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Rule Breaker's Guide to Cryptocurrencies, Part 2: What Is the Best Blockchain?

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 11:36AM

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Various cryptocurrencies use different blockchain solutions to secure their data, but which is “best” is relative.

In this Rule Breakers podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner recruited Fool analyst Aaron Bush to help him with Cryptocurrencies 101. Turns out that a fair number of his listeners wanted more. So this week -- with bitcoin trading at more than twice the level it was for the previous episode -- he brought Aaron back for a more advanced encore.

In this segment, they respond to a listener who wonders if bitcoin has the best blockchain. But a better question is, "Which cryptocurrencies have blockchains that are best suited to their use cases?" They also dig into the connection between the foundations of cryptocurrencies and open-source projects like Wikipedia and Linux.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Dec. 6, 2017.

David Gardner: Evan also wrote, "Is bitcoin's blockchain the best blockchain out there? It was the first, but first doesn't necessarily mean most efficient. Could it be usurped by a crypto that can better fill the role as an alternative to cash?" He closed out by saying, "Now I understand what blockchain technology is, but what are the variations of it that might make one blockchain better than another?"

Aaron Bush: Right. So I think, maybe to slightly tweak the question, I think maybe a slightly better question would be, "Is bitcoin's blockchain the best blockchain out there for its specific use case?" I think we have to recognize that blockchain is a technology. Really, it's just like an upgraded database. And so comparing something like bitcoin to the company Broadridge Financial's proxy-voting blockchain, those are going to be two completely different things, and you can't really say this one is better than this one, because they're just doing different functions.

Gardner: In fact, when you and I talked on Oct. 18, I was trying to liken Ethereum, which is another cryptocurrency many will know. In fact, at least one of my family members has since bought Ethereum and is pretty happy about that. I was trying to liken it as Pepsi to bitcoin's Coke, and you were saying, "Not really."

Bush: Because many of these different assets have completely different use cases. Taking this one step further, with bitcoin, specifically, there are variations, and right now in the ecosystem we see there's bitcoin. And now there's bitcoin cash, and bitcoin gold. The reason why these forks have happened, which is really just split code, is because there's a big debate over scalability and what is the best way to grow transaction volume in a scalable way across the network. We're seeing how different blockchains going after the same function can be different.

With bitcoin and bitcoin cash, for example -- I won't dwell on this too long -- bitcoin implemented what's known as SegWit, which is short for "segregated witness," and that limits the per-transaction data that is stored on each block. Bitcoin cash, on the other hand, instead of going that path, just increased the size of the block. The same transaction data is there, but now more transactions can fit on the block. They're both approaching the scalability issue from different ways but are doing it differently.

Gardner: That could also "fork" our conversation, but I'm not going to let it. We're going to keep moving, maybe a little bit higher level. But bitcoin -- for what bitcoin is trying to do -- remains close to the best technology that you could want. The best blockchain for what it's trying to do. But even then, there are further refinements in store and in place that people are thinking about.

Bush: That's right, and I think it's important to understand that each of these crypto assets isn't stuck in time. Each of these are also evolving over time. If you think it's the best blockchain, actually maybe bitcoin 2.0, whatever that is, it's going to be an upgraded version of what exists today. So things definitely will improve from here.

Gardner: Evan asked one more interesting question, which we're going to get to in a sec, but I was thinking some more about blockchain, Aaron, and as you defined it on Oct. 18. It's just a database, and a database where every new action or transaction is captured and held and always available. And it's a database that's distributed, so there are infinite copies of it so everyone can see what's happened, even if you and I don't know who exactly was behind that transaction.

And I was thinking in some ways, "Isn't Wikipedia kind of like a cryptocurrency, in the sense that somebody comes along and starts a page on New York City?" I haven't been back to the New York City page on Wikipedia recently, but back in the day it started with a single bit of data. Somebody said, "The city is in the state of New York," let's say. And then somebody else came along and mined it. Added a little value to it. And these days, again not having been to the Wikipedia page for New York City, I'm pretty sure it's both much richer and deeper. Probably more trustworthy. Let's hope so. And you or I could go back in and see every single change that was made to that Wikipedia page to any wiki anywhere. I'm not trying to say that a wiki is like a cryptocurrency, but for those of us who are still trying to get our minds wrapped around this as we think about blockchain, is that an analogy that has some usefulness?

Bush: I think it does. Wikipedia, and you could say something like Linux, even. Those are both great examples of open-source projects that in the old world didn't fully capture the value that they were creating, but maybe in today's world in which there are cryptocurrencies, there's tokenization backed up by blockchains.

If a new version of Wikipedia were to be created today, it probably could reward the early adopters and the people helping to build it up at the very beginning. I do think that is a pretty good analogy, and we will be seeing something, not necessarily like Wikipedia, but open-source projects in a similar vein be created in maybe an upgraded way.

Gardner: Where people, through tokenization and just the growth of that new blockchain value, can be paid better than, let's say, the volunteers who have largely helped build Wikipedia. Just an interesting comparison.

Bush: I liken it to these projects that might not have business models, but they'll have incentive models. That is really a breakthrough that we're starting to see compound.

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