Note: This week, I changed my project from Bitcoin to its (slightly) less socially awkward fork, Namecoin. Motivations and background are discussed below.
I was not able to contribute to Bitcoin. I wasn't even allowed to edit the wiki.
My IRC questions about issues on the github page were never answered (#bitcoin-dev would rather talk about conspiracies, or about destroying other cryptocurrencies), and eventually I looked at the many items sitting in pull request purgatory and decided to leave Bitcoin for greener pastures.
Whatever work within the Bitcoin community allows those with power to grant some privileges to those without, I did not do this work. I didn't even know what I had to do.
I am reminded of this crucial quote from Freeman's The Tyranny of Structurelessness:
Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable.
Bitcoiners are a bunch of paranoid, anti-authoritarian nutjobs. It's not surprising that they would fall toward protectionist, tight-knit policies. I don't believe this makes their project "less open" (whatever that would mean) -- this would be the "free as in beer" reading of peer collaboration, as the project members don't owe their time or energy to anyone. Instead, Bitcoin is a free and open-source community with high barriers to entry.
If Bitcoin has a benevolent dictator (BD, to borrow Fogel's phrase and abbreviation, it is not Satoshi but Gavin Andersson. His attitude toward open collaboration appears to me about the same as his attitude toward security: openness is fine, as long as the participants are properly vetted.
Participation in the Bitcoin community seems to require knowing the developers from elsewhere: messageboards I'm not aware of, conferences on bitcoin, and so forth. Or through some other mechanisms of which I am not aware. The key aspect is that the community is able to verify the integrity and "worthiness" of various new members. We could view this as a policy that encourages reputation-based partner choice (Fu et al, 2008). After all, this strategy increases the cost of partaking in collaborative work, which could cause members to be pickier in their selection of potential collaborators.
Assuming Bitcoin is less receptive to new development than most open source projects, it could be interesting to compare a long-term observation of this group to some of the predictions made by various empirical studies covered in this class. For instance, Nobuyuki et al. (2005) would predict that ties between actors are "costly" - that is, they take a lot of energy to form - and that there would be little structure to the self-organization within the community. Certainly my brush with the community supports this hypothesis.
In the interest of actively participating in an open source community over the course of this class, I have moved my participation toward Namecoin, a fork of Bitcion that seeks to leverage its peer-to-peer authentication system toward the maintenance of a shared database.
I approached Namecoin as a defecting Bitcoin developer and received a warm welcome in their IRC channel. I am now lurking through their old mail archives here.