Comparing Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Other Cryptos
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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re probably aware that we’re in the middle of a cryptocurrency explosion. In one year, the value of all currencies increased a staggering 1,466% – and newer coins like Ethereum have even joined Bitcoin in gaining some mainstream acceptance.
And while people like Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan and famed value investor Howard Marks have been extremely critical of cryptocurrencies as of late, many other investors are continuing to ride the wave. As we’ve noted in the past, the possible effects of the blockchain cannot be understated, and it could even change the backbone of how financial markets work.
However, even with the excitement and action that comes with the space, a major problem still exists for the layman: it’s really challenging to decipher the differences between cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Ripple, and Dash.
For this reason, we worked with social trading network eToro to come up with an infographic that breaks down the major differences between these coins all in one place.
A Description of Major Coins
Here are descriptions of the major cryptocurrencies, which make up 84% of the coin universe.
Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency, and was released as open-source software in 2009. Using a new distributed ledger known as the blockchain, the Bitcoin protocol allows for users to make peer-to-peer transactions using digital currency while avoiding the “double spending” problem.
No central authority or server verifies transactions, and instead the legitimacy of a payment is determined by the decentralized network itself.
Bottom Line: Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency with the most liquidity and significant network effects. It also has brand name recognition around the world, with an eight-year track record.
Litecoin was launched in 2011 as an early alternative to Bitcoin. Around this time, increasingly specialized and expensive hardware was needed to mine bitcoins, making it hard for regular people to get in on the action. Litecoin’s algorithm was an attempt to even the playing field so that anyone with a regular computer could take part in the network.
Bottom Line: Other altcoins have taken away some of Litecoin’s market share, but it still has an early mover advantage and some strong network effects.
Ripple is considerably different from Bitcoin. That’s because Ripple is essentially a global settlement network for other currencies such as USD, Bitcoin, EUR, GBP, or any other units of value (i.e. frequent flier miles, commodities).
To make any such a settlement, however, a tiny fee must be paid in XRP (Ripple’s native tokens) – and these are what trade on cryptocurrency markets.
Bottom Line: Ripple runs on many of the same principles of Bitcoin, but for a different purpose: to serve as the middleman for all global FX transactions. If it can successfully capture that market, the potential is high.
Ethereum is an open software platform based on blockchain technology that enables developers to build and deploy decentralized applications.
In the Ethereum blockchain, instead of mining for bitcoin, miners work to earn ether, a type of crypto token that fuels the network. Beyond a tradeable cryptocurrency, ether is also used by application developers to pay for transaction fees and services on the Ethereum network.
Bottom Line: Ethereum serves a different purpose than other cryptocurrencies, but it has quickly grown to displace all but Bitcoin in value. Some experts are so bullish on Ethereum that they even see it becoming the world’s top cryptocurrency in just a short span of time – but only time will tell.
In 2016, the Ethereum community faced a difficult decision: The DAO, a venture capital firm built on top of the Ethereum platform, had $50 million in ether stolen from it through a security vulnerability.
The majority of the Ethereum community decided to help The DAO by “hard forking” the currency, and then changing the blockchain to return the stolen proceeds back to The DAO. The minority thought this idea violated the key foundation of immutability that the blockchain was designed around, and kept the original Ethereum blockchain the way it was. Hence, the “Classic” label.
Bottom Line: As time goes on, Ethereum Classic has been carving out a separate identity from its bigger sibling. With similar capabilities and a different set of principles, Ethereum Classic could still have upside.
Dash is an attempt to improve on Bitcoin in two main areas: speed of transactions, and anonymity. To do this, it has a two-tier architecture with miners and also “masternodes” that help the network perform advanced functions such as near-instant transactions and coin-mixing to provide additional privacy.
Bottom Line: The innovations behind Dash are interesting, and could help to make the coin more consumer-friendly than other alternatives.
Bonus: Bitcoin Cash
Although not included in the graphic, we also wanted to add a quick word on Bitcoin Cash. This new currency “hard forked” from Bitcoin about a month ago, as a result of miner disagreements about the future of Bitcoin. Here’s a detailed summary of the announcement.
Mapping the Most Important Ethereum Forks
Ethereum is the world’s second biggest cryptocurrency by market cap. This graphic maps the major forks that have defined Ethereum’s growth to date.
Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Many people are familiar with blockchain technology, but did you know that Ethereum has the largest and most active blockchain community in the world?
Unlike many other blockchain networks, Ethereum is programmable. This customizable feature has enabled developers to solve problems ranging from digital identification and privacy, to corporate ownership and data security.
When the blockchain community disagrees on what changes the network needs to function smoothly or when such changes should take place, developers plan for a fork (an offshoot) of the underlying code rules.
Today’s graphic maps out the major Ethereum blockchain forks that have occurred to date, highlighting key events that surrounded each of these updates. It also includes details on the highly anticipated Istanbul hard fork, planned for December 2019.
Four Types of Forks
Forks are common practice in the software industry, and happen for one of two reasons: split opinions within the community, and required changes to the blockchain code.
When either reason is discussed, four major types of forks can occur.
- Codebase Forks: Copy of the original code, to allow for minor tweaks without developing the whole blockchain code from scratch.
- Blockchain Forks: Branching or splitting a blockchain’s whole transaction history, causing the new network to develop a distinct identity.
- Soft Forks: Gradual software upgrades—bug fixes, security checks, and new features.
- Hard Forks: A permanent division of the blockchain.
There are currently three types of hard forks:
Scheduled upgrades to the network, often abandoning the old chain
Community disagreements cause major code changes, forming a new chain
- Spin-off Coins
Minor changes to the blockchain’s code that create new coins
Let’s dive into the timeline of major Ethereum forks, and explore a few of their defining moments and characteristics.
Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Below are some of the most prominent and important forks—both hard and soft—on the Ethereum blockchain since its launch.
Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, and his team finished the 9th and final proof of concept known as Olympic in May 2015. The Ethereum blockchain, also known as Frontier, went live shortly after, on July 30, 2015.
Also known as “Frontier Thawing”, this was the first (unplanned) fork of the Ethereum blockchain, providing security and speed updates to the network.
Homestead is widely considered Phase 2 of Ethereum’s development evolution. This rollout included three critical updates to Ethereum: the removal of centralization on the network, enabling users to hold and transact with ETH, and to write and deploy smart contracts.
The Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) event was the most contentious event in Ethereum’s short history. The DAO team raised US$150 million through a 2016 token sale—but an unknown hacker stole US$50 million in ether (ETH), prompting the developer community to hard fork in order to recover the stolen funds.
Widely regarded as the only Ethereum fork of any significance, this hard fork was based on the controversial DAO event. The original chain became known as Ethereum Classic, and the new chain moved forward as the main Ethereum chain.
This September 2019 hard fork event required all software users to upgrade their clients in order to stay with the current network. Enhancements included better security, stability, and network performance for higher volumes of traffic.
Regarded as the third phase of Ethereum’s evolution, the Metropolis-Byzantium soft fork functioned more like an operating system upgrade, rather than a full split.
Constantinople is the current version of the Ethereum blockchain. This hard fork occurred concurrently with the St. Petersburg update. Important changes included closing a major security loophole that could have allowed hackers to easily access users’ funds.
Constantinople’s most notable improvements include smart contracts being able to verify each other using only the unique string of computer code of another smart contract, and reduced gas fees─namely, the price users pay to process transactions more quickly.
Future Forks in the Road
The Ethereum community is preparing for the next hard fork event Istanbul, scheduled for release on December 4th, 2019.
Ethereum’s 4th and projected final stage of development is Serenity, which has yet to be scheduled. Community members have speculated what changes will come with Serenity, but many agree that the Ethereum blockchain will shift focus from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake.
- Proof of Work (PoW): “Miners” are rewarded with cryptocurrency for solving puzzles that process and post blocks of data to the network
- Proof of Stake (PoS): Miners are chosen from a pool of miners, based on the stake of cryptocurrency they bid; no puzzle = no reward
Proof of Stake means that there is less competition for completing blocks of data, significantly reducing the energy required to process data. Currently, a single Bitcoin transaction consumes the same electricity as 1.75 American households do in a day.
Ethereum Leads the Way
Ethereum continues to be a leading blockchain platform, with the highest number of decentralized apps (dApps) and a massive, engaged community.
To date, cryptocurrencies have largely been the focus of news headlines. However, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what blockchain can offer, and the value it will create beyond the financial world.
[Blockchain] could be the foundation of a whole new era whereby our basic right to privacy is protected, because identity is the foundation of freedom and it needs to be managed responsibly.
—Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute
Visualizing the New Cryptocurrency Ecosystem
Cryptocurrencies have evolved past digital cash. This graphic explores the the new cryptocurrency ecosystem and how it’s impacting the modern economy.
Visualizing the New Cryptocurrency Economy
Over a decade ago, the birth of Bitcoin sparked a revolution in the digital world — and just last year, the number of active cryptocurrencies jumped from roughly 1,600 to over 3,000 worldwide.
Cryptocurrencies have now evolved past simple digital currencies, offering solutions to meet the complex needs of modern financial markets.
Today’s graphic from Abra visualizes the complex, ever-evolving cryptocurrency ecosystem and its real-world applications.
Characteristics of Cryptocurrencies
Why are cryptocurrencies important for the future of digital finance?
Drastically reduces fees and processing times due to a lack of cross-border restrictions
Prevents governments or major institutions from blocking financial activities at whim
- Greater financial control
Individuals can have total control of their funds
- Greater security
Prevents fraudulent alterations from third parties
- Lower costs
Lower transaction fees thanks to fewer third parties
- Greater Accessibility
Reduces or eliminates traditional barriers to capital markets
Much like the internet has forever altered how we live and work, cryptocurrencies have the potential to change how people participate in global financial markets.
Categorizing the New Crypto Economy
Today’s cryptocurrencies go beyond replacing cash. This new token-based economy is evolving─with unique solutions emerging in finance, security, identification, social engagement, and ownership.
Cryptocurrencies are generally categorized by their primary application within the ecosystem:
Digital cash can be used for both ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retailers
- Store of value
New form of scarce native currency and a means of settlement
- Programmable money
Borderless money that enables easy conversion between currencies
Crypto version of fiat which is tied to the value of resources like gold or the U.S. dollar
Private digital transactions, with some offering anonymity
- Digital ownership
Digital handling, storage, and monetization of data
- Decentralized utilities
Crypto-enabled networks, products, and services that exchange between assets
- Alternative finance
Digital assets such as collectibles, commodities, and tokenized securities
Cryptocurrencies are adding both value and utility to the digital economy, and to the global financial market as a whole.
Applications of Cryptocurrencies
Because cryptocurrencies are programmable, customizable computer code, developers can design and adapt them for many use cases within the digital economy.
How are these various cryptocurrencies being used in everyday applications?
- SPEDN auto-converts crypto to fiat for merchants, reducing exchange rate risk while offering convenient customer payment options.
- Slice offers real estate investing to anyone for as low as $10,000 through fractional investment.
- CyClean plans to launch a blockchain-enabled electric vehicle (EV) fleet that mines crypto as users travel—reducing emissions and rewarding users for doing so.
- Digital construction platform Builderium connects contractors to clients around the world through blockchain, opening up a global marketplace of potential deals.
These are just a few of the ways cryptocurrencies are breaking down barriers for people and companies worldwide—allowing them to grow personal wealth and enter the global market.
The Growth of the Crypto Economy
Worldwide, the numbers show that blockchain-based technology and cryptocurrency use is growing. Blockchain wallet users rose from nearly 9 million in 2016 to over 42 million in 2019.
Developers produced a mere 100 decentralized apps (DApps) in 2015─with that number skyrocketing to over 3,100 by 2019.
Overall, cryptocurrencies are helping to create an innovative and accessible financial system around the world.
Cryptocurrency deserves an opportunity to find a sustainable future in our economy.
—Adena Friedman, President & CEO of NASDAQ
While the future of the new cryptocurrency economy is still taking shape, one thing is certain─cryptos are forever altering the way we view and measure the value of money.
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