On Tuesday, a faction of the Bitcoin community launched an audacious experiment: a new version of Bitcoin called Bitcoin Cash that's incompatible with the standard version. As a result, the Bitcoin network split into two mutually incompatible networks that will operate side-by-side.
The confusing result is that if you owned one bitcoin before the split you own two bitcoins now: one coin on the original Bitcoin network, and a second coin on the new Bitcoin Cash network. The two coins have the same cryptographic credentials, but they have very different values if you sell them for old-fashioned dollars. On Wednesday morning, one standard Bitcoin was worth about $2,700, while—on paper at least—a unit of Bitcoin Cash was worth around $600.
Getting Bitcoin Cash off the ground is a remarkable achievement. The big question now is whether the network's supporters can keep it aloft in the coming weeks and months. So far, most of the Bitcoin community has chosen to stick with the mainstream Bitcoin software and network. If Bitcoin Cash can't attract a critical mass of users and businesses, the rival payment network could wither on the vine.