Navigating the Protocol Politics Minefield: How Blockchain Developer Relations can Broker Peace

A unique challenge for blockchain developer relations teams lies in the intricate politics between core protocol developers and third-party developers building applications on top. Protocol developers generally want to maintain control and influence over their blockchain’s evolution. Meanwhile, app developers want flexibility to innovate without restraints. This inherent friction can put developer relations professionals in the middle of some precarious protocol politics.

Unlike traditional platforms, blockchains are decentralized. No single entity fully controls them. However, core developer teams still exert significant power over governance processes that shape the protocol’s roadmap and features. Third-party developers often take issue with decisions that contradict their interests or limit their work. But protocols also need cohesion and standards to function.

These clashing forces put developer relations in a difficult position. They must broker some peaceful compromise between the two critical sides. Here are some strategies they can employ to healthily navigate the protocol politics minefield:

Establish Clear Governance Processes

Ambiguous decision-making creates confusion and mistrust. Developer relations should work to establish transparent governance processes that outline how protocol changes happen and how both sides provide input. Well-defined procedures give legitimacy.

Create Feedback Loops

Rather than third-party developers discovering decisions after the fact, developer relations needs continuous communication loops. Sharing proposal specs early for public comment, holding community calls, and integrating feedback before finalizing protocol changes brings transparency.

Highlight Shared Goals

There is often more alignment on high-level goals than on specific technical decisions. Developer relations should emphasize shared aims like performance, security, and usability. This can unite parties eschewing bike-shedding disagreements on implementation details.

Provide Clear Upgrade Guidance

Protocol changes inevitably introduce breakages for application developers. Developer relations needs to supply ample timelines and documentation detailing required migration steps. Smooth upgrades minimize disruption to applications.

Develop Composable Building Blocks

To balance flexibility with cohesion, protocols should provide modular foundational components for common needs like payments, tokens, identity, governance, etc. Composing these Lego pieces gives more freedom while retaining consistency.

Segment Protocol Layers

Protocols with segmented layers, such as data, networking, consensus, and execution logic, allow more experimentation on higher layers with less disruption to lower layers. Developer relations should advocate layered thinking.

Incentivize Protocol Development

Having third-party developers also contribute to core protocols aligns interests. Developer relations can design missions, bounties and grants that incentivize app developers to expand the protocol’s capabilities in ways that also serve end users.

Cultivate Personal Relationships

Anonymous sniping on forums builds animosity. Developer relations needs to nurture personal connections and empathy between core and third-party developers through events, retreats and social channels. Putting faces to names defuses tensions.

Moderate Discussions Impartially

When disputes do erupt on forums and chats, developer relations must resist the urge to reflexively side with the core team. As mediators, they should remain open-minded and ensure all sides feel heard.

Broker Compromises

Rather than impose mandates, developer relations should forge consensus by bringing dissenting factions together to find creative compromises. Good faith negotiations lead to options the community rallies behind, not winners and losers.

The politics of protocol governance creates natural friction in decentralized blockchain communities. But savvy developer relations leadership ready to be proactive peacemakers can broker solutions both core and third-party developers feel good about. With strategy and empathy, blockchain politics do not need to be a zero-sum game. There are paths to prosperity for all.