Ethereum’s Eternal September

Every platform undergoes a tipping point on the journey to mass adoption, and the results are not always nice. In the early 1990s, Usenet was obscure and inaccessible enough that the only participants were tech-savvy mature adults. Every September, college freshmen would get brand new internet access, jump onto Usenet, and generally act like twits for a month until they were properly acculturated.

In 1993, AOL messed it all up. After Congress passed Al Gore’s bill for commercial internet use, Usenet access was granted to AOL’s entire customer base. What used to be a brief annual nuisance turned into an onslaught of AOL n00bs, who overwhelmed Usenet’s cultural institutions and turned the newsgroup into a noisome wasteland. Veteran users fled to gated communities, and September 1993 went down in history as the September that never ended.

4chan, Reddit, and Digg were all once well-kept gardens of polite discourse until Eternal September set in. Facebook set the scene for its own demise when Zuck extended signups to our parents. bleahhh.

Ethereum, on the other hand, was born into an Eternal September.

Whereas Bitcoin toiled in obscurity for years, Ethereum was announced at a conference. The founders went on a marketing spree and raised over $18 million by pre-selling ether tokens for the blockchain they planned to build.

A foundation was created and partnerships were formed. Banks and enterprise software vendors signed on. Instead of seeking out a beachhead market, Ethereum went straight for the masses. Bitcoin’s first release was a wonky Windows executable, but Ethereum had a colorful browser called Mist. If downloading a browser was too much work, MyEtherWallet offered a web page where you could simply paste in your private key.

In terms of mass adoption, Ethereum has been a wild success. Every week I get a half-dozen emails from people asking how to buy “etherium”. Anyone can use it; you don’t even need to know how to spell it.

But there are some downsides to having a nonstop stream of n00bs.

Yesterday, a bug was discovered in a widely used smart contract. A hacker ran off with $32 million yoinked from four major projects. The day before, someone hijacked a web site during a crowdsale and tricked buyers into sending $10M to the wrong address. Before that, there was a Canadian exchange that accidentally trapped $13M in its own broken contract.

I’m just talking about technical issues here; I can’t even keep up with the ICO scams.

Today marks the anniversary of the DAO fork, a fissure that occurred when influential Ethereum leaders decided to bail out a smart contract after losing $60 million. Ethereum Classic is the minority chain that was left in its wake.

People often forget that Ethereum Classic exists. That’s okay — At this stage, low visibility is a good thing. Smart contracts have the technological maturity of Bitcoin circa 2010, which is not very mature at all. There are a million ways to lose your life savings, and nothing gets regulators moving faster than a critical mass of humans who hurt themselves.

While Ethereum struggles to contain its Eternal September, Ethereum Classic developers are hard at work on a lot of cool things. Toiling in obscurity is a blessing. When September eventually sets in, we’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.

Happy Birthday Ethereum Classic!

6 thoughts on “Ethereum’s Eternal September

  1. Good read! But, I think the post maybe ended too early. Some things should have come after “Ethereum Classic developers are hard at work on a lot of cool things”. I mean, it’s clear you think ETH is bad and you’ve substantiated that argument, but does that logically lead to the “ETC is good” conclusion?

    Just playing a bit of a Devil’s Avocado.

    1. I think ETC has the potential to be good, but still has a long way to go. Not ready for pumping yet! It’s only “good” in the sense that the amount of risk users are taking is more proportional to technological soundness.

  2. When Ethereum forked last year and Classic was born I had a hunch that the chain might survive. There was nothing wrong with the chain so why shouldn’t it? Classic could let the Ethereum developers make the mistakes and simply copy the sound moves. In one sense Ethereum becomes Classics sand pit but in another it becomes two bites at the same cherry.

    In obscurity Classic could perhaps resolve a paradox in Ethereums mass adoption (killer app) objective. It needs to be smooth… and mass adoptions are likely not ..

    If tokens are meant as a means of exchange but are adopted too widely and too fast then they become an appreciating asset and people stop exchanging them. They stop using the app and revert to fiat currencies.

    The killer app needs to spread tokens to a large number of people without causing the rapid appreciation in the $ of the token and promoting hoarding and so halting the adoption. It’s a paradox… The token needs to be used without appreciating in value until it’s in the hands of a large number of people.

    but until then September it be…

    1. I completely agree with all of this. I wonder if Bitcoin followed a better path for adoption and price increase because there was no premine. Ethereum distributed 72M tokens before it launched the network, with a starting price of ~.001 BTC per token.

      I don’t think many expected Classic to survive. Heck, I didn’t expect ETH-Forked to survive. So, do you expect Bitcoin Cash to survive then?

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