It’s not very often that a new cryptocurrency protocol receives so much attention from Bitcoin community members. And if we’re talking about altcoins, the chances for BTC maximalists to get involved are even lower. However, MimbleWimble and its two resulting coins (Beam and Grin) are different. Cypherpunk Jameson Lopp has tweeted about running Grin, some exuberant miners have joined the rush for private gold, and one trader has even offered as much as 10 bitcoins for 0.001 GRIN token.
This phenomenon may be due to the fact that MimbleWimble was introduced as a proposal to increase Bitcoin’s privacy – and therefore fungibility – in a minimalistic way (which is evident in the whitepaper). It’s worth noting that in the midst of this overenthusiastic development process, Beam, which operates more like a company, has also provided financial support to the development of Grin – the more cypherpunk implementation of the protocol. Therefore, we might be witnessing a bona fide MimbleWimble takeover.
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) January 15, 2019
What is MimbleWimble and where does it come from?
Those who read the Harry Potter novels should know that MimbleWimble is a spell which ties the opposing wizard’s tongue. It’s a defense mechanism which makes sure that the opponent wouldn’t launch an attack, and maybe that this is a pretty smart metaphor in relation to the ambitions of the privacy-oriented cryptocurrency protocol.
This association is revealed by the pseudonymous founder Tom Elvis Jedusor (which is the French adaptation of Tom Marvolo Riddle, the original name of Lord Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s books). He acknowledges in the July 2016 proposal paper that he calls his creation MimbleWimble “because it is used to prevent the blockchain from talking about all user’s information.”
Even though Beam and Grin have stolen the spotlight in this first half of January 2019 (around the same time when Bitcoin celebrated its 10th anniversary), the underlying ideas have been circulating for about two and a half years.
Now let’s ask the most essential question of all: what sets MimbleWimble apart from Monero, Zcash, and all the other privacy coin protocols? Well, as Tom Elvis Jedusor acknowledges in his paper, the research he’s conducted for a new blockchain is taking lessons from Greg Maxwell’s CoinJoin developments, Nicolas van Saberhagen’s system of blind transactions for Monero, as well as Shen Noether’s Ring Confidential Transactions. Jeduror’s observation is that all these solutions have shortcomings in terms of occupying too much block space, requiring interactivity, and being slow.
The result is MimbleWimble: a bold attempt to minimalize these concepts into a protocol that offers privacy by removing some of the weight that makes other projects slow and bloated from too much data. The first step proposed by Tom Elvis Jedusor is to remove Bitcoin Script! Furthermore, according to the amended and expanded version of the whitepaper which Bitcoin Core developer Andrew Poelstra published in October 2016, 16GB of data can be reduced to roughly one megabyte. This is perhaps the biggest claim in terms of efficiency and scalability.
Beam and the courageous launch on Bitcoin’s 10th anniversary
Beam’s mainnet launch took place on January 3rd 2019, the same day when Bitcoin celebrated its 10th anniversary. It’s the lesser cypherpunk and business-minded version of the MimbleWimble protocol, backed by a start-up model. This approach is considered to bring quicker development and adoption.
In the first two years, Beam is bound to be governed in order to achieve growth, and after this phase the project can finally reach a greater amount of decentralization. It’s worth noting, however, that no ICO has been started and the enthusiasts get an equal chance to mine and/or invest in the project.
The conservatism is also apparent in the protocol’s programming language of choice: C++ instead of Grin’s Rust. The mining is also done by using a modified version of the Equihash consensus algorithm (which is also used by Zcash).
In terms of monetary policy, we observe a supply model that is similar to that of Bitcoin, and an inflation system which involves founder rewards that are reminiscent to Zcash’s. In total, there will be 262.800.000 Beam coins, and the emission follows a pre-determined halving system.
In terms of development, it’s clear that Beam benefits from a head start: it has an official wallet and a large team of developers who work for the improvement of the project. However, it’s worth noting that the first week after the launch was marked by an unfortunate incident: a vulnerability was found in the wallet software, and the issue had to get patched on the same day. Users were advised to remove the old version from their devices and perform a clean install, and so far no further issues have been reported.
It will be interesting to see how Beam challenges the throne of Zcash (which it resembles more closely in terms of governance) and Monero, and to which extent the more conservative economic model that it uses leads to better results on the long term. What is admirable about the team is that it supports Grin (the other MimbleWimble implementation) and doesn’t see a great sibling rivalry in this situation.
Grin and the cypherpunk ethos
Check your watch and listen to every tick: that’s how often a new Grin coin gets mined. It’s actually a block per minute containing 60 coins, but this is a nice metaphor which helps us understand the system. There is no deflationary halving, no system to adjust the supply over time, and no maximum cap. Grin is meant to be money that can be spent privately, not a store of value whose price increases over time due to scarcity.
Therefore, there’s less of a speculative investment dimension to this implementation of the MimbleWimble protocol, and more of an experiment with fungibility. Though the price of a GRIN token exceeds the $5 threshold at press time and there’s an initial wave of euphoria which surrounds the project. This will definitely not be the next Bitcoin: first of all, their philosophies are different in the sense that Grin is closer to the Keynesian school of economics, whereas Bitcoin is a peak achievement of the Austrian school.
Unlike its corporate sibling, the Grin project is financed only by donations, uses the Rust programming language, and can be mined using the Cuckaroo algorithm. It’s based on Andrew Poelstra’s paper and follows its points in a more literal way, without diverging for financial reasons. Grin clearly doesn’t aim to compete with Bitcoin, but seeks to complement its features. And there are even rumors of the protocol getting turned into a Bitcoin sidechain (just like Liquid) sometime in the future.
Most notably, influential BTC maximalist and cypherpunk Jameson Lopp has declared his technological interest in the project by running its protocol (probably for mining reasons) and declaring it a “pretty cypherpunk project”. Whether or not Grin lives up to its expectations and turns out to be the best and fairest of MimbleWimble implementations still remains to be seen. What is certain at this point is that Bitcoin’s position isn’t threatened in any way, and Riccardo Spagni is working on the development of a proprietary MimbleWimble sidechain for Monero.
Because there are no sketchy incentives skewed towards the creators, it's actually innovating, and it's a pretty cypherpunk project.
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) January 15, 2019
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