[NetBehaviour] Forks in the blockchain

Aditya Mandayam mandayam at cs.stanford.edu
Sat Dec 9 01:04:07 CET 2017

On Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:31 PM, Edward Picot via NetBehaviour <
netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org> wrote:

> A question for Rob - or anyone else who happens to know - when there's a
> fork in the Blockchain, what happens to the old, discredited side of the
> fork? What HTML coders used to call the 'deprecated' bit? Does it actually
> get disabled, disconnected or stopped in some way, or does it just stay out
> there on the Blockchain doing its thing, and you hope that all the users
> have moved on to the new improved version, but maybe quite a lot of them
> haven't and never will?
Forks do not directly imply deprecation; see e.g. Ethereum Classic, which
essentially arose as a dispute amongst folks who believed in Ethereum's
'the code *is *the contract' spiel and saw the DAO hack of 2016 as anything
but malicious behaviour. Indeed, some viewed it as a benevolent gift of the
DAO itself. Ethereum Classic (ETC) is still being traded a year on.

BCH, promoted by Roger Ver et al, is a fork of BTC and attempts to
capitalize on confusion by naming a hard fork after the canonical Bitcoin
blockchain. Imagine someone elderly being cajoled to but BCH instead of BTC
("Its just like Bitcoin, its Bitcoin Cash!") etc.

As in all cryptoeconomics, the answer remains: things are worth what people
are willing to pay for them. If people are wiling to keep mining and
extending the older version, then the chain remains. This will is a
function of many factors of course.

Anyone can fork away willy-nilly at anytime ('fork early, and fork often").
The question is, have they captured enough headspace / mindshare to
allocate value to their fork? If not, the fork will "die"; as in, people
will stop mining and extending the (forked) chain, and it will be
economically not feasible to keep it alive. Note that in the case of
private polychains (run by banks, or financial institutions, or
governments, or you, e.g,) this economic incentive may be offset elsewhere
or be unimportant.

This also partially explains why we haven't seen 51% attacks on BTC so far
despite something like 70% of BTC mining power lying with 5-6 players
(mostly Chinese pools).

The "health" of a chain may be viewed with metrics commonly associated with
social software, e.g.: commits, contributions to the codebase, active
discussions, trading volume, and a general hubbub around the currency.
Note that as in software (as seen on Github etc) these metrics aren't
necessarily correlated with quality, usefulness, or value of a given chain.

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