Today, there are close to 1,500 active cryptocurrencies, and that number continues to grow each day. Ultimately, it is best to understand as many of them as possible. Of course, a good place from which to start researching is the very top. Here is a brief overview of what each of the top ten cryptocurrencies has to offer:
Created as a response to the global financial crisis in 2008, Bitcoin is the grandfather of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin was created as a method of transferring wealth and power from financial institutions and governments to individuals. Bitcoin seeks to provide this autonomy with a decentralized money supply operating outside of the jurisdiction of a governing body. Active developments such as Lightning Network seek to bring Bitcoin closer to achieving its original goal.
If this were a novel, Ripple would be the foil to Bitcoin. Ripple seeks to provide cheap, efficient, and precise transaction solutions to banks and financial providers using the RippleNet technology. Unlike the vast majority of cryptocurrencies, Ripple is centralized, minted and distributed through the Ripple company. Ripple boasts over 100 partners on its network, including American Express.
Ethereum introduces smart contracts and decentralized applications (DApps) on top of its blockchain network. Ethereum provides a powerful environment for developers to build upon the blockchain. The most widespread use of Ethereum’s technology is token creation, where developers can create transferable tokens. Hundreds of projects operate as Ethereum tokens, are distributed through ICOs administered by the ETH network through smart contracts, and are later traded and transacted on the Ethereum blockchain.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
Bitcoin Cash is a Bitcoin fork that advertises itself as the true vision of Bitcoin. On August 1, 2017, everyone who held Bitcoin received an equal amount of Bitcoin Cash. It is mainly supported by angel investor Roger Ver, Bitmain executive Jihan Wu, and crypto-eccentric Craig Wright. BCH pledges to solve Bitcoin scaling issues with a 2 MB block size, double that of Bitcoin.
Cardano is branded as a third-generation cryptocurrency, seeking to create an environment that is inviting for developers and doesn’t require expert blockchain knowledge. ADA boasts an impressive team comprised of a number of computer science scholars, as well as Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson. Cardano was built in conjunction with the Ethereum fork, Ethereum Classic.
Since its inception, Litecoin has acted as the silver to Bitcoin’s gold. It is one of the oldest altcoins, and has served primarily as a testnet for Bitcoin, where many features such as SegWit have been integrated and experimented with before getting implemented on the Bitcoin network. During periods of Bitcoin struggle and congestion, Litecoin has gained support as a potentially superior alternative to Bitcoin.
IOTA is unique in that, unlike virtually all other cryptocurrencies, IOTA does not operate on a blockchain. Rather, its ledger operates through a network called Tangle. The goal of IOTA is to act as the communicator between various entities in an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. In the future, the idea is that IOTA will be the method by which smart devices interact with one another. Currently, IOTA’s major draw is its zero-fee transactions.
NEM’s major defining characteristic is its Proof-of-Importance (PoI) approach to network propagation. PoI is a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) hybrid that, rather than give incentives for holding, like traditional PoS, rewards nodes for spending NEM. NEM also offers mosaics, which are similar to Ethereum’s token system, but are much more user friendly. NEM also provides a private ledger feature for internal transactions, which financial institutions in Japan are currently testing.
Stellar Lumens (XLM)
Stellar serves as the decentralized alternative to Ripple. While both offer similar features, XLM seeks to service individuals with fast and cheap remittances and micropayments. Much of the appeal of XLM comes from its current partnerships with major businesses, primarily IBM. IBM is currently working to build a cross-border payments system that runs on XLM. Another major partnership involves Deloitte, one of the Big 4 accounting firms in the US.
DASH is digital cash. The coin seeks to establish itself as the number-one option for merchants and consumers. DASH features instant transaction confirmations and some privacy features to mask users’ wallet balances and transactions. DASH boasts one of the largest networks with almost 5,000 nodes, as well as dozens of merchants worldwide that accept the coin. The projects and developments of the team are proposed and voted on by holders of the coin.