If 2017 was a dream for cryptocurrency enthusiasts, 2018 has been a swift return to reality. The value of Bitcoin, which increased over 1,000 percent last year, has decreased by close to 30 percent so far this year, and many other coins have followed suit. The cryptocurrency market has begun a modest recovery, but investors have nonetheless been given a stark reminder that cryptocurrency’s volatility is a double-edged sword — if you want to try and make it “to the moon,” you’ve got to risk crashing down to earth.
One coin that has stayed relatively stable throughout the recent crash, though, is Ethereum. In fact, the value of 1 ether has actually increased by 4.9 percent since January 1, 2018, and its value relative to Bitcoin has grown by nearly 50 percent. So what is it about Ethereum that has allowed it to weather the storm and come out ahead? The short answer: Ethereum is backed by real utility that many other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin included, simply don’t have.
Ethereum cofounder, Vitalik Buterin, realized that blockchain technology was capable of supporting far more than just electronic cash systems. Rather than prescribing a narrow range of functions for which users could use the blockchain, he saw the potential for a blockchain platform on which developers could build any application they like. This would allow software designers to get all the benefits of blockchain technology — decentralization, inalterability, security, etc. — without having to build their own personal blockchains. That’s the vision behind Ethereum, and so far it’s been a tremendous success.
Since its release in 2015, Ethereum’s network has become home to thousands of decentralized applications, or dapps. Many of these dapps are still in the development stage and have yet to go live, but Ethereum has set itself up to be the foundation for a huge software ecosystem. Here are a few dapps already live on the Ethereum platform that should give you an idea of the near-infinite range of possibilities:
- EtherDelta — EtherDelta is the biggest of many decentralized exchanges for Ethereum-based cryptocurrencies. Because it is run entirely through smart contracts, EtherDelta is a truly decentralized platform that offers numerous benefits, including increased security and the impossibility of fraud.
- uPort — uPort is a mobile app and software development platform aimed at providing users with a “self-sovereign” identity. Users can establish their electronic identity and link it to various verified claims like citizenship, visas, and certificates. This ultimately allows users to have a secure identity independent of traditional governmental means.
- CryptoKitties — The dapp that took the crypto world by storm, CryptoKitties is an online game that lets you collect and breed digital, cartoon cats. Though the concept is about as lighthearted as it could be, the app’s popularity has led to a serious investment of cash. Users have spent millions of dollars buying these animated felines through the app’s online marketplace. Each cat is unique, and secure ownership is maintained through Ethereum’s blockchain. The app’s popularity has declined since its peak around December of last year, but it serves as one of the best examples of the strange yet valuable ideas Ethereum can help to facilitate.
Ethereum not only provides developers with a blockchain on which to build their applications; it also gives them a convenient way to fund their projects natively on the network in the form of tokens. These tokens, often referred to as ERC-20 tokens — which means they are compatible across the Ethereum platform — function similarly to shares of a company. Users buy tokens to help fund software projects, while also receiving investment incentives like financial rewards or voting rights.
These tokens have become some of the most valuable cryptocurrencies in the world, even before the release of their associated dapp. In fact, 17 of the top 50 cryptocurrencies by market cap, not counting Ethereum itself, are ERC-20 tokens. This means there is a tremendous amount of money invested — directly or indirectly — into the Ethereum platform. Ethereum’s own cryptocurrency, Ether, serves less as an electronic cash system and more as a source of fuel for the Ethereum network. Ownership of Ether is therefore an investment in the Ethereum platform rather than an investment in a pure storage of value.
All of this means Ethereum is more resistant to devaluation than other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Bitcoin is similar to fiat currency in that it has value because people agree it has value. This gives Bitcoin some stability, because everyone who has invested in Bitcoin is also invested in keeping it valuable. But it also makes Bitcoin vulnerable to possible crashes if investors begin to lose faith. If the faith goes away, there’s nothing else keeping it afloat.
Ethereum doesn’t fall prey to these same pitfalls because it is more than a currency; it’s a platform that provides a valuable service. As long as Ethereum continues to see investment from developers who want to build on the network, the value of Ether is supported by meaningful capital. If Bitcoin is like fiat, Ether is like gold; its value is more stable because it’s partially backed up by an intrinsic usefulness that Bitcoin doesn’t have. This is at least part of the reason Ethereum proved more resilient during the recent crash.
All that said, it is important to note that Ethereum is still a very young platform and is a long way away from realizing its full potential. It has only a handful of very popular dapps, and developers are still getting used to programming for the network. Therefore much of Ethereum’s value is still speculative. But its ’s recent stability compared to other coins should inspire confidence in its future. As more and more dapps take advantage of the Ethereum blockchain in new and interesting ways, its value should continue to increase. And assuming it can continue to fend off the dramatic swings that dominate the space, it may be setting itself up to become the industry leader.
Full disclosure: I own a small holding in Ether and various other cryptocurrencies. The above article should not be taken as investment advice.
Matthew Godshall is Editor-in-Chief of Unhashed.com, a cryptocurrency information resource.