Brief thoughts on the Bitcoin block size debate

I’ve kept well away from the block size debate but the launch of Bitcoin XT is worth a quick mention.

My reasons for staying out of the debate are pretty obvious: I’m not a miner, I’m not a core developer, I don’t run a wallet service, I have no particular insight into the engineering trade-offs and, perhaps most importantly, I’m not mad. If I wanted to argue with people on the internet, there are far more interesting topics than Bitcoin’s block size…

But I’ve been asked by several people what I think.  And, at core, I think it might come down to three issues: 1) fear of two different types of failure, 2) a clash of visions and 3) no process for reconciling the first two issues.

Fear of Two Different Types of Failure

Fear of technical failure

I don’t contribute, but I do read the Bitcoin Development mailing list.  I find it immensely helpful in keeping up with much of the day-to-debate debate.  What becomes clear when you read it is that there are (at least!) two distinct cultures at work.

First, there is a very strong security engineering culture. I sometimes think the trick to being a good security engineer is to think like a software tester (and vice versa): “How could I break this?”… “How could an attacker get round this?”… “What could go wrong here?”… “How could I force the provider of this service to waste all their resources”  And so on.   Your job is to figure out all the ways something could fail, and fix it.

So, when presented with something like an increased block size, you obviously focus on all the things that could go wrong: miners on slow connections could get out-of-sync with those on the other side, the increased cost of running a node could create a centralisation pressure and so on.    And when you compare this against the potential benefits, you might not think the change makes sense:  there’s an increased technical and security risk but you haven’t fixed the underlying scalability issue at the heart of the system… you have, in some ways, just kicked the can down the road. So you might say that a driving issue here is “fear of technical failure”: the change, which has uncertain benefits, could cause catastrophic harm.  Better not do it just yet.

Fear of practical failure

But, on the other side, is a somewhat different culture, one that comes from a world where there are problems everywhere you look and they all need fixing.  So you pick the biggest one, fix it and move on.  The engineering functions of large companies are often like this.  You know your change might cause problems but if you believe “doing nothing” is not an option then it comes down to making the least-worst decision.  There are, after all, usually no good solutions, just compromises.

So, if you’re faced with a problem like blocks getting full in some foreseeable timeframe, it is natural to ask yourself: what is the risk of doing nothing? If your belief is that consumers mostly have choices and will simply abandon a system that can’t guarantee transaction confirmation in a reasonable period then you’ll likely see failure to increase the block size as something that will lead to a catastrophic exodus of users and your bias will likely be towards making the change.  For you, the issue is “fear of practical failure”: failing to increase the blocksize, a change which has uncertain risks in any case, will drive away users and make the system a failure in all practical cases.

I exaggerate for effect, of course and I’ve ignored many aspects of the argument (e.g. the fee market, etc). And I’m sure some of the details are simply wrong.  But note: even under this simplistic model, it doesn’t mean either side is “wrong” or “bad”: it is possible to hold either view quite legitimately and to passionately believe the other side is wrong

A Clash of Visions

Where it gets more complex is when it comes to vision: if there was common agreement on what outcome was desired (e.g. “x transactions per second across the blockchain by 2017” or “the system should support this number of consumer wallets”) then the discussion would be a pure engineering discussion: “what is the best way to achieve this goal?”  But it strikes me that there isn’t agreement on this underlying vision.

And so, the engineering discussions get lost in the sound of people talking past each other or, worse, resorting to ad hominem arguments.  If you’re arguing from different premises, you never get anywhere, sadly.  It’s what makes political discussions on the internet so tedious..!

Process

In most projects, these issues can be resolved, ultimately, through the “benevolent dictator” model. Linus just decides.  Unfortunately, that process just doesn’t work in a system like Bitcoin. It’s not enough to control which code goes into the “core” distribution: the prevailing network rules are a complex function of miner adoption, full node adoption, wallet adoption, major merchant/processor adoption, and more.  It’s an inherently messy and political process. So the block size debate is likely to just be the first of many such controversies in this world.   The launch of Bitcoin XT is an interesting way to force the debate towards a conclusion but it’s likely to be messy.

And I hope those looking at “private blockchains” aren’t feeling smug as they read this. Managing the maintenance and upgrades of shared ledger systems between firms won’t be a walk in the park, either.

I have no particular insight into where this will go or which vision of the future will prevail.  But I hope (perhaps forlornly) that it will be resolved through the actions of professionals acting in good faith and that neither side will resort to “dirty tricks”.

147 thoughts on “Brief thoughts on the Bitcoin block size debate

  1. Pingback: Brief thoughts on the Bitcoin block size debate | Bitcoin & So
  2. Before we even debate the appropriate growth rate of the block size, there is the problem that people disagree about what bitcoin is even for. Is it primarily a currency or a general-purpose ledger? Neither use case has yet proven itself outside a small niche of tinkerers, tin-hatters and criminals. Until that’s decided (hopefully by the market rather than an oligarchy), it seems a little premature to have any certain views on what the block size needs to be.

  3. @gideon – thanks for the comment. That was the point I was trying to make in the “vision” section – put you put it more succinctly… completely agree with you.

  4. Pingback: Bitcoin XT: Potential Block Size Issues on Split with Bitcoin Core | Coinyoo
  5. Pingback: Bitcoin XT: Potential Block Size Issues on Split with Bitcoin Core | Thecoindesk - Bitcoin and Altcoins news
  6. Gideon for me you hit the point, Bitcoin remain an experiment, and a delicate one. I also enjoy the article balanced view, maybe too much 🙂

  7. Pingback: Virtual Mining Bitcoin News » Bitcoin XT: Potential Block Size Issues on Split with Bitcoin Core
  8. Pingback: Virtual Mining Bitcoin News » Bitcoin Core Devs in ‘Civil War’ Insist We’re Not Getting The Whole Story
  9. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Bitcoin Mining Review
  10. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Genesis CNC - 80% Lower Receiver - Rifle Building Begins With Genesis
  11. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | 三个硬币
  12. Pingback: » What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter?
  13. Pingback: Debate sobre tamaño del bloque en Bitcoin, ¿por qué es importante?
  14. Pingback: Virtual Mining Bitcoin News » What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter?
  15. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter?
  16. Pingback: What are a few direct and indirect costs of the “block size debate”? | Great Wall of Numbers
  17. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | TechCrunch
  18. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | Pakistan Biggest Portal to Provide Latest News & Entertainment!
  19. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | Viral News
  20. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | Entire News Link
  21. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin - Topiik
  22. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | Gulf News Today
  23. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin - KnowNaija
  24. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin - DailyScene.comDailyScene.com
  25. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin - Hell on Heels
  26. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | EuroMarket News
  27. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | Viral World news
  28. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin – Lastest Celebrity Trends
  29. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | World Updates
  30. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin – TechCrunch | Home Business Highlights
  31. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin | 2Me Party
  32. Pingback: Bitcoin XT: Πιθανά Θέματα Μεγέθους Μπλοκ στη Διαίρεση με τον Bitcoin Πυρήνα - NewsBTC Greece
  33. Pingback: Liquid Bitcoin - Cam
  34. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | News bitcoin
  35. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptohub Media
  36. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - DEVTG.COM
  37. Pingback: What's the Bitcoin Block Measurement Debate and Why Does it Matter? - ICT Digital | IT, Technology & Startup News
  38. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - honestcolumnist
  39. Pingback: What Is The Bitcoin Block Size Debate And Why Does It Matter? - Todayuknews
  40. Pingback: What Is The Bitcoin Block Size Debate And Why Does It Matter? - Biznewspost
  41. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Young Bull Crypto
  42. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Cryptoamy
  43. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Beyond Riches
  44. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | CryptoTickers
  45. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – BullExchange
  46. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | cryptohunter.store
  47. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - thereliablenews
  48. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - reporterwings
  49. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Anyflips
  50. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Coinsgist
  51. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? » MAXBIT
  52. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Digital Coin Articles
  53. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - todaybiznews
  54. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptocat
  55. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – NYC Crypto
  56. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter?
  57. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Cryptovot
  58. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Crypto Rates & Updates
  59. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Funds For Ideas
  60. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - countryask
  61. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - CryptoCoinsPop
  62. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? |
  63. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - newsbinding
  64. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Crypto News
  65. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter?, Grace Caffyn – Pinnacle Brilliance
  66. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - bitcoin news and cryptocurrency
  67. Pingback: What's the Bitcoin Block Dimension Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Crypto Next News
  68. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - newsotime
  69. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | HelloMyCrypto
  70. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – My Network Net Worth
  71. Pingback: What’s the Bitcoin Block Dimension Debate and Why Does it Matter? – cugmag.com
  72. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – BTL News
  73. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Coin News
  74. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Pays Us
  75. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Digital Cash Cow
  76. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? » Canada's Crypto
  77. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - The crypto wolf.net
  78. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | IndoOtomotif.com
  79. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Nice Space
  80. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - UnknowThing
  81. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Coin News
  82. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - www.bstworldnews.com
  83. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptoworld World Club
  84. Pingback: What's the Bitcoin Block Measurement Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Emporium Digital Online
  85. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - CRYPTO AFFAIRS DAILY
  86. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Crypto Coin Fast
  87. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptoraketen
  88. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Best Crypto Exchange
  89. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Smartstaker
  90. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Kingcrypto
  91. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Wagebits
  92. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Cryptoscout
  93. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Eielle
  94. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Bitbion
  95. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Cryptokings
  96. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Yourcryptopr
  97. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Bitswage
  98. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Unfoldedcrypto
  99. Pingback: What’s the Bitcoin Block Measurement Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Bitcoinenigma
  100. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Crypto
  101. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptoddy
  102. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptoyers
  103. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Cryptoyish
  104. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Cryptoexitscams
  105. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Bitcoingress
  106. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Coinducted
  107. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin block size debate and why is it important? - R1 NEWS
  108. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Smallcoiners
  109. Pingback: ما هو النقاش حول حجم كتلة البيتكوين ولماذا يهم؟ - Arabbitcoin
  110. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Coinopening
  111. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Cryptounfold
  112. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Wise Guys Bitcoin
  113. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – 21 Million Bitcoin
  114. Pingback: What's the Bitcoin Block Dimension Debate and Why Does it Matter? - BVC Crypto News
  115. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – SmokeMyKush
  116. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Cyptonic
  117. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Globe Echo
  118. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – ICT Digital
  119. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | Adrypto
  120. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - My Star Feed
  121. Pingback: Was ist die Bitcoin-Blockgrößendebatte und warum ist sie wichtig? | thanksmia
  122. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Coin24
  123. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - BadAss Crypto News
  124. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – My Blog
  125. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Allas-Start
  126. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - ENGI TECH
  127. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – CryptoBoost
  128. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Ethereum News
  129. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Nonewslimit
  130. Pingback: ¿Qué es el debate sobre el tamaño del bloque de Bitcoin y por qué es importante? – Solución Profesional Streaming de Audio & Video
  131. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – CryptoSkoop
  132. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Crypto Worldly
  133. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? | CryptoNewsCourier
  134. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – The Crypto Viking
  135. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – Investor Advisor
  136. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? – idkCrypto
  137. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Crypto Kingzs
  138. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Pintrusts
  139. Pingback: What's the Bitcoin Block Dimension Debate and Why Does it Matter?
  140. Pingback: ビットコインのブロックサイズの議論とは何ですか?なぜそれが重要なのですか? – LaLa Company
  141. Pingback: بٹ کوائن بلاک سائز کی بحث کیا ہے اور یہ کیوں اہم ہے؟ – testing web
  142. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does it Matter? - Sumber Bangunan
  143. Pingback: What Is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does It Matter? - Press Releases
  144. Pingback: What is the Bitcoin block size debate and why is it important? - ondequando
  145. Pingback: What Is the Bitcoin Block Size Debate and Why Does It Matter? – Crypto MVP
  146. Pingback: Was ist die Debatte um die Bitcoin-Blockgröße und warum ist sie wichtig? | thanksmia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s