Ethereum hard forks might serve as an important lesson for Bitcoin about how such a technical change to a distributed system unfolds. Ethereum’s first hard fork, for instance, resulted in a competing Ethereum chain.
Wildly engaged in their own debates on forums and Reddit, Bitcoiners are currently deliberating changing key aspects of Bitcoin’s code. But the Ethereum hard fork might give them a peek into their own future. One’s position in the block size debate likely revolves around the value system each individual has developed around crypto-currency. The Bitcoin block size debate revolves around the Bitcoin’s ability to process transactions.
Bitcoin’s current block size is 1MB. This allows for approximately 7 transactions per second. There’s nothing innate about the technology to make this a bad thing. But people have decided they would like to use Bitcoin like cash – instead of, say, digital gold – and thus have moved towards 2MB, 4MB 8MB and other changes to the Bitcoin code base. Several projects have cropped up towards this end – Bitcoin XT and the psychedelic Bitcoin Classic, for example. But, the core Bitcoin developers continue to elect to keep Bitcoin as is.
Monied Bitcoiners have recently taken to encouraging Bitcoiners to vote with their bitcoins using bitcoinocracy, a website. Bitcoin personality Roger Ver recently celebrated how a Bitcoiner with at least bitcoins sent a big transaction. Ver’s justification was, essentially, to suggest that, since a wealthy bitcoiners want a bigger block size, then it must be right. Crypto-decentralists disagree.
“If we compare the Ethereum hard fork to block size debate within Bitcoin community, the latter looks purely technical,” said Arvicco, Ethereum Classic project coordinator, speaking to CCN.com.
Block size increase is a technical decision with some usability/decentralization tradeoffs, but it doesn’t violate in a major way any of the key blockchain characteristics. At the same time, Ethereum DAO bailout hard fork violates two of them: censorship-resistance and immutability.
Until it is conclusively shown that block increase is not detrimental to decentralization, Arvicco doesn’t think it is advisable to rush into Bitcoin hard fork.
“That being said, I’ve been advocating for ‘Bitcoin Classic’ spinoff coin for quite a while now,” he added. Arvicco believes the bitcoin community holds stronger decentralist positions than Ethereum.
“When MtGox crisis happened, even with hundreds of millions in USD value lost, there was not even a talk about hard fork to rewrite tx history,” he pointed out. It was a version conflict thing, so purely technical. It could be resolved either way without implications for key blockchain characteristics.”
Arvicco admits the Bitcoin block size debate is not clear cut, involving both a clash of values and business interests. He highlights one vocal proponent for a block size increase and his views.
“One of the biggest supporters of block size increase, Roger Ver, is overall very pro-decentralist,” Arvicco detailed. “You can call him crypto-anarchist, even. But he thinks that compromise between further centralization threat and faster Bitcoin adoption are weighing towards block size increase.” Some pushing for block size increases, like Bitcoin banks such as Coinbase, are driven by business interests, according to Arvicco.
He believes such businesses see the emergence of solutions like the Lightning Network, a blockchain solution for greater transaction volumes, as a threat to their dominant position as trusted middlemen of Bitcoin world. Overall, a change to the Bitcoin block size does not undermine the three tenets of crypto-decentralism: openness, immutability and cryptography, he opines.
“From a practical standpoint, it’s just a set of principles that makes blockchains universally useful and therefore valuable,” he said. Despite the crypto-decentralists deep criticisms of the crypto world today, they still believe the technology will change the world.
“The blockchains impact on our way of life, global economic and political structures will be tremendous,” he said. “It will just take quite some time to fully play out. We are in the very very beginning of seismic changes.”
It’s not just irreverent blockchain factions who value decentralization. Others, too, have noted the relevance of such a line of reasoning.
Charlie Lee, Director of Engineering at bitcoin and ether exchange Coinbase, as well as creator of Litecoin, tweeted approvingly about Ethereum Classic. Former Ethereum participants recognize the value in ETC.
“[Ethereum Classic] has the principles and integrity of the original project and none of the founders,” an early programmer on the Ethereum Project, who asked for anonymity and claimed to be suspected by Ethereum to be the DAO hacker, told me. “The toxic waste has been moved to a different network. And it’s a really wonderful experiment. If ETC is successful, next is Bitcoin. We are seeing an experiment play out for a much bigger party soon to happen. The results of this fork will give us an interesting data point for that scenario [in Bitcoin].”
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