How is it working for a Crypto media platform? : Interview with Aaron van Wirdum Bitcoin Magazine (All Interviews)

Aaron van Wirdum is the Technical Editor, content writer and a Crypto fan who works for Bitcoin Magazine. He is interested in technology and how it affects social and political structures, and recently has found a new interest in Bitcoin and monetary history. He has been covering Bitcoin since 2013, focusing on privacy, scalability and more. Right now he is writing a book about crypto, bitcoin and its history, so be prepared for that.

Aaron van Wirdum

Interview Date : 19th October 2020

Aaron van Wirdum Bitcoin Magazine (All Interviews)

Becoming a Writer in the Crypto Space

I am a technical editor at Bitcoin Magazine. I am from the Netherlands, and that’s also where I live right now. I have been working as a writer and editor for Bitcoin Magazine for the past 5 years. Before Bitcoin, I was doing interviews with local celebrities in Rotterdam and some music and movie reviews, but it was all a bit random. I had not found my specialty or my topic of interest that I wanted to write about yet. When I learned about Bitcoin I quickly knew that was the thing I wanted to focus on for a while, and around the time that the block size debate started to heat up, I made a bit of a name for myself in the space writing about that, initially as a freelancer. At some point, there was a conference in Montreal about the scaling of Bitcoin. I joined the conference, and I met the Bitcoin magazine team there. I have been part of the team since.

Own Dutch Blog and News Site

I had my own Dutch blog I started in late 2013. I started a blog because I got annoyed by the Bitcoin coverage in mainstream media. The media was writing about Bitcoin and the crypto space as if it was a Ponzi scheme or a scam. Many of the articles also stated it was only good for buying and selling drugs, and for criminal usage, so it was all very negative. I wanted to create a blog dismissing, refuting, and dunking all of these statements because criminal activity and drugs were not the reasons why people found Bitcoin interesting. I ended up writing a series of blog posts debunking the mainstream media narrative. A little later, I started my own Dutch news site, where I was covering news about the space writing about 2 to 3 articles a day. During that year, in 2014, I also started to freelance a little bit for international publications. I think the first publication to hire me as a freelancer was Bitcoin magazine but I have also worked with Coindesk, Cointelegraph, as well as another media platform that doesn’t exist anymore. One year later, I joined the Bitcoin magazine as a full-time member. Currently, I have the role of technical editor.

My audience for my blog and news site was small. The Bitcoin space was still quite small back then, but I was getting noticed. I was invited to a Dutch Bitcoin podcast at that time and I put a note on the articles I had written explicitly stating that anyone was free to copy the content and republish it anywhere they wanted as long as they included my name in it as the writer. Some of my articles got published in a couple of blogs, and other known websites. For my content back then and still today, I read Reddit as well as Twitter every day. That’s part of my morning ritual because that’s where I sometimes get my inspiration.

How is it working for a Crypto media platform?

Working for a media platform in the Crypto space has been an interesting experience. I have been with Bitcoin Magazine for 5 years, and we have had some exciting years so far. We have seen a couple of price surges, all the scaling wars, and many phases more. Now, I have also drifted into the role of a historian, becoming a little bit of a Bitcoin historian. Thus, I would say I have changed and grown as a person and a writer. It’s nice that I can drift into different types of areas. In that sense, the Bitcoin Magazine team has given me a lot of freedom to follow and write about my interests.

Passionate People Pros & Cons

The Bitcoin community is a world where a lot of people have very strong opinions and feelings. I think that’s partly because it is a project of passion. They are here because they want to change the world. At the same time, there is a strong financial incentive for a lot of people, and that is why they want Bitcoin to succeed. However, this can be both positive and negative. For example, if you are writing about the type of content people like to read and to hear, then you become a well-liked writer, almost like a figure that is contributing generously to space. So, readers become very appreciative. When I am at conferences, people come to me appreciating and commenting on me positively for my articles. On the flip side, if you write about topics they don’t like, they start to dislike you. So, there are strong emotions and opinions on both sides because everybody cares so much about Bitcoin.

Learning Process is Heavy

I had to develop a strong sense of confidence in my work and understanding of the technology. When I first started to write about the more technical topics, especially on issues that people disagreed on, it could be quite stressful. I didn’t consider myself an expert myself, so when I had to explain how a certain feature or attribute works, I had to learn about it myself while writing. So, it was a learning process for me in more than one way. I also had to learn how to resist criticism better because you can’t please everybody, so I try to be scientifically correct. If people disagree or get mad about my article despite it being scientifically correct, that comes with the territory.

Most Well-Received Article

I wrote an article about the Lightning Network back in May 2016 and tried to explain it in a simple manner. That is one people bring up pretty often, and I would say was quite well received. During that time, there were no resources about the Lightning network. Almost no one knew how it worked apart from a small group of developers. All of the resources on the internet were the white paper and a written blog post series by Rusty Russell, which were technical and hard to understand. Nevertheless, the Lightning network was becoming an important part of the scaling debates, so I decided to tackle it to see if I could explain it in plain English. While I was working on it for a couple of days, I started to hate myself because I realized that I had a bit more than what I could chew. It was complicated and complex, so I was struggling until I started to draw drawings to make it simple. That helped me understand it, and ultimately, we decided to put the drawing into the articles. People often bring that article up saying that it helped them understand the Lightning network better.

The Bitcoin Scaling War

The whole scaling war started with different factions of the Bitcoin community having different ideas about how Bitcoin should scale. One faction wanted the block size to increase to accommodate more transactions. However, that would come with a big technical trade-off. For example, it would make it harder for people to run full nodes, potentially centralize mining further, etc. The other faction didn’t like that solution and thought that Bitcoin should scale with layers like the Lightning Network, which is a layer on top of Bitcoin. That disagreement turned into a big civil war. In the end, SegWit was proposed as a compromise, but not everyone liked that either. Eventually, it did win the minds and hearts of most Bitcoiners.

Free and Open Source Movement

Before I got to learn about Bitcoin, I was interested in a couple of different things. One of them was Finance, Banking, the monetary system, and everything that had gone wrong with it. I didn’t have a solution for it, but that’s when I started to think that maybe there’s something wrong with the system itself. Another topic I thought of as very interesting was the Free and Open Source movement. Concepts like a potential blueprint for a new type of economy was something that people were talking about, and it fascinated me. With Bitcoin, in some way the two melted together creating a new form of money which was a free and open-source software project. I immediately wanted to know more about it and make sense out of it.

What if Bitcoin doesn’t Succeed?

Haha, I’m afraid we will be heading straight to a future of financial surveillance fascism, and there will be totalitarian control over our lives. If Bitcoin fails, that would be such a confidence shattering event, and a full stop to these kinds of technologies altogether.

The Cypherpunk Movement

The cypherpunk was a movement from the 1990s back when the internet was brand new and just had started to get more broadly adopted. Cypherpunks realized that the internet had huge potential and that there would be two potential outcomes of the internet. One would be the internet becoming a panopticon surveillance machine that would break everybody’s privacy, and enable a totalitarian state. The other outcome would be privacy with strong encryption where people could communicate, trade, and transact freely and privately. Thus, the cypherpunks created a movement to make the later outcome happen. Using the cryptographic tools that were invented in the 70s and 80s, and turning them into software’s which people could use. For example, by creating remailer services allowing people to email anonymously. Another idea was to create market places where people could trade anonymously. They thought they needed digital anonymous money, and were experimenting with early different ideas and digital cash projects. Ultimately, these types of experiments and the invention of technologies combined created Bitcoin which is one of the most successful technologies that has come out from the cypherpunk movement.

Important Features – Taproot

Two important things are going on with Bitcoin today that contribute to its further development. The first one is the development of Taproots, a big Bitcoin development upgrade which is getting closer to deployment. Taproot is a protocol upgrade that will allow for more flexible smart contracts and functionality while offering it in a privacy friendly way. For example, the Lightning network essentially uses smart contracts to open a channel. You can see that the Lightning channels are being opened and closed. However, with Taproot, it would all blend and it would look more like regular transactions. It will offer more privacy plus be better for scaling. This will be the biggest upgrade on Bitcoin since SegWit.

On the other hand, we see the big companies putting Bitcoin in their balance sheets. Companies putting Bitcoin on their balance sheets is another indicator that Bitcoin is being taken more seriously. Especially at this point, it’s all about being hedge inflation and a non-correlated asset. An asset class that has macro-economic relevance is a big deal. For a startup internet currency that was launched from scratch about 11-12 years ago, and now has developed into being taken seriously, is amazing. Big companies are confident enough to put millions of dollars into Bitcoin to store their wealth, and that’s a very notable development.

Bitcoin Educative Podcast

The Podcast I am doing is called The Van Wirdum Sjorsnado. I am doing it with a Bitcoin contributor, and we highlight one technical aspect of Bitcoin each week. That could be a new upgrade that’s included in a new Bitcoin core release, features, functions, and how some mechanisms work. We aim to create content for our listeners, so they learn more about Bitcoin. Occasionally, we do have guests, but even during those times, we still talk about different aspects and theories about Bitcoin, so it is a very informative podcast.

Hard to Decide on Coins?

For me, it’s pretty clear when it comes to coins; if it’s not Bitcoin, then it is probably a scam. People will just call me a Bitcoin maximalist as if it’s something irrational, but that’s OK. I could try to be a little more nuanced, but I am pretty strongly on the Bitcoin side, and I don’t think that’s irrational.
I don’t care about the label “maximalist” if it helps people understand that I think most other coins are close to scams.

Bitcoin Magazine Office and Team

We have an office in Nashville, but there is a mix of how we “go” to work. Some of us work at the office, and others work remotely. For me, remote is the way to go. I can’t imagine myself going to an office building every day. and sitting there for a set hour. I prefer the freedom of working on the hours that work best for me.

Journalism Today

I used to want to be a writer as a child and would participate in writing contests. I believe Journalism is very important for a democracy. You can’t have a functioning democracy if people don’t know what is going on. Journalism is a very important

profession, but it has gained a bad reputation over recent years. That is partly because it is becoming harder and harder to make a living as a journalist. Having to do with fewer resources and time, it’s getting more difficult to write at the same time people are expecting content to be for free.

A New Book On the Rising

The book I have been working on is about the prehistory of Bitcoin. It includes prehistoric facts and details about cypherpunks, Austrian economics, and other things that are a part of creating Bitcoin. Writing a book is a new experience for me. I do sometimes get a little intimidated by other books on related topics that have been written well, so it makes me nervous. However, that also keeps me on my toes. By understanding Bitcoin from a historical standpoint, the timeline of digital cash projects becomes very logical and reasonable, and the movements start to make sense.

Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada


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