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“Social Blockchain: Improving Situational Awareness for Open Entrepreneurs by Designing a Bitcoin Seismograph


Abstract and Figures

Modern economies and especially open source (OS) communities are fueled by entrepreneurs. Yet, in case of community disruption, entrepreneurs are more affected than larger firms due to lesser resources. Initial point for our research was the Mt.Gox bankruptcy in the Bitcoin community. Based on a qualitative analysis among open entrepreneurs we investigate on situational awareness as an instrument for improving resilience. For this purpose, we propose a tool, the Bitcoin Seismograph, which provides a rapid understanding of changes in the Bitcoin open source system. Its design, launch and evaluation are presented. Our Seismograph correlates discussions from social media platforms and online forums in the Bitcoin community with technical data from the blockchain and business data such as currency statistics. As such, our insights so far contribute to improving situational awareness in open source and blockchain communities.
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Multikonferenz Wirtschaftsinformatik 2018,
March 06-09, 2018, Lüneburg, Germany
“Social Blockchain”: Improving Situational Awareness
for Open Entrepreneurs by Designing a Bitcoin
Marcel Morisse1, Ingrid Schirmer1, and Malte Nottmeyer2
1 Universität Hamburg, Fachbereich Informatik, Hamburg, Deutschland
2 Versility Labs GmbH, Hamburg, Deutschland
Abstract. Modern economies and especially open source (OS) communities are
fueled by entrepreneurs. Yet, in case of community disruption, entrepreneurs are
more affected than larger firms due to lesser resources. Initial point for our
research was the Mt.Gox bankruptcy in the Bitcoin community. Based on a
qualitative analysis among open entrepreneurs we investigate on situational
awareness as an instrument for improving resilience. For this purpose, we
propose a tool, the Bitcoin Seismograph, which provides a rapid understanding
of changes in the Bitcoin open source system. Its design, launch and evaluation
are presented. Our Seismograph correlates discussions from social media
platforms and online forums in the Bitcoin community with technical data from
the blockchain and business data such as currency statistics. As such, our insights
so far contribute to improving situational awareness in open source and
blockchain communities.
Keywords: Situational Awareness, Bitcoin, Entrepreneurship, Blockchain,
Design Science.
1 Introduction
When Mt.Gox, one of the largest Bitcoin exchange and an entry point for new users of
the cryptocurrency, went bankrupt overnight in 2014, the Bitcoin community was
thrown into turmoil. As the real reason behind the downfall was unknown (and still is),
community members had to make sense based on speculation and uncertain
observations. The explanation ranged from hacking, technical problems, unprofessional
behavior from the Mt.Gox owners to fraud and customer asset stealing [1]. The
bankruptcy of Mt.Gox is understood to be a major shock for the emergent
sociotechnical field to date as it made many question the future of Bitcoin and
blockchain technology. Since then, this question has never faded away due to recurring
criticism [2, 3]. However, a growing number of entrepreneurs have built businesses that
rely on the Bitcoin infrastructure. These entrepreneurs have to constantly observe their
open source system to anticipate new trends or unwanted developments. As one
entrepreneurs interviewed in a previous study [4], stated: I try to follow the Bitcoin
news as closely as my time allows, so if something does come up that we can react as
fast as possible and not just learn about it after one or two days.”
As a result, we conclude that situational aware entrepreneurs are more capable to
foresee developments in their context and react to them faster in comparison to unaware
actors. But this comes at a price. Whereas mature firms typically have more resources
to continuously analyze their environment [5], entrepreneurs firms must work with
fewer resources [6] for bouncing back. Again, this is expressed in the next statement
underlining the cost needed for situational awareness: That it requires more attention
and more time, because these spaces are just moving so quickly and there were so many
new things happening every day, so actually I’d like to dedicate more time to follow
news about Bitcoin specific news and I just scan it, because otherwise I couldn’t run
my business.
This presents us a practical puzzle as entrepreneurs have to choose between
dedicating time and resources observing their OS system to protect their ventures or
expanding their businesses to become a mature organization. This organizational
problem leads us to ask the following research question: How can situational awareness
of entrepreneurs embedded in an open source context be improved by reducing the
required use of resources?
Our answer to this question lies in a design science based development of an open
source tool, the Bitcoin Seismograph. The Seismograph provides overview over a large
amount of a variety of available data resources combining and correlating them. It
enriches technical/block chain data with data from the business and social realm.
The paper is structured as follows. In the next section, concepts of situational
awareness in entrepreneurial OS systems are defined. We describe the context Bitcoin
in the third section. Then, our research approach and our research findings are
presented. Finally, we discuss our findings, draw limitations and present theoretical as
well as practical contribution of this paper.
2 Situational Awareness in Entrepreneurial Open Source
Entrepreneurship is a vivid part of modern economies [7] as a source of new jobs,
innovation and new business models [8]. While entrepreneurship is often understood
as creation of new businesses [9], we define it more broadly as a venture of “a creative
and social/collective organizing process” [10]. Entrepreneurs discover and exploit
opportunities in their environment and transform them into business models and
processes. This is especially true for open entrepreneurs, who build their businesses
entrepreneurship on an open source community [11, 12]. We define open
entrepreneurship as discovery and exploitation of business opportunities in an open
source context (definition adapted from [13]). Open entrepreneurs benefit from low
barriers to entry and exit [14, 15], fast internationalization and access to collectively
generated knowledge. Especially, knowledge transferred from the community to the
entrepreneur is an essential resource for open entrepreneurship [16, 17] as it will open
paths for new business opportunities or adapting existing business models to new
circumstances [18]. Furthermore, knowledge gathered from the open source
community supports the alignment of entrepreneurs actions with community
developments fostering the entrepreneurs legitimacy [19] and reputation [20]. This
gives entrepreneurs the chance to direct and control the open source community [21].
Nevertheless, interweaving into an open source community can be a double-edged
sword. Strong reliance on a chosen open source community can also hurt entrepreneurs
as unwanted developments in the OS context might damage entrepreneurs’ reputation
and legitimacy in the non OS environment and limits access to financial, human and
social capital as well as public resources from authorities [2224]. Open entrepreneurs
have to balance the goodwill of the OS community in which they primarily operate,
with their profitability and long-term success depending on stakeholders outside of the
OS community. Thus, an open entrepreneur must gain situational awareness over its
open source context to sponsor promising trends, limit the damages of harmful
developments or even leave the chosen OS context in case of a cataclysm [25].
Situational awareness can be broadly defined as “knowing what is going on” [26]
and includes a state of knowledge as well as a variety of cognitive processing
activities” [27]. In more detail, a fully situational aware actor perceives critical and
relevant elements in its environment, interprets and evaluates the elements to achieve a
comprehensive understanding of a given situation and can make prediction how a
system will behave in the nearer future [26]. To achieve this, data from the environment
must be compiled, processed and fused [28] in adaptive and changing systems [29] and
under uncertainty [30]. Situational awareness is not an end in itself but a prerequisite
for the sense making process [31], because “situation parameters or context of a
problem largely determines the ability of individuals to adopt an effective problem-
solving strategy [26]. This means situational awareness is essential during uncertain
situations as the “less adequate the sense making process directed at a crisis, the more
likely it is that the crisis will get out of control” [32].
3 Context Bitcoin
Bitcoin and blockchains in general have developed into a vivid environment for
entrepreneurial activities. Introduced in 2008 by an entity named Satoshi Nakamoto,
Bitcoin has established an alternative for exchanging goods, store value and as unit of
account lowering transaction costs and allowing new business models or the adoption
of existing ones.
Motivated by a rising distrust in the banking industry [33] and a need for frictionless
payment systems [34], cryptocurrencies are decentralized digital currency schemes
based on peer-to-peer networks and cryptographic tools. Bitcoin as the most prominent
example was founded as "an electronic cash system" [35] and quickly after its
introduction transformed into an vivid open source system in 2009. Since then, Bitcoin
became the most used cryptocurrency today with a market capitalization of around 137
billion USD (11/21/2017) and a price of around 8000 USD per Bitcoin [36].
Bitcoin users, who want to exchange Bitcoin, must implement the Bitcoin protocol
to connect to an open peer-to-peer network. All users store a copy of a transaction
ledger, the blockchain, permitting participants to verify all publicly available
transactions to prevent misuse and fraudulent behavior. This has created a community
of active supporters fostering the Bitcoin protocol and network. Embedded into the
open source community are also open entrepreneurs offering eCommerce and financial
services like Bitcoin exchanges, peer-to-peer Bitcoin lending or selling mining
hardware to the community [37].
Since its introduction, Bitcoin is heavily discussed in online forums and social media
websites (like Reddit). These platforms are used to announce updates of the Bitcoin
protocol, debate developments of Bitcoin or notify each other of new events in the
Bitcoin context. As of today, as the largest Bitcoin related forum has
1.125.392 members engaged in 761.449 forum threads, whereas the largest Bitcoin
subreddit (/r/Bitcoin) exceeds 300.000 subscribers. At the same time, due to the
availability to publicly available data from the blockchain, several websites gather
statistical data around Bitcoin and present them to users. One of the most prominent
websites,, enables users to check currency statistics (e.g. Bitcoin
market price), block details (like transactions per block) or mining and network
information (e.g. current mining difficulty). Other websites like
focus on detection of blockchain forks or comparing market capitalizations of
cryptocurrencies ( Nevertheless, to the best of our knowledge, we
have found no tool which combines statistical data and discussion from the Bitcoin
community to provide a quicker understanding and explanation of developments in the
Bitcoin open source system.
4 Research Methods
We followed the design science paradigm by Hevner et al. [38] to create a “purposeful
IT artifact” [38] to address the problem of entrepreneurial situational awareness. To
foster relevant and rigorous results, we used the Design Science Research Methodology
(DSRM) by Peffers et al. [39]. This widely used methodology in IS research is a
“consensus-building approach to produce the design [39] and describes an iterative
process consisting six core activities, described further below.
Problem identification and motivation. We identified our organizational problem in
a previous study published in [4]. The problem is described in the introduction.
Define the objectives for a solution. Shortly after the problem identification, we
turned to Bitcoin entrepreneurs and asked for further insights into the problem of
situational awareness. From ten inquired entrepreneurs, a Bitcoin entrepreneur from
Germany agreed to a workshop to gather requirements for the artifact. We conducted
the workshop in a four-hour session with five participants at the site of the entrepreneur
in October 2015. We conducted open, inductive and iterative coding of the workshop’s
transcript and triangulated our findings with literature about situational awareness and
our knowledge about Bitcoin gathered in previous studies.
Design and development. The tool was designed in two iterations, but due to page
restriction only the second iteration is described in this paper. The tool was developed
by the authors using agile development methods Weekly sprints were established for
coordination of the project supported by cloud based collaboration tools for day-to-day
conversations and cooperation.
Demonstration. The tool was made public via a website
( in August 2017. The URL of the website and
the intention of the tool were announced in Bitcoin related online forums and social
media platforms to raise interest and direct users to our website. The source code is
published as OS project on Github.
Evaluation. The evaluation of the Bitcoin Seismograph is based on two tiers; first,
feedback from the Bitcoin OS community through active engagement with the
community via social media channels and second, feedback from Bitcoin open
entrepreneurs. We conducted a second workshop together with the German
entrepreneur who already provided requirements for the artifact. During a two-hour
session with five participants (four of them participated in the first workshop), we
discussed the current version of the tool, future enhancements and the tool’s ability to
improve situational awareness of open entrepreneurs. Completed discussion with the
community as well as the entrepreneur were saved and coded openly.
5 Improving Situational Awareness via the Bitcoin
We turn now to outline the Bitcoin Seismograph. The results of each DSRM activity is
described in the corresponding section.
5.1 Defining Objectives of a Solution
Literature about situational awareness describes three major requirements for designing
situational awareness tools. Firstly, a tool must capture “status, attributes, and dynamics
of relevant elements in the environment” [40] and put them in a second step “in relation
to relevant goals and objectives” [40]. Thirdly, a situational awareness tool should have
“the ability to predict what those elements will do in the future” [40]. Data collected
must be accurate and consistent to avoid misinterpretation [41]. Other authors [42]
suggest to store historical data to facilitate pattern recognition and learning.
In addition to requirements described in literature, the Bitcoin entrepreneur named
further, context-specific challenges. Bitcoin indicators like Bitcoin price, transaction
volumes or current blockchain difficulty have to be collected on a regular basis. These
quantitative data should be set into context with current discussion in the OS
community supporting the interpretation of indicators’ developments.
and the Bitcoin subreddit are named as most important platforms for Bitcoin
community communications. Due to the high frequency in these message boards, the
community contributions should be filtered and pre-analyzed (e.g. via a sentiment
analysis) to present only the most relevant to the user. But, the user shall also have the
possibility to go deeper and get a more detailed information about Bitcoin trends.
Therefore, it is necessary to switch between community centric and data centric views.
Additionally, the interviewees demand a traffic light system to get quick assessment of
the situation: With these statistics, it is usually the case that everything is normal on
363 days per year and then there are two days something out of the ordinary happens.
This makes tired, therefore, if there would be a traffic light with green, yellow and red
signals and with a yellow signal you check again, and with a red signal you definitely
check again and trigger further actions” (translation by the authors).
Warning and alert levels have to be defined for each Bitcoin indicator, for example
triggering an alert when group of miners control more than 50% of the network's mining
hash rate. The frontend of the situational awareness tool shall have an esthetic and
modern look to support user to find relevant information quickly. In addition, an API
is for the entrepreneur to be able to integrate certain data into their website.
5.2 Design & Development
We designed and implemented a web service with a website as a visualization frontend.
The theoretical and practical objectives are addressed by a series of distinct features,
which we describe in the following paragraphs. We detail in which software
components these features are realized. Each one of them is also collectively illustrated
in the data flow diagram (Figure 1), including its name, technological implementation
and individual purpose.
Capture relevant elements in the environment. Through a selection of multiple
complementary and redundant sources (e.g., we gather Bitcoin
quantitative technical and business data (Bitcoin indicators) about the Bitcoin price (in
euro, dollar and yen), Bitcoin market, blockchain status, network details and mining
pools. An integrated data model is defined by merging overlapping data and thus
improving data accuracy and consistency. Data is extracted via API Crawlers which
are realized as one-off Python scripts, which request the data via HTTP, apply
necessary transformations and load it into storage (see below). The scripts are executed
periodically in a 5 min interval by the Job Scheduler. Sources for qualitative data are
social media platforms named by the entrepreneur like Reddit and All
text is scraped with another set of Python scripts (Forum Scrapers) and stored in an
Elasticsearch database (Text Storage).
Putting elements in relation to objectives. Improving situational awareness resource-
efficiently, we query and compose quantitative data and qualitative data by analyzing
and filtering them in the Analysis Backend. For Reddit we use the native ranking system
to show the ten most relevant threads. Since the forum threads work fundamentally
different, we filter out every thread older than 3 days and show ten with the most views
as a rough depiction of an active forum discussion. Additionally, we provide a
sentiment analysis of the initial thread post by utilizing the Python library TextBlob
with its default model. The sentiment analysis supports detection of atmosphere in the
Bitcoin community. In our Frontend, we integrate and correlate Bitcoin indicators with
analyzed threads from current community discussions for a quick overview. The key
indicators are displayed as a structured number dashboard with appropriate sections,
labels, optionally information source, and applicable units. Current discussions are
placed next to the dashboard. The sentiment is indicated by a green (positive) or red
(negative) background of the thread display. For a further drill down, the user can click
on the threads for a detail view and switch between a community- and indicator-centric
Display warning levels. As a main objective, we provide warning and alert levels for
most of the Bitcoin indicators, which are following a traffic light scheme. In case pre-
defined thresholds are exceeded, the indicators are displayed in yellow (warning) or red
(alert). Once any indicator is yellow or red, the header color of the Frontend changes
to yellow or red to make users aware of the overall status of the Bitcoin OS system.
Figure 1: Data Flow Diagram of the Bitcoin Seismograph
Store and provide historical data. We store every data point in the Time Series
Storage InfluxDB decoupling collecting data and delivering data to the Frontend. The
database allows us to query data by time range and to generate additional Bitcoin
indicators based on history of the underlying value (e.g. price volatility and change),
which are also shown in the dashboard. For displaying historical data, we provide a
second interface component in the Frontend: an interactive timeline chart, which can
display all dashboard indicators mapped out over the past 30 days with an aggregated
granularity of 12 hours. Then applicable community discussions are displayed below
the timeline chart, for selectable timeline points in the past.
Predict future outcome of elements. Trend analysis of gathered indicators (e.g. price)
are helpful to predict future developments in Bitcoin. We showcase this by offering a
linear regression and displaying the percentage increase of the expected next value
(with 12 hours granularity).
Provide an API. The web service can be also accessed directly via HTTP and JSON
in a documented (Swagger) and standardized manner. Tool users can access available
information directly and integrate them into their tools and processes.
5.3 Demonstration
Since launch of the Bitcoin Seismograph (August 1) until end of August, 4480 service
requests (excluding bots and search engine robots) were handled by our CDN. Most
user originated from the United States of America (34.2%), followed by Germany
(28%) and Russian Federation (4.2%). In total, users from 49 different countries
accessed the tool. At the time of writing, most visitors per day were counted on the 31st
of August (809 service requests), shortly after a heated discussion about the tool started
on At the moment, the website is called 170 times per day on average.
Figure 2: Screenshot of Bitcoin Seismograph illustrating Bitcoin Price Drop
Shortly after tool launch, Bitcoin came under heavy pressure due to new restriction
on Bitcoin trading introduced by Chinese legislators [43]. Two major Chinese based
Bitcoin exchanges, BTCC and ViaBTC, are forced to close their exchanges, other
Chinese exchanges are expected to follow. As a consequence, the Bitcoin price dropped
from an all-time high of $5,013 on September 2 to $2,951 on September 15 returning
to around 4000 USD per Bitcoin on September 18. This turbulences in the Bitcoin
market were fully captured by the Bitcoin Seismograph, the alert status was triggered
informing users about the price fluctuations and correlating discussions (see Figure 2).
5.4 Evaluation
The Bitcoin Seismograph receives generally positive review from the Bitcoin OS
community supporting the idea of the tool and the combination of quantitative and
qualitative data. The claim, that the Bitcoin Seismograph is helpful to understand
movements in the Bitcoin ecosystem and captures crisis and unforeseen developments,
is supported by feedback received from users and OS community members. Criticism
aims at misleading warning and alert level descriptions and the tool’s emphasis on price
volatility. As a response, we changed the descriptions to make them more
comprehensible, improved user guidance for stronger attentiveness of the community-
centric view as well as raised the volatility warning and alert levels to reduce sensitivity
of the indicator.
The Bitcoin entrepreneur evaluating our tool also supports the hypothesis, that the
Seismograph will improve situational awareness during unforeseen events and will save
time and resources to understand developments. One participant answers to the question
of intention to use in general: “But, I would use something like that [Bitcoin
Seismograph], because it is also great to have community and quantitative data at a
glance (translation by the authors). Especially the history graph is praised for the
possibility to investigate previous events with correlating social, technical and business
data at that period of time. To the entrepreneur’s knowledge, no other Bitcoin analysis
tool offers this potential making the Bitcoin Seismograph also interesting for
blockchain researchers and journalists. Similar to comments from the Bitcoin
community, the pre-defined threshold values of warning and alert levels are named as
the important point of criticism. These values for each Bitcoin indicator shall be
customizable based on users needs. In addition, the workshop participants ask for
future inclusion of more technical and business data, like blockchain fork detection and
analysis of Bitcoin financial instruments (e.g. futures). As a conclusion, it can be stated,
that the Bitcoin Seismograph is seen as a helpful tool to solve the organizational
problem, but needs a higher adaptability to meet the different information requirements
of diverse Bitcoin open entrepreneurs.
6 Conclusion and Limitations
The overall contribution of this design science research project is an open source IT
artifact under the guidance of the DSRM [39]. The Seismograph addresses the need to
observe a fast-moving open source environment to detect trends or unwanted events
with only limited resources at hand. So far, no research has covered this subject yet.
The resulting artifact thus addresses this need with the implementation of objectives
triangulated from research literature and practical observations. To the best of our
knowledge, no similar tool is available in the Bitcoin. The demonstration of the artifact
shows interest and the intention to use of the open source community and entrepreneurs.
An unexpected Bitcoin price drop and its impact was captured by the artifact
underlining the tool’s usefulness. The evaluation in a real-life setting indicates that the
Bitcoin Seismograph is effective to gain situational awareness resource-efficiently,
both for community members as well as open entrepreneurs. Especially, the historical
display of quantitative and qualitative data is seen helpful to understand previous events
and facilitates organizational learning and preparation for future events. Admittedly,
situational awareness can be further enhanced, if Seismograph users are able to change
warning and alert levels to their individual needs. Although this is anticipated in the
tool’s architecture, the implementation remains to be done in the following
development iterations.
We believe that our findings have implications for situational awareness and
blockchain research: 1) highlighting the dynamics between correlated social, technical
and business data to observe developments in Bitcoin; 2) showing how open Bitcoin
entrepreneurs can be situational aware with only limited resources; and 3)
demonstrating how design science based artifacts can improve situational awareness.
The practical implications of this research are twofold. Firstly, Bitcoin entrepreneurs
can use the developed tool to get a faster understanding of a given situation in Bitcoin
without time-consuming checking statistics and Bitcoin related communication
channels on manifold websites at the same time. Secondly, due to the Seismograph’s
open source character, open entrepreneurs and other Bitcoin community members can
check and change the implementation to their specific needs. This is especially
important for the heterogeneous group of open entrepreneurs as they have different
triggers and interest based on their business models, ideologies and resources at hand.
It is therefore a starting point for future refinement of the IT artifact.
There are some limitations of the research. The Bitcoin Seismograph only covers
publicly available information. Data originated from internal entrepreneurial processes
can also provide helpful insights to understand current developments. Nevertheless, the
inclusion of such data is possible in future, entrepreneur-specific versions due to the
adaptability of the tool’s architecture. Also, this research focusses on Bitcoin only.
Other promising blockchain based projects like Ethereum are not covered by the tool,
but might have also effects on the success of Bitcoin. Data from non-blockchain based
system interfering with Bitcoin are also not included into the tool. Thirdly, the designed
artifact is yet to be tested in an entrepreneur or system threatening situation. But, tool’s
behavior during the demonstration phase suggests, that the Seismograph can support
entrepreneurs during devastating events. Fourthly, the Bitcoin Seismograph has only
limited capabilities to predict crisis beforehand due to limited data and valid prediction
methods. As it serves as a crisis detection tool in today’s version, future tool
enhancements should focus on crisis prediction. Finally, the Bitcoin specific definition
of objectives and the evaluation rest upon the experiences of one Bitcoin entrepreneur.
Future iterations of the DSRM will focus to include more entrepreneurs to get a more
complete picture of their needs and triggers to be situational aware in Bitcoin. In
summary, despite current missing adaptability for diverse needs of open entrepreneurs,
the Bitcoin Seismograph improves efficient situational awareness of entrepreneurs and
other OS community members by correlating social, technical and business data from
the Bitcoin open source system. Consequently, it underlines that the Bitcoin context
although it is evidently based on blockchain technology, is also highly depending on
social behavior, letting the Bitcoin context converge to a "social blockchain".
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