What are Altcoins?
Most altcoins are very similar to Bitcoin when it comes to their key components. They have a blockchain and allow for decentralized peer to peer transactions. Most of the characteristics of Bitcoin, highlighted in our What is Bitcoin? guide, are true for altcoins as well. This is because most altcoins are based on small changes to the bitcoin software. Bitcoin's code is open source which means that anyone can take the code, change it slightly, and release their own coin. These changes are heralded as improvements by the supporters of each specific coin or are done to serve a certain purpose intended for the coin.
Some Bitcoin supporters feel threatened by the altcoins, but they shouldn't. Altcoins are essentially the free market at work, with developers improving and tweaking Bitcoin's code in an attempt to make their coin the best cryptocurrency. Changes that work out well for an altcoin can then be rolled into Bitcoin's code in an update, essentially making altcoins a dynamic test bed for future Bitcoin innovation. They also make cryptocurrency, in general, more resilient and robust. If Bitcoin's developers or stakeholders fail to innovate or if a fatal flaw is found in the Bitcoin protocol, then a different altcoin will rise and take its place. Bitcoin may not be the currency that ends up on top, but I have little doubt that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology are going to be huge.
There are currently over 150 traditional currencies in use throughout the world, so there is plenty of room for more than one cryptocurrency to succeed. I foresee a future where Bitcoin is used as a store of value and for large transactions because its network is extremely powerful and it is deflationary. At the same time, there will be many other cryptocurrencies filling specific niches. It is already relatively easy to trade between Bitcoin and the altcoins, and over time it will become even easier: allowing for an individual to move from one to the other dynamically and with little resistance or cost.
New altcoins are being launched everyday, and it can be quite overwhelming to the average user, that's why we are here to guide you through them. Some sites have listed every altcoin that exists, that isn't our desire. There are plenty of useless coins out there and others that are purely scams. We intend to provide a carefully curated list of cryptocurrencies that we feel offer the most potential to our users and to society as a whole.
The Rise of the Altcoins
The website Map of Coins provides an interactive map showing the evolution of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Below we have provided some screenshots to show you just how quickly new coins are being introduced into the global marketplace.
Present Day (April 2014)
Disclaimer: This post is intended solely to provide information. As I have no knowledge of individual circumstances and technical level, readers are expected to complete their own due diligence before proceeding with anything mentioned in this article. The topics discussed in this post are advanced and readers proceed at their own risk.