It’s no small feat that Bitcoin has advanced decisively into its second decade of existence. And the OG blockchain’s most notable offshoot to date, Ethereum, is making along well in its own right as the smart contract platform approaches its 5th birthday in July 2020.
The people who have built out these projects and atop them over the years have accomplished much, even if these accomplishments are only fully appreciated by people within the cryptoeconomy.
Yet thinking about far Bitcoin and Ethereum have already come gets one thinking about how far they will go. So far, the two top public blockchains have demonstrated remarkable uptime and reliability, all while being trustless and global and backed by users rather than by any nation state. Accordingly, Bitcoin and Ethereum and their associated cryptocurrencies currently enjoy network effects that suggest they will be around for years, or even decades, to come.
In this post, we’ll explore some reasons why these hitherto successful blockchains seem poised to last in some meaningful form or fashion for a long time, as well as some top counterpoints as to why they may not.
GitHub Archive Program
In April 2020, popular Microsoft-owned software development platform GitHub plans to archive droves of open-source code repositories in a special underground facility in Svalbard, Norway.
That facility, which is buried deep beneath a mountain, will thus come to safely store the repositories of top cryptocurrency projects like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more. As such, these codebases are set to be preserved for a millenium and beyond, ensuring in the very least that the top publican blockchains will be around as artifacts for posterity.
That’s a powerful insurance policy on a cultural level, to be sure. But burying repositories underground is obviously much different from Bitcoin and Ethereum actively running for hundreds of years, which is a separate matter entirely.
The Bitcoin and Ethereum networks are decentralized, censorship-resistant, durable, and readily accessible across the globe.
Such structurings make these blockchains difficult to kill, and it’s precisely the point. They’ve explicitly been designed to be tough, so to speak, to ensure that bad actors big or small can’t ruin the networks for everyone else, and they’ve weathered enough crises by now to suggest they’re suited to the same in the future.
Another reason why Bitcoin and Ethereum seem poised to be here for years to come is that these networks have seen major communities and major economic activity accrue around them and to levels simply unmatched elsewhere in the cryptoeconomy.
After only a handful of years, the two public blockchains respectively boast billions of dollars in payments, small armies of developers, and passionate and deeply committed userbases. To these ends, if any projects are suited to be around for a long time, it’s the ones that have the biggest moats and thus the best resources and minds around it, and right now that’s Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The Practicality of Digital, Stateless Money
Bitcoin and Ethereum are for anyone, anywhere, any time. More importantly, these are non-sovereign systems that can’t be muscled against by any given state in the way that a mainstream payments company could be.
In this sense, Bitcoin and Ethereum are extremely powerful tools for financial inclusion. They have all sorts of novel implications for global commerce, including in the sector of remittances.
So long as these blockchains are powerful and public, which they will be indefinitely, they hold tons of promise and new kinds of utilities for banked and underbanked people around the world.
The Base Layer Factor
Bitcoin has the Lightning Network. Ethereum has its rising decentralized finance, or DeFi, arena. Both cases illustrate how these blockchains form powerful base layers that all kinds of projects can build on top.
Lightning and DeFi are both early, but they show what we can already be done in the here and now, and they also point toward what may be done in the future.
With that said, the more infrastructure and apps that are built atop Bitcoin and Ethereum, the more likely these projects are to be around for the long haul.
Let’s say that Bitcoin and Ethereum do eventually fall by the wayside for whatever reason. No matter what happens in that regard, the advent of the two blockchains are major, historically notable events that will undoubtedly be studied by multi-disciplinary specialists for decades and even longer.
Both of these cryptocurrency projects opened up totally new kinds of digital finance, and in this sense they were utterly unprecedented. They’ve also given life to countless offspring, the implications of which are still in the making.
There may indeed come a day where Bitcoin and Ethereum become inferior tech, but nothing can ever stop their places in the history books.
Counter: Obsoleted by Future Cryptocurrencies
Now let’s move on to the counterpoints, or why Bitcoin and Ethereum may not last for the long-term. One possibility, of course, is that years in the future more advanced cryptocurrency projects with more advanced features outmaneuver the early public blockchain heavyweights.
It’s hard to fathom that scenario right now, since no crypto projects are even close to matching the general might of Bitcoin and Ethereum at the moment. But with that said, the future is long, and beyond the horizon may be projects that we could barely even begin to wrap our heads around right now. There’s no contender antagonists for now, but such projects may pose challenges in the distant future.
Counter: Crypto Space Withers
One question in the back of the mind of most cryptoeconomy stakeholders is, what if this whole ecosystem does shrivel up and fail?
That seems like an extreme scenario, as it’s hard to imagine the cryptoeconomy not going to live on, even in considerably smaller form, for the rest of our lifetimes. But even still, the user experience factor will need to improve all around the crypto ecosystem for there to be a good chance of Bitcoin and Ethereum cracking decisively into the mainstream. It’s something to consider, in the least.
Counter: Black Swan
A black swan event is a catastrophic event that is very unpredictable and thus is essentially impossible to foresee with any precision. Because of that dynamic, these events can cause serious havoc.
There are extreme examples, of course, like an asteroid missed by stargazers striking earth and knocking human civilization asunder. That may be improbable, but it remains in the realm of probability.
More realistic unknown vulnerabilities that could lead to major hacks in later years. But these vulnerabilities are less likely with good audits, and the Bitcoin and Ethereum communities take audits very seriously.
Counter: Government Crackdowns
At this point, it seems unlikely that a sizable coalition of governments throughout the world will coordinate crackdowns against the top public blockchains and their associated cryptocurrencies, BTC and ETH.
Yet in many ways Bitcoin and Ethereum transcend, defy, or flout legal jurisdictions, so there may come a day when push comes to shove and governments decide to coordinate on extreme measures to criminalize mainstay blockchain or crypto activities in order to preserve their own sovereignty.
However, Bitcoin and Ethereum are more embedded in mainstream society than ever before, so don’t count on this possibility happening any time soon, if at all.