A few days ago, I had a chance to interview Jeff Vandrew Jr. the creator of LibrePatron.
LibrePatron is a self-hosted, censorship-resistant, Patreon alternative, that was created as a response to Patreon’s recent move to de-platform users in a coordinated social media censorship effort, along with Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Paypal, and Spotify.
For those of you who are not familiar with Patreon, it allows social media content creators to monetize their content by accepting monthly donations from their followers.
Patreon’s censorship, is similar to Paypal’s censorship, in that it aims to prohibit people from creating content deemed “unacceptable” by the thought police. It does this by blocking their access to earn income using these platforms, from the content they create.
It is a despicable, and insidious way to silence people and restrict our God-given right to freely voice our thoughts and opinions. It’s basically being financially blacklisted by these ubiquitous platforms that everyone uses, for thought crimes.
They figure if they can starve the content creators financially, they will stop making content that contradicts the mainstream narrative. Keep in mind that these platforms exist for content creators and others to monetize their content and sell goods and services online, to begin with.
I didn’t actually know much about Jeff before our interview. My only interactions with him had been in the LibrePatron slack, as I wanted to implement LibrePatron into this site, Coincache.net, in order to test out this early version,(#Reckless!).
Jeff was a great help and got me up and running with the alpha version of LibrePatron, with a one-click installer for my BTCPay server. I took advantage of the fact that the creator of the LibrePatron app itself was helping me directly, and asked him if he’d mind letting me interview him.
It’s my personal opinion that this kind of censorship-resistant, open source alternative to popular platforms engaging in censorship, is the way forward for freedom conscious people. This kind of workaround to internet censorship is extremely important.
I wanted to find out what actually inspired Jeff to make Patreon obsolete, like Nicolas Dorier has done with BTCPay, to Bitpay.
I was pleased to sit down with Jeff and talk about Bitcoin and LibrePatron. I’d like to say thanks to him for taking the time to let me pester him with questions. I actually learned quite a bit from our conversation and came away from it feeling inspired.
Jeff Vandrew Jr. is doing the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be a part of the Bitcoin community. I feel like America’s famous self-reliance and rugged individualism is manifesting itself in the digital age, in the Bitcoin community. He has created Bitcoin solutions to solve his unique problems and shared them with the rest of us, so we can do the same.
Q: Where did you first hear about Bitcoin?
A: I initially bought my first Bitcoin in 2014. It had been on my radar before that because the whole gold thing. I think I am older than a lot of Bitcoiners, and come from a gold background. Sound money has always had an appeal to me. When I first heard about Bitcoin, I didn’t take it all that seriously, I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind, but I kept hearing about it, and finally jumped in myself, in 2014.
Q: How did you get involved with the BTCPay project?
A: Ok, well in my career, I am an attorney and CPA, and I have a kind of boutique practice, which is very tax-driven (I don’t go to court or anything like that!).
What I do is help clients with different tax structures. Back in 2014, I started helping clients with tax structures that allow them to hold Bitcoin in their IRAs in a tax-beneficial way but still control their private keys. I wanted to not only offer this service to my clients but also to accept Bitcoin in my own business.
So, for years, that’s just how I accepted Bitcoin for my business. I used Bitpay and Quickbooks and it was ok until the SegWit 2x thing started happening. Obviously, Bitpay was on the wrong side of that, and then BTCPay came out. I found it interesting immediately and wanted to start using it. So from the beginning, I got involved with BTCPay just like anyone else, as a regular user.
Then a few months ago, I took Justin Moon’s
Anyways, in the class, everybody tries to do a project, either contribute to an existing open source project or your own. I wanted to do something I’d find personally useful, and the first thing I did was create the connector for Quickbooks to BTCPay, so I could change my own business over from using Bitpay to using BTCPay. So I was sort of solving my own problem with my own solution because the native Quickbooks integration is only Bitpay.
That was my first project and it’s still available. I actually just made a bunch of improvements to it. Then, since I knew the BTCPay API really well, already, I started work on this whole LibrePatron idea, that I am sure we’ll talk about more.
Q: What inspired you to create LibrePatron?
A: Well, I am a big free speech person. The internet has been both great and terrible in terms of that. So, at the beginning of the internet, you could say anything and do anything and it was great. The potential is still there. The most enthralling thing about the internet is that it kind of gets around all these gatekeepers.
For instance, when I was a kid there was no narrative besides what a couple TV stations put out. CNN was new, then we had the network news and that was pretty much the beginning and end of it. I kind of cringe now looking back, there was probably so many things I believed to be true that were probably outright lies and false, only because the window of information was so narrow. Then the internet allowed anyone to put their narrative out there, and the individual could determine which one they thought was the most credible.
This, I think, is a really, really great thing. Unfortunately, it also threatens a lot of people in the existing power structure. This is why we have seen a lot of this de-platforming stuff come about. There has been a huge initiative, and if you look, the news media organizations have been the real pioneers in getting a lot of these people banned. For example, CNN had a guy that just followed Alex Jones around trying to find negative stuff about him to tweet. We have seen a lot of really powerful organizations create this drive towards censorship.
Unfortunately, since they have a lot of influence and financing, we have seen them persuade a lot of people that this drive towards censorship is good. Patreon is just one particular pawn in this game. I don’t know if they are censoring people because they want to, or because they are being forced by their credit card processors. Either way, over the holidays, Patreon bans became a big story, and Patreon’s bans were even a trending hashtag on Twitter.
I was just sitting around watching this and thinking, what Patreon does is not that hard to replicate. Patreon is basically just a blog that protects the blog posts to subscribers only with a recurring payments system built in. I figured it would pretty easy to duplicate this on a self-hosted basis. It ticked all my boxes, it had this anti-censorship feel behind it and didn’t seem too daunting for me to put together. I just started working on it, and within a week I had something that worked. It wasn’t the version that’s out there now, it was still early, but I had it connecting to BTCPay with recurring billing and I just threw it out there the day after New Year’s I believe.
I wanted to see how people would react, and it got a good response. Now I am still just improving the front-end, the back-end, the user interface, etc. It seems like people are starting to use it now.
Q: How long have you been developing Bitcoin-related projects?
(I should have done my homework. I was under the impression Jeff was a developer by profession. I didn’t realize he was a tax attorney who programs on the side)
A: I have only really been working on Bitcoin-related projects since October. My original background in Bitcoin was on the legal and tax side, which I have been doing for 5 years now. I took a 20 year break from programming, and just picked it back up about 6 months ago.
Q: What’s next for you, as far as Bitcoin projects go? Do you have anything else planned after you get LibrePatron dialed in?
A: For now I just want to focus on maintaining the Quickbooks connector for BTCPay, and LibrePatron. I think there is a lot that can be done to improve LibrePatron. By the way, if you’re a front-end developer with Bootstrap experience, feel free to reach out to me, I’d love your contributions to LibrePatron. I want to really just improve the LibrePatron front-end user experience, improve the granular control over subscription levels, there is still a bunch to do there. I really want to expand the functionality of it, before I start looking for other projects to work on.
Q: For LibrePatron, now that Lightning Network is integrated, will we be able to accept micro-subscriptions? Like a monthly contribution of several thousand Satoshis?
A: That’s possible on the back-end, but on the front-end, the subscription amounts need to be in whole dollar amounts, so you have a floor of one dollar right now. It would honestly not be that hard to integrate it if there interest for something like that.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Lightning Network in general?
A: I think it’s great. I am a big proponent of layer 1 staying as simple and basic as possible because that’s where all the mission-critical kind of stuff happens. We really cannot afford to have anything go wrong on layer 1. Then we can have layer 2 as a place where all these interesting experimental technologies can happen, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. Lightning has been iterating very quickly from something that was #reckless not that long ago, to something that’s still experimental, but has become a lot more stable over a very short period of time.
I think it’s been very positive, and I am very bullish on Lightning, especially considering the alternative, where you increase the block size to such a giant degree that unfortunately, by necessity, you end up with centralized control. When you look at cryptocurrencies with big block sizes or complex base layers, the classic example would be Ethereum, right? Ethereum nodes are highly centralized because they have to be. It’s just the nature of that network, whereas, with Bitcoin, it’s easy enough for anyone to run a node, so I think we have a pretty good shot at staying decentralized.
Q: Have you heard of the Bitfury surveillance implementation of Lightning Network, Lightning Peach and how controversial it is?
A: I haven’t personally investigated it, but I obviously couldn’t help but hear about it this week. It seems to be, that the main criticism, (if the allegations are true, and I don’t think anyone is contesting them, so I think they are true, and it definitely turned me off to it.) is that it is tightly integrated with tracking mechanisms, from what I understand. As I said, I have not personally looked into it, but if that’s the case, and I assume that it is, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do here.
Q: What is the most exciting thing in Bitcoin, right now, in your opinion?
A: Hmm. That’s a tough one. This is going to be a lame answer, but the most exciting thing in Bitcoin is always increased adoption. No matter how it gets there, but more people using it, and working towards it being a real financial system, that’s always the most exciting thing.
During the bear market, like this, what’s been particularly exciting to me, is that we have seen just crazy levels of development even though the price has been down. The main Lightning implementations are constantly iterating, (C-Lightning, LND, & Eclair), we have Joule out there, Pierre Rochard’s node launcher, there is just so much innovation going on during the bear market to make Bitcoin easier to use for the average person. When interest sparks again during the next rally, all this infrastructure is already going to be there.
Q: What are your views on Social Media acting as a controller of narratives and societal dialogue on so-called controversial issues?
A: That’s a great question. Obviously, I don’t really like it. If I owned a social media company in a fictional world, where I didn’t have a profit motive, and I owned the kind of social media platform I would like to use, that’s most appealing to me, then it should be really clear, any speech that is not against the law isn’t banned.
Here in the states, all speech is legal unless it rises to the level of a terrorist threat, obviously, I am oversimplifying it a bit, but unless it’s a terrorist threat it’s legal. If you want to censor terrorist threats on your platform, I don’t have a problem with that, that’s fine.
Opinions, on the other hand, of any type, no matter how good or despicable they may be, should not be censored. Unfortunately, when you bring up these issues, people tend to say, “Well, they are private platforms they can invite or uninvite anyone they want, etc.”
It was either Nick Szabo, or Elaine Ou, who wrote a really good article about this, (It was one of these two, I can’t remember exactly, If I am wrong, please correct me.) that even from a Libertarian perspective, that’s kind of a fallacy, because even Libertarians believe in this idea of adverse possession.
Adverse possession is this idea that, if you’ve been making productive use of a plot of land, let’s say, and nobody comes forward to contest your use of that land, then that land becomes yours, under property law, and that’s not a violation of the concepts of personal property, it’s you not being stripped of something that you’ve been so dependent on for such a long period of time. You can make the argument that social media platforms, even from a Libertarian perspective, the same principles should really apply.
There are people who have really built their personal networks, businesses, and professional networks on these platforms and have been doing one thing, the same way, all along, and then have it suddenly stripped from them because the terms of service changed. This sort of offends the conscience the same way as what drove the creation of those ancient common law principles of adverse possession in the first place.
Beyond that, do I really think it’s going to change? Probably not, so I hope we have decentralized alternatives. So, for subscription services, Patreon is really easy to decentralize, there is no network effect. Nobody goes on Patreon.com looking for someone to sponsor. That’s not how it works. So that’s a really easy one for decentralization.
Stuff like Twitter, that’s a bit more difficult, but hopefully, something like Mastodon takes off, and different organizations can host their own instances, but still communicate with other instances. This way each instance can have its own rules about what behavior they do and don’t permit on there. That would be my long-term hope.
Q: Have you personally ever been de-platformed from anything?
A: I have not, I guess that means I am not interesting enough! I have never even gone to Twitter jail. I have a clean record right now.
Q: Do you have any predictions for Bitcoin in 2019?
A: It’s funny, I went to
My biggest prediction isn’t really a Bitcoin prediction but more of a general cryptocurrency prediction, is that during this bear market, I think we’ll see a lot more of what we saw with Ethereum Classic, massive
At the time it only cost something like $4,000 USD an hour to 51% attack Ethereum Classic, so there is a big financial incentive for some of these altcoins to start to go under now. Which, I think is a good thing, I am a Bitcoin Maximalist and the sooner we coalesce around one money, the better. So, I think a lot of these cryptocurrencies, we’re going to see people attacking them as their hash rate falls and it becomes profitable to do so.
Q: Is there anything else we haven’t covered, that you want my readers to know?
A: No, I think we did a good job covering the basics. If any of your readers are using Patreon, hopefully, they will fire up a LibrePatron, and test it out. It’s new software, and there is no rule saying you only have to use LibrePatron, and only LibrePatron.
You can use it side by side with your existing Patreon. You can run it in parallel with your Patreon so your subscribers don’t have a jarring switch, or just get cut off one day. LibrePatron is something you can never get banned from, you host it, it’s your data and it will always be there for you.
LibrePatron just released a massive update which now allows you to choose over 20 different themes! Mine is using the Sandstone theme.
You can get started with LibrePatron here.
You can get started with Luna Node’s One-Click BTCPay Server with LibrePatron installed simultaneously, here.
If you found this interview entertaining or useful, and feel led