Originally published in the CoinDesk weekly newsletter on August 12, 2018.
In Robert Heinlein’s novel “Stranger in a Strange Land,” the character Jubal Harshaw asks one of his secretaries to identify the color of a house in the distance. She replies, “it’s white on this side.”
In other words, if you see something only from a certain angle, you can’t be confident you have the full picture. This goes for cryptocurrencies as well as for physical objects.
While it would be disingenuous to claim the price of a coin doesn’t matter, it’s only one of several ways to measure the value of a blockchain network. Looking at these in aggregate offers a more useful perspective than obsessively checking U.S. dollar exchange rates on your phone every hour. (Or every minute, for some. Stop that, it’s not healthy.)
To that end, CoinDesk Research’s crypto-economic compass shows more activity going on than just price movements. It compiles a variety of different sub-factors to make up four other composite measures: developer, network, social, and exchange.
Using this multi-dimensional analytical tool, let’s take a look at bitcoin cash (BCH), the splinter currency that recently celebrated its first birthday. We’ll compare it to the network it seceded from, the original bitcoin (BTC), which is the gold standard for cryptocurrencies, along these five axes.
The most observed metric, price, saw very little deviation during BCH’s first year of existence. For most of that period, it remained around twelve percent to that of BTC. The price saw all-time-highs of around twenty percent of BTC in the fall 2017 rally but slowly diminished back down to normalcy.
The network category refers to activity concerning the on-chain network. Transaction volume occurring on the BCH blockchain remained on average under ten percent of BTC’s on-chain volume throughout the year.
However, this last month saw the number of transactions consistently increasing to about thirty to fifty percent of BTC’s. This could signal increased microtransactions due to new app development or stress testing by large entities.
One such app is CoinText which allows users to send and receive BCH through text messages. Its CTO, Vin Armani, said:
“When high fees and slow confirmation times began plaguing BTC, I shelved Bitcoin projects that I had been working on steadily for years…I know I wasn’t alone in walking through 2017 feeling discouraged…In this past year, Bitcoin Cash has brought hope and creative exploration back to Bitcoin.”
Exchange activity was a bit more varied over the year. BCH volume transacted on exchanges reached all-time-highs in 2017, even briefly exceeding BTC’s exchange volume on August 19 and November 11. Over 100 exchanges currently list BCH, many of which added the support in Q3 of 2017. When the general crypto rally of fall 2017 dissipated, exchange activity withered away to eight percent of BTC’s volume in Q1 and twelve percent in Q2.
Developer activity on the protocol level has been relatively low for BCH. While it benefits from the legacy code from before the fork, since then the breakaway network has not maintained the same level of developer interest as BTC.
Meanwhile the most unique observation concerns bitcoin cash’s high levels of social activity, reaching about fifty-seven percent of BTC’s. The sub-factor driving much of this phenomenon is the posting on the BCH-oriented r/btc subreddit. Another key social media advantage has been the commandeering of the @bitcoin twitter handle with its 800,000+ followers.
It appears that these highly engaged online communities have grown offline. Event meetup groups have maintained steady growth. According to the BCH Fund, there are 101 meetups in 40 different countries with about 12,000 total members.
In this way, crypto-economics sheds light on all sides of the house, as it were, and reveals a more holistic understanding of a cryptocurrency’s state of affairs. BCH on-chain and developer activity remained low relative to BTC, but exchange activity drastically fluctuates with speculation. Bitcoin cash’s price has been able to stay afloat this past year, thanks in no small part to the small but strong group of social communities invigorating this coin.