The virtual currency Bitcoin has attracted an impressive amount of attention in recent times. The first truly successful effort at creating a distributed currency, it stemmed from the efforts of a programmer who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. After releasing the currency to the world and kick-starting the mining activities that create new coins, the programmer went underground and has not been heard from in any substantive way since.
Despite this, the currency seems to be in good hands today. Development of the software that users across the world run was quickly taken over by skilled programmers after Nakamoto disappeared, a fact that soon proved to be important for the currency’s continued health. A bug that was discovered early on, for example, could have allowed for the kind of double spending that would quickly turn the currency worthless but was instead squashed almost as soon as it was discovered.
Aside from such important tasks, the developers who today steward the underlying software also have their eyes on the future. While the widespread adoption of the currency has proved that it is fundamentally sound, it has also revealed a few weaknesses that will need to be taken care of if it is to thrive over the long term.
One of these relates to the size of the so-called ‘block chain’ that stores a record of every transaction ever made with the currency. This distributed document has grown in size to the point that downloading it today can require several hours on even a relatively fast connection, along with enough in the way of storage that many find it inconveniently large.
Fortunately, the programmers who work on the currency’s software are aware of these issues and are bent on correcting them. One proposal would encourage far more transactions to occur ‘off chain,’ as with the internal transfers at many brokers that do not result in new entries on the block chain. This approach could greatly slow down the rate of growth of the block chain, and most seem to believe that it would not result in a reduction in security or convenience for many users. Other helpful changes might include a better compression scheme for the block chain or similar improvements.