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Holy Fork!

We Forked Bitcoin

Say hello to ”Bitcoin Max Horsepower.”

Jordan Pearson

Jordan Pearson

Composition: Author

Bitcoin clones with some small differences, called “forks,” have popped up like a malfunctioning Whack-a-Mole machine recently: Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold, Bitcoin Diamond, Bitcoin Hot, Super Bitcoin, and it really does go on.

Now, we at Motherboard are proud to present our own fork: Bitcoin Max Horsepower (BMH). Our stories about the Bitcoin Cash and (failed) Segwit2x forks last year explain why they're important changes to the cryptocurrency, but BMH shows that—at least from a technical perspective—forking with minimal changes to Bitcoin's original code is easy, and in many cases what really matters is the people behind them. In BMH's case, it's one guy (me) sitting at a laptop.

Yes, Bitcoin Max Horsepower has all the benefits of Bitcoin: its own blockchain, proof-of-work mining algorithm (set to minimum difficulty, by the way, so anyone with a decent graphics card can probably mine it), and even its own node software. As I write this, my own Bitcoin Max Horsepower client is syncing with the network.

Bitcoin Max Horsepower, baby!

Bitcoin Max Horsepower is very real, but we won’t be distributing any software or anything like that. That’s because it took me all of 10 minutes to create the fork, using a website called Forkgen that describes itself as “interactive performance art” in its terms of service.

Forks once seemed like a far-off possibility for Bitcoin, but in 2017 the floodgates were opened after an unresolved community disagreement about code forced a split. The point of Forkgen, it seems, is to take the piss out of the first Bitcoin fork: Bitcoin Cash. Bitcoin Cash is a contentious fork that was created on August 1, 2017, and continues to divide the Bitcoin community. Proponents argue it reflects the true vision of Bitcoin’s anonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, while detractors call it a subpar rip-off.

Notably, one of Bitcoin Cash’s biggest supporters is Craig Wright, an Australian businessman who in 2015 claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto before being laughed off of the world stage for lack of hard evidence. Recently, he’s made a comeback.

“Inspired by successful forks like Bitcoin Gold, Bitcoin Diamond and [Bitcoin Cash], and the visionary leadership of Craig Wright,” the Forkgen website states, “Forkgen is the embodiment of Satoshi’s True Vision™ where if big blocks are good for scaling then many chains are even better.” The site’s tagline on Twitter is “So You Want To Fork Bitcoin Too™."

In an email, one of the anonymous creators of Forkgen—known to me only as social media intern “Two”—wrote that “[Craig Wright] is our spiritual leader but we wouldn't dare let him touch the code as he might screw it up.”

Screengrab: Forkgen.tech

Forkgen lets anyone create their own custom Bitcoin fork—a process that takes Bitcoin’s open-source code, rejigs it to spec, and copies the entire history of the Bitcoin blockchain up to a desired point in time—for the price of $150 USD, or .01 BTC. After paying the fee (Motherboard received a 100 percent discount from Forkgen’s creators), the site compiles the code binaries and sends you everything you need to get your fork running, including node software. Basically, all you have to do is click a few buttons.

I did screw up the first time I tried creating a fork with Forkgen, when I tried naming my fork “Bitcoin Elite Frequent Fliers Plus.” Apparently, Bitcoin’s original code just can’t handle a name that long. “Congratulations you broke it with a too long name,” Forkgen’s social media intern Two wrote me in an email. “Blame Bitcoin Core for having arbitrary limits in their code.” So, I had to settle for Bitcoin Max Horsepower (BMH).

Regardless, BMH and Forkgen itself hammer home a salient point: It is trivially easy to fork Bitcoin, and it always has been, despite the long wait for the first Bitcoin Cash fork that kicked off the craze. The difference between forks, besides the code itself, is the people behind them and the community that supports each one. This presents its own risks. Indeed, you should ask yourself, if you didn’t know that Bitcoin Max Horsepower was created in 10 minutes by one guy in front of his MacBook, would you be interested, or god forbid, invest in it? What if it had a less obviously joke-y name?

This is the confusing post-fork reality of Bitcoin—and Bitcoin Faith, and Bitcoin Clashic, and BitcoinX, and Oil Bitcoin, and Bitcoin Top, and...

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