Ethereum classic was never supposed to exist.
The hard fork of the ethereum blockchain earlier this month was meant to move funds associated with the hacking of The DAO into an account controlled by investors and leave the old record of transactions to be forgotten by history.
Most of ethereum's developers made the switch, as did exchanges, startups and other members of the budding ecosystem. For a few days, the project returned to normalcy.
But not everyone wanted that record to be forgotten.
A small group of miners continued to use the original blockchain as a protest for what they depicted as a bailout of the defunct project.
This movement picked up steam when exchanges began listing the cryptocurrency, known as ethereum classic (ETC). Now others, with different objectives have joined the project, and with a market cap of roughly $150m, ethereum classic has the sixth highest value of any cryptocurrency at press time.
But what gives ethereum classic value? And could it become a viable alternative to ethereum long term?
Based on a series of interviews with participants in the space, and posts across multiple social media outlets, the value propositions for ethereum classic break down into three categories.
The moral value
Ethereum classic exists because a notable minority of the ethereum community were so concerned about the implications of a hard fork that they invested mining power on a nearly-abandoned blockchain.
Though the functionality of the two networks is at the moment exactly the same, the symbolic power of a ledger that hasn't been modified proved enough for one developer to take lead on keeping the chain alive.
In interviews with CoinDesk, project organizer Arvicco has argued that, by forking the blockchain, the ethereum project that continues as etherem abandoned the values that made it appealing.
He described the role that values played in his decision to get involved, and why a community has formed around it:
"I think it is very fortunate for ethereum ecosystem that there is now a choice for these people. Instead of giving up on the ethereum altogether, they self-selected into a separate ethereum community with a distinct set of values."
Given the size of its new market, some investors seem to agree.
The strategic value
But for every believer in ethereum classic's values, there were others who saw an opportunity to profit from the schism.
When digital currency exchange Poloniex listed ETC last week, the price in value accelerated to more than 300% in one 24-hour period. With that increased value and attention, another value proposition arose according to Ark Invest's blockchain project lead Chris Burniske.
In conversation with CoinDesk, Burniske explained that one reason the ETC/BTC price pair has been the most liquid over the past several days is the influence "big traders" believe they can exert over ethereum classic.
While one form of this influence is certainly the ability to "move the ETC market", he says another possible explanation for the liquidity between BTC and ETC is that some bitcoin investors are "trying to sabotage ethereum in supporting the ETC blockchain".
"It brings up contention between ethereum and bitcoin."
Undermining ethereum by investing in the upstart cryptocurrency ETC is also a way to to emphasize bitcoin's value proposition.
The lost opportunity value
In July 2014, ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin launched a crowdsale for ethereum, selling 2,000 ETH for 1 BTC. At today's rate, 1 BTC will buy approximately 50 ETH.
For those looking to turn back the clock on this potential investment opportunity, ethereum classic has proven an enticing way to do so.
Over the 24 hours preceding publication, ethereum classic had the second highest trading volume of any cryptocurrency with approximately $22m transacted in the top 10 pricing pairs.
Of course, with an increased susceptibility to a 51% attack and only a small number of developers actually building anything on ethereum classic, not everyone agrees that classic ethers could be valuable at all.
Bitcoin core developer Peter Todd told CoinDesk he had no plans to invest in ethereum classic, even to undermine ethereum or uncover new gains.
In a tweet earlier this week Todd wrote:
"Buying Ethereum Classic at ~$0 can be added to my long list of missed trading opportunities. lol"
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