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.
1/ Alright Crappy Token Creators listen up. I am 100% out of patience. It's 10am. I haven't slept. And you are going to get to hear me rant.
— MyEtherWallet.com (@myetherwallet) July 17, 2017
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!