In Bitcoin, there is much discussion about alt-coins, as if many of these are actually legitimate. Many alt-coins are pre-mined, causing them to lose much of their legitimacy. If a coin has been pre-mined, it should automatically be crossed off your digital currency investment list.
Further, many quite simply don’t have the adoption rate to offer any sort of liquidity or security. Still, amateur alt-coins are part of the space, and there are more all the time. They’re also a point of contention for many critics of crypto-currency generally, who point towards how easy it is to create a crypto-currency these days. Of course, it wasn’t so easy until Bitcoin demonstrated the model.
From the years 2013-2015, the three largest cryptocurrencies have remained steady: they are, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin, respectively.
Bitcoin is well-publicized, but other options not so much.
A major switch happened in 2014 as Ripple overtook Litecoin for second largest alt-coin in the market. As of December 2015, Ripple stands at a market cap of $211,089,007. Litecoin’s is $151,006, 662. Bitcoin’s is $6,596, 631,791.
Below these top three spots, there is a lot of turnover. The steady options over the past two years have been Dogecoin, Bitshares, Stellar and Maidsafe coin below the top three alt-coins.
The most publicized of the Bitcoin 2.0 technologies, Ethereum has had an appreciable price increase YTD perhaps thanks to questions surrounding the block size limit in Bitcoin and rendering it the second largest alternative digital currency.
The currency raised nearly $20 million in order to ensure the project would get off the ground, and many people believe that Ethereum can achieve what Bitcoin cannot.
Ripple is different than Litecoin and Bitcoin. For one, its pre-mined, meaning its not a very good option for an investor, not to mention its lost more than 90% of its market cap over the past two years.
Ripple considers itself a “real-time gross settlement system”, and functions as a currency exchange and remittance network run by a private company, Ripple. The Ripple Protocol is a distributed open-source protocol with its own currency, called XRP or ripples. It’s likely that Ripple has served as a source of inspiration for many of the private financial institutions looking into Bitcoin.
In recent years, Ripple has turned its focus away from the crypto-currency movement to focus on the banking market perhaps symbolic of the synergy between the financial industry and the Ripple model. Indeed, American Banker once wrote that “from [a] banks’ perspective, distributed ledgers like the Ripple system have a number of advantages over cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.”
Litecoin is the well-known crypto-currency designed by Charles Lee, who now works as Director of Engineering at Coinbase. This peer-to-peer internet currency is very much like Bitcoin from the user standpoint.
Open-source and global, Litecoin, like Bitcoin, is also fully decentralized, with mathematics securing the network. Some people point to Litecoin’s faster transaction times as an improvement over Bitcoin.
Litecoin is one of the most proven crypto-currency experiments on the market and its proof-of-work algorithm uses scrypt, a different form of encryption, than Bitcoin. Charlie Lee envisaged the system as silver to Bitcoin’s gold analogy. He also foresaw that there might be a time when the Bitcoin network could not handle itself as a transaction network after a certain volume, and believed Litecoin could handle the spillover if Bitcoin every reached capacity.
I’m no expert on trading cryptocurrencies, as some are, but, unless you’re an expert, it’s probably best to stay focused on Bitcoin. Until one feels comfortable about the nuances of each crypto-currency, there’s no reason to explore other options, although Litecoin could be a smart, inexpensive speculative play, just don’t invest more than you’re ready to lose. Once one does, even then, that doesn’t mean Litecoin and Ripple – or any other options – are a good choice for you.
Images from Shutterstock, Ethereum, Ripple. Charts from CoinMarketCap.