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The Siacoin Question: To Fork or Not to Fork?

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM
Gregory Rocco
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM

Forks have been a hot topic recently due to the debates that they spark, and the potential for a new digital asset to come from contentious decisions.

In a recent turn of events, the Sia community has been undergoing a bit of internal debate regarding whether or not to deploy a soft-fork that would bolster ASIC mining competition outside of the umbrella of Nebulous – the managers of the Sia codebase.

Nebulous Expands into ASIC Manufacturing

Sia, the brain-child of David Vorick and Luke Champine, initially released back in 2015 as a means to decentralize file storage by offering individuals the ability to rent out their unused hard drive space for compensation. The technology featured file encryption against hosts wishing to view stored data, file redundancy by spreading data to a wide range of hosts, and smart contracts enabling payments between renters and hosts. The system protects itself against malicious actors by deploying a Proof-of-Work consensus that attracted plenty of GPU-miners.

On June 19th, Sia teased their community  by releasing what appeared to be a company logo with the text “Obelisk. Coming soon.” Just a few days later, Nebulous announced their plans to enter the ASIC manufacturing world, specifically through Sia ASICs created by their latest subsidiary named Obelisk . They began their initial pre-sale and had a date pegged for their first shipment to be sent sometime before Summer 2018.

Bitmain Crashes the Party

Unbeknownst to the entire Sia community and Nebulous, ASIC manufacturer Bitmain was slowly working in the background to build a miner dedicated to Sia. Bitmain announced the sales and shipment  of them on Twitter before Obelisk’s miners were able to hit the market potentially this quarter.

Vorick was quick to respond to this move , by reminding the community of Bitmain’s actions in the past, and alerting them to a potential card up their sleeve: a soft-fork that would invalidate any ASIC other than Obelisk’s own.

We did add an extra feature to the SC1 unit that would allow us to invalidate the Bitmain hardware without invalidating the SC1. The community would need to choose to adopt a soft-fork (it’s not something we could just magically activate, we have to change the hashing algorithm slightly), and then we could get rid of this cycle of Bitmain hardware.

However, Vorick did mention that he believes that a soft-fork isn’t in Sia’s best interests, but the team would act if Bitmain were to attack the network. He closed the remarks by assuring the community that Sia is not “in trouble,” and then opened the debate up to allow the community to respond to the situation.

Hash Power, New Players, and a Contingency Plan

After Vorick’s scrutiny, Bitmain immediately went on the offensive and opened up  a pool branch on Antpool for Sia. They flexed their muscles by quickly jumping to over 200 TH/s before calming things down. At the time of writing, Antpool’s hashrate is around 3% of the Sia network . Siamining currently controls the hashrate majority with ~68%.

What the Sia community and Bitmain didn’t expect was another manufacturer capitalizing on the current drama by entering the playing field.

ASIC manufacturing company Halong Mining also announced  a Sia ASIC miner of their own, boasting speeds of 3.33TH. However, the community remained a bit skeptical considering that an image hasn’t been uploaded of the actual product on their website, and the fact that Halong has yet to deliver on their sha256 miners.

The community began to get nervous over the next wave of competition quickly entering the scene, and discussions of forking continued to brew at an increased rate on both the Sia Subreddit and Discord channel.

A Reddit user by the name of /u/slowtoaster  took matters into their own hands by announcing a fork that would maintain compatibility with all ASIC miners if the Sia team decided to render their competition obsolete. However, the semantics of the announcement seemed as though the Reddit user was looking to capitalize on the potential to profit off of a new coin rather than have it be an initiative for the community, as the post leaned toward exchange support first rather than the necessity of the contention.

The Community Responds

An open letter  penned by members of the Sia community surfaced six days after the events began rolling, detailing the situation from a protectionist standpoint. The letter leaned toward supporting the soft-fork option posed, which would invalidate Bitmain’s hardware and other ASIC manufacturer hardware outside of Obelisk’s.

The letter also detailed the fact that if Bitmain released their miners just a month earlier, a scheduled hard-fork would’ve activated sooner than expected, leading to potential network issues. Although this in and of itself alleviates Bitmain partially of malicious intent, the Sia community had every right to question their motives due to the number of controversies surrounding the company.

In their drive to maximize profits, they externalize costs to blockchain communities. However, communities are not obliged to accept this. Already, the Sia community is concerned with the prospect of Bitmain behaving maliciously by either mining enough empty blocks to disrupt the Sia network or by performing a 51% attack.

The petition campaign included with the letter has since received 261 signatures,  and is calling for the fork activation in order to protect the network from any potential attacks from Bitmain. The campaign implores potential signees to first read the open letter before making any decisions in order to paint a picture of the current conflict.

Sia Responds – Fork as a Last Resort

Just two days later, Zack Herbert, VP of Operations at Sia, penned his own response  to the community letter, as well as the situation at hand. The letter states that the company isn’t in favor of a soft-fork which would invalidate Bitmain’s hardware, simply because it would be a “centralized, monopolistic move” which went against the ideology of the project.

The team recognizes Bitmain as a “bad actor,” and leaves their motives in the general realm of working to ‘undermine’ projects they get involved with. The team also took a shot at Bitmain’s infamous ‘Antbleed,’ which was a backdoor built into their miners in order to keep tabs on their customers and potentially compromise rival operations. They did, in fact, point A3 owners toward “friendly pools” for mining such as Luxor and SiaMining to keep the network protected.

We are trying to build a storage layer for the internet. And we therefore cannot afford to damage our reputation and split the community when we are this young.

One of the more striking notes – also highlighted by a majority of readers on the article – let the community know that the Sia team will, in fact, soft-fork to invalidate Bitmain’s hardware if they take any action to “harm” the project. This action would exist outside of any form of consensus, leaving the custodians of the project to decide its fate rather than the community. This also meant that the situation of whether or not the community would fork the project rested on the community’s shoulders alone, as Sia took a step back from the potential update.

To Fork or Not to Fork

Whether or not Sia is to undergo the fork to invalidate other ASIC miners still isn’t clear, but the internal team has drawn their line in the sand by threatening to deploy only if Bitmain was to attack the network. The team’s decision to err on the side of caution when it came to a fork to bolster their competition is a nod to the merits of competition in the space, and keeping decentralized systems decentralized.

In this case, it will truly be up to the community to decide the fate of the fork. With enough hashpower, development, and exchange support, anything is possible.

Featured image from Shutterstock.