Why Dash Won the Bitrefill Transaction Speed Race and What That Means

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3 years ago
Bitrefill conducted a speed test, and surprise surpise, Dash won.

A company that allows users to use cryptocurrency to top up prepaid phones and buy gift codes to almost any business imaginable, Bitrefill held a contest to highlight the fastest ways users were able to use the system to pay their phone bill. A Dash user won first place, beating out a Lightning network user, paying the phone bill in a record 24 seconds flat.

Now I should point out that, to begin with, this wasn't a purely apples-to-apples comparison as Lightning requires you to send funds to a payment channel ahead of time, and most Bitcoin wallets aren't Lightning wallets. This means it isn't an experience typical for a Bitcoin user, and required some setup time beforehand. The summary of this experiment is that, compared to all other options, even those requiring a bit of setup beforehand, Dash provided the fastest payment experience among cryptocurrencies. We can learn a lot from this.

How Did Dash Come Out on Top?

Having an intentional mechanism to make "zero-conf" transactions reliable

If you aren't very familiar with the inner workings of Dash, it has this special mechanism called InstantSend that basically locks transactions into place as soon as they're sent and keeps them from being reversed until they're confirmed in a block and permanently written to the blockchain. To the average crypto user, this means that you don't have to wait until you get a confirmation. To the average normie, this means that Dash just works, right away, with no major caveats. Services like Bitrefill will accept Dash payments right away, while for virtually every other coin they will make you wait.

Not watering down security for an illusion of speed

Now, I'm sure just about every coin under the sun will have some kind of speed-based "look how fast this is!" hype. It's mostly nonsense. Typically such claims either rely on an extremely fast block time, some new and unproven (or shoddy) security model, or just completely ignoring security. Remember that just about every cryptocurrency on the planet will "show up" almost instantly after being sent. The key element is speed to security, or how fast can you be reasonably sure that your payment is permanent.

If you have a seconds-apart block time, sure your transaction is "confirmed" in a few seconds, but it likely won't be trusted by a recipient until you have dozens of confirmations at least, because the risk of the transaction being rolled back by an attacker is still present. Same thing goes for trusting zero-confirmation transactions: the security model is essentially taking a risk. By creating extra mechanisms to make transactions secure instantly, Dash didn't take the shortcut for a cheap hit of hype, and instead made something that actually works.

Why Did It Take This Long to Come to This Conclusion?

No one really uses crypto for anything other than trading

I have no bank account and live entirely off of cryptocurrency. But I'm an engangered species. Most people, even if they've heard of crypto, don't use it, and most of those who own some have probably never used any in a retail transaction even once. Before paying attention to which payments system is the fastest, you have to actually use them all to begin with.

The few real-world merchants out there just roll the dice on double-spends

A lot of in-person commerce with crypto tends to be between friends or fellow enthusiasts. As such, the merchant in question is typically more than happy to take a gamble and take a payment as soon as it shows up. The likelihood that someone is going to try to steal from them using crypto, and isn't just a fellow excited nerd, is very small, and even if that were the case, the paltry number of crypto transactions in the first place makes the risk negligible.

We haven't seen enough major point-of-sale thefts

For the most part, no one has capitalized on the major threat of double-spends for retail commerce. There have been a few cases of ATM thefts involving double-spends and the occasional publicity stunt by a cryptocurrency community seeking to discredit a competing project, but for the most part no one has been clever and malicious enough to exploit this huge point-of-sale vulnerability. Once the word gets out in the underworld that you can make money this easily by simply buying something and later sending that money back to yourself, then you can bet point-of-sale systems and merchants will be requiring confirmations, or something instantly secure like Dash.

Dash didn't really work as advertised until relatively recently

Let's be perfectly fair here: Dash didn't have any meaningful competitive advantage in terms of payments for most of its existence. Despite being billed as a fast and payments-friendly alternative to Bitcoin, InstantSend was opt-in, cost an extra fee, was only supported by an extremely small subset of wallets, and didn't allow transactions to be instantly re-spent. Now that's all changed. For the past year or so, every single Dash transaction is instantly-confirmed and instantly-respendable, no matter which wallet is used, and for no extra fee. Users and companies may very well have looked past Dash as another Bitcoin clone for years, and not been entirely wrong to do so. Now that it's different, some may take a second look.

What Will Happen When Crypto Adoption Surges?

Almost all major coins will break

In late 2017, Coinbase was overflowing with new users buying Bitcoin. When they tried to move it and were unable, they tried to flock to Ethereum, which also didn't work because of Crypto Kitties and other related traffic, causing them to next fall on Litecoin, whose transactions (and fees) spiked dramatically. None could handle this surge in usage. The next time around there will be some top contenders such as Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV as well, and while both can certainly handle high volumes of transactions, there will nonetheless be delays as users won't necessarily be able to get their transactions in right away (particularly in the case of SV since a lot of its transaction volume is already taken up with bot and app-related functions). Either way, most of what are considered top projects today are nowhere near ready for a mass influx of users, and such an event will significantly thin out the herd.

Users may or may not find a good alternative before giving up

Now of course, in this scenario we hope that all the non-functional projects fall by the wayside, and the good ones rise to the top. That's to be expected if there remains a consistent demand for a use case that only the cryptoverse can satisfy. However, to be frank, I can easily see a situation where masses flock to cryptocurrency, get burned on their first and possibly second experience, and simply don't try again for a long time. If we're talking a Bitcoin and Dash world, it's easy to see what would happen in a mass adoption scenario. But there are so many different coins in between that Dash could still get completely passed by in the event of a spike in users and interest in the space, either from trying and giving up, or from settling on a passable but inferior experience from a competitor like Litecoin.

Functional tech like Dash, if discovered, will absolutely skyrocket in use

A lot of systems of today are in desperate need of replacement. The old financial system of dinosaur money causes users to lose value over time, costs a lot in fees, is full of hangups and delays, and (most importantly) requires permission from some authority in order to use and is completely useless once this permission is revoked. When something that absolutely doesn't work finally drives users to seek an alternative, and they stumble upon something infinitely better, the excitement and hype is a force to be reckoned with. We're starting to see the fringes of this with LBRY, where viewers are finding out they can see ALL content (not just what YouTube thinks is appropriate) and creators are finding out they can actually still make a living doing what they're doing. As a result, an often written-off project out of the top 500 by market capitalization came back with a boom, nearly cracking the top 100 already and clocking in several million monthly users (and rapidly growing). One more serious deplatforming of a YouTube star and a flood of users could make LBRY a top-10 project before you know it, and certainly a top 1-2 in terms of actual daily users.

The same can potentially apply to Dash. If it gathers enough utility and acceptance at enough merchants, and if enough people actually try it out versus other competitors including fiat currency processors, combined with some mass financial censorship event, it could take off like nothing seen before. In the meantime, we have to just wait and see, and promote whatever excellent example of the future of money like the Bitrefill speed challenge that we can find.

If you enjoyed this, please leave a tip, either here or via CoinTree. Thank you! And thanks to my supporters Kingsley Edwards, AnarchyRadio, and Kenn Bosak for their continued support!

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3 years ago