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- Max Howell
- Thomas Borrel
- Timothy Lewis
- Troy Wong
A system in which open-source developers could receive rewards commensurate with their contributions would enhance the sustainability and integrity of the software supply chain. A decentralized protocol secured by reputation and incentives could accomplish this by facilitating value accrual back to the developers that maintain open-source codebases as a public utility, thus promoting future innovation and growth within the open-source ecosystem. Package maintainers will register their projects with a registry powered by a Byzantine fault-tolerant blockchain. The tea Protocol’s unique “Proof of Contribution” algorithm will determine each project’s contribution and impact to the system’s utility and health. Registered projects will receive rewards from the tea Protocol commensurate with their contribution, be secured through staking, benefit from a reputation system that spans projects and contributors, and have the option to allow communities to govern their regions of the open-source ecosystem, independent of external agendas. The tea Protocol will incentivize the maintenance of open-source by allowing network participants who registered their projects and comply with the rules of the network to receive rewards and contribute to their reputation and their projects’. If security or development issues are found, developers can make claims supported by evidence against the package, and slashing may occur. Members of the open-source community can review packages for quality issues, and the protocol can respond to these reviews by enacting proportional slashing events.
The information set out in this white paper is of a preliminary nature. Consequently, neither the authors nor any of their respective affiliates assume any responsibility that the information set out herein is final or correct and each of the foregoing disclaims, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, any and all liability whether arising in tort, contract or otherwise in respect of this white paper. Neither this white paper nor anything contained herein shall form the basis of or be relied on in connection with or act as an inducement to enter into any contract or commitment whatsoever.
Nothing in this white paper constitutes an offer to sell or a solicitation to purchase any tokens discussed herein. In any event, were this white paper to be deemed to be such an offer or solicitation, no such offer or solicitation is intended or conveyed by this white paper in any jurisdiction where it is unlawful to do so, where such an offer or solicitation would require a license or registration, or where such an offer or solicitation is subject to restrictions. In particular, any tokens discussed herein have not been, and, as of the date of issuance of this white paper, are not intended to be, registered under the securities or similar laws of any jurisdiction, whether or not such jurisdiction considers such tokens to be a security or similar instrument and may not be offered or sold in any jurisdiction where to do so would constitute a violation of the relevant laws of such jurisdiction. Do not purchase any tokens unless you’re prepared to lose the entire purchase price. It is a high-risk purchase and you are unlikely to be protected if something goes wrong.
The modern-day Internet is predominantly composed of open-source projects and has been since its inception. Open-source projects are developed and maintained via collaboration amongst global developer communities, and their codebases are made available for anyone to utilize as a public good. In the past 80 years (it is generally believed that the first example of free and open-source software was released in 1953), open-source software has evolved from the product of niche technology hobbyists to the infrastructure upon which all innovation has been built. Despite the importance of open-source software, the developers that create and maintain the codebase as a public utility receive no fungible rewards for their immense contribution as innovators and maintainers.
Enterprise software, which has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, is built on the foundation laid by open-source. Yet there is almost no value accrual back to the individuals who thanklessly maintain its very underpinnings. And while fortunes have been made from it, open-source software is mainly created and maintained as a public utility with no viable means for developers to capture the value they create.
We believe that the potential of the modern-day internet has been stunted by relying on a small percentage of the world’s engineers to maintain open-source software purely out of altruism. Open-source is a labor of love often hindered by a lack of meaningful incentives for core maintainers. Open source developers must choose between a day job that provides living wages or maintaining the very foundation of enterprise software. A lack of incentives results in genuinely worthwhile projects never reaching their potential while others suffer from security issues due to a lack of upkeep throughout the software’s lifecycle. To unlock the full potential of open-source, we require a universal method for assessing the “fair value” of open-source projects, enabling open-source developers to capture the value they create by facilitating capital inflows to the open-source community, all without altering the core principles of how open-source is developed and used.
Enterprises often wrap business models around open-source, generating revenue directly from the work of the benevolent developers while also relying on them to fix bugs as issues occur. Open-source codebases offer plug-and-play core functionality for enterprises; however, software vulnerabilities can pose an immense risk for applications built on top of open-source. A great example is a recent incident involving a critical security vulnerability in Log4j, a package from the Apache Software Foundation that found its way across many commercial software and services employed by enterprises and governments. In November 2021, a security researcher working for Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. reported vulnerability CVE-2021-44228, which received the highest possible base score from the Apache Software Foundation. Amit Yoran, Chief Executive of Tenable and founding director of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), described this vulnerability as “the single biggest, most critical vulnerability of the last decade”. Panic ensued and the few volunteers who maintained this package came publicly under fire for the failure. After addressing the outrage with a humble plea for fairness, systems got patched. Enterprises and governments eventually realized that Log4j, a package used by a broad range of critical systems for two decades, was maintained by a few unpaid volunteers, the same unsung heroes who sprang into action despite abuse from the industry and worked tirelessly to address the vulnerability.
Sadly, Log4j is far from the only example. core-js is downloaded 30 million times per week as the base of every Node.js application, yet it is also barely funded, potentially forcing it’s primary maintainer to walk away from the project or even change the license to closed source. Recently several bitcoin core developers resigned, citing, among other reasons, a lack of financial compensation for their decision.
There have been multiple attempts at providing incentive structures, typically involving sponsorship and bounty systems. Sponsorship makes it possible for consumers of open-source to donate to the projects they favor. However, picture open-source as a tower of bricks where lower layers are long forgotten, but still maintained by dedicated engineers and relied upon by even more developers. Only projects at the top of the tower are typically known and receive sponsorship. This biased selection leads to essential bricks that hold up the tower attracting no donations, while favorites receive more than they need. Bounties allow consumers of projects to propose payment for developers to build specific features, thus only rewarding projects for doing things that may not be in their best interest. And again, only rewarding favorites.
At tea, we’ve seen too many open-source projects suffering from these failed attempts at supporting the open-source community and have made it our mission to enhance the sustainability and integrity of the software supply chain by allowing open-source developers to capture the value they create.
In this paper, we propose tea — a decentralized system for
- 2.ensuring open-source software projects are well maintained,
- 3.empowering open-source developers with equitable rewards proportionate to their ecosystem-wide contributions, achieved through the implementation of the tea incentive algorithm across every entry in the tea registry, and
- 4.incentivizing network participants to follow responsible disclosure practices for vulnerabilities and bugs.
A software developer building an application needs four things: a browser, a terminal, an editor, and a package manager. Of these four, the package manager is what controls the tooling and frameworks a developer needs to construct their product. This layer is where we see the potential to change how open-source is secured and rewarded.
The package manager knows what open-source software a package or application depends upon to function, from the top of the tower to its base. Each project, along with every packaged version, meticulously documents all essential components and their corresponding versions.
It knows that the top of the tower carefully selects its dependencies, and that careful selection continues down. The package manager is uniquely placed in the developer tool stack to enable automated and precise value distribution based on actual real-world contribution.
We propose an immutable decentralized registry designed to distribute value based on the tea Protocol’s unique “Proof of Contribution”, an algorithm that determines each project’s contribution and impact to the system’s utility and health. Value can enter the graph at apex points—such as essential libraries—and be distributed to the dependencies of those packages and their dependencies recursively since the registry knows the entire open-source graph.
Additionally, we believe that the information provided by the protocol’s Proof of Contribution must be available for developers to assess whether they can trust a project and its author. This information may be based on reputation, community kudos, data retrieved from decentralized identity ("DID") systems, other package managers, or incentive mechanisms that potentially rely on network participants putting value at risk.
We predict that tea’s combination of tools, information, and rewards will justly incentivize developers, helping secure the software supply chain, stimulating the growth of open-source software, and fostering innovation.
Every package manager has its own package registry duplicating the same metadata repeatedly. In some cases, this registry may include information that differs from the project’s manifest, thus allowing bad actors to potentially inject nefarious code unbeknownst to the user. It’s time there was a single, comprehensive, and definitive registry designed and governed by the communities that depend on it. This decentralized, immutable registry could provide security, stability and prevent malevolent intent.
The Internet runs on tens of thousands of vital open-source components. It’s remarkable that thus far, incidents caused by the removal of essential open-source infrastructure have been minimal. The most famous was the removal of an NPM left-pad dependency in 2016, which cascaded into continuous integration and continuous deployment systems, leaving developers high and dry for days. This event demonstrated that the Internet itself is based on fragile systems of development. Other examples involved active or intentional participation from the package maintainers sabotaging their popular packages (See colors.js and faker.js, as well as node-ipc), or bad actors looking to profit by pretending to help maintain packages and corrupting them to steal, for example, Bitcoin private keys (See event-stream), or malicious packages with intentional misspelling errors, also known as “typosquatting”, in the hope of tricking users into installing them, for example crossenv vs. cross-env NPM packages.
Software integrity needs to be guaranteed as the industry progresses towards a future where digital assets are part of the software. We cannot continue to leave ourselves vulnerable to malicious actors modifying the software.
Most tools that we call package managers cannot guarantee that these packages built into the apps and dApps are the unaltered open-source code published by their original authors. Microsoft’s GitHub has found that 17% of vulnerabilities in software were planted for malicious purposes, with some remaining undetected for extended periods (See Webmin 1.890).
A global decentralized registry augmented by a reputation system and supported by incentives designed to expose bad actors and reward good ones may provide the guarantees developer communities have been looking for to secure the software supply chain.
Open-source projects deliver a broad range of functionality, some of which may be restricted or unwanted. Encryption is an excellent example of that. A critical use case for encryption is the support of individuals’ privacy across the globe. Encryption, however, can also be used for nefarious purposes (see Phantom Secure, dismantled by law enforcement agencies in March 2018) or may be compromised to support law enforcement activities (See Operation Ironside (AFP), Operation Greenlight (Europol), and Operation Trojan Shield (FBI) where the FBI operated an “encrypted” communication platform, AN0M, and convinced criminals to use their “encrypted” phones for secure communication).
Encryption’s broad applications have made it a perfect use case for open-source software and a great example that any solution that stores packages must be tamper-proof and censorship-resistant. tea is a decentralized protocol that does not intend to filter or sanction packages based on their functionality. While the tea governance may elect to remove proven malicious packages (see the governance section for more information), it is critical for the tea system to connect with multiple storage systems, including decentralized ones that demonstrate that a package is unaltered and correctly replicated. Package maintainers may choose the storage system best suited for their need to store and distribute their packages securely.
Designing a protocol to reward open-source contributions presents formidable challenges. Open-source software, being universally accessible, is susceptible to misattribution, appropriation, and malicious tampering. However, the open-source community has consistently demonstrated its willingness to highlight good actors and expose bad actors. Historically, the energy spent reviewing and commenting on other developers’ contributions has been strictly voluntary, despite how time-consuming and crucial reporting and defending findings may be.
We intend to create a decentralized protocol secured by reputation and incentives that enhances the sustainability and integrity of the software supply chain by allowing open-source developers to capture the value they create in a trustless manner. We believe adequate rewards for open-source contributions cannot succeed without both a reputation system and the ability for members of the community to communicate their findings and support (or dissent) for a project or the work of a developer. Additionally, we must provide developers with tools to access and contribute to this reputation system. Tools that include simple visual and programmable access to the version and reputation of all dependencies within their projects.
Transparency into the TEA tokens staked by community members to support each project enhances each project's reputation, much like the number of tokens a package maintainer stakes on their own work signals their commitment to it. These combined data points will help inform a reputation system for all community members and facilitate choice. As the event-stream package hack was not conducted through the package itself, but via one of its dependencies, visibility across all layers of dependencies will be vital to building this trustless system. However, considerations such as computation and transaction (“gas”) costs will need to take priority as the system is designed and built.
Our goal is to reward both Web 2.0 and web3 developers. The intricacies and specifics of each stack make it so that tracking installations of packages could easily fall victim to one or more bad actors. That includes “buying” installations to artificially inflate numbers. An even worse scenario would be introducing fundamental changes to the nature of open-source software by creating unnecessary friction with license keys or other deployment tracking mechanisms. To provide the broadest coverage, we believe that rewards must not rely on a simplistic notion of tracking installations, but rather on incentive mechanisms that encourage the submission of quality packages and the reporting of nefarious or high-risk packages. Lastly, many packages rely on common dependencies. For example, lodash has 176,308 open-source dependents while chalk has 100,247 dependents or log4js has 3,809 dependents. As more packages are created using the same dependencies, how do we ensure that rewards are distributed fairly and equitably? How do we ensure that the most utilized dependencies are rewarded without starving new or emerging packages and developers? How do we ensure that the incentive system does not end up steering developers away from niche languages to centralize them where incentives are better? But also, as developers, how do we identify packages with the most dependents to build alternatives - leaner, more efficient, better-coded versions of these packages?
At tea, we believe that the lack of visibility and incentives has impeded the evolution of open-source software. Supported by the right incentives and rewards, more developers will be in a position to build, improve and augment open-source software for the betterment of the world.
In this white paper, we propose “Proof of Contribution”, a novel consensus mechanism designed to quantify the impact of all projects across all open-source systems.
Proof of Contribution assigns a dynamic score, referred to as a project’s teaRank, based on each open-source project’s orientation within, and utilization from the broader open-source ecosystem over time.
We believe that this approach benefits foundational software far removed from the application layer (which tends to be the most visible layer to the public and attracts most of the interest) and extends the reward mechanism to ensure that all components of a project—from the top of the tree, all the way to its base—are rewarded for their contribution.
To calculate each project’s score, teaRank builds upon the foundation laid by Google's PageRank algorithm. Google’s PageRank is the search product’s defining component and is built on the graph-like structure of web pages. PageRank, at its core, is a probability distribution algorithm that assigns scores to nodes in a graph, representing the likelihood that anything randomly navigating the graph will arrive at a particular node. This algorithm is particularly effective in a graph-like data structure, such as the internet, because it quantifies the impact of each node (or web page) based on the quantity and quality of edges (links) to it. This algorithm was modified over time to better discern the web’s topology and identify fraudulent links between web pages, allowing various attacks to be mitigated.
Because the graph structure of the internet and the tea Protocol’s decentralized registry share remarkable similarities, PageRank initially appeared to be a promising approach for analysis. However, upon further experimentation, it became apparent that PageRank's anti-spam strategies were less effective when applied to open-source.
The key distinction lies in open-source software metadata. Unlike web pages, most open-source package metadata, such as lines of code and commit messages, are user-generated and susceptible to spoofing. Package managers are vulnerable to spam campaigns, wherein malicious actors flood the registry with packages containing phishing links or other harmful content. Package manager registries may also inaccurately reflect the dependencies of specific projects. This issue, known as “manifest confusion” may allow bad actors to inject nefarious code or artificially inflate the impact of third-party dependencies, often for nefarious purposes.
The arduous task of identifying and addressing these spam packages typically falls to security firms or altruistic individuals, neither of which offers a scalable solution to combat spam attacks in open-source.
Proof of Contribution is an algorithm specifically designed to address the identification and isolation of spam packages and ensure only impactful projects receive a fair reward. The details of the Proof of Contribution algorithm will be the subject of a dedicated technical paper.
In this white paper, we distinguish participants through their contributions. Some may contribute code or verify contributed code. Others may support developers and their reputation.
tea assumes that package creators maintain their work. In this white paper, we’ll refer to them as “package maintainers”.
Package maintainers must make sure their software continues to deliver increasing value as the industry evolves. They are pillars of open-source communities who need to be empowered and rewarded for their ongoing contributions. However, a package maintainer may decide to discontinue their maintenance efforts or realize they cannot operate at a pace that matches the project’s users’ expectations. To ensure continuity, they must have the ability to transfer control of their project to another developer or group of developers, thereby appointing them as maintainers and granting them ownership and control over existing and future rewards associated with the project.
Similarly, a developer may decide to take on the role of package maintainer by forking the existing project and registering a new one which they will maintain moving forward, thus becoming package maintainers. Once registered, projects whose teaRank exceeds a governance defined threshold start receiving rewards from the tea Protocol through the protocol's Proof of Contribution algorithm, in parallel with the legacy forked project. As the open-source community shifts away from the legacy project in favor of its newer iteration, the Proof of Contribution algorithm will gradually decrease the rewards allocated to the legacy project while boosting those assigned to the new forked project.
It is essential to provide developer communities with the right tools to determine which projects are being maintained and their past and present maintainers’ reputation and quality of work. We’ve too often seen open-source work being tampered with and the efforts of many ruined by bad actors. Although the work of these bad actors is largely discovered and remediated, it is often not until significant damage has been incurred through financial or data loss. Take for example the event-stream npm package that was downloaded over 1.5 million times per week and relied upon by over 1,500 packages when a hacker managed to penetrate the open-source project, gain the trust of its original author, and modify event-stream to depend on a malicious package that would exfiltrate bitcoin wallet credentials to a third-party server. Although tools may help detect some of these attacks, they cannot always be relied upon, which creates an entire community dependent upon each other’s diligence and willingness to share their findings.
We propose introducing incentives via the TEA token described in the "TEA token" section, to encourage open-source communities to report their findings constructively, so package maintainers can address them before they are exploited.
“Package users” are software developers focused on solving a specific problem. They often look in the open-source community for the tools they need to experiment quickly and iterate at little to no cost, directly benefiting from the work of package maintainers.
With more than 10 million packages accessible across the top 30 package managers, the absence of universal value attribution to open-source projects can transform the selection of secure and efficient packages for development into a high-risk and daunting endeavor. With no discernible means to attribute and measure value, how do package users efficiently select secure packages for their development?
We believe that the tea Protocol’s Proof of Contribution algorithm combined with other incentives can provide package users with the information they need to select the foundation of their own project quickly and thoughtfully.
In Web 2.0 and web3, a subset of package users, often called “sponsors”, has chosen to support package maintainers through donations or other forms of remuneration; however, this has rarely been the case.
These “project supporters” are organizations or open-source project users who use open-source software to build their commercial products, philanthropists looking to support the ecosystem, or entrepreneurs looking to fund teams to develop components of a larger system.
tea proposes to extend the communities of open-source project supporters to the entire tea community, whether organizations, developers, users, or tech enthusiasts. tea’s goal is to implement decentralized incentive mechanisms through unique use cases of the TEA token for any member of the tea community to contribute to the perpetual sustainability and continuous growth of open-source. Project supporters are free to decide which projects or package maintainers they want to support based on their work, beliefs, or any criteria and metric that would influence their decision. Additionally, project supporters are free to decide how they want to support these projects.
Sponsorship can be an effective system to support open-source development; however, these sponsorships do not typically extend to all dependencies. This limitation benefits favorites and gets in the way of innovation and software building. To strive as the foundation of software development, open-source must empower all developers, whether beginners or experts, across all layers in the tower.
To bolster the sustainability and integrity of the software supply chain and enable open-source developers to capture the value they create, tea aims to establish mechanisms where support benefits all aspects of a project. Support from backers will cascade through a project's dependencies, from the top to the base of the tree. This implicitly places trust in the package maintainer's ability to make informed choices about their stack, thus enhancing their reputation.
Figure 2 - Rewards distribution across dependencies
As new projects or new versions of existing projects are released, the validity of the work needs to be provably demonstrated. This information is critical for package users to decide if they can trust the package and its maintainers. Within the tea Protocol, this function is provided by the “tea tasters”.
tea tasters, typically, are experienced software developers willing to dedicate some of their time to check the claims associated with a package (functionality, security, semantic versioning, license accuracy, etc.) and stake both their reputation and TEA tokens to demonstrate the outcome of their research and support their reviews. In the tea Protocol, “staking your tea” is the process of locking TEA tokens to support your reviews, potentially earning rewards or facing penalties based on the consensus about the quality of your reviews. tea tasters also have the option to report bugs or vulnerabilities to package managers confidentially. Valid reports result in rewards from the project's treasury, while invalid reports lead to the forfeiture of the tea taster's stake. Lastly, if package maintainers ignore these reported issues, it triggers penalties, or “slashing”, for the project's treasury.
Like project supporters, tea tasters can influence a project and package maintainer’s reputation; however, their impact is more significant given their role in validating a project’s security, functionality, and quality. tea tasters will also need to build their reputation to support their claims. The quality of their work and the TEA tokens they put at risk as they stake their reviews combined with other external data sources will build each tea taster’s reputation, bringing more value to their work. See the "Package & Package Maintainer Reputation" section for more details on the mechanisms used to influence a project and package maintainer’s reputation.
The registration of a project release requires multiple transactions to occur atomically. Specifically:
- The package maintainer must register the project with the decentralized registry,
- The tea Protocol must instantiate a project treasury owned, controlled, and configured by the package maintainers according to the rules defined by the package maintainers, and
- The tea Protocol must register the treasury’s unique name with the Ethereum Naming Service, or ENS, thus simplifying all user interactions with the treasury.
Failure of any one of the operations will result in the protocol reverting to its previous state.
Upon successful registration of a project with a teaRank surpassing a governance-defined threshold, the tea Protocol initiates the distribution of Proof of Contribution rewards to the project's treasury. We suggest distributing these rewards following a predetermined curve from a predefined pool of tokens controlled by the tea Protocol and allocated from the TEA tokens total supply.
Package maintainers are required to bolster their project's reputation and trustworthiness by consistently staking a portion of the Proof of Contribution rewards received by the project's treasury. For each token staked, network participants will receive a non-transferrable “staked TEA”, or stTEA, at a 1:1 ratio, to participate in the governance of the tea Protocol. In line with the protocol's rules, these staked rewards, and their corresponding stTEA, may be subject to reduction (“slashing”) or redistribution if package maintainers fail to address bugs or vulnerabilities.
Lastly, failure to maintain the minimum staked treasury ratio defined in the governance rules will result in the suspension of Proof of Contribution reward distribution to the project. Instead, these rewards will be redistributed among compliant projects.
A reputation system that relies solely on the author’s economic contribution does not provide sufficient user protection and can be subject to Sybil attacks, where a single individual creates multiple representations of themselves to leave a large volume of positive reviews on their work, tricking users into believing their work was reviewed and approved of by many.
Several methodologies are available to prevent Sybil attacks, some of which are described by Nitish Balachandran and Sugata Sanyal in “A Review of Techniques to Mitigate Sybil Attacks”. As tea is a decentralized protocol, using a trust certification system that relies on a centralized certificate issuance authority would be contrary to its core. We propose to focus on decentralized approaches to Sybil attack mitigation and, more specifically, on methodologies that rely on a large group of network participants incentivized to assess and publicly represent the reputation of each package and its maintainer.
Similar to the production of blocks on a proof-of-stake blockchain, where non-producing nodes can validate the work of others and, when necessary, highlight a violation of the rules of the network, leading to a penalization of the bad actor through slashing (destruction of a portion of their stake), we propose a system whereby third-parties, such as tea tasters, would be able to review packages produced by package maintainers and be incentivized to behave in the best interest of the open-source software community and its users, as well as recognize good behavior and penalize bad behavior. This system must be both Sybil-resistant and prevent large token holders from materially influencing the protocol or the reputation of specific packages. We believe this approach to be more aligned with open-source, providing a more fertile substrate to foster adoption and trust, and ultimately facilitate the growth of tea.
Additionally, as the reputation of any member of the tea community reaches key milestones, they may be granted access to elevated parts of the protocol.
The review of packages by third parties is an essential component of reputation building and the security of the software supply chain. However, third-party reviews come with their own set of unique threats including the aforementioned Sybil attacks.
Blockchain technology, and more explicitly staking, offers a unique opportunity for tea to tackle this challenge. Although wallet addresses may be available in infinite quantities, this is not the case with TEA tokens, whose total supply is expected to be 10 billion. Additionally, each action performed by developers, such as submitting, verifying, or staking packages, will contribute to their reputation, thus creating a unique profile each developer can use to both contribute to the tea community and participate in tea’s governance.
By requiring third-party reviewers to stake TEA tokens and incur the risk of losing a portion of their stake should they turn out to behave against the interest of the network or be a bad actor, third parties can provide additional credence to a package and receive a reward, in the form of TEA tokens.
We also propose extending the reputation system to the third parties who perform the independent verification of packages—the tea tasters. The completion of a positive review will require two operations to occur atomically:
- The submission of the code review, signed by the tea taster and publicly accessible to all members of the community, along with
- The act of staking the package, to substantiate their review.
The completion of a negative review that includes one or more critical vulnerabilities will require the tea tasters to first contact the package maintainer using a messaging protocol to notify them of the vulnerability and allow them to address the issue in a timely fashion. Upon expiry of the governance-defined period allocated to the package maintainer to address their vulnerability or as the corrected package becomes available, the same messaging protocol will be used to notify users and testers of this package (including dependents) that a vulnerability has been identified, and hopefully addressed, so they know to update their application or dependencies. To disincentivize wasting developers’ time, communication between the tea tasters and package maintainers will require the tea tasters to stake TEA tokens.
Upon completing both operations, the tea tasters will receive an NFT as evidence of their work on the specific package and package version. The accumulation of NFTs combined with the staking ratio of each of the packages reviewed and information extracted from external systems will inform a tea taster’s reputation. As their reputation reaches key milestones, tea tasters may earn access to elevated parts of the protocol or accelerated rewards from the protocol, as decided by the tea governance.
tea’s mission is to enhance the sustainability and integrity of the software supply chain by allowing open-source developers to capture the value they create; however, rewards must be commensurate with the efforts deployed by package maintainers and tea tasters. Under-maintained, outdated, or corrupted packages are clear indications of package maintainers not living up to the community’s expectations or not delivering on the trust and support impressed upon them through the staking of packages. Another manifestation of outdated packages may be the continued use of a legacy language or legacy version of multi-version languages. Packages remaining outdated or corrupt for too long indicate that tea tasters need to review package maintainers’ work regularly and consistently.
tea tasters play a pivotal role in open-source communities, as their reviews and associated claims can influence package users, either guiding them towards or away from specific packages. To ensure that reviews can be trusted on an ongoing basis, we propose a mechanism whereby reviews posted by tea tasters must be associated with staked TEA tokens. Outdated or corrupted packages may see a portion of their treasury slashed, while another portion is sent to the tea taster who first recognized the lack of maintenance of any package.
As packages gain in popularity and usage, with more applications and potentially mission-critical systems depending on them, we must incentivize developers to discreetly report flaws to the package maintainer and encourage package maintainers to address such flaws before they can be exploited. Consequently, we propose that any negative review which outlines a flaw such as a zero-day vulnerability or the use of an outdated dependency and remains open beyond a grace period defined by governance should be considered a failure on the part of the package maintainer and be subject to the same penalties with the first tea taster to report the flaw receiving a portion of the slashed tokens.
The same can be said for package supporters who staked their reputation and TEA tokens on the work of delinquent package maintainers and received rewards for it. As they failed to identify the lack of maintenance or elected to continue to support the package regardless, we propose that all slashing activities extend to the supporters of the package.
Distribution to all tea tasters could be based on the age of their review and the number of TEA tokens they staked for their review.
TEA is a cryptographic token which serves as the access key to certain parts and designated features of the tea Protocol.
Holders of TEA token have the ability to:
- Register their packages;
- Support packages by staking TEA tokens to specific packages;
- Contribute to the security of the software supply chain by challenging packages and conducting reviews to report bugs and/or vulnerabilities.
As discussed, the tea Protocol unlocks the open-source economy and creates value for builders, maintainers, and end-users of enterprise software. Ultimately, the value captured by the tea Protocol accrues back to token holders as the community scales, creating a feedback loop that further incentivizes participation.
We expect tea’s Proof of Contribution and staking mechanisms to foster the growth of open-source by empowering its participants with the resources they need to pursue their passion unencumbered.
As outlined in "Project Registration and Proof of Contribution Rewards", projects registered with the tea Protocol and with a teaRank that surpasses a governance-defined threshold will receive Proof of Contribution rewards in the form of TEA tokens from the tea Protocol. This distribution will persist as long as the package complies with the rules of the protocol. Specifically, the package will have to maintain a teaRank above the governance defined threshold and package maintainers will have to contribute to their project’s reputation and trustworthiness by continuously staking a portion of the Proof of Contribution rewards received by the project’s treasury. Failure to comply with these rules will result in the suspension of the distribution of Proof of Contribution rewards and the redistribution of future rewards among compliant projects.
Dependencies can significantly affect the reliability and security of a package, and the absence of registration for a package's dependencies should be seen as a potential risk. Package maintainers, being both validators and users of these dependencies, are in a prime position to connect with the maintainers of those dependencies. They can encourage them to register their projects with tea, thus making them subject to oversight by tea tasters and eligible for associated rewards. To encourage this community-wide engagement aimed at enhancing the reputation system, we recommend that any package with dependencies that are not registered with the tea Protocol see a fraction of its Proof of Contribution rewards burnt. This burn would be proportional to the number and contribution, quantified in teaRank, of each unregistered dependency, and continue as long as these dependencies remain unregistered.
Numerous cases have demonstrated that strong incentives can entice malicious actors to compromise open-source software. Most of the Internet’s critical infrastructure is running on open-source, and the race to find exploits and other vulnerabilities is on. At tea, we believe that package maintainers are not the ones that should be blamed (although they often are).
The tea Protocol's incentives address this issue by ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of incentives. A package like lodash with over 176k dependents is a pillar of open-source development, and its maintainers deserve to be rewarded proportionally. However, a reward system built solely on the number of dependents would prevent innovators from disrupting these monopolies unless they are sufficiently funded by third parties or have already accumulated enough resources to self-fund. This approach would likely lead to a shrinking number of contributors, resulting in the polar opposite of what tea is about.
To address this limitation and empower every TEA token holder with the ability to support package maintainers, we also recommend that a governance-defined fraction of all staking rewards received by all network participants be directed towards the treasury of the staked package, along with its dependencies.
Staking can be an effective methodology to support a decentralized reputation system. However, to facilitate the security of the software supply chain, the tea incentive distribution system must carefully consider the staking ratio of each package and adjust each package’s incentive accordingly.
To reduce the risk of a small number of packages used as dependencies across many applications collecting most staking rewards, we recommend the implementation of an optimum staking ratio, similar to the approach described in the research produced by the web3 Foundation.
When a package exceeds the governance-defined optimum staking ratio, the total amount of staking rewards allocated to the package will remain fixed, regardless of the number of TEA tokens staked to the package. This measure, designed to de-incentivize package supporters and tea tasters from further staking highly staked packages, will result in a linear decrease of the staking rewards received by each package supporter.
A curve-based approach, such as the one described in the web3 Foundation’s research would slow down the reduction of the staking rewards pool allocated to the package, thus continuing to take away from lesser staked packages and introducing negative externalities by granting more influence on large token holders over the distribution of the staking rewards pool.
The recommended linear design should allow lesser staked packages to become more attractive to both package supporters and tea tasters. It may also incentivize experienced developers to build alternatives to highly-staked packages, creating an opportunity for the tea community to balance supporting existing software and promoting innovation. In its initial design, the staking ratio will be calculated using the circulating supply. The tea community may alter this design to improve the system’s scalability further.
Just as good actors need to be rewarded; bad actors need to be identified and penalized. Open-source software provides many opportunities for bad actors to create pain points and reputational risks for an entire community of developers. From the misappropriation of work to the alteration and redistribution of software packages, or the injection of nefarious code, the war between good and bad actors goes on, often with well-funded bad actors who see the contamination of open-source packages as an opportunity to benefit financially. The downside has been relatively minimal, with packages potentially banned from digital shelves or subjected to a poor reputation.
As tea tasters evaluate and analyze the code in newly submitted packages, we suggest tea tasters receive the tools and incentives to pinpoint and highlight nefarious code so
- package users can be made aware of the risks, and
- package maintainers and package supporters are penalized for submitting or supporting nefarious code.
To that extent, for all evidenced negative reviews performed per the network rules and which have been addressed by the package maintainer within the governance defined period, the package maintainer should not incur any penalty contrary to the package supporters or the tea tasters who provided a positive review of the package in question.
For negative reviews performed per the network rules and that the package maintainer has not addressed within the governance-defined period, a fraction of the TEA tokens staked by the project’s treasury, the package supporters, and previous tea tasters will be slashed and sent to the tea taster who identified the bug or vulnerability. Another fraction will be locked into an insurance pool controlled by the tea governance. The tea governance will establish policies and rules in close collaboration with the community to distribute the pool’s contents to those affected by vulnerabilities. The protocol will distribute a third fraction of the slashed TEA tokens across all tea tasters who contributed to the negative review.
Staking and slashing are vital components of the tea Protocol's incentive and penalty system. Package maintainers are required to stake a portion of their project's treasury, ensuring they have a substantial stake at risk in case they neglect to address bugs or vulnerabilities. Package users, supporters, and tea tasters can also stake TEA tokens to contribute to a package or package maintainer's reputation and actively participate in the protocol to uphold the software supply chain's sustainability and integrity.
Governance is closely tied to this active engagement. For each TEA token staked, participants receive non-transferrable "staked TEA" (stTEA) at a 1:1 ratio, enabling them to participate in the governance of the tea Protocol. Staked rewards and their corresponding stTEA tokens may face reduction (slashing) or redistribution if the protocol rules are not followed, reinforcing accountability within the ecosystem.
A majority of the TEA tokens created by the protocol are used as incentives to encourage package maintainers, users, and supporters to perform activities that provide value to the decentralized network. The distribution of TEA tokens to various stakeholders within the protocol is dictated by a “distribution schedule.”
Network incentives will be distributed directly by the tea Protocol, in the form of TEA tokens, to four groups of stakeholders:
- Package Maintainers;
- Package Users (which include all members of the tea community);
- Project Supporters; and,
- tea Tasters.
TEA tokens will also be utilized to support packages and secure the software supply chain through staking, including the right to challenge a package by conducting a review and reporting bugs or vulnerabilities, reward the open-source developers of registered projects, and participate in the governance of the tea Protocol.
It’s recommended that a 10 billion maximum token supply be distributed across all members of the tea community as described below:
Figure 3 - Token distribution of total supply
Roughly 50% of the maximum token supply should be allocated to “Ecosystem & Governance”, which includes incentives for open-source projects to onboard and maintain their codebase as well as rewards for contributing to decentralized votes and consensus via the tea DAO. Tokens allocated to “Ecosystem & Governance” should be distributed as Proof of Contribution rewards, staking rewards, and other types of developer-centric incentives.
Roughly 26% of the maximum token supply should be allocated to the “Protocol Development” to ensure the sustainability and continued evolution of the tea Protocol. Roughly 20% should be earmarked for “Early Supporters & Advisors” while the remaining 4% should be allocated to support marketplace liquidity once a token generation event occurs.
Detailed Tokenomics, including a comprehensive Token Distribution and Emissions schedule will be the subject of a dedicated paper.
Governance is critical to the development, sustainability, and adoption of any distributed system.
We propose that the tea Protocol incorporates governance mechanisms that enable active contributors who have staked TEA tokens to propose and vote on non-financial critical parameter changes. The voting process would be weighted by stTEA token ownership and individual reputation.
Protocol parameters could include the priority to support specific package managers or introduce new protocol features or functions, as well as the impact of external factors on user and package reputation. This functionality will ensure that critical parameters can evolve and be optimized over time by active members of the tea community. We anticipate governance will launch with a simple structure and progressively expand as the tea system matures, facilitating adoption and ensuring progressive decentralization.
Some system parameters may not be subject to governance or support high frequency changes to reduce the attack surface represented by governance. A progressive transition of parameters to open, decentralized governance will ensure the stability and predictability of the system.
As we build the initial tools to ignite the long-overdue support of the open-source communities, we believe part of our mission is to ensure that third parties can extend the overall toolset. In addition to providing the infrastructure for developers to build extensions to the protocol, including new ways to innovate and further the support of open-source developers, our plans include the potential for other package managers to contribute to the protocol.
The dreams and efforts of open-source developers have built the innovation that supports our everyday life. We look forward to discovering the new uses and extensions for the tea Protocol proposed by the tea community.
As the tea system matures, we foresee the community deciding and contributing to alterations and extensions of the tea system through governance. Below are some ideas that we believe may inspire some, however we do not guarantee any future performance.
Open-source software communities are vibrant and constantly looking to innovate and deliver value. This dedication and altruism lead to the constant building of new software and packages, each one pulling dependencies. As a result, we anticipate the dependencies map to evolve constantly, leading to frequent changes to the staking ratio and rewards. In the future, the tea community may propose the development of a system designed to dynamically monitor the staking ratio for each project and rebalance how project supporters stake their TEA tokens based on their own criteria.
We recognize that package maintainers may decide to transfer their rewards stream to one or more developers. The governance of such transfer must remain the decision of the package maintainer and their partners, with no interference from tea. Tools will need to be provided for such transfer to be total or partial (perhaps through only a portion of the rewards being redirected to one or more developers, while the remaining rewards continue to flow to the original package maintainer) and for the staking rewards to flow through a single account controlled by a single network participant, multiple network participants, or automatically distributed across multiple accounts using static or dynamic ratios.
The maintenance of a package can rely on the work of one more team of developers. Before rewards start to flow, teams should consider automating the distribution of value amongst themselves. How the distribution occurs must be decided by the maintainers themselves, as they are in the best position to evaluate who contributed and how they should be rewarded.
To accomplish that, each team (or teams) could set up their own decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) and either automate the distribution or deploy more complex systems to determine the adequate value distribution based on external factors such as a vote from all DAO members, or time-based distributions based on continuous contribution, successful completion of bounties, etc.
We believe that forks are essential and largely under-utilized. Forks can be an effective tool for developing packages that compete in functionality, performance, security, and even attention. As useful as they may be, forks must recognize the original efforts. Through future work or potential contributions, the tea community may enhance the system to require forks to be declared, perhaps even detected when a project is registered. Undeclared forks revealed by tea tasters may result in a portion of the fork’s treasury’s stake being slashed, transferred to the original package maintainer, or sent to the tea tasters who revealed the fork.
tea may not distinguish build dependencies from runtime dependencies when distributing Proof of Contribution rewards at launch. However, provided the tea community feels strongly about making such a distinction, the tea community may propose enhancements to the rewards distribution algorithm to account for the criticality of each dependency and their contribution to the individual value of the packages that depend upon them. These proposals would be voted upon and implemented based on the community’s decision.
As more applications are built using projects registered with tea, the community may augment the reward algorithm so that allocation may be influenced by external attested datasets such as usage. This update to the rewards mechanism could allow for a higher allocation of TEA token rewards to flow towards packages with the highest usage while still respecting the constraints of the staking ratio described in the TEA token section. Package maintainers could use a similar approach to distribute rewards across their dependencies based on the transparent logic of their choice. Note that all information used to affect the distribution of rewards across packages and dependencies in the tea system will need to be provably reliable.
This white paper would not exist without the support and dedication of many teaophiles. The authors would like to acknowledge Jacob Heider, Jadid Khan, Josh Kruger, and Shane Molidor for their contribution to the tokenomics, Sanchit Ram for his contribution to the teaRank algorithm, and the many discrete individuals who volunteered their time to provide feedback on the contents of this document.