Ethereum Classic Community Navigates a Distinct Path to the Future
Ethereum Classic started off as what is perhaps best described as a protest movement, opposing a (perceived) bailout of Ethereum’s leaderless investment venture, The DAO. But the brand new cryptocurrency, which is actually the continuation of the pre-hard forked Ethereum chain, has since surprised many. Its currency, classic ether (ETC) has garnered a spot among the top altcoins by market cap, some big names in the cryptocurrency space endorsed the project and more developers are joining the project. To make it official, Ethereum Classic declared its independence from the former Ethereum project and the Ethereum Foundation last week.
Yet, some questions about the future of Ethereum Classic remain. The initial community consists of a diverse group of users, varying from long-time Ethereum purists committed to upholding the original “code is law” ethos, to a subgroup of “Bitcoin maximalists” that really hoped a split would have both sides of the chain fail and just about anything in between these extremes.
To find out whether, and how, the Ethereum Classic community plans to move forward from here, Bitcoin Magazine reached out to some of its most active members.
A Distinct Vision
If there is one aspect that binds the Ethereum Classic community to this day, it’s — perhaps unsurprisingly — shared values like immutability and censorship resistance. As formulated in the “Declaration of Independence," many Ethereum Classic supporters envision the protocol as an embodiment of the “code is law” mantra, in which there is no room for forks whenever code doesn’t operate as many users expected it would.
Elaborating on the explicit publication of these values, project lead Arvicco told Bitcoin Magazine:
“At least from my point of view and this is how many in our community feel as well, any practical steps we undertake should be based on a firm foundation, laid out in principles. This Declaration of Independence is important, in the same sense way the United States’ Declaration of Independence was important. It turns a mutiny into a revolution, so to say. It may be a formality, but it is an important one.”
Naturally, then, there is still very little sympathy for the Ethereum Foundation’s decision to opt for a hard fork to reimburse The DAO investors. For many, the perceived bailout of the leaderless investment venture was a big mistake and is still illustrative for the net version of Ethereum.
Marcus R. Brown currently maintains the Ethereum Classic fork of cpp-ethereum, also known as eth. Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Brown — who joined the Ethereum community late last year — explained:
“After the news of the The DAO hack broke, I watched the community’s response and in particular the mitigation strategies. Although I held a tiny amount of The DAO tokens myself as a curiosity, I did not agree that either a soft or hard fork was the appropriate response. After the hard fork was implemented and deployed, I assumed my ‘side’ had lost the argument and decided to continue to explore Ethereum, albeit more cautiously. But when I discovered Arvicco’s manifesto, I decided to contribute time and resources to the project. I am in 100% agreement [with] the principles as laid out and, in fact, think that most of it lines up with the goals of the original Ethereum project.”
Others did not hesitate to voice their discontent toward the original Ethereum development community itself, many of whom endorsed and advocated in favor of the hard fork. Like the new Ethereum chain, developers involved with the Ethereum Foundation are by many within the Ethereum Classic community considered morally bankrupt; making a re-united community seem unlikely.
James Hilliard, a commercial pool operator who manages over 100HG/s worth of Ethereum mining farms and mining pools for clients, has been encouraging his clients to mine on Ethereum Classic.
Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, he said:
“I largely view the Ethereum Foundation as a corrupt group, that’s only in it to get rich. And I think this fork event really caused them to show their true colors. They care about their own profits above everything else ... I admire that Ethereum Classic does not want a benevolent dictator at all, just like those in Bitcoin don’t want one. Satoshi leaving Bitcoin development was a good decision in my opinion… that makes arguments from authority much harder.”
Creating a New Roadmap
Moving forward, uniting the community may be a little bit more tricky. Initially, the Ethereum Classic project planned to follow the Ethereum Foundation’s every move, essentially copying any update to their own chain. By now, however, the Ethereum Classic community has begun working on its own roadmap. While a work in progress, this could mean that the difference between the two sides of the chain will further diverge over time.
Charles Hoskinson was one of the original founders of Ethereum and one of the early public faces of that project. But he left the team almost two years ago, even before the protocol was ever launched. Only recently, he announced his return as developer for — what is now called — Ethereum Classic.
Explaining his motivation to work on a distinct vision for Ethereum Classic, Hoskinson said:
“A protest movement can’t live forever. We’ve seen that with Occupy Wall Street and there are many similar examples. It’s also not what I find interesting personally. I hope to see Ethereum Classic, this community, emancipate into a valuable network, a real thing that doesn’t merely exist to remind Vitalik and the other Ethereum developers of the mistake they made. If we can do that I would love to participate.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Avtar Sehra, another developer to have joined the project, who also works on global strategy for Ethereum Classic. Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, he said:
“Let's be honest. Ethereum Classic can not compete with Ethereum in the fundamentals, funding and traction. For this reason Ethereum Classic will need to become something different. Focus now is on removing the difficulty bomb originally built in by Ethereum developers, that is designed to eventually force the protocol to a new hard fork. We want to fix the replay issue, port as many clients as possible and develop new ones, stabilize the network, build a community and establish decentralized administration operations.”
Proof of Stake
A popular sentiment within the Ethereum Classic community is to treat the Ethereum Foundation side of the chain as a sort of testnet for now. The forked version of the Ethereum chain could serve as an experimental testbed for innovation — which in many ways, it already is. Whether or not experiments succeed should determine whether they should be adopted by Ethereum Classic — or not.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this, though not the only one, is a potential transition to a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism. This is scheduled to replace the current proof-of-work system, at least on the forked Ethereum chain. But the Ethereum Classic community is generally skeptical that proof-of-stake — where order of transactions is determined by coin-holders rather than miners — is the best way forward.
According to Arvicco:
“While proof-of-work and — just recently — hybrid proof-of-work/proof-of-stake security guarantees are well analyzed in peer-reviewed papers, there is nothing like this for proof-of-stake in general, or for Ethereum’s promised proof-of-stake system ‘Casper’ in particular. It seems there are also concerns in light of the key blockchain characteristic of openness, as coin-holders effectively act as gatekeepers. And from a practical standpoint, proof-of-stake systems are known to have multiple weaknesses and vectors of attacks. Vitalik promises everyone a miracle and we have to believe him. Well, maybe he will deliver. Maybe he won’t. So, letting the new Ethereum play out all the risks associated with this transition first makes total sense.”
Since quitting the Ethereum development team, Hoskinson has set-up his own company. And within the company, developers have created a proof-of-stake consensus algorithm they believe works. Hoskinson, therefore, doesn’t doubt the concept itself. But he does agree it’s premature to roll out the mechanism as a consensus model on Ethereum Classic.
Instead, he believes it may be a good governance tool:
“One of the main challenges we face as a community, apart from a technical road map, is the establishment of a governance process. We no longer have a Vitalik, a benevolent dictator for life and I don’t think anyone in the Ethereum Classic community would want that back. Luckily, there are ideas out there on how to better handle protocol forks. I think we can learn from altcoins, like Dash and Tezos. And indeed I believe proof-of-stake types of systems could be very useful in this regard.”
That said, not everyone is equally excited about this newfound inspiration. While the heart of the Ethereum Classic community consists of eager participants, a contingent of the original supporters did consider the project to be a protest movement more than anything else. And some of these are slowly but surely losing interest, often to re-focus on Bitcoin.
One of the earliest community members and investors in Ethereum Classic after the hard fork goes by the pseudonyms “Steve” or “MrHodl.” The self-admitted “Bitcoin maximalist” who’d rather see the new Ethereum fail rather than Ethereum Classic succeed, would have preferred to see this project stick to the original plan.
“At first I was excited about Ethereum Classic because there was no doubt in my mind that a market would form and develop around the original Ethereum chain,” Steve said to Bitcoin Magazine. “I was hoping that the vision of the Ethereum Foundation would live on, but with immutability. When I started to get the feeling that Ethereum Classic was going in a different direction, I simply lost interest and sold most of my classic ether. To me it became just another altcoin.”
Hilliard, too, sees little real future potential in either version of Ethereum. While he thinks Ethereum Classic might have a slightly bigger chance on long-term success, the most likely scenario for him is that both will eventually wither.
“Long term, I think both the new Ethereum and Ethereum Classic will have a lot of difficulty with security due to immaturity of this area of computer science and the difficulty in writing provably correct code,” Hilliard said. “Maybe Ethereum Classic will have more security focus… but to be honest most of the top talent there works on Bitcoin. And it will likely be difficult to recruit top security experts that are capable doing proper code and architecture design. I find Turing-complete blockchains to be quite risky in general, but if there’s any future in that domain it’s probably in Bitcoin sidechains like Rootstock which appear to be putting security first.”
Hoskinson published his own thoughts on an Ethereum Classic roadmap here.