The crypto story of the past week: the Afri Schoedon row

This feature is devoted to what, in our view, was the story (the set of developments) that defined the previous week in the crypto space. This time, we agree with Evan van Ness (whose Week in Ethereum News report is a must-read) that the best candidate for the role is the verbal assault on former Ethereum contributor and employee of Parity Technologies Afri Schoedon.

At Parity, Schoedon was responsible for preparing the company’s Ethereum client releases, and he also contributed to the Ethereum project independently, for instance with respect to the coordination around hard forks.

Recently, however, several of his statements made him a target of some violent criticism from some professed members of Ethereum community on Reddit and Twitter (e.g. here).

The particularly controversial positions of his were the repeated proposals to postpone the Constantinople hard fork and his provocative tweet about Polkadot’s project delivering better on scalability than Ethereum’s Serenity.

The level of vitriol and paranoia in many of the comments was such that Schoedon ultimately made the decision to quit working on Ethereum as an independent contributor. This prompted a group of Ethereum ecosystem members to publish an open letter in BREAKER deploring his exit and denouncing the chilling effect of the social network character assassination.

The underlying motivation for some members of Ethereum community to be suspicious about Parity and Schoedon’s motivation is the potential conflict of interest for Parity in its dual role as a client provider for Ethereum and the developer of Polkadot that will probably compete with Ethereum in the future. However, the conspiracy theories that were voiced about Schoedon in this regard (for instance, that he deliberately worked to postpone Ethereum upgrades) were, by the looks of it, completely unfounded. Schoedon never worked on the Polkadot project, and seems to have been deeply involved with the Ethereum project.  

What does the breakup with Schoedon portend for the Ethereum community? Since the DAO hard fork in summer 2016, the Ethereum ecosystem has largely avoided politics-style dramas and schisms but the increasing profile of the competing projects coupled with the complexity of Ethereum’s own on-chain scalability boosting effort seems to be putting increased pressure. At some point, it can boil over again.

At the same time, the response of the prominent members of the community  to the brouhaha has been nothing short of exemplary as they have shown a united front in their response.   

Finally, what is perhaps the most important question about Schoedon’s affair is what it tells us about the blockchain space. With blockchain being an exciting new technological frontier, it has created a lot of talk about transforming and streamlining human cooperation, however, this incident shows that humans will remain humans, and large-scale development projects, hoewer decentralized, cannot completely avoid politicization and the resulting tribalism, conspiracy theories, schisms, etc. The large role that social media like Reddit and Twitter unsurprisingly play in the functioning of the blockchain communities make this an even more important concern. As David Morris from BREAKER aptly notes all this is further exacerbated by the presence of the publicly traded project tokens.

However, the right response to the inherent deficiencies of large-scale human cooperation is to adapt to it, and that is what we are already observing. In particular, in response to Schoedon’s drama, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and core developers Justin Drake and Martin Swende disclosed their potential conflicts of interest such as non-Ethereum cryptocurrency holdings, investments into companies and compensations. More transparency will not be a panacea but it may help prevent or mitigate at least some conflicts.       


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