The Latest Push for a Bitcoin Hard Fork Doesn’t Have a Plan
This won't end well, if it ends at all.
Bitcoin rival Ethereum split itself into two competing currencies in July to implement a code change that aimed to return $56 million worth of the virtual currency that was stolen by a hacker. Now, some bitcoiners are looking to do the same.
Ethereum's mostly-successful fork seems to have inspired a sizeable corner of the bitcoin community, which is rallying inside a new subreddit—created on Tuesday—called /r/btcfork. For more than a year, bitcoin has been mired in an unending debate about whether to hard fork the currency in order to change bitcoin's code and apply what some see as desperately-needed features. That debate had largely petered out, until now.
A new subforum on one of the world's largest message boards isn't a huge development in itself, but it's also the first movement on the hard fork that bitcoin has seen in awhile. The mandate of /r/btcfork is to discuss how to implement a hard fork, not to argue about whether or not it's the right way forward. In the last 48 hours, the subreddit has gained nearly 700 members, indicating that it's a popular idea.
The person who created the subreddit, "singularity87," told me in a message that they've been involved in bitcoin since 2011, and although they aren't a "big name" in the community, singularity87 prefers to stay pseudonymous for now due to the acrimonious tone of the hard fork debate thus far. To call the idea of a hard fork in bitcoin "contentious" would be a massive understatement, with each faction of bitcoin (developers, regular users, and miners) fighting to represent their interests.
"One of the main reasons I created the subreddit was to make sure there was a lot of community participation in this process," singularity87 wrote me in a message.
Despite the attention the subreddit has garnered, a post titled "Are you serious?" sums up some popular criticisms of the push: Namely, that singularity87 doesn't seem to have a plan or a dedicated team of developers behind his renewed call for a hard fork.
Singularity87 claims, however, that another Reddit user—"ftrader"—has begun work on the code for the hard fork, and that they started a private Slack channel for developers and stakeholders to discuss the fork before the subreddit was created.
The apparent lack of a plan is highly concerning. As Ethereum's own hard fork showed, things can go awry in unexpected ways. When that hard fork happened, most assumed that the old version of Ethereum would simply wither and die as users moved over to the new, updated version. Instead, users mounted a rebellion and rallied around the old chain, turning it into a currency with its own value.
"Some plan of action is already materialising," singularity87 wrote. "There will be more information coming out about this soon."
It's unlikely that many in bitcoin will see /r/btcfork as a serious movement until it has a public plan of action. Until then, this nascent rebellion has all the hallmarks of a big nothing, or worse, a disastrously ill-planned hard fork. But at this point in bitcoin's history, only one thing is for sure, really: anything can happen.