Already a forking mess
Bitcoin Cash is, of course, the most well known Bitcoin fork out there, sitting comfortably in the top five coins in terms of market cap. However, in 2017, there were 19 registered Bitcoin forks. Still, that pales in comparison to the 50 that are expected this year, according to Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research.
That number could still rise further as there is even services out there that are providing rudimentary programming skills to launch a clone. This will of course have a big effect in the cryptocurrency market as hedge fund manager Ari Paul predicted in a tweet:
What the fork?
There are a number of reasons to fork off the Bitcoin Blockchain, some do it, in the case of Bitcoin Cash, to seemingly improve facets of the old coin, while others may have different motives. As George Kimionis, chief executive officer of Coinomi puts it:
“Unfortunately, most fork-based projects we see today are more of a mere money grab. Looking back a few years from now we might realize that they were just mutations fostered by investors blinded by numerical price increases rather than true attempts to contribute and improve upon the Blockchain ecosystem.”
Years ago, entrepreneurs drew on Bitcoin’s code to launch alternatives such as Litecoin and later Dogecoin, seeking to differentiate themselves in name and often in features.
But while Dogecoin now has a $744 million market value, younger clones Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold already dwarf it. Bitcoin Cash, launched in August, is now the fourth most valuable coin, worth a total of about $27 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
“Bitcoin Cash was successful, quite a lot of momentum,” Charlie Hayter, CEO of coin researcher CryptoCompare, said in a phone interview. “Now other traders try to see if they can pull off the same thing.”
A fork can often make millions for its developers as well as the server farms running and supporting the new software. Bitcoin Gold distributed 100,000 coins, currently worth almost $190 apiece, to an endowment funding its ecosystem and development.
About 5,000 of those coins went to the core team that created the fork. If the coins appreciate, that’s a boon for the developers as well.
Kimionis also sees a new phase in the ICO marketplace with the original hype simmered down somewhat. Forking adds a some edge to a new coin. And Rhett Creighton, who’s working on the upcoming Bitcoin Private fork.
He predicts forking may soon sideline a more popular alternative, initial coin offerings, where startups raise money by selling entirely new tokens. That market has gotten crowded after raising about $3.7 billion last year, and smaller offerings have struggled.
A fork’s main advantage lies in sprouting from Bitcoin, the world’s most famous cryptocurrency. In a typical fork, all existing Bitcoin owners are eligible for the forked-off coin – giving the new asset a potentially huge number of users.
Most coins arrive with at least some name recognition, because they bake “Bitcoin” into their moniker. Take for example, Bitcoin Diamond, with a price that started off strong. It didn’t last forever.
“Bitcoin forks are kind of the new alt coin,” Rhett Creighton, who’s working on the upcoming Bitcoin Private fork, said in a phone interview. “We are going to see now a bunch of Bitcoin forks. And they are going to start replacing some of the top hundred alt coins.”
Bitcoin Private promises to offer more privacy features than the original Bitcoin.
Forks can also help startups raise funds in countries such as China, where ICOs are now BANNED, said Susan Eustis, CEO of WinterGreen Research.
Bitcoin God arrived last month. Bitcoin Pizza was delivered in January. Bitcoin Private’s issuance date is… still a secret.
These are just a few of the growing number of so-called forks – a type of spinoff where developers clone Bitcoin’s software, release it with a new name, a new coin and possibly a few new features or different algorythm. Often, the idea is to capitalize on the public’s familiarity with the Bitcoin Brand to possibly make some serious money, at least virtually currencies.
In total some 19 Bitcoin forks came out last year – with up to 50 more scheduled to happen this year 2018, according to Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research.
50 is just the estimate, Ultimately, the number could run even higher now that Forkgen, a site enabling anyone with rudimentary programming skills to launch a clone, is in operation.
In a Jan. 14 tweet, hedge fund manager Ari Paul predicted more than 10 percent of the current value of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash will reside in new offshoots.
Danger to the vision
It is hard to see these minor forks, even the likes of Bitcoin Gold and Diamond which reached the news, really, truly, adding much to the Blockchain environment. Even Bitcoin Cash has been accused of being a money-making scheme from the likes of Jihan Wu and Roger Ver. The difference between trying to improve the Blockchain, and to make money off a name, is a very blurred line.
Motives behind the efforts vary. Some backers try to improve on Bitcoin. Others seek a quick profit. Developers typically score a cache of newly minted coins in a process called post-mining. Yet prices don’t necessarily hold up for long.
Even some of Bitcoin’s initial forks are getting forked, with Bitcoin Cash getting a proposed derivative, Bitcoin Candy.
Support from miners isn’t always enough to support a price. SegWit2x [B2X], a fork from late December, drew more than 10,000 miners, according to an email from one its creators. But B2X has been sliding, losing more than 90 percent of its value since Dec. 22, according to exchange Yobit.net.