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Culture Wars in the Crypto Space

Since late 2017, when Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin tweeted his frustration about “lambo” memes and Ripple moved into second place for market capitalization, community members have been raising questions about who owns crypto in 2018.

Let’s go back to December for a minute.

In a brief exchange with Amir Taaki, a prominent voice in Bitcoin who expressed concerns about that currency, Buterin said the warning was valid for all crypto communities. The two decried the toxicity of riches increasingly being seen as the sole pursuit of crypto initiatives. Buterin himself went so far as to threaten to leave the Ethereum project if this mentality wasn’t abandoned.

Taaki claimed Bitcoin was “turning into a failed project” due to the community being “blinded by numerical price increases.” While he seems mainly concerned with building “a new paradigm of polytechnics” for the sake of broader libertarianism via technology, he may be on to something.

Things may not be so drastic and the world may not be ending, but these are the first hints of more infighting. If 2017 was the year Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin drew their first lines in the sand, then 2018 may widen the gap between the brains behind crypto and the masses following them.

This development can be seen to have begun in the first week of November, when the San Francisco-based digital currency exchange Coinbase added 100,000 accounts. The new users apparently swarmed to the platform after U.S. derivatives exchange giant CME Group announced plans to begin trading Bitcoin futures.

Following Coinbase’s massive induction of hypothetically inexperienced crypto-users, the price of Ethereum started steadily rising (naturally provoking many moon metaphors). And then Vitalik Buterin and Amir Taaki in late December spoke out with their concerns regarding the growing popularity of the two heavy-weight digital assets.

The evidence thus points to a new bifurcation in the crypto community – a split between profiteering, on the one hand, and vision for world-changing innovation on the other.

The close of 2017 also brought another surprise, one that may further indicate the purely speculative nature of the market (or at least that the market has more speculative agents than not): in the span of a couple short weeks, Ripple spiked from less than a quarter of a U.S. dollar per coin to more than USD 2.50. And even if it’s now back below the level of 1 U.S. dollar, it’s still the third largest cryptocurrency in terms of capitalization.

That jump late last year not only turned one of Ripple’s founders into a millionaire overnight, but also brought criticism of the company’s vision to a boil. Attacks centered on the fact that the settlement system is closed-source, non-minable, and may not even need a token to operate. Critics also targeted what they see as an overly-polished brand.

To what extent these critiques are valid is for the reader to determine.

More important is the new social dynamic which is developing around cryptocurrencies. With institutional investors becoming more interested in these products every day, the revolutionary ideas of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin, may be coming to an end. Or maybe the opposite will happen: the nerds will fight back and keep the store of value all for themselves.

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