Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency, and its meteoric rise has made it a mainstay of conversation for investors, media, and technologists alike.
In fact, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins details, the innovation of the blockchain is changing entire markets, while causing ripples with central banks and the financial industry. At time of publication, the bitcoin price now hovers near US$2,200, a massive increase from this time last year.
But the true impact of Bitcoin is actually far more reaching than this – it’s actually helped to birth new markets for over 800 other cryptocurrencies and assets that are available for online trading. And while the market for bitcoins is worth nearly $40 billion itself, the rest of these cryptocurrencies are actually worth even more in combination.
THE ALTCOIN UNIVERSE
For the first time since Bitcoin was founded, it now makes up the minority of the entire cryptocurrency market at about 47.9% of all coins and assets.
So what are the other altcoins that make up the rest of this universe, and where did they come from?
Litecoin is one of the first altcoins, and it is nearly identical to Bitcoin after being “forked” in 2011. Litecoin aims to process blocks 4x faster than Bitcoin to speed up transaction confirmation time, though this creates several other challenges as well. At time of writing, Litecoin’s market capitalization is worth $1.3 billion.
Ethereum, launched in 2015, is the largest coin by market capitalization aside from Bitcoin. However, it is also quite different. While Bitcoin is designed to be a payments protocol first, Ethereum enables developers to build and deploy decentralized applications, while also enabling smart contracts. The tokens used to power the network are called Ether, but they can also be traded online. At time of writing, Ethereum’s market capitalization is $15.4 billion.
Also interesting: the Ethereum network actually split into two in 2016. It’s a complicated situation, but read about it here. There is now a separate Ethereum, based on the original Ethereum blockchain, trading as “Ethereum Classic” with its own market capitalization of $1.4 billion.
Ripple (XRP) is the native currency of the Ripple Protocol – a broader catch-all for an open-source, global exchange. It’s already being used by banks such as Santander, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, UBS, and RBC. It solves a different problem than Bitcoin, allowing for settling payments between different currencies and even different payment systems. Today, Ripple’s native coin (XRP) has a market cap of $10.9 billion.
With over 800+ altcoins or assets out there, there’s plenty of information to absorb.
Here’s a short 20-minute course on the history of altcoins that might provide useful context, as well as in-depth explanations of Ethereum and Ripple that may help you learn about the important parts of a rapidly growing altcoin universe.