What Are Cryptocurrencies?
Before we take a closer look at some of these alternatives to Bitcoin, let’s step back and briefly examine what we mean by terms like cryptocurrency and altcoin. A cryptocurrency, broadly defined, is virtual or digital money which takes the form of tokens or “coins.” While some cryptocurrencies have ventured into the physical world with credit cards or other projects, the large majority remain entirely intangible.
The “crypto” in cryptocurrencies refers to complicated cryptography which allows for the creation and processing of digital currencies and their transactions across decentralized systems. Alongside this important “crypto” feature of these currencies is a common commitment to decentralization; cryptocurrencies are typically developed as code by teams who build in mechanisms for issuance (often, although not always, through a process called “mining”) and other controls.
Cryptocurrencies are almost always designed to be free from government manipulation and control, although as they have grown more popular this foundational aspect of the industry has come under fire. The currencies modeled after Bitcoin are collectively called altcoins, and in some cases “shitcoins,” and have often tried to present themselves as modified or improved versions of Bitcoin. While some of these currencies may have some impressive features that Bitcoin does not, matching the level of security that Bitcoin’s networks achieves has largely yet to be seen by an altcoin.
Below, we’ll examine some of the most important digital currencies other than Bitcoin. First, though, a caveat: it is impossible for a list like this to be entirely comprehensive. One reason for this is the fact that there are more than 4,000 cryptocurrencies in existence as of January 2021. While many of these cryptos have little to no following or trading volume, some enjoy immense popularity among dedicated communities of backers and investors.