The death of bitcoin has been proclaimed once again. Prominent developer Mike Hearn’s recent comments that the bitcoin experiment was over mark the 89th time the digital currency has been pronounced dead since it first launched in 2009, at least according to one website dedicated to tracking bitcoin obituaries. While it’s sad to see a talented programmer like Hearn turn his back on bitcoin, there are still thousands of people working on making the world’s first digital currency a success.
The bitcoin network has been running without interruption for seven years now; a feat no banking system can claim. Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology—an online ledger that records every bitcoin transaction—represent a fundamental innovation that can dramatically speed up transaction times. The first step is replacing our need for financial middlemen. Next, we can restructure notaries, land registries, stock markets and much more.
People have criticized bitcoin for its price fluctuations but there are applications now that lock the value of bitcoin to dollars, euros or gold; people have insinuated it could be used by drugs or arms dealers operating on the dark web even though the U.K. government said bitcoin was the least likely funding tool for criminality; people have worried that regulation might discourage innovation. Meanwhile bitcoin continues to grow.
Hearn’s criticisms that the bitcoin network isn’t set up to support the ever-increasing number of transactions performed on it is more a reflection of the currency’s success. It’s true that if bitcoin keeps growing as quickly as it has in the past few months parts of the network will need to be upgraded. This is a good problem to have.
What began as a small experiment is now a rapidly expanding ecosystem. There are so many people using it now that we have to plan for more capacity. It was never a secret that the software powering bitcoin would have to get upgraded occasionally—just like the software on your iPhone. Let’s look at the data. According to Bloomberg, bitcoin was the best performing currency in 2015. Why? More than 5 million new users started transacting in bitcoin last year alone. More importantly, the total transaction volume has more than doubled over the past 12 months.
The Bitcoin blockchain will catalyze innovation over the coming years. As citizens of the internet we demand transparency and ease of use. In 2016 people expect to be able to send money over the internet as quickly and cheaply as sending an email. The fact that it still takes several days to send an international money transfer is a throwback to yesteryear. Bitcoin solves that problem.
This currency is not a “failed experiment,” as Hearn suggested. Our firm, Blockchain (a bitcoin wallet provider), had its best month yet in December. All successful projects face problems as they grow, thankfully there are a multitude of brilliant minds working to solve them. In five years, hundreds of millions of users will be sending money on the internet as easily as they send chats, and the only obituaries being written will be those of the traditional banks.