KryptoJoseph

@KryptoJoseph on Twitter. From @TopMonks & @debnkio.

Interview with Bob Summerwill, Executive Director of ETC Cooperative

During dAppcon, a recent conference in Berlin, I had a chance to talk to Bob Summerwill from the Ethereum Classic Cooperative (ECC).

A little background on Ethereum Classic

Ethereum Classic emerged in summer 2016 when Ethereum underwent a contentious hard fork aiming to repair the damage done by the hack of The DAO. The DAO was a blockchain venture fund that raised 12.7 million Ether (~$150M at the time) and had the top Ethereum names on its roster. When The DAO was hacked just a short time after its mainnet deployment, most of the Ethereum community joined in support of the rollback, under which the stolen funds were retrospectively awarded to a “white hat” address that later allowed the investors to redeem their ether. A small minority opposed such violation of the blockchain immutability - this minority split into the Ethereum Classic. Read more about the history here.

The Interview

KryptoJoseph (KJ): Bob, you work as an executive director of ETC Cooperative. What is the aim of the organization, what is the nature of your role and how long have you been in this role?

Bob Summerwill (Bob): I’ve been a part of the ETC Cooperative for six months now. The ETC Cooperative is a non-profit organization supporting the ETC community, promoting the ecosystem and collaboration, doing what it can to support the infrastructure needs and everything to make ETC succeed.

KJ: So is the Cooperative something like the Ethereum foundation, but for ETC?

Bob: There are several differences between ECC and EF. We at ECC are focused on supporting the ETC development - Yaz Khoury is our Developer Relations Director. There has never been a developer relations person at EF. Also, Geth, Mist and other key development teams have been in-house at EF, while the development work has always been distributed on ETC. That approach seems to be changing for the EF too, which makes a lot of sense to me. There is a strong enough ecosystem for ETH for the EF to let a free market arise.

We also strongly focus on education, communication and marketing. EF has never marketed, and sad to say, have not historically done great on communications. They are improving!

The third focus area at ECC is community and collaboration. EF has a pretty similar role here.

KJ: How long has the ECC been in operation?

Bob: Since 2017 and it gained the non-profit status about a year ago.

KJ: What is your personal motivation to work on ETC? Were you in the Ethereum community at the time of the split?

Bob: At the time of The DAO fork, I was working at the Ethereum Foundation and later moved on to Consensys. I’ve been part of the Ethereum community since 2015.

As for the split, we have to realize that Ethereum was sort of internally split since its beginnings. At the start, everybody was essentially a Bitcoiner, as that was practically the only existing coin. Ethereum emerged because a part of the Bitcoin community wanted to experiment with smart contracts. Yet since the very beginning, there was a controversy over how much the smart contracts should be independent of human judgement. One - conservative - group kept the notion of Bitcoin’s immutability, while the other - let’s say progressive - wanted to experiment with social consensus in the context of smart contracts. The split after the DAO fork was a culmination of these opposing views.

KJ: And what’s your perception of The DAO fork?

Bob: I remember my initial reaction was “of course you shouldn’t do anything!”. That was my initial thought, but after several months of discussions, I started questioning whether it truly is a black and white issue, if this technology is for the people or the computers. It was true that The DAO hacker only used the capabilities of the smart contracts, but also that he was fundamentally a thief. So after a time I adopted more of a view that if you could resolve it, you should. And obviously, most of the Ethereum community adopted this stance as well, since ETH became the dominant chain after the split, with most of the developers, hash rate and market share.

Then in 2018, I ended up meeting a bunch of people on the ETC side, most importantly Anthony Lusardi, former director of ETC Cooperative and I agreed to speak at Ethereum Classic Summit in Seoul. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been playing the role of trying to hug everyone together, to try to make different factions work together.

In my view, if you look across the whole of blockchain space, pretty much all of the projects are simply exploring a different kind of engineering trade-offs and options. And I think it’s way too early to say some approach is stupid and will never work. There are way too much tribalism and discarding of various technical approaches.

KJ: Well now I’m a bit confused, I always thought there was a natural animosity between ETH and ETC communities, not unlike the animosity between BTC and BCH. But now you’re telling me there can be something like a synergy between the two networks?

Bob: Certainly there was a lot of animosity by the time of the split, a lot of feelings that the Ethereum Foundation sold out the original promise. But I think now, a couple of years later, there’s a lot less real anger and what you often see are developers working both for ETH and ETC. For many developers it’s like in their heart they would like the Classic to win, but basically, they are mainly Ethereum-technology people.

KJ: What’s going now in ETC in terms of technical developments?

Bob: Right now the big focus is on the pending hard fork called Atlantis that brings Byzantium support to ETC. That will be followed up by Constantinople and Istanbul updates so that we’re in a position where the decision to build a service on ETH or rather ETC becomes just a deployment choice. ETC doesn’t have to be this different universe with different tooling. It can be compatible with ETH.

KJ: So is there any quality that would set ETC apart from ETH? For example, will the switch to proof-of-stake also happen on ETC?

Bob: That’s where you get the differentiation. The plan on ETC side is to stick with proof-of-work indefinitely. I think what you’re going to see is as the ETH 2.0 comes to fruition that Ethereum Classic will provide the genuine approach to Ethereum. Sort of like saying “Hey, you know the original Web3 stack vision of Swarm and Whisper with proof-of-work? That’s the Ethereum Classic.”

As we get closer to ETH 2.0, we start seeing this sort of “ETH 1.x“ initiative. What we’re going to see is more people asking questions about what will happen to various DeFi services holding millions of dollars. That’s the opportunity for ETC, as we can say ”alright guys, you go on your sharding and proof-of-stake adventure, we are sticking to what’s worked so far“. ETC is a backup plan if something goes wrong with ETH 2.0.

KJ: So are there any services currently building on ETC or planning to build on it?

Bob: There’s a little bit of that going on and I think it’s going to grow as interoperability gets better. POA network already built an ETC-ETH bridge, and there are other bridges emerging, for example, to have wrapped ETC on ETH and wrapped ETH on ETC. I think over time ETC can become more similar to Bitcoin in its conservatism and a security-first approach. ETC already has a fixed monetary policy, contrary to ETH. I think what you’re going to have with ETC in the long-term is fulfilling of this vision of programmable Bitcoin.

KJ: Ethereum Classic underwent a 51% attack in January. What is your perception of that?

Bob: It was very educational for me. The common perception on 51% attacks is that if a network gets 51% attacked then it’s all over and the whole security premise is ruined. But that isn’t true, because if you control 51% of the hashrate, that doesn’t mean you can do anything you like - you can’t spend other people’s money. You can only censor transactions or double spend. But double spending isn’t actually an attack on the network - it’s an attack on social things around the network, usually the exchange. Sure, it’s a fraudulent activity, although the target isn’t usually the individual, but an exchange. And that’s actually very easy to protect against, by requiring more confirmations when users deposit. The number of confirmations is a custom security choice - it’s up to you to decide how much security you are comfortable with by waiting for a certain number of confirmations.

Anthony Lusardi wrote a great article about that. He specifically mentions Coinbase, which had an inconsistent approach to security across networks.

The greatest danger for a network comes from being the minority chain for a certain mining algorithm because then it can get attacked practically any time. As ETH adopts proof-of-stake, ETC should become the dominant chain for the Ethash algorithm and become more resilient to 51% attacks.

KJ: Are there any upcoming events for ETC?

Bob: Yes! There is going to be an Ethereum Classic Summit on October 3rd and 4th in Vancouver, Canada. Tickets are free and the date and place are chosen so that developers from the US east coast can stop by the summit on their way to Devcon 5 in Japan.
You can follow Bob at https://twitter.com/BobSummerwill, ETC Cooperative at https://twitter.com/ETCCooperative and find out more about the ETC Summit at https://etcsummit.com/.


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