I woke up today to what appeared to be good news. Joseph Poon, a Lightning Network developer, Stephen Pair from BitPay, Christopher Jeffrey from Purse and Fedor Indutny, had published a seemingly interesting proposal.
In what appeared to be a compromise that may reluctantly get the support of both sides, they proposed both on-chain scaling and segwit activation through a mechanism called extension blocks. Importantly, it is all a soft-fork, but segwit’s 4:1 discount is removed, while on-chain capacity is increased.
For a brief moment I thought neither side would be fully happy but it might get the approval of both sides. Instead, I quickly found out that Blockstream current or former employees, including Matt Corallo, Mark Friedenbach and Gregory Maxwell, were publicly arguing against it or, more pedantically, were arguing about the way it was proposed.
The details are hardly relevant. This debate has long moved from having anything to do with technical constraints or scientific evaluations to being primarily about two very different visions. Here, Matt Corrallo appears to be describing Blockstream’s thinking:
“If the broader Bitcoin cannot come to consensus about some change, then it can, should, and does stay exactly where it is. While I tend to agree that this really sucks, its [sic] not the end of the world. People can and do use Bitcoin today perfectly well, and many of the designs people have for second-layer systems work great today (LN being an exception, though it does still work).”
By “consensus about some changes” he presumably means if segwit is not activated. However, it is not publicly known what exactly he means by “designs people have for second-layer systems work great today [except for the Lightning Network].” I am not aware of any such second layer designs, but Corallo appears to be saying that 1MB forever may actually be perfectly acceptable if not desirable.
On the other side, the usual arguments against segwit and soft-forks in general are laid out against extension blocks. It’s too complicated, there is technical debt, etc, etc. Some on both sides support the proposal. Johnson Lau, a Bitcoin Core developer, made a similar proposal earlier this year. Jihan Wu, Bitmain’s co-founder, said he loves it.
The general bitcoin public hardly cares as long as capacity is increased and fees return to being competitive at least with Visa which in London charges around $0.60 per transaction below £10 while charging none or an insignificant amount for transactions above £10. Bitcoin’s median transaction fees are currently around $0.80 for all transactions, but while with Visa I’m sure the transaction will go through as long as I have funds, with bitcoin I have to keep refreshing, sometimes for hours or even days.
It’s clearly a big problem as many businesses are leaving, but, surprisingly, although there are plenty of solutions, the actual implementation of one of them appears impossible. The instant shot down of the extension blocks proposal, just days after the instant shot-down of the segwit plus 2MB proposal, to which Matt Corallo, Adam Back, Peter Todd, Luke-Jr and others, explicitly agreed with a signed document to prove it, suggests the aim of some may indeed be for no solution.
In such case, there are many potential eventual outcomes. Blockstream goes bust, allowing bitcoin to move forward, miners fork, Blockstream moves to litecoin, big blockers move to ethereum, or something else.
What may actually happen no one can really say, but what is becoming clear is that no resolution appears to be in sight. That may mean this debate will very soon become far too boring. Seeing as nothing else is really happening in bitcoin, with news of projects leaving rather than launching, that may mean the currency itself becomes far too boring too.
In fact, some are already calling it old tech. A slow thing that hardly has any feature but high fees and hours of delays to just move some data from a to b with a community that keeps bickering over a stupid parameter when my pretty rubbish internet connection downloads at 1MB/s and this fairly old laptop I bought some years ago came with a 500GB hard-drive.
Whatever. After two years of debate every minute detail of every single aspect has now been discussed to death. There is nothing whatever left to be said but this: Bitcoin, either reach a solution or give way to a currency that can actually function better. A currency that works for my father and mother as well as the mischievous teenager. A currency that at least has the semblance of holding true to the appearance of being the future of money.
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Last modified: March 4, 2021 4:55 PM