance Magnates also reported in June that a number of cryptocurrency developers decided to leave GitHub after it was acquired by Microsoft. Microsoft Founder and CEO Bill Gates has made many highly critical remarks about cryptocurrency in the past.
To those that have @GitHub accounts:
If @Microsoft buys GitHub… would you continue to use it? Or would you move your repositories to a different service?
— Bryan Lunduke (@BryanLunduke) June 2, 2018
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Bleeping Computer reported that the acquisition caused a massive migration of developers from GitHub to Gitlab, a similar service.
On Its Own, Open-Source Code is Not Enough
Graves also said that the presence of open-source code in-and-of-itself is not enough to prove a blockchain platform’s legitimacy. In other words, a GitHub account fully-fleshed out with hundreds of lines of code may be as much a part of any convincing crypto scam as any legitimate one.
“[Open-source code] certainly helps if a project has a broad base of quality contributions but frankly most crypto investors don’t have the coding ability to understand whether the activity in a GitHub account is actually meaningful,” he explained. “Savvy projects can fill their page with forked repositories from more successful projects and fool less technical reviewers into thinking they are contributing original code.”
“Most people in the crypto community simply lack the technical knowledge to differentiate between what is legitimate and what is not.”
Graves believes that the lack of GitHub accounts and open-source code, in general, could simply imply that “blockchain projects are maturing past opensource alone as their core technology,” although “Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is still in its early adolescence, however, and is still focused on the needs of the developer.”
To truly be considered legitimate, “the best projects [must] have opensource PLUS proprietary components that will provide a competitive advantage beyond network effects,” Graves said.
Lack of Open-Source Could Indicate Greater Reliance on Larger Investors
The decreasing amount of blockchain companies offering open-source code could also be evidential of increasing dependence on institutional investors, Graves said. “ICOs are no longer as dependent on small investors as before the Q1 crash…crypto whales looking to buy in, usually pre-sale, can ask to see code bases as part of the due diligence process.”
In a report for Hackernoon entitled “ICOs: The Community Does the Marketing, Large Investors Grab the Tokens,” Journalist Karim Dabbouz wrote that 84 percent of all tokens are sold in either private or pre-sales. Only 16 percent were ever available for purchase by the general public.
There has also been a rise in hedge funds that take part in ICO investing and the appearance of ICO investment pools on the scene.
Firms Could Be Attempting to Protect their Product
A lack of open-source code could also be indicative that a company is simply aiming to protect their technology.
In an interview with Finance Magnates conducted earlier this year, Setl CEO Peter Randall said that “we are studiously not taking any sort of open-source work.”
This is because “it’s very important to us that we have the intellectual property in the service that we’ve developed, because apart from anything else, we want to sell it.”
Similarly, Graves said that “as the exuberance fades a bit, new projects are less likely to have an open source component and are beginning to think about protecting core intellectual property through patents or trade secrecy,” although this goes against the “zeitgeist” of the crypto world.
How Can the World Evaluate Projects with No Open Source Code?
Even if a company has legitimate reasons for choosing not to publish its source code, the crypto community may not see the company as credible without it.
If more and more projects opt out of publishing their code, though, how can the world evaluate these projects?
Hosam Mazawi recommends two criteria: a project’s partners and internal team. However, it is crucial to figure out who is playing which role: “when you visit an ICO website you see many people on the team, in many cases its only faces that are getting paid to be presented on the website.”
“[The] same applies for advisors,” he said. “It became a trend to get on board as much as possible.”
The lack of open-source code is just one more example proving that the culture of this young industry is changing incredibly fast. One thing will always be the same, though–research is incredibly important. Even though the open-source code may no longer be an option for coin evaluation, due diligence in other areas of a project is vital.