Bitcoin has become so successful that the way it operates needs upgrading, and fast. Trouble is, there are opposing views on how to do that and no all-powerful administrative body to determine which method to adopt. After all, part of bitcoin’s allure is its lack of central oversight. The arguments between the different camps transcend the purely technical to encompass philosophy and politics, raising the prospect of the cryptocurrency splitting into two or more versions. That scenario came close to reality in July before a compromise was reached. Another serious test awaits in November but in the meantime there’s been an unexpected development: a minor split.
It was built with security more in mind than the kind of volume its success has brought. To prevent counterfeiting, bitcoin transactions are verified by so-called bitcoin miners in batches called blocks. The blocks are then strung together to form the decentralized open ledger known as the blockchain that’s one of the currency’s biggest selling points. Worries about cyberattacks led the system’s designers to cap the size of blocks at 1 megabyte. But as bitcoin grew in popularity over the past nine years, transaction times and processing fees soared to record levels.