Great Moments in Crypto (part 1): BitcoinXT totally forks up in 2015
What you really want is a good Poop
Eight years ago, Bitcoin was about to fork off.
Too forking right, some of you may cheer. But a great many Bitcoin “users” – miners, developers, retailers and spenders – were against the idea. If you asked them about it, they’d tell you they don’t like being forked about. Some simply weren’t interested, insisting that they couldn’t be forked.
In 2015, we had other things on our mind than the current three horsedisruptors of the apocalyse – War, Pestilence and Profiteering. Back then, Greece was in turmoil over its choice of currency, and it was even worse for the poor lambs in the Bitcoin community. At least the Greeks only had to determine which currency to use. Bitcoin hipsters, on the other hand, were having trouble agreeing what their currency was.
The discontent rippling through the community looked at first to be nothing more than a tech fix. Unfortunately, the implementation of this fix threatened to cause a rift in Bitcoin’s user base by creating a fork in the dev road.
Worse, the take-it-or-leave-it way in which the fork, known as BitcoinXT, was being thrown at users was described by some as a “coup” that would subject Bitcoin to the whims of one person.
First, a disclosure of interest: I own a Bitcoin wallet containing 0.00002232 BTC. Back in 2015 this roughly equated to £0.003 or $0.005. Such had been the inexplicable rise in the exchange rate since I first acquired my BTC for $0.001 some 18 months earlier that I could no longer joke about my Bitcoin wealth being “not worth a farthing” – because by then it was.
Today, it’s worth 42p.
Second, a disclosure of ignorance: I remain convinced that Bitcoin is utterly useless for buying or selling anything apart from other cryptocurrencies. This leaves me unsympathetic with respect to its ups and downs and continually whingey growing pains. Nor am I convinced by claims that Bitcoin cannot be manipulated by individuals in the same way that other currencies are by banks and governments.
To my mind, Bitcoin gives the impression of being conceived and implemented specifically in order to make a handful of people very rich on the backs of the gullible.
Ah, but you admonish, this is no different than any minor project that eventually turns into a worldwide craze, whether it’s numismatics, collecting artworks by YBAs or launching the Hula Hoop. Initiators are entitled to enjoy the benefits of increased demand and value if it turns out to be a success.
I quite agree. Bitcoin was the Hula Hoop of the last decade. It’s the Beany Babies of this one, and I suspect everyone has already forgotten how that one turned out.
The problem facing Bitcoin in 2015 was that users were waking up to the fact that it was rather more like commercial software than anyone dared suspect: Satoshi Nakamoto built a countdown towards obsolescence right into the framework. It’s all down to the blockchain.
Bitcoin’s original decentralised structure and independence from control relies on universal access to the currency’s current situation and its entire history. As the currency is mined and BTC is exchanged between wallets, every change and transaction is recorded in data blocks of up to 1MB and added to the chain.
None of this is vague or speculative. At any time, give or take the odd 10 minutes, Bitcoin is completely up to date, truthful, comprehensive and in control of itself, with a complete transaction history back to year dot.
In this sense, Bitcoin is more “real” than any other currency on Earth.
It means anyone and everyone can spend and receive Bitcoins in a sensible, safe and self-managed way, rather than having to trust the value and security of their cash to a bunch of reckless bastards snorting coke from the breasts of impressionable ladies on the 32nd floor of some granite and steel skyscraper.
Sorry, that may have sounded a bit technical. I meant to write “banks”.
Once Bitcoin grew popular and became more demanding, the limitation of how many transactions could fit into a 1MB block threatened to slow everything down.
You’d have thought the solution would be simple: make the blocks bigger. Yes, but how?
In a commercial software environment, the developers would probably run a few focus groups, farm out the extra work to a coding sweathouse in India, announce a fix bundled with some unwanted new features, and make users pay for it.
In a scientific or academic environment, there would be a lot of chin-stroking, pen-clicking and writing of papers that would be peer-reviewed and tested before being rolled out to users or canned completely.
Bitcoin, however, is a peer-to-peer IT community, so the process of problem-solving involves a lot more email shouting, forum harrumphing, social media trolling, barista bating and generally singeing each other’s ironic Edwardian beards.
Decisions can only be made by committee, and this committee comprises every Bitcoin developer, miner, node-owner and other interested party (i.e. the human species). It’s not something that can be rushed through.
Nor should it. In 2015, Bitcoin had reached a stage where it was no longer viable, nor safe, simply to chuck stuff on Github and see what happens. Two years previously in March 2013, Bitcoin core developers released an update that turned out not to be backwards-compatible, inadvertently creating a fork in the progression of the blockchain. Spotting the error quickly, it got reverted back in time. In future, everyone realised, this stuff had to be done with greater care and attention.
The one thing they agreed on was that, depending upon how it is implemented, changing the size of the blocks will almost certainly create a fork. Bitcoin users who don’t update their nodes and/or wallets when this happens will be left behind. In the very short term, this could create problems such as people spending cash they don’t have or not receiving cash they are due.
On the other hand, this is the kind of thing that risked happening anyway if the original system based on diddy little 1MB blocks built up a massive backlog and ground to a halt.
So what’s the problem? Just update the damn system, hairy dudes!
Enter Mike Hearn and Gavin Andresen, who didn’t like the idea of waiting around for consensus on the technical approach and in 2015 decided to unleash BitcoinXT on the world.
BitcoinXT formulated a proposal to roll out a new version of the blockchain that would increase blocks to 8MB and allow further incremental size increases every two years as necessary.
Actually, that’s not quite true: BitcoinXT didn’t propose anything. It was a fork that was unceremoniously slammed down in the middle of Bitcoin’s plate of green eggs and ham, and it upset a whole bunch of diners. Overtly, BitcoinXT purred “Try me, it’ll help!” but privately it screamed “Use me or die!”
A community based on peer-to-peer acceptance does not like to be told what to do. Paranoid Bitcoiners even suspected BitcoinXT to be a coup attempt in which one organisation, even a specific individual, was trying to take control. Proponents of BitcoinXT, on the other hand, accused objectors of spreading unnecessary FUD.
Intentionally, BitcoinXT could only become the dominant fork if at least 75 per cent of Bitcoin nodes adopted its Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) 101. This would be determined to have happened when 750 of the most recent 1,000 mined blocks supported BIP 101. After this, the Bitcoin community would be given two weeks to update en masse to the new version or employ an alternative solution – such as hammering their own heads flat with a house brick.
Even at the time it seemed an impossible task. Later that year, according to one tracker, the amount of blocks mined using BIP 101 was still lingering around the 0.5 per cent mark. Only 74.5 per cent to go, eh?
Well, they never reached it and XT was a failure. Not because it was a bad idea but because Bitcoin users would rather be decnetralised loose cannons than have an efficient, manageable currency. And as Bitcoin is utterly useless for buying and selling actual things, the latter problem is not, in fact, a problem at all.
Success, failure… in the disruptor age, it’s the same thing since those who fuck up never foot the bill. Someone, somewhere would have make a wodge of money out of the BitcoinXT malarky regardless.
For this reason, in 2015 I decided to get in on the act by announcing my own alternative to old-world cash. What the industry needed, I felt, was a new craptocurrency.
And with that, I unleashed upon the world the newest disruptor in fintech: the Poopcoin.
The Poopcoin was going to scoop away all competing currencies and dump them in little plastic bags in nearby receptacles. It would replace outmoded and inconvenient concepts such as paper notes and metal coins, and avoid the need to carry about cumbersome credit cards, by letting you pay directly from your own supercomputer.
You’d simply walk into a coffee shop – more accurately, the coffee shop, since only one retailer had agreed to support it (in central Kazakhstan, too!) – and swipe your Cray Titan over the full-body scanner to trigger your purchase.
Each Poopcoin transaction would complete almost instantly in a matter of weeks, for which I charged just 0.2 per cent per transaction. [Minimum Poopcoin transaction value: £42,000]
To keep things interesting for the Poopcoin development community, I deliberately built in a self-destruct subroutine that kicked in after five years, rendering all Poopcoins radioactive for the next millennium.
To keep things interesting for me, I planned to duck out of development, responsibility and generally giving a toss just as soon as the currency I had mined – using undocumented subroutines, heh heh – reached the value of 17 Poopcoins (original value 1 penny, closing value approx $3.2bn), which I estimated would take four years 11 months.
Just enough time for me to get it changed into proper money!
Unfortunately, I chucked the computer with my Poopcoin wallet in it in a skip by mistake when moving house. No worries, I think I might just relaunch it all over again: crapto investors have memories like goldfish.
Talk your corporate investor today about handing over more funding for your new Poopcoin leeching project! And remember, kids: in the future, all digital currencies will be Poop!
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He appreciates that Poopcoin may leave a nasty smell in the industry but insists that he will continue squeezing and fully expects to clean up afterwards. In the meantime, he can hardly wait to get his hands into Poop.
Barnum would be proud! A sucker born every minute! If I had tons of cash and got bored(not likely with tons of cash) I would plunk a few quatloos into the pot for snicks and grins!
Why am I thinking of a scheme that rhymes with Fonzi? Heeey!👍
I'm afraid I am not bright enough to understand what value a cryptocurrency has. I just cannot understand why someone would accept payment of a bitcoin for a bag of flour. A government backed currency is accepted by every one until the nation goes bankrupt (Zimbabwe for one) but what triggers a cryptocurrency to be valued by a group of people? As I said, I'm just not bright enough.