Jan3 CEO Samson Mow has said that comparing Bitcoin to crypto is like comparing “an aircraft to a paper airplane.” Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said, “It will be a multichain world.”
These opposing statements are the latest front in the longest-running feud in cryptocurrency — the battle between Bitcoin (BTC) and everything else that followed.
For the crypto masses, those individuals who hold only to a single blockchain are often referred to as the maximalists.
Bitcoin maximalism is almost as old as Bitcoin itself, with the phenomenon emerging not long after its creation.
According to Bitcoin educator and self-confessed Bitcoin maximalist Giacomo Zucco, maximalists hold four truths dearly:Everything that is not Bitcoin is a scam.Every attempt at changing Bitcoin is a scam.Every attempt at pushing people to spend Bitcoin is a scam.We shouldn’t be nice to scammers.
Even in the earliest days of blockchain, altcoins began proliferating. Most of them were low-effort forks of Bitcoin that offered little new. By 2010, the term shitcoin was born.
In 2011, Litecoin (LTC) launched, a cryptocurrency that was similar to Bitcoin, save for a few minor tweaks to its codebase. At least, that’s certainly how it began. Litecoin remains a top-20 cryptocurrency by market capitalization to this day.
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Over the next few years, Bitcoin developers and community members started to wonder what else might be achieved with blockchain and cryptocurrency.
In 2014, Bitcoin developers, including Adam Back, produced the “Sidechains white paper,” touted in some quarters as the “altcoin killer.” The Sidechains white paper was an ambitious document, touching on diverse topics such as contracts and zero-knowledge proofs. Today, these ideas are mostly discussed outside of Bitcoin circles, not within.
That’s a small indication that whatever Bitcoin maximalism is, it can change and evolve.
Sidechains eventually led to the Lightning Network and Liquid. But whatever sidechains accomplished for Bitcoin, they failed to kill altcoins. In reality, altcoins were just about ready to take off, like a rocket ship to the moon.
A very Vitalik problem
In 2014, Vitalik Buterin outlined the concept of Bitcoin exceptionalism in a lengthy essay, defining maximalism as “the idea that an environment of multiple competing cryptocurrencies is undesirable, that it is wrong to launch ‘yet another coin,’ and that it is both righteous and inevitable that the Bitcoin currency comes to take a monopoly position in the cryptocurrency scene.”
Buterin called this “Bitcoin dominance maximalism” or “Bitcoin maximalism” for short, and the label stuck. Buterin also explained his skepticism regarding sidechains and their potential, citing a number of issues, including the process of moving Bitcoin onto sidechains.
Buterin declared that Bitcoin maximalism as an ideology was already “dead in the water.” Naturally, Bitcoin maximalists disagreed.
A year later, Buterin launched Ethereum, the layer-1 blockchain he’d been working on since at least 2013.
Buterin’s Ethereum cleared the path for almost every altcoin nightmare that would plague Bitcoiners’ dreams in the years to follow. Ethereum-fueled initial coin offering mania, decentralized finance, nonfungible tokens (NFTs), and a thousand altcoins, food tokens, shitcoins and dog tokens.
None of these features (or were they bugs?) won over Bitcoin maximalists.
In the Bitcoin corner
One of the foremost proponents of Bitcoin is Jan3 CEO Samson Mow. Through Jan3, Mow promotes hyper-Bitcoinization. For those unfamiliar with the term, hyper-Bitcoinization refers to nation-state Bitcoin adoption.
Mow travels around the world as part of this work, acting as an ambassador for Bitcoin on the world stage. cryptodirectories caught up with Mow during his travels to ask what makes Bitcoin special and learn why so many Bitcoiners go on to reject the rest of the industry.
“The better question people should ask themselves is, ‘What is the ‘crypto’ industry?’” said Mow. “It’s largely centralized groups and companies selling tokens pretending to be decentralized. It’s constant hacks and funds being stolen from insecure, unviable technology. It’s the pretense that centralized blockchains are immutable. It’s dog tokens, baby dog tokens, JPEGs and other random things.”“Bitcoin has nothing to do with these things. Bitcoin is actually decentralized and immutable. Bitcoin is the restoration of money and the base of a new financial system. The gap between Bitcoin and the rest of ‘crypto’ is so massive that it’s like comparing an aircraft to a paper airplane. That is why Bitcoiners reject the rest of the ‘industry.’”
Mow’s views reflect a longstanding tradition of Bitcoin exceptionalism. It is not uncommon for Bitcoiners to hold every blockchain project launched after 2009 with little respect or regard.
Those on the other side of the equation are no less critical of Bitcoiners and anyone else who holds to a single-chain vision of the future.
In the multichain corner
Mow’s statement is in sharp contrast to recent comments from Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse. The two men are as diametrically opposed as any two figures in blockchain could be.
While Mow pours scorn on the industry, Garlinghouse lauds it. Last week at the Ripple Swell Conference in Dubai, the Ripple founder fired shots at Bitcoin-only proponents when he proclaimed the future would be multichain.
From Toronto in 2017 to now, we’ve taken #RippleSwell around the world. I closed out this year’s event with a fireside chat with CNBC’s @dan_murphy talking about how we’ll get to the next phase of enterprise crypto adoption with regulatory clarity. 1/2 https://t.co/kXLxeAGaEk— Brad Garlinghouse (@bgarlinghouse) November 11, 2023
“I am very bullish about a whole bunch of different things going on in crypto,” said Garlinghouse. “I certainly am active in trying to dissuade people from being maximalists about any particular crypto. It will be a multichain world.”
Garlinghouse will be aware that while maximalists exist for many chains, including Ethereum, by far the most common form of the phenomenon is Bitcoin maximalism.
Wallet tracking firm Cielo is among those betting on a multichain future, offering tracking services for over 250 wallets on 20 separate blockchains. Cielo Finance co-founder Matt Aaron told cryptodirectories why, in his view, blockchain is not a zero-sum game.
“Blockchains are designed for different use cases,” said Matt. “Right now, Bitcoin is the store of value; Ethereum hosts NFTs and DeFi; and layer 2s are proving their worth for things like perps, gaming and prediction markets. There’s also a lot of experimentation going on with Solana and Cosmos that are building out blockchain ecosystems, and I expect there to be multiple winners.”
Even with blockchains specializing in different areas, the industry can still offer up some surprises. One such example is Ordinals, which make it possible to put NFTs on Bitcoin.
“The permissionless nature of public blockchains means they can be purposed for anything you wish, of course, which is what we’ve seen with Ordinals on Bitcoin. While it was never envisaged that NFTs and sub-tokens would flourish on the Bitcoin network, it’s fascinating to see a fledgling multi-token ecosystem take shape. The success of Ordinals has sent network fees soaring, however, further demonstrating that the future of crypto will be multichain.”
Nobody puts Carter in a corner
While many Bitcoiners cast themselves as punks, renegades and revolutionaries, Bitcoin maximalists are also fairly cautious and conservative as a group, preferring not to stray too far from Satoshi’s light. This dichotomy lies at the heart of absolutely everything in crypto.
For maximalists, Bitcoin is an ideological line in the sand. It is where the revolution starts and ends. For the rest of crypto, Bitcoin is only the beginning.
For individuals in that second group, ostracization is a real possibility. Last year, prominent Bitcoin advocate Nic Carter failed a Bitcoin purity test when his VC firm invested in a project that wasn’t Bitcoin.
Following the backlash, Carter quickly dispelled the myth of his maximalist status, saying, “Everyone piling on — every single one — is contrasting the real me, with a fictional, contrived version of me that they made up in their heads. I am not a ‘Bitcoin maximalist’, I have never been one, I will never be one.”
Carter called the moment a eulogy for maximalism. He now takes the view that there are “sacred” tenets to Bitcoin and things that are “profane.” The use of religious terminology is no accident.
Carter states that Bitcoin is to “mediate monetary transactions exclusively.” Among the profane elements are the aforementioned Ordinals inscriptions for placing NFTs on Bitcoin.
Two diverging philosophies
The Taproot upgrade in 2021 was the last major update to the Bitcoin network, designed to make it easier to verify transactions swiftly. Taproot was also designed to help scale the number of transactions on the network.
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Bitcoiners are unlikely to adopt a more cavalier approach to upgrades in the future, given that Taproot inadvertently also gave rise to “profane” Ordinals inscriptions and NFTs on Bitcoin.
Taproot is just another small battle in the long war for blockchain’s soul — the battle between maximalists and everyone else.