After the abysmal results with my personal predictions for —, I’ve finally learned to ask more questions and offer fewer forecasts, anyway. Instead of prognosticating, I’ll offer 10 simple questions for the bitcoin and blockchain industry going into this year. Next week, I’ll address the broader blockchain ecosystem. This week, I’ve got five questions for bitcoin in How will scalability be solved?
The growth in bitcoin transaction volumes shows no sign of abating, and yet the 1MB block data limit is no closer to being raised than it was six months ago. Whether and how it is raised via hard fork or changes to Bitcoin Core will have lasting repercussions, and changing one of bitcoin’s fundamental rules will have unintended, unpredicted and perhaps negative consequences.
So it helps to remember that the important question this year is not necessarily how bitcoin is scaled, but whether it is allowed to scale without a dogfight. There are currently only four ways to scale bitcoin today: Coinbaseor by increasing the block-size. Lightning networks and sidechains aren’t yet ready for prime time, and most technologists would agree that increasing the clout of third-party transaction processors goes against bitcoin’s intended design.
This means that by mid, we’ll either see a stop-gap resolution to increase the block-size, a hard fork, or a spike in bitcoin transaction fees for smaller transactions. All have their associated risks. So here’s my question: Assuming that cooler heads prevail with the block-size debate, and a consensus on scalability is reached before the technology and its network fractures a big assumption, to be sureit will be fun to watch what happens to the bitcoin price and mining incentives over the next several months.
For the second time since bitcoin was released into the wild, the bitcoin mining reward subsidy is scheduled to halve — around Julyfrom 25 BTC to Other things equal, this should result in some combination of smaller miners dropping out of the market, a rally in the bitcoin price, the curbing of mining difficulty increases, and greater interest from miners in allowing bitcoin transaction fees to rise.
Economics aside, the broader community would benefit the most from a rally in the bitcoin price, as the higher market cap would lead to additional liquidity, tighter trading spreads and lower volatility.
Will bitcoin platforms attract developers? Every tech company is building a “platform” when they are speaking with investors, but there simply aren’t many true platforms in bitcoin. I’d argue that there are currently only two nascent bitcoin platforms worth watching in Coinbase and 21 Inc. Both happen to be the industry’s investor darlings, so maybe there’s something to this whole platform thing.
Of the two, 21 probably has the edge given the company is ‘fiat-free’ and won’t risk jeopardizing its business if a third-party app developer misuses the product.
The Coinbase compliance team, on the other hand, is on the hook if apps built using Coinbase’s ‘wallet-as-a-service’ promote money laundering or illegal money transmission.
Why Invest in Bitcoin?
That said, 21 may have to worry about the economics of its mining chips. Building on Coinbase might be risky and expensive from a compliance perspective. Building on 21 might be just downright expensive. Will we see a killer app? Let’s go one step beyond questioning whether there are any viable bitcoin platforms and ask simply whether there are any interesting applications.
So should you invest in Bitcoin?
The industry’s worst kept secret is that bitcoin remains a terrible currency for those with access to only basic financial services. Credit cards offer better consumer protections, rewards, and user experience than bitcoin for nearly all purchases except for those in outright illicit or gray market industries like gambling and marijuana.