This week we introduce a new series dedicated to Satoshi’s own Bitcoin Forum. In the first article of a three part series, we review some of the history of the forum, review its importance to the development of bitcoin, present to you some of its most iconic threads, and give you an overview of its contents. We also review some of its more eccentric features that are not usually found in other topical internet forums, and explain how the forum has become the thriving, multi-million member ecosystem that it is today.

The Bitcoin Forum: A Quick Overview

Aside from bringing us bitcoin and the blockchain, one of Satoshi Nakamoto’s longest-lasting innovations was the world’s oldest bitcoin-oriented internet forum, bitcointalk.org. Launched on November 23rd, 2009 and using the ubiquitous Simple Machines Forum (SMF) format, the Bitcoin Forum (sometimes referred to as Bitcointalk, or BTTalk) started as a gathering place for a hub of developers, bitcoin enthusiasts, and anybody else taken by the idea of cryptography-based, peer-to-peer software for digital currencies.

Some quick facts about the Bitcoin Forum:

Founded by: Satoshi Nakamoto

Domain name owned by: Cøbra

Administered by: theymos

Total Members:               2,522,911

Total Posts:                      49,487,733

Total Topics:                     1,200,915

Total page views:            4,795,109,378

Most Online Users:         7,150 – April 11, 2013, 02:12:15 AM

Ave. daily registrations: 425

Ave. posts per day:          7,797

Ave. topics per day:        314

Total Boards:                   244

Page views per day:        1,425,419

Estimated revenue:        $1,065,000 (2017)

A Short History of Bitcointalk.org

Previously, the forum was hosted on Sourceforge, however it is no longer accessible, which is why Satoshi refers to Bitcointalk as “the new Bitcoin forum” in his inaugural post.

Although Satoshi’s time at the forum was relatively brief in the scope of things – composing a total of 575 posts across a time span of 13 months before disappearing from the public eye completely – he got the ball rolling for the development of the bitcoin community, attracting some extremely bright minds that would help nurture bitcoin from a highly experimental idea to a robust, multi-billion dollar industry.

Not only does the Bitcoin Forum serve as a hub for like-minded intellects dedicated to working on the improvement of bitcoin, it is also a community, an ecosystem, and a repository for a wealth of cryptocurrency information. Much like the blockchain, it is a living, breathing record of information that is largely unaltered, interactive, and open to the general public for participation and examination. It is simultaneously the home of long-standing members of the bitcoin community as well an entryway for those looking to get involved. Perhaps most importantly, it is the story of how bitcoin, the blockchain and pretty much all of cryptocurrency came to be.

From a historical standpoint, it contains not only the best introspection into who Satoshi was/is as a person, but also stories from several other prominent names in bitcoin: Gavin Andresen, Hal Finney, Mark Karpeles, and Roger Ver, to name but a few. It was also the launchpad for pretty much every single cryptocurrency of note – and still is – with top coins like Litecoin (LTC), Dogecoin (DOGE), Dash (DASH), NEM (XEM) and Ethereum (ETH) all launching and cultivating an initial following through the Bitcoin Forum. All of these coins (and hundreds of others) maintain active “threads” on the forum, some of which are now thousands of pages in length, with hundreds of thousands of comments, and millions of views.

Bitcoin Forum’s Greatest Hits

In addition to all of this, the forum houses a fair amount of historic moments that have happened in the life of bitcoin, some of them which have gone on to become legend. These include:

It also houses several tales of crypto infamy – scams, scandals and robberies – including but not limited to:

  • the first major bitcoin theft (25,000 BTC were stolen from a mining pool member by a hacker),
  • the first exit scam performed by a bitcoin exchange,
  • the first bitcoin Ponzi scheme (perpetrated by Pirateat40, Trendon Shavers, in which half a million BTC were lost and the SEC was forced to intervene on behalf of investors),
  • the first major exchange hacking (bitfloor, 14,000 BTC lost),
  • a subpoena by the FBI to theymos regarding activity on the account of Ross Ulbricht of Silk Road (known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” on the SR website), and
  • a message from the DAO hacker, an event that went on to usher the hard forking of Ethereum into ETH and ETC, with one chain resetting the blockchain to exclude transactions involving the hacked coins and the other with the transactions intact.

Lastly, it contains some dramatic exchanges between forum personalities, some of which have become famous even outside of the Bitcoin Forum. These include:

Bitcoin Forum Rankings Explained

So, what are “forum rankings,” anyway? Like most topic-based forums, users are awarded different ranks based on a combination of factors related to their longevity in the forum. The Bitcoin Forum has 7 different ranks, all of which require a certain combination of posts, activity and merit in order to advance to the next. The default rank at which all users start is “Brand New.” After making a post or two, they advance to “Newbie.” The hierarchy of ranks is as follows:

  • Newbie
  • Jr Member
  • Member
  • Full Member
  • Sr. Member
  • Hero Member
  • Legendary

Activity is distributed strictly based on time active on the forum, determined by the number of posts a user creates across a 2 week time frame (up to a certain amount), and merit is distributed by members to posts they find interesting, educational or somehow valuable to the forum. Each time a user receives a merit, they are awarded 0.5 sMerits, which are “sendable merits.” This insures that members cannot simply trade merit back-and-forth to each other in order to increase their rank. The number of available sMerit would therefore decay across time, if it were not for “merit sources,” which tend to be senior ranking members of the forum, who are given a varying allotment of sMerit each month which they are then entrusted with distributing to posts of value to the forum.

Some forum capacities are only available to members of advanced ranks. For instance, members cannot wear a signature under their posts until they are at least Jr. Members, and members cannot wear avatars until they are Full Members. Hero Members and Legendarys are permitted to use advanced bbcode (bulletin board code) in their signatures, including URL links and graphic designs, which make them particularly valuable in signature and bounty campaigns. The requirements for ranking up are:

Rank                    Required activity             Required merit

Brand new         0                                         0

Newbie               1                                         0

Jr Member         30                                       1

Member             60                                       10

Full Member      120                                     100

Sr. Member       240                                     250

Hero Member   480                                     500

Legendary          775-1030 (random)        1000

There are 3 other categories of users that are unique and relatively uncommon:

VIP. Very Important Person. This label is reserved for people who have donated 50 or more BTC to the forum. Some of the most well-known of these include Roger Ver (MemoryDealers), Mark Karpeles (MagicalTux), and Hal Finney (Hal).

Donator. These are members who have donated 10 BTC to the forum.

Copper Member. A Copper Membership can be purchased for a nominal fee, paid using BTC or GRIN. Besides having a distinguishing label under your user name (that reads “Copper Member”), certain perks of membership include not requiring any merits in order to wear a signature and being able to wear an avatar at the Member level (as opposed to Full Member). This makes the Copper Membership particularly attractive to signature campaigners or bounty hunters, but it’s also a good way to show one’s dedication to the forum.

Forum Sections and Contents

The Bitcoin Forum is divided into five major sections, which are divided into subsections. These (along with the descriptions provided by the forum) are:

Bitcoin

  • Bitcoin Discussion (General discussion about the Bitcoin ecosystem that doesn’t fit better elsewhere. News, the Bitcoin community, innovations, the general environment, etc. Discussion of specific Bitcoin-related services usually belongs in other sections.)
  • Development and Technical Discussion (Technical discussion about Satoshi’s Bitcoin client and the Bitcoin network in general.)
  • Mining (Generating bitcoins.)
  • Bitcoin Technical Support (Questions regarding issues with Bitcoin Core, nodes, the Bitcoin network, transactions, and addresses.)
  • Project Development (Organization of Bitcoin and related projects, bounty campaigns, advertising etc.)

Economy

  • Economics
  • Marketplace (General marketplace discussion.)
  • Trading Discussion (Discussion about doing business with Bitcoin. Best trading practices, delivery methods etc.)

Other

  • Meta (Discussion about the Bitcoin Forum.)
  • Politics & Society
  • Beginners & Help
  • Off-topic (Other topics that might be of interest to bitcoiners.)
  • Serious discussion (More serious discussion. No advertising of any kind.)
  • Archival (Old stuff.)

Alternate cryptocurrencies

  • Altcoin Discussion (Discussion of cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin. Note that discussion of how these currencies *relate to* Bitcoin may fit in other categories.)
  • Announcements (Altcoins)
  • Mining (Altcoins)
  • Marketplace (Altcoins)
  • Speculation (Altcoins)

Local

  • Arabic
  • Indonesian
  • Spanish
  • Chinese
  • Croatian
  • German
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • French
  • India
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Dutch
  • Korean
  • Philippines
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Romanian
  • Scandinavian
  • Turkish
  • Other languages/locations (Communities that don’t have their own board. Translated announcements are prohibited unless locally relevant.)

Most relevant action takes place in the Bitcoin Discussion subsection; however Altcoin Discussion and Announcements are also extremely popular, thanks to the flood of altcoin projects constantly advertising themselves in these sections. In addition to these, several subsections have child boards, some of the most popular of these include:

  • Legal (pertaining to the legality of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies across the world)
  • Press (bitcoin, crypto and blockchain related news, for the posting and discussion of articles)
  • Speculation (where people congregate to make predictions about bitcoin’s price direction)
  • Services (a wide array of jobs related to crypto or paid for in crypto)
  • Gambling (advertisements and discussions about bitcoin casinos, dice sites, event odds, etc.)
  • Scam Accusations (where users present cases against other users suspected of perpetrating scams for community review, and potentially action)
  • Reputation (for the discussion of the behavior of forum members who might not necessarily be scammers)
  • Bounties (Altcoins) (where bounties for various altcoins/tokens and bounty hunter reports are posted)

Forum Moderation and Rules

In addition to the Administrator and Global Moderators, each subsection has its own specially designated moderator that handles user-submitted reports about the quality or relevance of posts. If a coin is deemed off-topic, spam or plagiarism, it is removed, and the user automatically receives a private message informing them that their post has been removed. Generally speaking, the forum is very open minded and will not ban users for expressing their opinions, or even for engaging in activity deemed fraudulent. It will, however, ban users for committing any of the following offenses:

  • plagiarism
  • exceptionally low quality posting (such as single words, characters or emojis)
  • repeat spamming
  • threats of physical violence
  • doxing members outside of the Reputation section
  • evading a ban by using an alternate account

It is the first and last of these offenses that are the most common reasons for a user to be banned.

Signature Campaigns and Bounty Hunters

After the introduction of signature campaigns (which go all the way back to 2011), the forum begin to see an influx of members whose sole purpose of joining the forum was to make a profit as a signature campaigner. As cryptocurrencies blossomed well beyond bitcoin, signature campaigns were extended into bounty campaigns, where members were awarded in the form of altcoins or tokens for completing certain tasks related to an ICO process. Traditionally, the term “bounty hunter” (as used in crypto) specifically applied to members who translated project whitepapers, created graphics, tested software, or otherwise performed work on behalf of an ICO, but this definition has been extended to include signature campaigners as well.

Here’s an example of what a signature looks like when being used in a campaign (in the blue box):

Some of the different types of signature or bounty campaigns include:

  • cryptocurrency casino advertising
  • bitcoin or altcoin mixing (anonymization) service advertising
  • campaign manager advertising
  • ICO promotion
  • exchange advertising

After the launch of Ethereum and the beginning of 2017’s great bull market, members signed up to the forum in hoards, hoping to make easy money by simply joining a campaign. This created a problem for long-time users of the forum who complained that the quality of forum posts was being diminished and that unhelpful spam was on the rise, some of it completely off-topic, unintelligible, or completely plagiarized from another source. The forum was shifting away from its goal of helping enthusiasts find information about particular aspects of cryptocurrency and giving them a place for discussion and quickly becoming a cesspool of spam.

In September 2018, theymos decided to combat the spam problem by implementing a new system where new members would have to obtain at least 1 merit in order to rank up and become a Jr. Member. As a point of reference, most ICOs do not include Newbie members in their bounty campaigns, preferring to focus on rewarding more experienced forum participants. In order to reach the next rank, a user must obtain a set number of merit points from other users, which now applies to Newbies wanting to rank up to Jr. Member. Before this time, a member’s rank was determined solely by their post count and active time on the forum (activity), which meant that anybody could create any number of accounts and gradually rank them all up to Legendary by simply posting on the forum daily with them.

As a result of the new policies, many members with zero merits have found themselves suddenly demoted back to the rank of Newbie, despite some being registered with Bitcointalk since January and having hundreds (or even thousands) of posts to their name. This has rendered hundreds of accounts ineligible for bounty program participation in one fell swoop, causing something of an uproar among the newer user portion of the Bitcointalk community, most of which are bounty hunters. One frustrated member even took to change.org to create a petition to encourage Theymos to reverse the changes. Some members were understanding of the situation, undeterred by their recent demotion, willing to carry on in search of their first merit:

“It is difficult to participate in the signature campaign but need a merit to become Jr will help our forums better quality, avoid the current spam situation. Although I’m back to being a newbie, I’m going to stick with this forum. It is difficult to participate in the signature campaign but need a merit to become Jr will help our forums better quality, avoid the current spam situation…” – Bitcointalk user antran123

Other users, however, were apparently horrified at what had just occurred, perhaps seeing the prospects of their dream jobs go up in flames. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on the matter, the changes will stay, making the “easy money” appeal of cryptocurrency just a little bit less significant than it was before and serving to deter manipulation of the system via mindless spam posting.

The Trust System

The most recent change to the forum has to do with an aspect not yet talked about, the Trust system. In the forum’s early days, before the Trust system was implemented and made viewable in most sections, a select group of members had the ability to label known cheaters and thieves with a “scammer tag.” This would appear under the user’s name next to every post they made to let other users know they should probably be avoided for the purposes of making trades and were generally untrustworthy. The forum also employed a “karma” point system. Karma is an optional component of SMF forum layouts that shows the popularity of a certain member. When members are allowed, they can “Applaud” or “Smite” a member to raise or lower that member’s karma score.

In May 2013, theymos introduced “Marketplace trust,” which slowly evolved to become the Trust system. Along with karma, the scammer tag system was phased out later that year, all old tags being replaced with a -2 trust rating in their score. The whole idea was to let members engaged in various trading activities leave positive and negative feedback for other members they had previously traded with, kind of like an eBay scoring system, in order to give potential future traders some idea of whether or not a member was trustworthy and would fulfill their end of the bargain.

Neutral escrow agents are frequently used in order to make sure a trade goes through properly, usually taking a small percentage of the overall amount transacted as a fee for their services. But in situations where they cannot be easily used (such as in an ICO), the Trust system helps give the average member an idea of how trustworthy a particular trader is considered. While anybody can leave a positive or negative trust rating and comment for a member, only certain members have direct bearing on the score that appears to most forum visitors. These are known as Default Trust (DT) members. Members of DT1 were previously only handpicked by theymos, and members of DT2 were picked by those in DT1. Members can also create their own Trust lists by adding members they find to be trustworthy and excluding those they deem to be untrustworthy.

Members with a trust score of -1 or -2 have their score marked light red, as members with a score of 2 or 3 have their score marked light green. A score of -4 or greater will earn a member a dark red trust score; similarly a score of 4 or higher will earn them a dark green trust score. In tabulating the resulting trust score by combining positive and negative trust ratings, more emphasis is placed on older ratings, and on negative ratings. Some of the most common reasons why negative trust is given include:

  • stealing during a trade arranged on the forum (not delivering cryptocurrency, goods or services as promised in the trade agreement)
  • delivering faulty, corrupt or otherwise tainted goods not as described in an offering
  • failing to repay a loan
  • knowingly helping an exchange, casino, or other online crypto service to scam its customers
  • running a fraudulent ICO, Ponzi scheme, MLM campaign (or promoting and marketing such)
  • failing to make agreed-upon payments to bounty hunters or signature campaigners
  • attempting to extort other forum members
  • cheating a bounty campaign (usually through having multiple accounts all registered for the same bounty)
  • account “farming” (generating large number of accounts), selling or trading
  • selling explicitly illegal merchandise
  • threatening other members with physical violence
  • verbally abusing or harassing members

In sharp contrast, the reasons for issuing a positive trust are fairly limited and straightforward, and include:

  • successfully completing a trade or agreement involving the exchange of cryptocurrency for goods and/or services
  • successfully acting as an escrow for a trade between two members
  • successfully acting as a bounty or signature campaign manager
  • being helpful or useful to the forum in general
  • helping to uncover scams and scammers that may otherwise steal from forum members

In January 2019, the Trust system was again changed to make DT1 more “decentralized.” Instead of the list of DT1 members being handpicked by theymos, criteria was developed so that any member could theoretically become a DT1 member, so long as they met those criteria. Similar to what unfolded during the introduction of the new merit requirements for ranking up, quite a stir was raised in the community as the ratings of several member changed from red to green (and vice versa) overnight. A few members fell off the DT1 list, and many more were added. As a result, the list of members on DT2 changed significantly as well.

Though things may seem unstable at the moment as far as the Trust system is concerned (as of February 2019 the Meta section of the forum is still witnessing an upheaval of controversy), it is a largely benevolent attempt to allow the forum to have a bit more self-governance, so that everybody does not have to rely upon one single person to decide who should be in the DT1 list. So, why is all this of great importance in the world of the Bitcoin Forum? A member’s reputation in the forum is dependent on a number of things: rank, seniority, merit count, and also trust score. Any or all of these factors can come into play when a member applies for a signature campaign.

Outside of low rank, the most common exclusionary factor as far as signature (or bounty) campaigns is concerned is a negative trust rating. If a member is deemed untrustworthy, the impact they have on promoting the service advertised in their signature space might be diminished. Likewise, if a member has a green trust under their name, they might be all the more effective in promoting the service in their signature space. Ergo, members with negative trust scores frequently have a hard time being accepted into a campaign, while the opposite is true for members with positive trust scores.

This concludes the end of the first article in a three part series on the Bitcoin Forum. Next week, we bring you some insight from long-standing members of the forum and review some of its most famous personalities on an individual basis. Have any questions about how the Bitcoin Forum works? Feel free to leave us a comment!