"Be careful out there!"
So tweeted litecoin creator Charlie Lee in response to the launch of litecoin cash, a cryptocurrency that's expected to spin off from his project, the fifth largest cryptocurrency by total value, next weekend, taking its code and transaction history with it. Always outspoken, Lee went on to call the project a "scam," warning users: "Don't fall for it."
His harsh comments might come as a surprise since litecoin cash's developers admit they have no ties to the official litecoin project and don't particularly see it as a competitor.
Much the same as other projects "forking" to create a new cryptocurrency, litecoin cash's developers claim they simply want to use an existing codebase to create a newer and better form of online exchange. Also, by changing litecoin's underlying mining algorithm to the one bitcoin uses, they argue litecoin cash will bring new life to old, abandoned mining equipment in a kind of strange recycling attempt.
But while developers claim that's the motivation, users seem mostly interested in the "free" money.
Already, an influx of buyers on more consumer-friendly exchanges is driving the price of litecoin to notable highs, in part because, due to the mechanics of the fork, any user who owns litecoin at the time of the fork will immediately have a portion of litecoin cash.
Bolstering this view is the name "litecoin cash," an obvious reference to the successful fork bitcoin cash, the profitable project that sparked the wave of forks carrying into 2018.
And litecoin cash's lead developer Tanner, who did not give his full name, admits the project named it as such to draw more attention.
He told CoinDesk:
"Community engagement is the key to success for any coin. I think that, 'Hey, you already own this, why not check out what we're doing?' is a good jumping off point for people."
By doing so, Tanner told CoinDesk, litecoin cash hopes to use the free coin giveaway as a springboard to create a network faster than bitcoin, with lower transaction times.
And in this way, the two "cash" projects are different. While bitcoin cash rallied support from those who had a competing technical vision, litecoin cash doesn't appear to have the same strong ideological roots.
To start, bitcoin cash arguably had more on the line since it was created as the culmination of years of debate in the bitcoin community.
Last summer, bitcoin cash users and miners were effectively pioneers in the forking world – they didn't know if they would create a coin that people would actually want to use. While they didn't replace bitcoin, as the project's developers hoped, they rallied together a community, and today bitcoin cash is the fourth most valuable cryptocurrency by market cap, appealing to users who support their unique technical roadmap.
Litecoin cash doesn't have a similar history or significant traction leading up to its fork. So, litecoiners like Lee doubt litecoin cash serves the same purpose, a way of settling an argument, as bitcoin cash.
Litecoin cash hasn't made any such claims either, but Lee worries that even though litecoin cash doesn't claim to be associated with litecoin, it will confuse users anyway.
Lee told CoinDesk:
"It confuses people into thinking litecoin is splitting. The litecoin community has no interest in splitting. It's just some people trying to make a quick buck. And calling it litecoin gives them some legitimacy."
Lee said he's witnessed no debate in the litecoin community, and that includes none over litecoin's mining algorithm, sha256, the feature litecoin cash plans to implement. "No one wants to fork litecoin to sha256. That's pretty stupid," he said.
"Yes, I can understand that confusion. I can also understand people who are yelling 'scam,'" Tanner said. "I think [Lee]'s absolutely right to stick to his guns and protect his project and community. I don't expect him to change his mind about us but hope that if anything he'll eventually recognize that we're trying to teach people to be safe."
But, some users seem not to care about safety at all.
As one user put it in the litecoin cash Telegram chat group: "We want the fork for free coins which potentially may be real or scam."
Lee's comments are part of a larger pushback against forks.
One big reason, as he alluded to, is brand confusion. Bitcoin forks, for example, are taking the name "bitcoin" along with them, despite not having any association with the "real" or most widely-known bitcoin project.
One developer recently even suggested suing any project that takes the bitcoin name to "mitigate confusion" for new users. This idea proved very unpopular, but it shows a general skepticism about forks, and how developers have zero control over the situation due to the nature of open-source development.
Yet, litecoin cash argues they're using the litecoin prefix simply because it's just become common practice of late.
"Anyone who's paid attention through the bitcoin forking period hears 'litecoin cash' and instantly understands that it's a fork of litecoin," Tanner said, adding, "I can't deny it also appealed to our sense of humor to poke the wasp's nest with our naming choice."
And it's perhaps working since litecoin cash has been able to draw a lot of recent media attention.
That said, Tanner argues the project seeks to stand out from the litecoin forks that he thinks will inevitably follow: "There will be forks that follow us, who do seek to confuse you and do seek to scam you."
Still, Lee remains unconvinced litecoin cash has any merits, concluding:
"In my mind, it's just a scam and it hurts litecoin."
Litecoin bitcoin image via Shutterstock