Oscoin: Principles & Motivation

When we started Oscoin, our motivation was guided by the observation that crypto-currencies could enable a new form of community-owned and operated network. The invention of digital scarcity1 made it possible to economically incentivize and remunerate network participants for their service in a simple, transparent way, without mediation by a third-party.

If Bitcoin sought to reward network operators for their service in validating transactions, other projects such as Zcash and Dash extended that reward to the engineers working on the software.

It was only natural for us to imagine a community of open-source developers, incentivized by a native currency distributed to the projects most valued by the community, and traded between collaborators, users and maintainers of these projects. This ecosystem, we thought, could provide a solution to the problem of open-source sustainability2, while also freeing the community from centralization risks associated with platforms such as GitHub and GitLab.

Well aware of the fraud and confusion around decentralization, we saw potential in crypto-currencies to address socio-economic problems which would allow contributors to be rewarded in a currency that also confers ownership of the network. By consolidating equity with currency, we create a fairer distribution mechanism for long term network sustainability. In such an economy, there are no second class citizens3, everyone is aligned around a single token, everyone wins and loses together.

An uncomfortable truth about our society is that apparent convenience is chosen over everything else. Centralized platforms offer this convenience seemingly for "free", but since the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s we can observe how this pans out: critical social infrastructure is taken over by corporate interests as communities move from one centralized platform to another. Our belief is that logical centralization4 is necessary for communities to exist, but economic centralization is not.


Oscoin is a community-governed network for collaboration and incentivization around open-source software.

Our first task is to build a protocol and an open platform on top of which the community can build tools with a common set of building blocks. We aren't looking to reproduce the Web 2.0 era of monolithic applications, whether closed or open-source -- instead we're taking a protocol-first approach hoping to see a wide variety of clients and applications following. We aim to provide a common vocabulary on which people can build collaboration and version-control tooling as they see fit.

Behind the scenes, we use blockchains to replicate digital ledgers in a permissionless way, IPFS5 as a storage solution, and an infrastructure built upon public key cryptography. Network participants can host their code on the network, transact and collaborate with each other. But most importantly they get to govern the network through a combination of on-chain and off-chain processes, where the semantics of the protocol are updated automatically once an on-chain community consensus has been reached.

Due to its permissionless nature, the network is free of socio-economic single points of failure, is censorship resistant and always online. Lastly, our protocol is being implemented on a self-amending core language we call radicle, which allows for changes to be carried out by the community without forks or client upgrades.

On the incentivization side, our protocol allows the community to pledge their tokens towards the projects they value, signaling their preferences within the network and helping their favorite projects be financed while still holding their assets. This form of incentivization can be thought of as "support with the benefit of hindsight" that allows projects to receive continuous income for the ongoing development and maintenance of their project. This provides an alternative to existing forms of incentivization such as donations, corporate sponsorships etc., that is dependable, transparent and developer friendly.

The mechanism through which this takes place is a token-curated registry (TCR) 6 which informs the allocation of funds of the community treasury. This "crypto-economic game" makes it profitable for the community to protect its commons through a process of self-organization, while allocating rewards to the projects most likely to bring value to the open-source ecosystem.

Finally we'd like to enable developers to create project-specific incentivization mechanisms and capture value as they see fit. One of the key trends that we observe in open-source communities today is summarized by the statement my code is free, my time isn't. With our platform, developers will be able to charge others for influence within their projects. This could take the form of prioritization of issues, support, 24 hour issue resolution, bounties or even participation on project governance. The underlying principle is that developers should be in control of whether or how to extract value. We supply only the primitives and enable the community to experiment around them, which is the modus operandi of open-source software.

If you'd like to get involved, find us on irc.freenode.net on the #oscoin channel, @oscoin on twitter and t.me/oscoin on Telegram.

  1. When we think of a digital environment, we usually think of things that can be easily duplicated, copied and pasted, counterfeited... etc., but bitcoin and the blockchain introduced the concept of digital scarcity. In order to duplicate a bitcoin, you would need to duplicate the entire blockchain instantaneously -- an impossible feat with contemporary computing. 

  2. Rebuilding the Cathedral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS6IpvTWwkQ 

  3. In the current financial system, equity accrues value over time, while currency loses value. Those who principally hold equity thus get richer, while those who hold currency get poorer. 

  4. Logical centralization: https://medium.com/@VitalikButerin/the-meaning-of-decentralization-a0c92b76a274 

  5. IPFS: https://ipfs.io/ 

  6. TCRs: https://medium.com/@ilovebagels/token-curated-registries-1-0-61a232f8dac7