Bitcoin – I Don’t “Get It”

This may sound strange coming from a CEO who owns and uses Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency through multiple businesses that accept Bitcoin each day.   But I still really don’t understand Bitcoin on a practical level, the technical part is understandable but for how long will the current model of currencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin work?  Do not get me wrong, I am long on crypto still but what that means in the coming years and decades is probably going to be vastly different than the current model of today.

What Is A Confirmation And Why Does It Take So Long?

What I’m referring to is when you send or receive currency there are varying opinions of what it means to actually “confirm” you have it.  But even before that people who have sent and received cryptocurrency know it is actually quite slow.  It can easily take a number of minutes and even after that point it is recommended you wait for a certain amount of confirmations.

It’s quite simple, these crypto networks with multiple nodes have to talk to each other, this takes time for them to all be in sync or agreeance with the blockchain.  Once that happens you get your first confirmation, however this can be a number of minutes and still doesn’t absolutely guarantee you have the money in your wallet.

The current system is nearly impossible to use as a daily transaction/banking experience.

I’m used to using cash, debit, credit or even services like PayPal.  It is all fairly instant (although sometimes it can take several seconds for debit or credit) but once the payment is approved and the merchant is notified instantly, they knew they have their money.  Imagine waiting for even a single confirmation for cryptocurrency while in line at a supermarket?

Why does the problem exist?

It’s quite simple, ironically it’s the one huge negative side effect of distributed, decentralized cryptocurrencies.   There are other drawbacks too such as what happens to banks if they are DOS’d but this hasn’t been a huge factor so far in crypto’s history.

What other risks exist?

My biggest fear is that in the future a powerful organization or entity may eventually be able to reverse engineer or find another way to attack the blockchain and algorithm of some cryptocurrencies.  This would essentially spell disaster, chaos and the end of that currency.  It would be the equivalent of the destruction or infiltration of a fiat currency’s central banking and distribution system.

One other issue with the blockchain

Everyone knows the safest way to hold crypto is with your own wallet because exchanges are routinely hacked and coins are stolen, it is more risky to keep your coins with a third party wallet (essentially the equivalent of an online crypto bank).  The problem lays with the issue at this moment that those deposits are not insured (although I believe Coinbase and a few others may have some insurance).  This may change in the future and exchanges and currencies that are insured will definitely rise above the rest.

What is the solution?

This may draw the ire of a lot of hardcore crypto users but there has got to be some sort of central authority, body or “top-tier” network similar to root DNS servers on the internet that can serve and validate transactions on the blockchain.  There must be some sort of physical organization between the nodes on the blockchain.

Is there a current solution to this problem?

Ripple/XRP solves this problem by essentially verifying transactions instantly and keeping all the currency in essentially an online global wallet (there is no such thing as paper wallet or traditional on your computer/device wallet).  The advantage is that you don’t have to store hundreds of gigabytes of blockchain data (and growing) like Bitcoin and other currencies.  Ripple has the benefit of also being endorsed by major financial institutions which is a first for digital crypto that I’m aware of.

I haven’t done further research but currencies like XRP I believe are the future, things can be done anyway technically and Bitcoin, Litecoin and similar blockchained coins can do this if they change some of their decentralized model.  I expect there will be more infighting and similar splits as the Bitcoin Cash that emerged from the Segwit update as the industry matures and expands.

Disclaimer

I hold positions in multiple cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ripple and have given my true opinion of both in this article.

Bitcoin’s Hard Fork of BCH Bitcoin Cash a milestone for cryptocurrency

The hard fork occurred on August 1st, 2017 with some nodes of the Bitcoin network implementing the “Segwit update”.  Although a lot of potential chaos could have happened, many in the industry called it correct that the most probable scenario is that the split would occur with the creation of BCH and Bitcoin users would not lose any coins and would be rewarded with an equal amount of BCH.  However, most exchanges and users were advised to backup their wallets and not do any transactions in the meantime.

Beyond this a lot of questions and issues need to be sorted out in the cryptocurrency world for things to stabilize and be universally accepted by businesses and individuals.  The key issues in my mind are “volatility”, “stability”, “security” and “regulation”. Really a serious issue with either of my three cores issues puts people and businesses at big risk although new updates and coins keep coming out with some promising the solution to these various issues.

Volatility

This is in reference to the extremely unpredictable nature of many currencies and Bitcoin is a core example with rapid swings.  Now people have often been warned that “don’t store your coins for the long-term” and this comes from the Bitcoin team itself as no one can be certain of the future of any coin at this moment.

Some have lamented that cash is the same, this is true but with the caveat that cash is backed by a government and central bank (all of who which do not really like cryptocurrency unless it is managed or under their control-more on regulations later).  Cash of course has had its issues whether run on banks, robberies, theft, fraud and other misuses of currency however cash is what most of us know and there is some safety and security in the “right cash” and at least often some predictability.

Take for example a record high of Bitcoin at the time in 2013 of approximately $1300 USD but sometime in 2015 trading was just at $267 USD.  The point here is that at this time cryptocurrency can be very volatile and unpredictable.  It can create chaos in everyday life for both business and individuals.  A risk that many businesses echo is the above scenario what if you accept payment based on USD in a cryptocurrency and the value plummets by 80% or some other high number suddenly?  It creates huge issues to say the least and time should address them but until there are more coins that have some consistency in their valuation without rapid descents there will be some reluctance.

Stability

There have been many instances on both the networks and exchanges for Bitcoin and Etherum where there are a ton of unconfirmed transactions.   I still have trouble understanding this but there are various numbers of “confirmations” before once can be comfortable they really have the currency that has been sent.  What if the network stops working or slows down creating massive fraud or inability to process transactions?

Fortunately there are new coins coming out which are instant that solve this issue but still there are many in the wild, common and highly valued that do not have these features.

There is also of course the concern that massive DDOS attacks could take out the network of a cryptocurrency or effectively shutting it down.

Security

The biggest threat is that there is the assumption that blockchain is secure and irreversible and it is impossible to play around in ways you shouldn’t.  However, this also relies on someone not finding a weakness or exploit against the blockchain, and what is more probable going forward is that an organization with massive computing power ultimately finds this and exploits this in various ways.

There are also other considerations such as people losing their coins to viruses or hackers, this has even happened to exchanges such as Coinbase executives.  One thing for sure is that it is not wise to leave your coins in an exchange if not for the risk that in the recent Bitcoin Fork the exchange refuses to give you the split/new currency.

Regulation

This is the biggest uncharted territory but governments and large financial institutions have made their position clear and my interpretation is that “we love blockchain” but “we hate that it is not under our control yet”.  This will have significant repercussions worldwide on how individuals and businesses deal with cryptocurrency.  Significant regulation and the introduction of state-run/central cryptocurrencies could potentially wipe out or make worthless some coins overnight. On another note it appears to be increasingly difficult to buy or sell out of the cryptocurrency markets with banks making it increasingly difficult for the coin exchanges to operate.

Conclusion

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have made it far beyond the naysayers and through many difficult and unpredictable times.  Ultimately I believe cryptocurrency will continue to evolve and improve but as with any tool there are always going to be some pitfalls and bottlenecks.