The Impact of Developer Engagement on Cryptocurrency Quality: Insights from GitHub

The cryptocurrency space has been anything but ordinary in the past decade. From its humble beginnings as an untried software innovation to being endorsed by famous celebrities in Super Bowl commercials, cryptocurrencies have experienced extreme highs and lows. The “crypto winter” of 2022, accelerated by the downfall of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried, has led to reputational crises that hinder the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies. Additionally, regulators have taken a hardline stance, evident in the SEC’s lawsuits against Coinbase and Binance. These challenges have fueled the perception that the cryptocurrency sector is full of bad actors and too technologically complex to be trusted by the public. However, members of the crypto community believe that valuable information about crypto quality can be found in plain sight.

In a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Management Information Systems, researchers sought to examine the relationship between developer engagement and cryptocurrency quality. Led by Mariia Petryk, an assistant professor of information systems at George Mason University, the study focused on whether the intensity of developer engagement on open-source platforms like GitHub could be indicative of a cryptocurrency’s quality. Petryk’s co-authors were Liangfei Qiu and Praveen Pathak from the University of Florida.

To analyze the impact of developer engagement on cryptocurrency quality, the researchers examined GitHub data for 559 cryptocurrencies between August 2016 and December 2019. They identified five key open-source activities related to developer engagement. Under the category of “quality enhancement,” three activities were identified: commits, proposed modifications waiting for assessment known as pull requests, and discussions around questions and bugs called issues. The remaining two activities fell under “diffusion of software” and included forks, which are mirrored copies of the original code, and watches, which allow developers to closely follow discussions within the cryptocurrency community.

The researchers discovered that increased forks and watches had a positive correlation with token price. Specifically, a one-standard-deviation increase in forks and watches resulted in a 0.56% monthly price increase or 6.7% per year. On the other hand, the impact of the three “quality enhancement” metrics was mixed. Increased issues exerted upward pressure on token price, with a one-standard-deviation increase leading to a 4.3% higher price over one year. However, pull requests and commits had an opposite effect, with an equivalent increase in these metrics causing annual losses of 5%. These conflicting results suggest uncertainties regarding the evaluation and implementation of proposed changes by cryptocurrency administrators, potentially affecting the cryptocurrency’s quality.

The findings of the study indicate the existence of a “virtuous circle” in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Promising cryptocurrencies tend to attract more developer attention, leading to quality improvements that are reflected in the token price. While the expansion of the developer community increases the likelihood of more pull requests and commits that could lower token prices, the positive impact of forks and watches on price was approximately six times stronger. Therefore, the intensity of developer attention and engagement can be seen as a leading indicator of how the market values cryptocurrencies.

The study’s findings highlight the potential value of information from open-source platforms like GitHub for policymakers looking to develop nuanced regulatory approaches. Transparent mechanisms, such as GitHub, enable investors to learn about the underlying assets and properties of cryptocurrencies, allowing them to make informed judgments. However, the researchers caution that statistical patterns may not directly influence individual investment decisions. Nevertheless, access to information from open-source platforms can contribute to equal opportunity and transparency in the cryptocurrency market.

The analysis of developer engagement on open-source platforms like GitHub provides valuable insights into the quality of cryptocurrencies. By examining activities such as forks, watches, commits, pull requests, and issues, researchers have uncovered patterns that indicate the impact of developer attention on token prices. While the cryptocurrency space may face reputational challenges and regulatory scrutiny, the crypto community believes that a focus on developer engagement holds the key to improving quality and investor trust. Therefore, leveraging open-source platforms like GitHub could assist policymakers in creating fair regulatory frameworks and empower investors to make more informed decisions.

Technology

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