An ethereum hard fork wouldn't be complete without a protest movement (or two).
The second-largest public blockchain by total value, ethereum successfully forked yesterday, activating a bundle of upgrades that make its blockchain faster and better-suited for developers. But while the shift looks to have gone smoothly (with no problems impacting transactions or contracts), groups that disagree with some of the changes are already gearing up to galvanize like-minded supporters for moves in different directions.
That new blockchains would materialize out of the upgrade is perhaps not a surprise - ethereum classic, the best-known example, showcased last summer that launching a successful protest project in the wake of an unpopular upgrade can be a $1 billion opportunity.
At press time, two projects have cropped up with the goal of launching new cryptocurrencies using the old blockchain, and though evidence of support is slim so far, the reasons behind their efforts may sound familiar.
Like ethereum classic, which took aim at ethereum's plans to alter how rewards were distributed on the platform (among other issues), newer protest projects focus on appealing to the miners that today secure the blockchain. Specifically, they're looking to offer alternatives to Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 649, an upgrade some miners believe might impact their bottom line.
Intuitively, the case made by the fork protesters makes sense, since one of the main reasons miners secure a blockchain is to make money. But that doesn't mean the projects will find enough supporters to take off.
A day removed from the news, though, there's much we don't know about the projects, including how much support they have or will achieve. But, information is emerging.
Ethereum Vega plans to counter EIP 649 by breaking off from ethereum and creating a new blockchain that removes the code that reduces mining rewards. The developers are now in the process of setting aside newly created cryptocurrency to fund the development of the project and its roadmap.
The strategy is designed so that other ethereum miners can't try to mine the blockchain until they've created 300,000 blocks and made the blockchain public. So, it won't be until then that users can see how many miners are actually supporting the new blockchain.
Of course, just how serious the project is taking itself is another unknown.
"A new legend borns [sic]," the official project Ethereum Vega Twitter tweeted out, complete with a screenshot of the command line and block number where the fork took place. ("Make Ethereum Decentralized Again!" the account later tweeted.)
Other tongue-in-cheek references are apparent. For instance, the Vega developer team has also released a new ethereum client (called "weth" instead of "geth") and code for a compatible open-source mining pool so that miners can move over to secure the new blockchain if they so choose.
Etherite has similar goals, aiming to empower ethereum miners who might not have had a chance to weigh in on the reduction of block rewards. But it seems the project's leaders are taking a slightly different approach: namely, they are not creating any coins to give to developers and have been much quieter about their plans on social media.
Either way, both projects can also be read as a sign that there's big money in forks.
Rebellions or cash grabs?
Despite the sparse announcements so far, though, there is one group that appears to be taking the idea an alternative blockchain could be created with some degree of seriousness: ethereum developers, many of whom are cautious after what happened with ethereum classic.
Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin even went so far as to execute some rough calculations in a public developer channel on whether the projects could succeed. His conclusion? Protest forks won't make very much money unless they prove very successful.
Others, like developer Alex Van de Sande see the projects as little more than quick cash grabs.
"They created a development fund for themselves, so if they're successful they would make money out of it. I think that's why they want to push the fork," Van de Sande said.
Adding to the mystery, though, are the remaining unknowns following yesterday's fork. For example, there looks to be a portion of miners and users that have yet to upgrade to the new software. Since hard forks require all users to upgrade to the new rules, it's more than likely that some participants were slow to notice the hard fork and are simply dragging behind.
Still, it's not outside the realm of possibility that it's in part due to these smaller protest movements.
Ethereum developers, however, are confident overall that the network will stay in one piece. Developer Nick Johnson, for one, believes the latest ethereum upgrade will prove effective, arguing that the Greek colony it was named after foreshadows this future.
"[Byzantium] was famous for its unbreakable chain protecting the harbour from invaders."
Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which manages a public markets vehicle for ethereum classic.
Fork on plate image via Shutterstock