Bitcoin, Ethereum, Blockchain, Tokens, ICOs: Why should anyone care?

The Crypto market is gaining lots of steam. Gravity-defying price rallies……and multi-million dollar token sales are commonplace, as are front-page headlines from traditional news outlets discussing Ethereum, Bitcoin, ICOs, tokens, hard forks, and other technical topics. Even my 13-year-old brother has been calling me up asking for explanations! I’ve been personally invested in this space for a while now — most recently as an engineer for Coinbase — but even I’m surprised by how quickly the Crypto space has evolved in the past six months. If you want to understand why crypto is getting the spotlight, you have to understand the behind-the-scenes catalysts driving the market. Right now, that catalyst is the “token sale” or “Initial Coin Offering (ICO)” phenomena.

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Blockchains don’t scale. Not today, at least. But there’s hope.

The first Bitcoin paper was first released in 2008. My excitement about the potential of blockchain technology has been building ever since. Decentralized digital currency, once just a far-fetched goal, is finally making inroads into the mainstream. While that’s exciting on its own merit, I’m personally most excited about the potential for decentralized applications. Financial exchanges, prediction markets, and asset management platforms all carry enormous potential. The trustless systems supporting them are no less intriguing; identity verification systems, smart property, censorship resistant social platforms, and autonomous structures and governance models like DAOs. The most disruptive use cases probably haven’t even been dreamt up yet. But this dream still remains a dream for the foreseeable future — while a few early enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are experimenting with building such applications, there’s still a big missing piece that prevents us from seeing these applications come to fruition: scalability. Blockchains, as it stands today, are limited in their ability to scale.

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The synergies gained from building on Ethereum’s decentralized app ecosystem

When the first home telephones were being installed in the 1870s, the companies selling them had a problem: phones aren’t very useful if you can only call a few people. However, this challenge got easier and easier as the networks expanded, since every new customer’s presence in the phone book increased the overall value of the product as a communication tool. This concept — called a “network effect” — entered its renaissance during the tech boom, as platforms like Facebook and the Apple ecosystem rapidly secured huge market shares on the power of large userbases.

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How does Ethereum work, anyway?

Odds are you’ve heard about the Ethereum blockchain, whether or not you know what it is. It’s been in the news a lot lately, including the cover of some major magazines, but reading those articles can be like gibberish if you don’t have a foundation for what exactly Ethereum is. So what is it? In essence, a public database that keeps a permanent record of digital transactions. Importantly, this database doesn’t require any central authority to maintain and secure it. Instead it operates as a “trustless” transactional system — a framework in which individuals can make peer-to-peer transactions without needing to trust a third party OR one another. Still confused? That’s where this post comes in. My aim is to explain how Ethereum functions at a technical level, without complex math or scary-looking formulas.

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