Witnesses process the blocks that make up the blockchain. Don’t you wish it was that simple? What this means is each witness server computes, signs, logs and tallies blocks. The actual processing is done in a cyclical format: the top witnesses (1-20) process continuously, one after another, one block at a time. Their backups (21-50) process what they miss. And their backups, all the way to the 100s, process what the primary backups miss. A witness ranking in the 90s can expect one block a day. This means that that witness server must be operational and maintained to receive said block.
Witnesses also set the price feeds. There were times the coins shot to the moon and many of the witness price feeds did not adjust accordingly. That’s part of maintaining a witness; continuous monitoring and readjustment. Proper feeds should update at least once a day at the very minimum.
Witnesses, particularly the top bunch, also vote on hardforks. It is not the goal of witnesses to usurp the community developers and the hardforks they propose but to objectively approach the documentation and give constructive feedback. The decision to approve a hardfork is not one that’s taken lightly by anyone as it affects the utility of the blockchain and everyone’s stake.
It is expected that all witnesses will review the whitepapers, documents, code and generally-speaking anything that has impact or can impact the blockchain. That means the witness must have the capability to read and understand all that technical mumbojumbo that most people want to see about as much as they want to see grandma’s fruitcake.
Did you know that witnesses, for the most part, are unable to vote one another into the top rankings? Witnesses and whales are not synonymous. Most witnesses can’t afford to keep all their earnings in HP. They instead cash out and feed those funds into their side projects, servers and other utilities, including justifying their own time.
That’s one of the most important parts of being a witness. You have to know how to manage servers from the technical aspect and from the general operations aspect. Servers that are leased in datacenters have 99% uptime guarantees. What that means is they have a 1% downtime possibility. Think of it this way: over a span of a year, a server can be down for 3 days. Maintenance, power outages, billing glitches and other factors way outside of your control. Servers that are owned and run out of a house let’s say require physical maintenance, backup power, a steady internet connection, etc.
Being a witness has a very steep learning curve even for the technically-savvy. It definitely helps when a witness organically enters the playing field from a roster of established users. The knowledge of previous hardforks and the ecosystem that one acquires from participating as a blogger saves a lot of time. It also helps prevent confusion in the role of witnesses.
Witness contributions are, by default, quantitative. A whole lot of math and technology. Their qualitative contributions ie. fighting spam, building 3rd party projects, etc. are not part of their duties as a witness and are undertaken by them as a bonus of sorts. It is this quantitative nature of the main contribution of witnesses that makes the learning curve what it is.
Let’s look at our journey as an example. Now let’s start by saying that we never intended to join the witness game when first arriving on Steem, which became Hive. We didn’t hear about this great plethora of free crypto that one gets from running of witness like some do before they even write their first blog post. Quite the opposite. We have four people on the team and two were long-term users. Hell, we were so long-term we remembered the project from back when, way prior to the Hive hardfork, it was still Steem on the bitcointalk forum days. The way we started is we decided to relaunch our flagship site. Normally we jumped through the corporate software hoops but this time we said no. We knew how to build on the blockchain; we knew the ecosystem and were familiar with the currencies, the hardforks and most importantly, with running servers. When Steem was demolished in a hostile takeover by Tron, we contributed to the building of Hive.