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Is Bitcoin’s Civil War Over?

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:47 PM
Andrew Quentson
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:47 PM

It has been almost a year since the Great Bitcoin Debate, which unleashed Bitcoin’s civil war, was brought to public attention. Now, a year later, an unofficial truce seems to have been reached with bitcoin’s potential crypto competitors, such as Ethereum, and potential competition from numerous bank-sponsored consortiums focusing attention once again on making bitcoin great and appealing to all.

The Great Bitcoin Debate began with a series of posts by Gavin Andresen in Spring 2015 which argued for an increase in transaction capacity due to estimates that the limit of approximately 200,000 daily transactions would be reached by early 2016. Gavin’s arguments however faced fierce resistance and, as time went on, what started as an amicable debate over scaling bitcoin turned ugly.

The Blocksize Wars

Theymos, the top moderator of r/bitcoin, a place that used to be called a “home” for the bitcoin community, initiated a policy of censorship of scalability discussions and enforced it by banning a number of prominent and long-time contributors to the subreddit leading to the creation of r/btc and bitco.in/forum as censorship free alternatives. Coinwallet.eu started spamming the bitcoin blockchain to show what would happen once capacity was reached. In turn, alternative clients like XT and Bitcoin Classic as well as mining pools which used them were DDoSed.

The most vicious attacks however, were attempts to character assassinate and smear individuals and companies. Mike Hearn, after being fully vilified by one “camp”, was the first figurative casualty of the “war” and left to work for R3 banking consortium. Gregory Maxwell, in turn, attracted so much hate by the other “camp”, which nicknamed him Saruman, the magician who sold out to Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, to the point where he too left for a short period and gave up his commit access.

Blockstream has been so vilified that in some parts it is a dirty word. On the other hand Coinbase is smeared by one camp to the point where a post complaining of not receiving an answer from their support has been upvoted to around 3500 points on r/bitcoin by what is clearly an army of bots  hiding in that sub.

The debate has now become so controversial that few are willing to give any opinion other than state a neutral position because those who take sides are vilified. Things are however thankfully changing. R/btc, a subreddit where one used to find a constant outpouring of anger and criticisms of one person after another or company or mining pool, has now transformed into a multidimensional subreddit, with discussions on various topics related to bitcoin and in many way has become indistinguishable from r/bitcoin with the notable difference that it employs no censorship. Twitter, a hot “battleground” where proponents of both sides used to prolifically argue, has fallen quiet.

A Natural Truce

There is a general feeling that all the arguments that had to be made have now been made. Almost anyone who is anyone is now fully aware of the positions and the options and proponents from both sides are starting to see the validity of the arguments of the other side. A natural truce seems to have settled.

Most reasonable individuals recognize that both sides have strong and valid arguments. Bitcoin’s blockchain size is currently more than 60GB according to blockchain.info, increasing by 5GB a month or almost 50GB a year at the current 1MB every 10 minutes. A much faster increase would price out many nodes, leading to few validators which can keep miners in check and verify if, for example, miners have increased the number of coins. On the other hand, there are many potential improvements, such as pruning or sharding and storage is cheap. Furthermore, a limited network where few can transact is unable to grow and risks stagnation or replacement.

A compromise of sorts has been reached with Segwit which, among many things, is to increase transaction capacity to 1.6-1.7MB with a further proposed hard fork for 2017 where capacity is to increase to approximately 4MB. It is possible therefore for both sides to say that they “won” the “war”, with large block proponents having secured an increase while small block proponents can say they kept the size to “safe levels”.

It is, therefore, time to lay down figurative arms and reunite once more. Smearing of individuals or companies should be shunned by the community and quickly called out. The loss of Mike Hear, whatever his opinions on the block size or any other aspect, has been a blow to the community for he singlehandedly created the vibrant bitcoin SPV wallet ecosystem which supports millions of users, in the process increasing bitcoin’s capacity tremendously.

We need more, especially experienced, bitcoin developers, not less, and the loss of any of them would be a cause for concern. The rhetoric, therefore, needs to be toned down. Companies such as Coinbase have perhaps singlehandedly made bitcoin respectable in the Silicon Valley and easily usable by inexperienced users. We should applaud them for increasing Bitcoin’s adoption.

Likewise, Gregory Maxwell, whatever flaws he may have and whatever his opinion on the block size has immensely contributed to bitcoin to the point where he was given commit access and companies like Blockstream are developing some cool things as can be seen in their elements project. We want more of both, rather than risking alienating either.

Although the capacity question won’t go away, it is time to respect other’s opinions, engage in civil debate when necessary, set aside our differences and move together as one in a new reality of multiple clients.

Time to Declare the End of Bitcoin’s Civil War

Bitcoin Classic currently has almost 6% of bitcoin’s hash rate which is sufficient to “veto” any soft or hard fork with a 95% threshold. In my view this should continue and perhaps increase to 26% as all aspects of bitcoin should be decentralized and that includes bitcoin development. Having only one client risks the creation of cliques and groupthink which may lead to less flexibility, creativity, or agility. As an example, the Bitcoin Unlimited development team created xThin Blocks which reduce block size propagation by some 90% allowing for a 1mb block to be propagated in milliseconds.

Bitcoin Classic created headers first mining which allows for much safer SPV mining than what miners are currently using. Bitcoin Core is developing segwit. This is a new, vibrant, ecosystem where ideas and creativity can flourish, with developers who have great code finding hospitality in at least one team, rather than having to conform to one “culture”.

A world of multiple clients increases bitcoin’s resilience, making it far more difficult to “capture” or “corner the development market” and increasing decentralization. This new development therefore should be welcomed for bitcoin has come out of the “war” much stronger.

We are all one team, although we may hold different opinions and contribute to different clients. As such, we must first and foremost respect each other, co-operate and collaborate for what unites us is far more than what divides us. With the rise of Ethereum, the numerous banking consortiums trying to create their own blockchains, negative rates in Europe, and stratospheric inflation in Venezuela, we face both threats and opportunities. We are better placed to face these challenges and take advantage of these opportunities as allies rather than divided into enemy camps for together we are stronger. Therefore, in my view, it is time to declare the war over.

Featured image from Shutterstock.