What if someone creates a new block chain, or a new digital currency that renders Bitcoin obsolete?

What if someone creates a new block chain, or a new digital currency that renders Bitcoin obsolete?

That the block chain cannot be easily forked represents one of the central security mechanisms of Bitcoin. Given the choice between two block chains, a Bitcoin miner always chooses the longer one - that is to say, the one with the more complex hash. Thusly, it ensures that each user can only spend their bitcoins once, and that no user gets ripped off.

As a consequence of the block chain structure, there may at any time be many different sub-branches, and the possibility always exists of a transaction being over-written by the longest branch, if it has been recorded in a shorter one. The older a transaction is though, the lower its chances of being over-written, and the higher of becoming permanent. Although the block chain prevents one from spending more Bitcoins than one has, it means that transactions can be accidentally nullified.

A new block chain would leave the network vulnerable to double-spend attacks. However, the creation of a viable new chain presents considerable difficulty, and the possibility does not present much of a risk.

Bitcoin will always choose the longer Block Chain and determines the relative length of two branches by the complexities of their hashes. Since the hash of each new block is made from that of the block preceding it, to create a block with a more complex hash, one must be prepared to do more computation than has been done by the entire Bitcoin network from the fork point up to the newest of the blocks one is trying to supersede. Needless to say, such an undertaking would require a very large amount of processing power and since Bitcoin is continually growing and expanding, it will likely only require more with the passage of time.

A much more distinct and real threat to the Bitcoin use is the development of other, superior virtual currencies, which could supplant Bitcoin and render it obsolete and valueless.

A great deal of careful thought and ingenuity has gone into the development of Bitcoin, but it is the first of its breed, a prototype, and vulnerable to more highly-evolved competitors. At present, any threatening rivals have yet to rear their heads; Bitcoin remains the first and foremost private virtual currency, but we can offer no guarantees that it will retain that position. It would certainly be in keeping with internet history for a similar system built from the same principles to supersede and cast Bitcoin into obsolescence, after time had revealed its major shortcomings. Friendster and Myspace suffered similar fates at the hand of Facebook, Napster was ousted by Limeware, Bearshare and torrent applications, and Skype has all but crushed the last few disciples of the Microsoft Messenger army.

This may sound rather foreboding, so bear in mind that the introduction of new and possibly better virtual currencies will not necessarily herald Bitcoin's demise. If Bitcoin establishes itself sufficiently firmly before the inception of the next generation of private, online currencies so as to gain widespread acceptance and general stability, future currencies may pose little threat even if they can claim superior design. This is known as the network effect.