What Are CryptoCurrencies?
A cryptocurrency is a peer to peer electronic cash equivalent. Unlike typical online financial transactions which involve commercial or government entities acting as the middle man or central authority, peer-to-peer currencies provide a way of moving value directly between two people in the same way that private transactions involving cash in hand or valuable items, such as gold, are done today.
A peer-to-peer architecture exists when individual nodes in the network ,”peers”, act as both suppliers and consumers of a resource. This means that no single person has control. Instead of having one central authority who secures and controls the money supply, it spreads the work out across the entire network.
All the people participating in the network are helping to collectively perform the functions that a central bank would normally perform. These people collectively create the currency and make sure that the transactions that happen are valid and that invalid transactions are rejected.
Much like our currency today, the value of a crypto currency is whatever value people feel it’s worth. As people lose trust in our current financial system they will look for other places to secure their wealth. Cryptocurrencies are a great alternative to fiat money. That said, they are still very early in their lifecycle, and there are still many roadblocks ahead until we can call any one cryptocurrency a “success”.
The most successful cryptocurrency to date, with a current market cap of $12.5 billion (USD), is Bitcoin.
There are many crypto currencies – each having their own interesting differentiators to the “gold standard”, Bitcoin.
To view the market capitalizations of the top crytpocurrencies, visit http://coinmarketcap.com
Below is a brief overview of the cryptocurrencies I personally find most interesting (other than BTC):
LTC – LiteCoin – https://litecoin.org/
Litecoin (LTC) is designed to be easier to mine than bitcoin – it uses a scrypt-based proof of work that makes mining possible with GPUs rather than ASICs. Litecoins have a hard limit of 84 million coins (four times bitcoin’s ultimate limit), and transactions can be confirmed more quickly than bitcoin transactions: 15 minutes vs. 1 hr.
You can think of LTC as the “silver” to bitcoins’ gold.
NMC – NameCoin – http://namecoin.info/
Allows for decentralized DNS, or domain registration system. ICANN currently controls this entire process, and namecoin decentralizes it using .bit domain names.
XRP – Ripple – http://ripple.com
Ripple is a very interesting cryptocurrency that enables the seamless exchange between different cryptocurrencies for a very small fee. Transaction times are around 15 seconds, which is very fast. Really interesting crypto, one of my favorites.
NXT – Descendant of Bitcoin – https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=345619.0
Next is very VERY interesting. NXT launched on 11/24/2013 – it uses brand new software , meaning its not a fork of the original bitcoin code. Mining is 100% proof-of-stake, and coins are earned solely by charging transaction fees. It also has colored coin feature for a p2p securities exchange natively coded in.
Another great thing is NXT includes instant transaction mode, internal messaging, and decentralized DNS features. It’s like bitcoin, colored coin, name coin and bit message all in one. Pretty interesting, but VERY early – it just released.
PPC – PeerCoin – http://peercoin.net/
Another project forked from bitcoin, ppcoin (PPC) is designed to “keep as much as possible the original bitcoin’s preferable properties.” Launched in 2012, it was also created to be “the first long-term energy-efficient cryptocurrency.” Instead of proof-of-work, ppcoin is mined using proof-of-stake … which essentially uses the currency itself to protect the network. PPcoin doesn’t have a hard limit like bitcoin, but is patterned to mimic gold’s natural scarcity: an inflation rate of about 1 percent through proof-of-stake minting is balanced by a built-in destruction of transaction fees.
PTS – Protoshares – http://invictus-innovations.com/bitshares2
Protoshares, BitShares and DAC (distributed autonomous corporations) are very interesting. Similar to ColoredCoins where you can create an entire company and distribute the “stock” via protoshares / bitshares. Bitshares haven’t been released yet – but if you own ProtoShares you will get a Bitshares once they launch.
XPM – PrimeCoin https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=251850.0
Mining Primecoins consists of finding ever-larger prime number chains. In theory this work could be useful. SHA256 and scrypt coin mining is a complete waste of power and computation by comparison. Also, Primecoin can be effectively mined with CPU only.
ANC – AnonCoin – https://anoncoin.net//
Anoncoin is a scrypt-based coin like Litecoin & can be routed through I2p (invisible internet… Like TOR), so they cannot be easily traced.
QRK – QuarkCoin – http://www.quarkcoin.com/
Super secure hashing: 9 rounds of hashing from 6 hashing functions (blake, bmw, groestl, jh, keccak, skein). 3 rounds apply a random hashing function.
CPU mining w/ Quick block generation: 30 seconds
Total of 247 million QRK will be mined in ~ 6 months, after that ~ 1 million QRK p.a. (~ 0.5% p.a inflation)
DVC – DevCoin – http://devcoin.org/
devcoin was designed as an “ethically inspired project … to help fund open-source projects created by programmers, hardware developers, writers, musicians, painters, graphic artists and filmmakers.” While devcoin is based on bitcoin, mining the currency is much easier. Each new block generated provides 5,000 devcoins to the miner and 45,000 coins to developers, writers and other participants (a 10/90 split). Devcoins are generated at a rate of 50,000 coins per block “forever”. With an average of 144 blocks per day, that means around 7.2 million new devcoins per day.
FTC – FeatherCoin – http://feathercoin.com/
FRC – FreiCoin – http://freico.in/
MEC – MegaCoin – http://www.megacoin.co.nz/
ZTC – ZetaCoin – https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=267545.0
MSC – MasterCoin – http://www.mastercoin.org/
Coins Coming Soon…
ZeroCoin – http://zerocoin.org/
ColoredCoin – http://www.bitcoinx.org/
How Do You Buy Them?
The first thing you’ll need to do is purchase bitcoins – that’s really the only way you can purchase these alternative crypto currencies at the moment.
There are ways to convert USD to cryptos, but you’re going to have to send an international SEPA wire to slovenia or russia, which is kinda crazy.
To buy bitcoin, the easiest & safest way is CoinBase: http://coinbase.com
To buy alternative cyptocurrencies with your bitcoin a broad range of alt coins, check out http://bter.com & http://cryptsy.com
Other good exchanges (with less currencies but still a lot) check out Kraken.com, BTC-e.com, JustCoin.com
How to Convert BTC into AltCoins:
After choosing the exchange (lets say BTER) – navigate into your profile and find the place where you deposit BTC.
Clicking deposite will generate a new bitcoin address that is attached to your account on BTER.
Copy that address, and enter it as the “send” address on Coinbase.
After sending and waiting about 1 hour, the transaction will be confirmed and available in your BTER account.
Storage & Saftey:
The safest way to store these alt coins is in encrypted wallets in cold storage, unfortunately that’s a pain and requires a lot of technical know-how (another post).
The next best solution is to spread your coins across multiple reputable exchanges. Even with this solution – you’re putting a massive amount of trust into the exchanges holding your money. Be very cautious.
Use different passwords and usernames for each exchange in case one gets compromised. This way the hacker won’t have access to all of your accounts (they’ll try, trust me).
The second thing you’ll need is to activate TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION. Always.
This increases the security on your account tremendously – it’s basically a second layer of protection from a hacker who may guess your password by brute force. They’ll also need to get access to your physical cell phone to get the 2nd part of the password.
Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose – something could happen and they could go to zero over night.
You can make a lot of money investing early in an altcoin and watching it rise. The best way to evaluate an altcoin is 1. based on their technical merits and 2. based on the community of developers working on the project (as well as merchants accepting it / doing cool things with it).
A great place to keep tabs on the new altcoins & their communities is the Bitcoin Talk Forum: https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?board=67.0