By Blake Holman, Trust Officer
Like just about everything else in this world, it’s a simple question with a nuanced answer. The correct answer is probably, “both”. There are more than 10,000 publicly traded cryptocurrencies (coinmarketcap.com). Of those 10,000+ “currencies” most serious crypto enthusiasts, and the vast majority of their money, is invested in only two – Bitcoin and Ethereum. In order to give a proper, short synopsis of crypto, we have to peek under the hood at the underlying technology which birthed the currencies. That technology is known as the “blockchain”.
In its simplest form, a blockchain is a public digital ledger of transactions. Each recorded transaction is called a block. Those transactions are independently verified by peer-to-peer computer networks, time-stamped, linked to the prior block, and stored on a massive network of computers. Once recorded, a transaction cannot be altered in any way. These characteristics make a blockchain incredibly secure and resistant to manipulation by hackers, fraudsters, or any other bad actor seeking to manipulate data. (NerdWallet.com) To complicate the matter, there is more than one blockchain, or “distributed ledger technology”. Some ledgers are more robust and secure than others, have different code and functionality, and differing value propositions to their users, but with extraordinarily similar underlying principles. Therein lies the genesis of 10,000+ coins instead of just one or two.
So with that being the case, what is a Bitcoin? What about an Ether (Ethereum is the platform)? Without diving into the process of generating a Bitcoin or an Ether, one key difference is their intention. Bitcoin was created as an alternative to central bank currencies and is often referred to as digital gold. The expectation is that it will be free from government interference and monetary manipulation and thereby spared from devaluation through inflation. Ethereum is actually its own distributed ledger technology platform and the Ethercoin is intended to provide a monetary device to facilitate transactions on the ledger. These value propositions attract different users, but there tends to be an overarching goal of maintaining purchasing power and finding an alternative to traditional stock, bond, metals, and real estate investments.
The blockchain has been most well-known as the backbone technology supporting cryptocurrencies, but its most significant implications go far beyond digital currencies. The blockchain could be used as a more secure platform for recording any transaction or data set, like legal contracts, real estate sales, medical records, supply chain management, etc…the list goes on and on. These uses remain in their infancy and the opportunities are being explored and discovered. It is very likely that sometime in the relatively near future we will all be users of the blockchain for these reasons even if we are not trading the cryptocurrencies. The technology is new, and new tech is often slow to adoption at a mass scale. Our belief is that once adoption is accepted within business-to-business commerce, business-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer will be very soon to follow and blockchain will become the new normal.