THE DIGITAL GOLD RUSH
The week of January 11, 2015
cryptocurrencies_title

Your complete A-Z guide to cryptocurrencies

By The Kernel

Anybody can create their own cryptocurrency. The fact that Bitcoin is open source means that anyone can tinker with it, slap a new own name on top, and create their own version. That’s led to a glut of hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called altcoins. Who can keep track of them all?

We’ve compiled a glossary of some of the important, creative, and just plain weird cryptocurrencies you’ve been wondering about.

Anoncoin

“Your business is none of our business” is Anoncoin’s mantra. Released in 2013 to capitalize on cyrptocurrency fans’ taste for exchanging money without credit cards and bank accounts, Anoncoin’s developers call it the first cryptocurrency to support the I2P and Tor anonymous networks.

But they want to go a step farther now. Its development team has announced plans to implement something called Zerocoin, a project designed to sure up perceived privacy issues with Bitcoin’s public blockchain. Anoncoin’s value took a significant hit in October, when the developers said Zerocoin implementation would be delayed. Since there’s still no firm date for its release, privacy advocates are, for now, stuck with Anoncoin. Or any of the other altcoins that promise better privacy. —Fran Berkman

anoncoin

BitShares

BitShares makes use of Bitcoin’s blockchain technology, but it eschews mining, which its developers view as a drain on resources.

Without a mining system that completes proof of work to authenticate transactions, BitShares relies on something it calls a delegated proof-of-stake system, in which 101 delegates oversee construction of the blockchain. Users pick the delegates through Reddit-style upvotes, so a delegate can quickly lose the position if it’s not handled properly.

Bitshares itself is not even really a cryptocurrency. It’s more of a software that launches and maintains what’s called Decentralized Autonomous Companies. The first of these launched this summer. Called BitShares X, it’s an exchange that ties digital entities to real-world assets, such as dollars, gold, and oil. Skeptical? Confused? Some people sure buy it. It’s quickly captured investors’ attention, as it’s currently in the top five of all cryptocurrencies when it comes to market cap. —F.B.

Counterparty

Counterparty’s life started with the destruction of nearly $2 million worth of Bitcoin in what it described as a “proof-of-burn” in January 2014. How’s that for making an entrance?

Developers told anyone interested in investing in Counterparty to send Bitcoin to a virtual wallet for which no one possesses the key. Those investors were rewarded with a proportional amount of XCP—confusingly, the counterparty unit—which would become the foundation of Counterparty’s service. Developers say those bitcoins were not retained, both to avoid regulatory complications and to make the process as fair as possible to all investors.

This service now allows users to set up their own financial assets that operate on top of Bitcoin’s blockchain. Setting up an asset is marketed as creating a “Custom Token” on Counterparty’s website, and the assets are based on XCP.

Essentially, users can take advantage of Bitcoin’s cryptographic security to make assets they can control and distribute. —F.B.

Darkcoin

Contrary to some popular belief, Bitcoin isn’t anonymous. Like a clever screen name, it’s pseudonymous: You’re consistently identified by your wallet address, though no one has to know the real-life name behind that address unless you want them to. That, of course, never stopped Bitcoin from being the go-to currency for online black market transactions. But Darkcoin could change that.

Like Anoncoin, Darkcoin aims for genuine anonymity. It’s otherwise pretty similar to Bitcoin, and its transactions are still recorded on a blockchain. But Darkcoin transactions can go through an anonymizer, called DarkSend, making it “impossible,” according to the coin’s creators, to track where a given transaction came from. In theory, it’s the next step in wiring money if you don’t ever want to be watched. —Kevin Collier

darkcoin

Ethereum

Ethereum developer Vitalik Buterin doesn’t imagine his creation as just another cryptocurrency. His dreams are much bigger. Though largely modeled on Bitcoin, Ethereum is an entirely separate platform that allows for the creation of custom digital currencies and auto-executing smart contracts that its boosters believe could replace everything from bookies to lawyers to the World Wide Web itself.

At the core of Ethereum is the idea that it’s possible to create programmable money that can be told how to behave all on its own. Smart contracts allow coins to be told ahead of time to transfer themselves depending on an event’s outcome: to Bob’s account if the Broncos win the Super Bowl, for example, or to Alice’s if the Cowboys come out on top. Since a cryptocurrency can represent anything, from the deed for a house to a vote in an election, and the instructions can be complicated as the programmer wants to make them, there may be no limit to what Ethereum-created contracts can facilitate.

Buterin’s company conducted an initial presale of Ethereum last year and hopes to begin mining the currency in the coming months. —Aaron Sankin

Fuelcoin

In theory, Fuelcoin is educational. Its anonymous founder so desperately wants people to get into cryptocurrency, he says he’ll sponsor Fuelcoin parties—think Tupperware, but for pretend Internet money that you send with your phone. There’s a slight hitch to that, though: No such thing has been announced on the Fuelcoin’s site, or on its Twitter account, in the eight months since Fuelcoin’s creation.

The coin’s nevertheless doing moderately well for itself despite a lack of much identify. Its value soared in October, then plateaued in December, and currently boasts cryptocurrency’s 14th-biggest market cap: $4,249,351. To quote Fuelcoin’s borderline-nonsensical slogan, “Fuel Your Dreams!” —K.C.

GCoin

A cryptocurrency created by the Freemasons, designed to be used for charity? It sounds like something your conspiracy-minded uncle who doesn’t understand Bitcoin made up, besides maybe the charity part. But that is, at least ostensibly, the idea behind GCoin.

Its developer, who claims to be a Freemason, says the idea was born of a conversation with his mentor, who asked, “What have you done lately to make the world a better place.” That gave him a wild idea: another Bitcoin clone, but this one can be used to give money to charity!

Notwithstanding the fact that dogecoiners have given substantially to charity and bitcoiners continue to do so, GCoin isn’t an official Freemason project, according to a group spokesperson, though that admittedly would have been fascinating. GCoin’s unnamed developer has repeatedly tried to convince other masons on Reddit to use his coin, and they’ve repeatedly shunned him, asking for Freemason credentials that he refuses to provide. Conspiracy! —K.C.

HoboNickels

Traditionally, a “hobo nickel” is a piece of folk art, a physical coin carved into tiny, circular bas relief. In the world of cryptocurrency, however, HoboNickels attempts to be one of the fastest coins available, though in reality, there’s little besides its name distinguish it from other altcoins.

The name reportedly came about because of who the coin was made for, a user named “cryptohobo.” As befitting a coin bearing the name of the less fortunate, HoboNickels are geared toward charities, with a few of them being listed on the coin’s site as being open to donations like the children’s charity Songs of Love Foundation and Bitcoin Utopia Aquaponics, which funds science projects. And hey, Hobonickels do the service of reminding  us of how cool old, actual hobo nickels are. —K.C.

hobonickels

Infinitecoin

A key feature of Bitcoin is that only a finite number of them can be mined, meaning that one day—more than a century from now, say some calculations—the well will run dry. Come that day, we’ll have to make due with the bitcoins we have.

Contrary to its name, Infinitecoin asks the big question: What if that end date comes really soon?

Infinitecoin gets its name from the fact that mining Infinitecoin produces a huge amount of coins—more than 90 billion already. It’s on pace to be “one of the first to be completely mined out,” according to its website.

Don’t mistake Infintiecoin’s prevalence for wealth, though: at $ 0.000004, one of them is still only a fraction of a value of a dogecoin, which is already the shining example of a currency being practically worthless. —K.C.

Juggalocoin

The early spring of 2014 saw the rise of cryptocurrencies designed to supplement the currencies of small nations: AuroraCoin in Iceland, and Mazacoin for South Dakota’s native American Oglala Lakota Nation. Somewhere, a juggalo—a fan of the rap group Insane Clown Posse, probably dressed like a goth clown and possibly confused by magnets—nodded in solidarity.

In theory, Juggalocoin would allow juggalos of all stripes to easily pay each other back if they were, say, cashless and wanted to bogart a fellow fan’s Cheetos or Faygo or low-quality marijuana. But It’s not clear if Juggalocoin ever really got off the ground. It’s still not traded on any cryptocurrency charts we could find, but maybe it’s more a political statement than something people would use day-to-day. As the coin’s official site actually says, “You don’t have to be black to support Civil Rights, and you don’t have to be a Juggalo to support the Juggalo Family.” —K.C.

Kittehcoin

The genius of Dogecoin, before its community was taken for a ride by shady entrepreneurs, was simple. Take Litecoin (see below) but bring an air of silliness and generosity to the coin, and emphasize that by branding it with the silly Doge meme. The idea of Kittehcoin is that maybe you could do the same thing with Namecoin (featured below) and cats.

Speaking in LOLcat, someone who helped start Kittehcoin introduced it on the popular cryptocurrency forum Bitcointalk: “Some mangy Doge has been getting an awful lot of attention on the netz lately, and Kitteh is not pleased.” Right.

Unfortunately for those who wanted a new way to buy cheezburgers, lead developer Dan Wasyluk stepped down in December to work on Syscoin, and the kitteh’s been pretty lifeless since. —K.C.

Litecoin

Created in his spare time by former Google engineer Charlie Lee in 2011, Litecoin was built for speed. Due to the structure of the Bitcoin network, it takes about 10 minutes for any transaction to be processed. While Bitcoin users have developed workarounds, Lee realized if a competing cryptocurrency could improve on that transaction time, it would have a shot of grabbing some of Bitcoin’s market share. By constructing Litecoin with a transaction time of just a quarter of Bitcoin, he had a hit. Though it was recently surpassed by Ripple, Litecoin spent years as the second biggest cryptocurrency on the market.

While Lee, who now works at leading Bitcoin wallet service Coinbase, once said that “adding gimmicks does not help a currency succeed,” last year Litecoin joined forces with Dogecoin, the king of gimmicky cryptocurrencies, for merged mining. Lee saw that as a way to increase the security of both currencies. —A.S.

litecoin

Mazacoin

Last winter, developer Payu Harris created Mazacoin for a poverty-stricken Native American nation in South Dakota. At that time, some outlets reported that the Oglala Lakota tribe made Mazacoin its official currency, which would have made it the first sovereign nation to adopt a cryptocurrency. But tribal politics proved to be a roadblock for Mazacoin, and it was never officially adopted.

Harris has continued to promote the cryptocurrency in and around the Oglala Lakota’s Pine Ridge reservation. He’s presenting it as a tool the tribe can use to move toward financial independence from the United States government, and one that could help alleviate the extreme poverty that plagues the reservation.

Never lacking optimism, Harris told the Kernel that a new president and tribal council took office on Jan. 2, and the new leaders have expressed interest.

“We’re expecting a lot of movement on Mazacoin here in the next few weeks,” he said. —F.B.

Namecoin

Despite being called a “coin,” Namecoin doesn’t have all that much to do with monetary exchange. Instead, it’s focused on the transfer of data.

That data can be a myriad of things: email, encryption keys, or even other Bitcoin addresses.

But importantly, because all of this data is stored publicly on a blockchain and enjoys all of the benefits that come with a decentralized, peer-to-peer system, Namecoin data is resistant to censorship. This in turn means that Namecoin may help to “protect free-speech rights online,” according to coin’s website.

As the first fork of Bitcoin, it is naturally also the brainchild of a pseudonymous creator. Whereas Bitcoin had its Satoshi, Namecoin owes its existence to the mysterious “Vinced.” —Joseph Cox

namecoin

Opal

You’ve heard Bitcoin fanatics talk about how its real genius is the blockchain technology, right? Enter Opal.

Opal is a cryptocoin, sure. But it also spans a wide array of other blockchain-focused projects.

There’s Opal Drive, an encrypted cloud storage service, and Opacity+, a secure messaging protocol, which, in addition to servicing anonymous communication, also allows financial transactions. There’s also the Opal Marketplace, a platform to buy and sell digital products in exchange for Opal coins. —J.C.

Paycoin

In theory, Paycoin is designed to be practical. Merchants who already accept Bitcoin will be compatible with Paycoin too, and instead of trying to completely undermine the financial systems already in place, it attempts to work with them because it’s designed to work with established credit card hardware.

It’s also backed by a reserve of U.S. dollars, which “shields early adopters from risk and increases acceptance by large institutions,” according to Paycoin’s website.

But it’s run into a few hitches, namely that many have turned on Paycoin, calling it a “clear scam” and alleging that some of its coins were deceitfully premined. —J.C.

Quarkcoin

With a playful jingle playing in its tutorial video, Quarkcoin wants to convince people that cryptocurrencies are as big a revolution to finance as email was to communication.

Although it doesn’t seem to have much of an unique selling point except claiming to be faster and more secure than Bitcoin, Quarkcoin’s developers of the coin claim that it is one of the most secure cryptocurrencies and is “protected by 9 rounds of hashing from 6 different hash functions,” according to the Quarkcoin website. And hey, that ukulele sound nice. —J.C.

RonPaulCoin

Of every public figure that could conceivably serve as the namesake for a cryptocurrency, Ron Paul is the least surprising. The former Texas congressman is the godfather of America’s libertarian movement. That movement is in turn is largely responsible for bringing cryptocurrencies from being the exclusive province of propellerhead code jockeys into the consciousness of the general public. Bitcoin is, after all, basically a libertarian ideal: money backed by high-level math rather than the full faith and credit of a government. It allows its users to transact securely without the need for regulation or even any third-party whatsoever.

In a 2014 interview on CNBC, Paul said he does support the RonPaulCoin, even though he didn’t have anything to do with its creation. “I think that [support is] why they named it the RonPaulCoin; I’m advocating competing currencies because I’m not too high on our own currency,” he said.

Paul’s push for the use of non-dollar currencies is based on his opposition to the Federal Reserve’s ability to print money at will, and its inclination to do so at a record rate in the wake of the financial crash. Following in Paul’s spirit of promoting scarcity to prevent inflation, the total number of RonPaulCoins in existence is capped at one-tenth the total supply of Bitcoin. —A.S.

ronpaulcoin

Stellar

While bankrupt Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox will forever be associated with Mark Karpelès, the man whose leadership drove it into the ground, it was originally created by Jed McCaleb as an online hub for trading Magic: The Gathering cards. After selling the site to Karpelès, McCaleb helped create Ripple, now the second largest cryptocurrency after Bitcoin, then another cryptocurrency platform, called Stellar.

Stellar’s goal, supported by the platform’s associated nonprofit foundation, is to act as a payments mechanism for people around the world with limited access to traditional financial institutions. The network allows users to interchangeably send each other digital currencies like Bitcoin or its own eponymous coin and physical currencies like the U.S. dollar or Europrean euro. Fortune called it “a sort of all-inclusive online money exchange.”

Stellar’s own currency is primarily doled out through social media, with users getting free coins just for signing up online and learning about how it works. However, this distribution system did create some problems: people used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk human labor marketplace to pay workers tiny amount of money to sign up for Stellar and then turn over their free coins. —A.S.

Titcoin

It’s the rule 34 of digital money: If there’s a cryptocurrency out there, there’s probably a porn version of it. Enter Titcoin, the Bitcoin alternative that’s intended exclusively for XXX producers and consumers. With its tongue-in-cheek name and naked lady logo, Titcoin is about as subtle as a Mack truck. But it has the advantage of being more efficient and discreet than traditional forms of payment. Because Titcoin transactions won’t show up on a credit card bill, you don’t need to worry about a snooping significant other seeing them. —E.J. Dickson

titcoin

Unobtanium

Unobtanium is playing the long game.

Think of Unobtanium as the opposite of Infinitecoin, which deliberately aims to produce a glut of its currency. There are currently 193,000 unobtainiums in existence, and by design, it will max out at 250,000. But as it grows, it’s exponentially more difficult to mine new ones. According to the coin’s community manager, who mysteriously goes by FallingKnife, it’ll take about 300 more years before Unobtanium is mined out. Early reports indicate it’s working: In the past nine months of its year-long existence, Unobtanium’s been remarkably stable. Maybe we’ll look back fondly on it 300 years from now. —K.C.

Viacoin

A fork of Bitcoin—surprise!—Viacoin promises that it’s the “future of cryptocurrency.” They all promise that, of course, but at least Viacoin is trying a few new ideas. With the hiring of Bitcoin Core developer Peter Todd in July, Viacoin gained access to a couple of his technologies that operate differently than the standard Bitcoin protocol.

Viacoin uses its own protocol, called ClearingHouse, which the company says “allows the building of fully decentralized exchanges, issuing of new currencies, asset tracking, betting, digital voting, reputation management and even form the basis of fully decentralized market places.”

Todd has clout in the cryptocurrency world, so this may be bigger than just another altcoin, especially given his big ideas. But given the complexity of what the company is trying to do, the Viacoin team still has its work cut out for it. —Andrew Couts

viacoin

Worldcoin

Worldcoin encourages users to “think outside the banks”—a call to action that virtually anyone in the virtual currency world can get behind. Unfortunately for the Worldcoin folks, few have become enlightened to the ways of Worldcoin, with a mildly active forum and an almost completely inactive Reddit community.

Another derivative of Bitcoin, Worldcoin is essentially like any other generic altcoin out there. If the coin survives until long enough—not saying it won’t—a total of 265 million coins will ultimately be created. That’s hundreds of millions more than Bitcoin’s 21 million mining total, which means it’s even less likely that a Worldcoin stash will ever be worth much of anything. Of course, it could suddenly see an uptick in popularity. But as you can see, there are a lot of other options to choose from. —A.C.

XCurrency

Built on Blockchain 2.0 technologies, XCurrency’s big selling point is privacy and security. The company launched this year a “trustless mesh network,” which basically means it’s harder for people to figure out who paid who using the XCurrency application because the information is split into parts and all mixed up.

XCurrency developers have big plans for all types of other applications that they say will allow for things like private Web browsing, encrypted chat apps, and other security tools that make use of a mesh network like XCurrency’s.

While it’s hard to say whether the XCurrency team’s ideas will all come to fruition, the company is one of many in the cryptocurrency world trying to find something more to do with this technology than simply buy stuff. —A.C.

YBCoin

Unlike a lot of coins out there, YBCoin is actually worth an amount of money you could hold in your hand: $1.04. Also unlike many other coins out there, YBCoin is specifically targeted for the Chinese market, the central hub of cryptocurrency mining if there ever was one. Notably, the Chinese market has largely banned Bitcoin.

The YBCoin team built this virtual currency on the source code of its predecessor, YACoin, but reduced the number of total coins that will be created to 200 million. The team has published their white paper in English. But beyond that, there is not a lot of information about YBCoin available for English-only readers. Of course, you can always just watch the charts. —A.C.

Zetacoin

Earlier this year, Zetacoin became the coin to watch. A developer known as “Konen” promised that a “major” third-party had big plans to invest in Zetacoin (basically just a Bitcoin clone) and deploy it in East Africa. The rumors about this investment got the cryptocurrency world into a greedy froth, which boosted the price of Zetacoin some 500 percent—meaning anyone who’d invested in Zetacoin early was enjoying returns beyond their wildest dreams.

Of course, all that third-party investment stuff was a lie. We’ll let the Zetacoin community do the talking: “A game changing announcement, by the leader of ZBAD and an individual known as ‘Konen,’ promised to take Zetacoin to the people of East Africa. Excitement brewed, prices soared and the community grew. But months of promised deadlines passed and warnings from outside the community were ever present. Based on information ‘Konen’ and the leaders of the Zetacoin community claimed to have had, many people believed and helped promote what we all now know to have been nothing but lies.”

The remaining Zetacoin crew promises to recover from the pump-and-dump scheme and move on to a “fresh start” with a “better and stronger team.” So, uh, good luck with that. —A.C.

Illustrations by Max Fleishman