Inside The Battle For Bitcoin's Soul
Why both sides in Bitcoin's latest debate might need to lose in order for Bitcoin to thrive
By: Zack Abrams
June 15, 2023
The laser eyes are fighting a war with the wizards, and I’m not just talking about whatever’s going on in the latest Marvel movie.
The loyal community of investors, developers, and advocates of Bitcoin, still the world’s top cryptocurrency, has been split in recent weeks over a pretty fundamental question: Should Bitcoin evolve with the times or stick to its guns?
America loves stories about companies that failed to pivot at the right time; Sears didn’t see Amazon coming fast enough, Blockbuster passed on acquiring Netflix for $50 million, and MySpace… well, MySpace Tom is living his best life, so maybe the joke’s on Zuckerberg for that one. But there are almost just as many examples of companies trying and failing to catch the next big wave when they should’ve stuck with what works.
Now, as Bitcoin takes a breather with record-breaking low volatility and trading volume, its community must similarly decide how Bitcoin will rise to meet the moment.
The main thrust of the conflict revolves around Bitcoin’s new Ordinals protocol, launched by former Bitcoin Core developer Casey Rodarmor this past January. With Ordinals, through a complicated but clever method, users can “inscribe” fungible and non-fungible tokens called “inscriptions” directly onto the Bitcoin blockchain.
The pros: the Bitcoin community can have just as much fun with NFTs —sorry— Ordinals collections and meme coins as every other blockchain.
The cons: this takes up valuable block space and risks destroying the image of Bitcoin as reliable and professional at the same time crypto is facing its largest regulatory assault in history.
On the pro-Ordinals side sits figureheads like Udi Wertheimer, creator of the popular Ordinals collection Taproot Wizards. To drum up interest in his project, he and his co-founder dressed up as wizards and danced on stage during a panel discussion debating the protocol at Bitcoin’s biggest annual conference earlier this year.
From Wertheimer’s point of view, Bitcoin’s developers and community have lost the sense of innovation and exploration that once defined it. And, Bitcoin will continue to lose to Ethereum and others if the community doesn't change that.
“A lot of Bitcoiners early on used to say, ‘We will let the altcoins do their thing. They will do their experiments, they will play around with privacy, smart contracts, whatever it is, and the things that work, we will eventually bring back to Bitcoin,’” said Wertheimer in an interview with Coinage. “And I feel like that second part was missing. We didn't do much of that.”
On the anti-Ordinals side sit many bitcoin maximalists, often identified by their laser-eyed profile pictures, who worry that experiments like Ordinals risk ruining Bitcoin’s image and even clogging up the blockchain itself with pointless experiments. Each of the blocks on Bitcoin’s blockchain only holds 4 megabytes of information, and since Ordinals are minted directly on-chain, that valuable space goes quickly.
Among the major battles in this ongoing conflict was Werthimer’s publicity stunt for the launch of Taproot Wizards. Wertheimer worked with a mining firm to inscribe an homage to one of Bitcoin’s earliest memes — a poorly-drawn wizard advertising Bitcoin as “magic internet money”— that took up an entire block’s worth of space.
“A lot of people that I talk to today [who] got into Bitcoin around 2013 say that [the original wizard cartoon] was how they got into Bitcoin, it was a big thing for them,” said Wertheimer. “So we wanted to use that kind of imagery and modernize it with Taproot Wizards and do the same thing for a modern audience.”
The laser eyes were not pleased; one expletive-laden rant in particular got a lot of attention. But there’s truth to both sides of the argument. Bitcoin’s community needs to lighten up a little, especially following so many bearish months. But if the community loses sight of the larger mission of mass adoption of Bitcoin, all of crypto may suffer for it.
For more from Wertheimer and others about the battle for Bitcoin’s soul, plus a good-faith effort to end this conflict once and for all, check out our latest episode above, or watch our full interview with Udi.
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