Why Obelisk shouldn’t soft-fork Sia

Update: Since writing this article, I have had more time to reflect. I’ve added some additional thoughts to an new article titled “Why Obelisk should soft-fork Sia”. If you like this article, please check it out.

If you are at all familiar with Sia (the storage orientated blockchain technology) and its sibling company Obelisk, chances are you’ve heard the news that ASIC mining giant Bitmain has released their own ASIC miner as a competitor to Obelisk’s SC1 miner. Obelisk’s first batch of SC1 miners aren’t due for release until June 30th, 2018 while Bitmain’s ASIC miners are available now and have a delivery estimate of just ten days. That means that anyone who purchased SC1 miners and had hoped for an exclusivity period aren’t getting one. By the time SC1 buyers receive their units and begin mining at the end of June, their potential rewards will be reduced and return on investments extended.

As you might expect, so far, the response by Sia’s community has been largely negative. This isn’t without good reason. Bitmain has a history of overselling ASIC miners which can have a negative impact on the network that they are designed for. Bitmain is often regarded as the big bully on the ASIC mining block, gaining its reputation by being extremely greedy, and willing to sacrifice the well being of the networks community if it means that they have a chance at making extra money. One proposed solution is that the Sia development team release a soft-fork that would invalidate Bitmain’s ASIC miners without affecting Obelisk’s own SC1 miners. Essentially, that avoids the issue of Bitmain potentially having a negative impact on Sia altogether.

How should the Sia community react? There is really two camps. One side believes that the soft-fork should be issued. It seems to solve the Bitmain issue. The other side, believes that the soft-fork shouldn’t be issued. Doing so introduces a whole new host of issues. Here’s why.

Technology built on the blockchain is meant to exist in the wild west. The whole promise of technologies like Sia is that there isn’t one central entity in control. Decisions that get made aren’t meant to be in the interest of any single entity or small number of entities, but instead should be based on consensus. If the Sia community decides that the soft-fork should be implemented, then they are supporting one entity — Obelisk — taking control of a network whose literal tag line is “Decentralized Cloud Storage”. This goes completely against having a no governance platform where no one has control and violates the fundamental ideals of blockchain technology. That’s a slippery slope to start playing on. Like how the US refuses to negotiate with terrorists because it knows that if it does, it sets the precedent that they are willing to negotiate, the Sia and Obelisk team need to refrain from issuing a soft-fork or else it will set the precedent that when they are challenged, platform level measures will be taken to mitigate the challenger. Regardless of the Sia teams intent or the perceived benefits of issuing a soft-fork, issuing a soft-fork means Obelisk is in control and one entity is calling the shots. Next time the Sia team or Obelisk are challenged, should they issue another soft-fork? Do Sia and Obelisk do that every time they are challenged? Where is the line drawn? If you are a believer in Sia and the industry disrupting change that it has the potential to make, then it is contradictory to encourage a Sia soft-fork. Making sure one entity isn’t in control is the whole reason Sia exists.

Then theres the question of those that have bought some Bitmain miners. What does Sia tell them if they implement a soft-fork? Have these people missed out on profit because they didn’t purchase the miners that are made by the sibling company of the group making Sia? Is that a fair, no one in control system? The fact is, soft-forking doesn’t effect Bitmain at all. They’ve already made their profit by selling the miners. A soft-fork doesn’t change that. It’s Bitmain’s customers that are the ones effected. We do a disservice to these buyers who regardless of intent (whether it be to make profit or to help out Sia) are shortchanged for helping secure the Sia network.

Purchasing SC1 hardware included risk. There was always the potential for a competitor to enter the market. Just because that has happened, doesn’t mean that Sia should turn around and change how it does business. Sia remaining true to itself and standing up for its values is what is important and will ensure the longevity of the project. The notion that Sia or Obelisk are in any sort of financial trouble or would be crippled if a soft-fork was not issued is wrong. David Vorick, lead developer and CEO of Sia and Obelisk has clearly stated that Nebulous (Sia and Obelisk’s parent company) and Obelisk are fully funded. Sia development is active and healthy. The introduction of Bitmain’s ASIC miners is not damaging to either Sia or Obelisk and Obelisk’s SC1 units are still looking like they’ll be competitive. A fork is not required to protect Nebulous, Sia’s development team or Obelisk buyers. A decision around the direction of Sia should never be affected by what’s best for Obelisk. Obelisk and Sia are two distinct entities and the profitability of Obelisk should never enter the equation. What’s best for Sia should always be the only consideration.

Whichever decision is made is a decision that needs to be made by the entire community. What that means and who “the whole community is” isn’t for me to say, but in an ideal world, anyone that has spent money or has genuine interest in the success of Sia and Obelisk, should have an opportunity to have their voice heard. Additionally, it’s important to remember that everyone involved has the communities best interests at heart. The Sia community has never faced such a dividing issue. If we can stick together and overcome this, then I think it’ll prove that Sia and its community is here to stay. I wish everyone the very best and hope that the effect of a decision in either direction has minimal negative impact. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oliver.