21 is a mysterious Bitcoin hardware and mining startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz that unwrapped its first product earlier this year. A few weeks ago, they unveiled and began pre-selling a computer that has native hardware and software support for the Bitcoin protocol.
Co-founder Balaji Srinivasan, who previously started bioinformatics and gene testing company Counsyl, said the vision is akin to how PCs and operating systems like Windows 95 began to include TCP/IP support natively in the 1990s, opening the door for widespread Internet adoption. If machines and phones start having native Bitcoin support, it enables them to support infinitely small transactions off the Bitcoin protocol in exchange for whatever goods and services a person or machine wants. One popular example idea is requiring infinitesimally small payments for e-mail, which would curb spam.
“First, you had the worldwide Internet. Then the social Internet,” Srinivasan said. “Then this is the machine payable Internet.”
It also cuts the barrier to participating or developing with the Bitcoin protocol dramatically. Srinivasan said that there are maybe 1,000 developers worldwide who really know how to work with the protocol.
“There’s a tiny number of Bitcoin wizards, and an enormous number of smart developers that have no on-ramp to Bitcoin,” Srinivasan said. “We need to make that onramp easier.”
Today, after unveiling the first device, 21 has hired Saivann Carignan, David Harding and Will Binns, three of the top contributors to Bitcoin.org. They’re opening an education platform that 21 is using to make software development for the Bitcoin protocol much more accessible and easier to understand. It will cover topics from digital signatures to mining.
That will help developers, who want to use 21’s computer, level up with their software skills.
“Our computer is the easiest way for a developer to get started writing software for Bitcoin,” he said. “You don’t have to spend days downloading the blockchain, which is like going and buying some floppy disks and going through an installation process.”
To expand all of the tutorials, 21 is paying contributors from anywhere in the world a small fee of up to $200 in Bitcoin if they translate or add documentation.
Srinivasan envisions the tutorials as a way of teaching and familiarizing a whole army of Bitcoin developers. “We have the investors or connections to get our chip baked into a line of electronics by default. But we also need enough developer traction over the next year or so.”