Blockchain Bitcoin & Crypto Weekly CXO Briefing for week starting 29th May 2017

The Blockchain Bitcoin & Crypto Weekly CXO Briefing is all you need to know, each week, jargon free for CXO level business leaders and investors who will use this technology to change the world. Each week we select the 3 news items that matter and explain why and link to one expert opinion.

This is week 7. For the index and the intro, please go here.

News Item 1: Bitcoin Establishment Declare Civil War is over.

Digital Currency Group published a proposal for scaling that was supported “by more than 50 companies and 83% of the network’s miners”. Basically the proposal called for a governance change where Segwit would be implemented with 80% of the network’s mining power. In what looks like a blow to this group, Blockstream formally declined to participate.

Decrypted: Yes, I made up that headline. This was reported on CoinDesk which has this disclosure: “CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Abra, BitGo, BitPay, Blockstream, Bloq, Circle, RSK Labs, ShapeShift and Xapo”. Those are the key companies referenced in the Press Release.

Our take:   It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. This week was a tale of two Bitcoin Cities. In one, we hit record price highs yet again. In another we had people planning for a hard fork.  I believe a hard fork will be technically like a stock split i.e. no big deal but it will be a massive blow to confidence and sentiment. Explaining Bitcoin is hard enough, explaining two Bitcoin will be too hard. Bitcoin could be a 10x or 100x investment from here or a total loss. That is quite a delta. My best guess is the price drops back to around $1,000 and after some period of doom and gloom it will go back up again.

News Item 2: Bank Of Canada Backs Off Blockchain

Bank of Canada (BOC) announced today that blockchain technology is currently incompatible with its central banking system.

Decrypted: BOC had experimented with settling bank transactions on a blockchain using CAD-Coin, a digital alternative to the Canadian dollar. The problem they discovered was that fixing issues such as scalability and privacy led to single point of failure dangers.

Our take: This will be the first of many announcements like this. This is what will happen to all those news items saying “Central Bank X Studies Blockchain”. The concept of a permissionless, decentralized monetary system is fundamentally at odds with how central banks work and no amount of studies will square that circle.

News Item 3:  Coinbase has a FailWhale moment

Yes, I also made up that headline.

The news is that Coinbase suffered an outage on May 25, 2017, claiming “unprecedented traffic and trading volume this week.”

Decrypted: FailWhale was what we called Twitter’s technical scaling problems and outages. Coinbase did not have enough server capacity to handle the load.

Our Take: Like Twitter’s technical scaling problems the Coinbase news can be read two ways:

  • unprecedented traffic and trading volume is a good thing and they will fix the server problems. That was the Twitter story.
  • Bitcoin is a decentralised market with crazy volatility and huge spreads and centralized businesses will always struggle in that environment.

I incline to the latter view. By 2017, a well-funded company should know how to handle peak traffic loads and an outage is more reputation damaging where money is concerned than losing a tweetable moment. A representative tweet by @callux: “You have money. Your fees are astronomical. Buy better infrastructure.” Coinbase is a broker and we saw what happened to FX brokers when the Swiss Central Bank dropped the peg with the Euro (which we reported on here). A centralized broker model like Coinbase and a decentralized network may not mix well.

Opinion: A gloomy technical view of Bitcoin’s scaling challenge

The analyst has an overall optimistic view, that the scaling issues will be fixed, which I concur with. However he also makes one critical point which is that Bitcoin’s network effects work at a marketing level but at a technical level there are negative network effects. Each new user adds to the load, compared to a network like Skype where each new user makes the network run better.

Bernard Lunn is a Fintech thought-leader and deal-maker. 

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