Lets say Buffet is right. Bitcoin dies. So what? Myspace and Friendster both died but they paved the way for other social media like Facebook and Twitter to completely overrun the planet. Crypto is out there and its not going away.Gilfoyle, Silicon Valley on HBO
After understanding the basics of how Bitcoin works, the next logical question tends to be: “Blockchain tech sounds interesting. How do we know a better version won’t show up and turn Bitcoin into the Myspace of crypto?”
A moat is a competitive advantage a business builds that prevents new entrants from easily competing. For Myspace that moat was a huge userbase with friend relationships. People wouldn’t use competing services if their friends weren’t already there. But as large a moat as a well connected social graph is, it wasn’t enough to stop Facebook from eating Myspace’s lunch in the span of only a few years.
Bitcoin’s moat is much, much larger than Myspace’s. In order to understand that, let’s examine what it would take for a Bitcoin Competitor to displace Bitcoin.
Be a more salable and liquid money
The first thing to understand is that the Myspace vs Facebook comparison is poor because you can have an account on Myspace and Facebook at the same time at no cost. This is actually what many people did during the transition phase from one to the other. Once enough critical mass was on Facebook, people stopped using Myspace.
This is not how money works, however. If you hold a dollar’s worth of bitcoin, that’s a dollar’s worth of another coin that you’re not holding. You have to make a conscious decision to sell one currency for another. You cannot store the same value in both at the same time. Now ask yourself: why would you hold anything but the most liquid, most widely accepted currency? The answer is only speculation. If you can’t shift the entire economy around you to also hold the other coin, there is no way that it can become dominant.
Bitcoin’s liquidity is far beyond any of its competitors. As of today, the market cap of Bitcoin is about $160B according to https://messari.io/onchainfx. The next biggest competitor, Ethereum, has only $25B of market cap. This doesn’t even measure the true liquidity by looking at how much you could meaningfully sell before the price would slip significantly.
Liquidity is a snowball. Holding the most liquid money means other people want it, and this begets more liquidity. By holding anything but the most liquid money, you are actively punishing yourself while waiting for everyone else to do the same. The economic incentives do not align in favor of liquidity shifting overnight to a competitor.
Demonstrate $100B+ worth of security over ten years.
By circumstance, Bitcoin was allowed to grow from a worthless internet geek experiment that nobody cared about, to financing the purchase of a pizza for 10k BTC, to a peak price of $20k USD per bitcoin. It did all of this relatively quietly, without anyone breathing down its neck. During this time, it built up a world-class immune system from years of attacks and grew the largest network of hashpower in the world. For ten years, and securing more than 100 billion dollars, it has been impossible to hack.
It is nearly impossible to launch a new cryptocurrency today quietly. The cat is out of the bag, and all the tricks are well known. Let’s look at an alternative blockchain, EOS, worth about ~$10B at launch and worth about half of that today. It experienced a freeze two days after launch due to bugs in the code. These bugs were patched within hours with minimal oversight or review. Are you going to put $100B of value on a network like that? Maybe EOS will be around in 10 years, but by that time, Bitcoin will be 20 years old and securing trillions in value.
Thwart attacks from existing hashpower
Given the thousands of coins out there using dozens of hashing algorithms, any new coins are under threat of 51% attack from existing hashpower. This has already happened to Bitcoin Gold and several other coins.
A new competitor has to survive attacks by existing hashpower, or use an algorithm that has no specialized ASICs. If there are no ASICs, then the system can easily be attacked by renting commodity GPUs, which are widely available. It also cannot start securing a large amount of value like EOS did on day one, which is reckless and a good way to get into centralized patching behavior. So that means they can’t raise money either, but rather do a fair launch similar to Bitcoin and grow slowly in value so they can build up their security model proportionally. However, if they’re growing slowly, they cannot catch up to Bitcoin’s user base and liquidity due to the passage of time.
Be highly decentralized
A large part of Bitcoin’s security model comes from a high degree of decentralization. This means the protocol is hard to change and thus can be trusted to honor the properties promised in its code (fixed supply, etc). This property was proven when a large number of businesses and miners got together and wanted to push a change to the block size to steer the protocol in a particular direction1. Their fork was rejected by users and failed spectacularly.
A competitor that’s highly decentralized basically rules out any companies or teams that are founded by known people as that creates a central point of failure and coercion. It also rules out any coins willing to “move fast and break things,” since you can only do that when you’re centralized. Any competitor is either moving fast and gets centralized, or moving slow and can never catch up.
Attract the best developers in the world
Much like Linux created a whirlwind of activity that prevented other *Nix like systems from competing, so has Bitcoin. Every day this community grows and new companies are built on top of Bitcoin, offering new services. A competitor has to steal developer mindshare from an exponentially growing nucleus which includes dozens of companies, educational programs, and conferences.
Grow a worldwide financial network
Hundreds of exchanges worldwide, CME futures, CBOE futures, hundreds of hedge funds and trading desks, and a network of people who already use Bitcoin as an alternative to failed currencies like the Venezuelan Bolivar. All of these things would have to be built for a Bitcoin competitor to displace it.
Institutions like CME and CBOE aren’t going to list every new competitor without tons of existing exchange volume to back it. You’d have to convince hundreds of businesses to accept this new competitor instead of Bitcoin. A competitor that is likely less secure, less liquid, has less competent developers, and by definition less adoption worldwide. That’s a steep hill to climb.
Be a sounder money
There is a gross misunderstanding that Bitcoin is supposed to be a fast and cheap way to send money. It clearly cannot be that based on its fundamental properties involving a worldwide replicated ledger. However, Bitcoin’s primary and actual demonstrated use case as a censorship-resistant sound money is growing.
Anything else, such as making remittances cheaper is basically a cherry on top. Most would-be competitors still think they need to solve the fast payment use case, which is already solved by dozens of centralized companies worldwide, and solved reasonably well. And it’s also being solved by the quickly growing Lightning Network on top of Bitcoin.
Competing on the sound money front requires an above-all commitment to decentralization and properties that are truly hard to change and attack. Unfortunately coins cannot compete on this front by virtue of the fact that they are built typically by centralized teams with a profit motive, and not a happy accident of a slowly growing ecosystem that was built by cypherpunks.