Altcoins are any cryptocurrencies other than the bitcoin, the first successfully launched cryptocurrency. The name is a combination of the words ‘alternative’ and ‘coin’.
They have largely been presented as better alternatives to Bitcoin that could outperform Bitcoin in various ways, although some altcoins, such as Reddcoin, appear more of a novelty at this stage. Since the invention of Bitcoin in 2009 and its subsequent success, hundreds of altcoins have been developed utilising blockchain technology. While many of the emerging altcoins do not present major changes from the original Bitcoin design and overlap somewhat, there is a huge variety of altcoins, mostly designed to target what are seen as weaknesses in the Bitcoin system.
Many altcoins are first offered to the public in an ‘Initial Coin Offering’ (ICO), whereby start-ups utilising the blockchain can raise money for ventures by selling a cryptocoin of their own tied to the blockchain. Most of the newer blockchain technologies attempt to build upon the original Bitcoin framework, with improvements in anonymity, scalability, transaction speed, proof-of-stake, DNS resolution and so on. While many altcoins will likely fade into obscurity, some have already gained significant attention and have taken their place alongside Bitcoin, albeit in its shadows.