Bitcoin relies on two variables to ensure the decentralized nature it provides: decentralized miners and nodes. Since its inception, Bitcoin’s built in monetary incentives encourage miners to solve blocks. But apart from the gratification of supporting the network, nodes lack similar incentives.
I believe the methods and improvements outlined below could encourage the growth of nodes.
Bitnodes.io has started an incentive program that is a lottery of sorts. As a node owner you can register your node with them and, providing your Peer Index (PIX) value is greater than 8.0, be eligible to win a weekly $10.00 payout. The payout could increase to $30.00 if the number of reachable nodes increases. I think this program is a good start, but with only 4 winners a month and thousands of nodes my excitement fades. I think creating more winners will have a greater effect on adoption. Bitcoin allows for cheap micro transactions, implementing a system of ten winners a day at fifteen cents will get more people talking.
Additionally, the Bitcoin Foundation currently powers this project. And if I were to support the nodes, I would be donating to the foundation as a whole rather than the node lottery project specifically. I propose a system that allows me to donate directly to the node lottery.
Adopt a Node
Another project over on Bitnode is the leaderboard. It currently works like this: Your node is analyzed by 11 properties and receives a Peer Index (PIX) rating. Based on this rating you’ll be numerically rated along with all of the available nodes. You can click on the different nodes and gather additional information such as location, up time, user agent, etc. This information is all it has to offer. Well, it also offers bragging rights. I believe owning the number one node on the entire network constitutes value! I propose a system that allows merchants to adopt these nodes for a fee based on node rankings. In return they could have an advertising badge on the nodes they adopt.
P2P Segmented Blockchain
One of the reasons we’ve seen such a decline in Bitcoin nodes, apart from the lack of incentives, is the cost of entry. Hardware resources, hard drive space, and bandwidth are limited, and those who may be willing to contribute these things do not always have the ability. What we need is a new client specifically designed to run bitcoin nodes and allows users to define what amount of resources they want to share.
It could work something like this:
As a user you may choose to only host 5GB of the blockchain. After starting, the client would analyze all portions of the blockchain within its network to determine its health and choose the 5GB that would best facilitate redundancy. There could be hundreds of full blockchains broken into palatable amounts within this network. Some users may choose to act as exit nodes—those that talk to the bitcoin network representing the portions of the blockchain hosted by the users. Obviously this is a simplified explanation, but it’s a conversation that needs to be happening. The network needs to be more palatable to ensure a decentralized future.
Lastly, there are technical barriers handicapping potential noders. We have plug and play miners and simplified offline signing capabilities through hardware devices like Trezor. It is time we had a hardware node. The final hurdle will be discovering a benefit for this device. We need features that haven’t yet been imagined.