Tag Archives: Opinion

Feathercoin – There’s a New Kid on the Block!

A couple of weeks ago, a new cryptocurrency popped up over on Bitcointalk. The new coin, dubbed Feathercoin, initially looks extremely like Litecoin with the major difference being the amount of coin in potential circulation. Block rewards are set to 200 FTC as opposed to LTC’s current 50.

So, if Feathercoin is just a straight Litecoin clone, and Litecoin already struggles with getting the traction that Bitcoin has, what chance does Feathercoin stand in the world of cryptocurrencies?

FTC versus LTC

The similarities between these coins are fare more than their differences, but there are some key aspects that may turn people towards Feathercoin.

First, there’s the freshness of the coin, and the initial surge of enthusiasm from early adopters drive the ecosystem of Feathercoin forward at an astonishing pace. Already, several exchanges like BTC-E and Vircurex have taken Feathercoin on board, and there are mining pools popping up everywhere.

The lack of adoption presents an opportunity for miners as well. People have mined the established coins for a long time, and with ASICs coming online, graphic card miners move from Bitcoin to Litecoin and drive the difficulty through the roof. Profitability of mining Litecoins has dropped almost 80% since early April (at the time of this writing, a month ago) due to the difficulty rise.

From a non-technical perspective, Feathercoin offers few differences for most people at this time. Beyond the name, which is actually quite funny if you’re into the community jargon, the main difference is that there will be four times as many Feathercoin than Litecoins.

Note: The name, Feathercoin, both indicates something lighter than Litecoin, but also plays on the Trollbox nickname of Alt-coins in general and Litecoins specifically, chickun. In other words, we have both feather and chickuns.

This may have a psychological impact more than a practical one, as a price will need to be four time higher, which again means discounts can be four time higher, in absolute values.

“I love this car, but I can’t afford the 200,000 FTC to buy it!” says the customer. “No worries, I’ll drop 20,000 off the price for you” says the car salesman. 20,000 sounds like a much higher discount than 5,000, although the price of 200,000 also sounds a lot more than 50,000. I guess the benefit or drawback depends on whether you’re offering a discount or selling at a low price, and we’ll have to let the market decide what’s best.

That actually brings me to the next point, which is something that I believe goes for any cryptocurrency that pops up.

It’s a Rip-Off!

Actually, no.

Cryptocurrencies need diversity! Granted, the coins may look exactly the same at this point, but as the market matures, people will favor different characteristics of the coins.

The coins themselves may evolve and add new features or behavior, which may spawn further ideas that can bring about the next cryptocurrency revolution.

For Bitcoin, the big brother in this family, there are already a number of similar coins that have added different characteristics that the world is now evaluating.

Note: You may also want read my take on the different cryptocurrencies and why they are unique.

For Litecoin, however, which differs from Bitcoin in that it uses scrypt as its mining algorithm, there haven’t been a plethora of alternatives to help Litecoin evolve.

Feathercoin, and indeed some other coins that have appeared recently, also uses scrypt for mining and can thus be to Litecoin what Namecoin, Devcoin, Terracoin, PPCoin and the other SHA-based cryptocoins are to Bitcoin; helpful in evolution, but not in themselves and alone the future of cryptocurrencies.

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Why Litecoin has a Place in the Cryptocurrency Community

Litecoin is the second largest cryptocurrency today, and has around 2-3% of the total cryptocurrency market. It seems to bother some people to no end that Litecoin even exists, so I thought it would make sense to look closer at what Litecoin does that Bitcoin may not.

Diversity

I have previously argued that the diversity of cryptocoins is good for the overall cryptocurrency community. In short, the existence of cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin serves to provide the community and the world with alternatives.

Note: Refer to my article Bitcoin, Litecoin, Whatcoin? Oh My! for the full article.

Why are alternatives important? Well, as in biology, the features that best provides survival for a species tend to survive from generation to generation, while features that are pointless tend to die out. To some extent, this can be said for alternative coins too; those that have features that make them competitive are those that society will adopt.

One argument I hear often is that Bitcoin can implement any of the features that alternative cryptocoins have. That may be, although it may certainly call for severe changes in Bitcoin, but the big question remains: Which features should Bitcoin adopt?

Litecoin has features that society seems to like. Even if the coin itself may not survive, it can provide Bitcoin or other cryptocoins with important information about what society wants.

This is not necessarily an argument for Litecoins specifically, but Litecoins success compared to other coins may tell the cryptocurrency community that Litecoin has features society wants.

Another argument against Litecoin is that it isn’t innovative enough; that it is too similar to Bitcoin and thus offer no additional value.

I’m not sure I agree with this argument in the first place, but the state of a currency at its beginning is not necessarily an indication of how it will evolve. This is, in fact, the whole idea of innovation and evolution. You start out with one idea and evolve that as time moves on.

Litecoin may evolve in completely separate directions from Bitcoin, and may thus be a completely different coin months or years from now. This further strengthens the cryptocoin community, and even Bitcoin may choose to pick up features that have evolved from other coins.

Speed

One feature that separates Litecoin from Bitcoin is transaction speed. Where Bitcoin has a 10 minute block time on average, Litecoins have a 2.5 minute block time.

Note: For those that do not know, block time determines how fast a transaction is confirmed.

This increased block speed makes Litecoin a faster currency. For vendors looking to process transactions rapidly, this may be a benefit.

The change in block speed isn’t necessarily the benefit that stores and other rapid transaction processors want, though. Even with Bitcoin’s 10 minute blocks, once a transaction is distributed to the network, essentially immediately after sending, it is virtually impossible and certainly uneconomical for someone to try to exploit the unconfirmed status.

For smaller transactions, say less than $100, a store owner can relatively safely assume that a transaction will not be at risk as soon as they see the payment received on their end.

However, for larger transactions, vendors may want to wait for a certain time or for a certain number of confirmations before sending the goods.

This is where Litecoin can provide a benefit. If you are buying a car, you want to get into your new vehicle as quickly as possible, but the vendor is unlikely to give you the keys before the customary 6 confirmations have happened. This takes an hour with Bitcoin and about 15 minutes with Litecoin.

Note: The number of transactions does not necessarily equate to more security. In other words, 6 Litecoin transactions may not equate to 6 Bitcoin transactions in terms of security.

Of course, if you’re standing in line at the grocery store, waiting around for 2.5 minutes for your payment to verify at least once is still too long. If stores require at least one verification, however, 2.5 minutes is better than 10 minutes.

Security

Speaking of security, Litecoin may offer some interesting features to help make it more secure.

First, the most fatal security issue with Bitcoin-derived cryptocurrencies is what is known as a 51% attach. In short, this means that someone who controls 51% of the total network mining power can effectively double-spend money. Double-spend means that money can be spent twice, for example to send money first to a merchant, but then resend the money back to the attacker, essentially cheating the merchant of the money.

Litecoin, although much smaller than Bitcoin, uses a different algorithm for mining called Scrypt (where Bitcoin uses SHA-256). This is important because Scrypt is much more expensive in terms of computing power and it is currently infeasible to create specialized hardware that mines Litecoins much faster than current technology.

For Bitcoin, ASIC equipment is very effective at achieving massive hashing power. As such, the network itself is very powerful and growing in power every day. However, this also cuts the other way; because Bitcoin blocks can be easily mined with specialized hardware, it makes it cheaper to produce hardware to attack the network.

Note: To read more about ASICs and what they are, check out the article called What Are ASIC Miners and Why Are They So Important?

For Litecoin, the most effective hardware today are graphics cards with GPU processors and massive memory bandwidth. This means that an attacker today would need to gain control over a huge amount of graphics cards, which are very expensive, in order to conduct a 51% attack.

Another factor in the 51% attack is that for the attack to be successful, the attacker needs to control the network for a certain amount of time. Even if the attacker had 51% of the network, the power cost of running such a network would quickly outweigh the benefit of double-spending money. 

Right now, though, the Litecoin network is much smaller than the Bitcoin network, so that means an attack today may be feasible, especially if the attacker could get control over one of the mining pools.

Well, maybe, but we still have one more feature to discuss.

Mining

As mentioned, Litecoin uses a different mining protocol from Bitcoin. This protocol, called Scrypt, requires memory bandwidth in addition to raw processing power. The algorithm was designed to be resistant to specialized cryptographic hardware that could otherwise be used to crack strong encryption.

Until ASICs came along in 2013, the most efficient way to mine Bitcoins was using graphics cards, and especially AMD Radeon cards. These cards, however, are not match for ASIC miners, so with the introduction of ASICs, a lot of Bitcoin mining graphics cards will become less profitable.

However, Litecoin mining with graphics cards and their GPUs and massive memory bandwidth is still feasible. In fact, today, GPUs are the most efficient way to mine Litecoins. Combine that with the fact that Litecoin is resistant to current ASIC technology, and existing Bitcoin miners will quickly find that moving their resources to mine Litecoins yields far more profit.

This means that the Litecoin network is far more distributed than Bitcoin. In the case of Bitcoin, large ASIC mining farms can quickly take 25-40% of the total network capacity. This can make Bitcoin more susceptible to a 51% attack because an attacker would need to control just one of two of the large mining pools in order to control more than 51% of the network.

Of course, the mining profitability of Litecoin also means that people that bought special mining rigs for Litecoin still has a place to earn money from their investments, which in turn means that the network will continue to exist as long as people are using Litecoins are willing to part with other types of currency to get it.

Conclusion

To summarize, Litecoin is an important part of the cryptocurrency experiment because it offers diversity, speed, security, and a chance for miners to continue earning from their investments.

Whether Litecoin, Bitcoin, or any currency survives, well, that all depends on you, as a part of the society that has to adopt these coins as a new way of thinking money.

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Why Do We Need More Than One Cryptocoin?

I wrote a bit about the differences between the various currencies here:

http://coin.furuknap.net/bitcoin-litecoin-whatcoin-oh-my/

However, I may not have spent enough time explaining the rationale behind why there is a need for multiple currencies.

Here’s the thing; most of the cryptocurrencies have different characteristics that make them useful in different situations and for different purposes.

At the moment, the primary ‘differences’ (better or worse is yet to be decided) between Litecoins and Bitcoins are the mining algorithms and the speed of block solving and thus transaction.

The actual amount of coins, although different, is rather irrelevant; both LTC and BTC can be divided into 1 billionth of a coin, and they can even be further subdivided if required and approved by the network. Further, they both represent 100% of their respective markets, and fewer coins just mean that each coin is relatively more valuable.

So, why not agree on just one? Why does the world need two, much less multiple currencies at all?

What matters long-term is more important. Having two or more cryptocurrencies means they can evolve in various directions to suit what society needs. If society changes (more/less online trade, more/less demand for physical monetary units, more/less trust, etc) then different coins will be suited differently to those needs, and the market has better options.

Technically, the world doesn’t _need_ more than one currency, whether fiat or crypto, but the problem is that shortcomings in how that money can handle transactions means that society becomes limited in what it can do.

The stock market is an example of this; traditional fiat currencies lack the ability to represent a share of something, so one invents a new ‘currency’ (stocks) to fill that need. Rather han having $100 worth of a company, you may have 10 shares, and these shares independently of what you paid for them represent a certain percentage ownership of the company. It’s a value, although it’s not a physical currency bill that you can go down to the Deli and use to buy a sandwich.

Similar things will happen to cryptocurrencies, where each coin can be technically adapted to suit a rising need. A new idea of colored coins come to mind as a way that cryptocoins can represent stock, showing how the community can think of new and innovative ways to use money and represent value.

Think of how may ways you store value today. You may have a house, some physical currency, a bank account, maybe some shares in a company, a couple of funds through your 401K, and similar.

Each of these measures of value represent different needs and characteristics and you use them for different purposes. You may calculate them into a common denominator (like US Dollars, Euros, or Bitcoins) but that only serves to give a translated representation of the value. You house isn’t an amount of US dollars any more than your US dollars is an amount of Bitcoins.

As such, Litecoins represent evolution and increases the adaptability of cryptocurrencies in general. They are not better or worse than other currencies, any more than fish are better than birds; they are just different.

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