Ethereum has increasingly become a problem for the Internet's millions of Bitcoin faithful. It goes against Bitcoin maximalist dogma, for one thing: if the 21 million eventual total Bitcoins in the world are the only genuine, useful, well-supported cryptocurrency... and if everything else is imitative, manipulated, or "centralized" junk... then what is this thing Ether, and why are all the Ethers in the Ethereum collectively valued at US $894,488,591 today, even hours after Bitcoin's block halving went off without a hitch. And why is Charlie Lee's Litecoin worth US $194,392,405? It's not Bitcoin! Yet it has a big value, and some users, what is going on here, the Bitcoin maximalist asks.
To answer these questions, and gain some insight into whether Bitcoin, Ethereum, or something else altogether might eventually dominate this space, we'll turn to Satoshi Nakamoto's own words.
Nakamoto, of course, is the shadowy pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, who released the currency as open source software to the world. Bitcoin became operational in early January 2009. He hasn't been officially heard from in any capacity since sometime in 2010.
As Satoshi Nakamoto posted back in August 2010, his last year of communication with the public, cryptocurrency can be looked at through the following lens: "As a thought experiment, imagine there was a base metal as scarce as gold but with the following properties:
- boring grey in colour
- not a good conductor of electricity
- not particularly strong, but not ductile or easily malleable either
- not useful for any practical or ornamental purpose
and one special, magical property:
- can be transported over a communications channel
If it somehow acquired any value at all for whatever reason, then anyone wanting to transfer wealth over a long distance could buy some, transmit it, and have the recipient sell it.
Maybe it could get an initial value circularly as you've suggested, by people foreseeing its potential usefulness for exchange. (I would definitely want some) Maybe collectors, any random reason could spark it."
Many of Satoshi's public comments and explanations have a strange prescience to them: he called, more or less, exactly what has happened to the economic value of Bitcoin since he disappeared. It has established some value to collectors and speculators, but it's also used to transfer wealth over vast distances - a Chinese user can pay a US or European merchant with total ease, in a way that's not possible with leading legacy financial systems or fiat currencies.
Now let's think about newer competitors since Satoshi went silent back in 2010. Six years is a long time in the evolution of any technological product, but especially computer hardware or software. I don't have the same laptop or desktop I had in 2010, so does it make sense for the whole world to be using the same cryptocurrency that was experimented with by a relative handful of people in 2010?
Especially after today's apparently successful block halving, I think Bitcoin has proven itself a worthy veteran. It is, after all, the original cryptocurrency.
And even with its now "slow" 10 minute block time (Ethereum has an average block time of around 15 seconds; Litecoin has a 2.5 minute block time), Bitcoin has a track record of liquidity, geographical distribution, merchant acceptance, & network uptime that no other cryptocurrency yet comes close to matching.
With that said... when you look at the original alchemist Satoshi's own words, there is a loophole: what if another dull, instantly transportable crypto token were to emerge and become popular around the world, for whatever initial reason? And what if that token were the same as the other, with two distinct differences:
- useful for a broad practical or ornamental purpose (the execution & maintenance of apps/smart contracts on a decentralized virtual machine)
- mined in a manner that made users feel the currency was less "rare", leading to faster experimentation rates and economic uses of the token, whatever those uses may be
Especially if that token were to gain a similar acceptance footprint over time (Ether is now accepted on Coinbase's exchange, to continue the thought experiment - and it is believed by some that Litecoin will eventually be added to Coinbase's exchange offering as well)... if that were to happen, well then shucks... even though Satoshi Nakamoto is no longer replying to curious researchers, I think he (or she) would have to agree with me: when all those conditions are adequately met, a proper competitor or two Bitcoin might have.
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Full disclosure: At time of publication, I hold some bitcoins and ethers in my long term portfolio. I am not an active day trader of either currency and this post is not intended as financial advice.