On October 31, 2008, a still-anonymous individual (or group of individuals) going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin whitepaper for the first time, and proposed the idea of what the paper called a “peer-to-peer digital cash system”. The paper named this new digital currency Bitcoin, and explained how the system would work. It was only a hypothetical explanation at this point, but the idea captured the attention of a group of developers who were very interested in making it a reality- and just over two months later it did become one, when the Bitcoin genesis block was mined.
It has now been ten years since the Bitcoin whitepaper was first introduced to the world, and to the amazement of many, the system is still going strong. There have been many times along the way when Bitcoin was ridiculed and even declared dead, but it has defied the odds time and time again.
The financial turmoil present throughout the world economy when the whitepaper was published undoubtedly played a role in Bitcoin’s success and resilience, and very likely played a role in the whitepaper getting published when it did- as many people were looking for an alternative to the established financial system, and a way to hedge against future economic turmoil. These views were definitely shared by Satoshi, as evidenced by the line of text inserted into the code of the genesis block when it was mined: “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.
Now, ten years later, the cryptocurrency landscape is very different than even Satoshi likely imagined back when the Bitcoin whitepaper was first published. Many people all over the world have embraced not only Bitcoin and the idea of peer-to-peer decentralized currency, but also the blockchain technology underneath that makes it possible- leading to “hard forks” of the original code resulting in new currencies and also projects like Ethereum and discussions about using the same technology to create decentralized and immutable records for other things besides currency transactions. And ironically, the banks – who were in the crosshairs of the original developers of Bitcoin – began to wonder if its underlying technology could be used to make their own record-keeping systems faster and more secure.
Not everyone has been happy with the way everything has unfolded since the whitepaper’s publication, however. Back in the arena of Bitcoin itself, many have come to dislike it’s reputation as “digital gold” and use as a “store of value”, and have claimed that Bitcoin has strayed too far from Satoshi’s original vision for it by pointing to the first line on the whitepaper: “A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.”
The “store of value” use case became more and more common because many people did see Bitcoin as an investment to hold onto long term, like gold, and because using it as a payment method began to become impractical as more and more people started using it and the network traffic and transaction fees increased. New innovations such as SegWit and the Lightning Network have improved conditions and hold a lot of promise for cheap, instant payments on the main Bitcoin network. Some believe the system should be kept as close to Satoshi’s original plans as possible, however, which resulted in a group splitting off with a hard fork of the code called Bitcoin Cash- which had an anniversary of its own earlier this year.
A lot has changed in the ten years since Bitcoin first came on the scene – but despite all the different opinions about how successful Bitcoin has been, whether or not it should be the only coin worth caring about, how best to move the project forward, and whether or not the blockchain is worth talking about for other uses besides currency, one thing is certain- the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper had a profound impact on the world. Before Bitcoin, the idea of a decentralized digital currency that could be sent from one side of the world to the other, with a permanent record of the transaction available, seemed like a science fiction fantasy. Now it happens every day, and we take it for granted. The Bitcoin and blockchain story has been a fascinating journey so far, and it will be even more fascinating to see where the next ten years take us.