In nature, cladogenesis describes the splitting of a parent species into two distinct species that share a common lineage. Natural occurrences of cladogenesis are usually observed after a cataclysmic event that separates the parent species geographically, in which case the two resulting species evolve to suit their distinct environments.
Indeed. The blockchain world recently witnessed such a rapid evolutionary event unfold; instantaneously. The cataclysmic event – a hard fork – implemented to roll back the stolen Ether from the hacked TheDAO contract. As a result the parent blockchain has evolved into two distinct species. Echoing community nomenclature conventions from the neighbouring Bitcoin blockchain, the two resulting chains are being referred to as Ethereum Foundation (ETH), reflecting the hard fork desired resultant chain, and Ethereum Classic (ETC), reflecting the non-forking chain. The block height, hash rate, block difficulties and intervals can be observed here.
The New Clade on The Block
In theory, in the blockchain world at least, the longest chain carries the most network support and the other chain withers and dies. Not according to the new clades’ backers (clade from the Greek klados, or “branch”), a group dedicated to upholding the original Ethereum vision, one that vows to not just “go gentle into that good night”!
Within days, the Ethereum Classic cohorts are claiming a community, a plan, developmental support, volunteers, users, miners, mining pools, traders and more.
Beyond their claims, exchanges have decided to throw their hat in the ring. Starting with Bitsquare immediately after the fork followed by heavyweights like Poloniex where trading has been frantic. Kraken have also expressed their intention for ‘full support’ and Bitfinex explain how they intend to distribute ETC to their users and begin trading in this blog post. Shapeshift.io also decided to add Ethereum Classic to their growing list of tradable coins.
A quick look on the #EthereumClassic hashtag on twitter shows discussion where miners are joining pools to take advantage of the low hashrate to try their luck at finding blocks. There is even discussion on the profitability of mining ETC to then convert to ETH as opposed to mining ETH.
Ethereum Classic’s market cap is already sitting firmly in the top 10. As of the time of writing, the twenty-four hour trade volume is at $111m, second only to Bitcoins trade volume and exceeding the trade volume of its competing clade by $10m, a position that is sure to draw envy by altcoins that have been slogging it hard in the development trenches.
History Creates Opportunities for Evolutionary Lessons
The spectacular rise of TheDAO captured the imaginations of the crypto generation. Smart contracts, autonomous code execution and new communal governance systems were all coming into view. That is, until, the equally spectacular collapse of TheDAO.
Slock.it developer Lefteris Karapetsas optimistically laments in a reply tweet “lessons learned. Yes let’s not do this again.” Fellow cohort Stephan Tual goes on to express his take on ETC in a tweet where he predicts it will be ignored like other ‘valueless altcoins‘.
The bruises are still showing in the wider Ethereum core developer community. In a post titled “Onward from the Hard Fork” Vitalik Buterin, not one for ralying cries, recognises that the Ethereum open source code can be used to instantiate other blockchains which he refers to as testnets, clones and spinoffs. Maintaining a low key approach, he expresses that he and others have never been opposed to such instantiations. He goes on to provide ETC users with some technical details and points them to a ETC explorer where they can check their balance.
At the Dutch Blockchain Conference, Gavin Wood also took on the mammoth task of explaining TheDAO hack in this full frontal assault interview and laying it out in layman terms, certainly not an enviable feat.
The general sentiment has turned to caution. With over $220m worth of Ether having been pumped into a smart contract, TheDAO was an attempt to build the equivalent of a jumbo jet after having only just discovered the dynamics of flight. The fallout will no doubt echo in the blockchain community for some time to come. Security, testing and increased transparency of governance will not only need to be added to the recipe, it is something that will be demanded from now on.
Borrowing from my biological evolutionary comparison, it can be argued that developing an altcoin or alternative blockchain is a much more gradual evolutionary process, that is, an evolutionary path to becoming its own species, spawned from the same ancestor – Bitcoin – a process called anagenesis. Could one positive outcome of the recent events be that a new species was born out of a sudden cataclysmic event as a cladogenesis, as opposed to the much slower evolutionary path of anagenesis? Watching the two clades evolve in their own unique and separate environments will no doubt add even more vertical momentum to the exponential learning curve that is blockchain.