"Altcoin" is a combination of two words: "alt" and "coin"; alt signifying 'alternative' and coin signifying (in essence) 'cryptocurrency.' Thus together they imply a category of cryptocurrency that is alternative to the digital currency Bitcoin. After the success story of Bitcoin, many other peer-to-peer digital currencies have emerged in an attempt to imitate that success. While Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and remains the best-known, it is now only one of hundreds of cryptocurrencies, which all seek to improve upon Bitcoin in various ways.
Example: I tell three friends that I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100, and I write that number on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope. My friends don't have to guess the exact number, they just have to be the first person to guess any number that is less than or equal to the number I am thinking of. And there is no limit to how many guesses they get.
Altcoins are the alternative cryptocurrencies launched after the success of Bitcoin. Generally, they project themselves as better substitutes to Bitcoin. The success of Bitcoin as the first peer-to-peer digital currency paved the way for many to follow. Many altcoins are trying to target any perceived limitations that Bitcoin has and come up with newer versions with competitive advantages. As the term 'altcoins' means all cryptocurrencies which are not Bitcoin, there are hundreds of altcoins.
While cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that are managed through advanced encryption techniques, many governments have taken a cautious approach toward them, fearing their lack of central control and the effects they could have on financial security. Regulators in several countries have warned against cryptocurrency and some have taken concrete regulatory measures to dissuade users. Additionally, many banks do not offer services for cryptocurrencies and can refuse to offer services to virtual-currency companies. Gareth Murphy, a senior central banking officer has stated "widespread use [of cryptocurrency] would also make it more difficult for statistical agencies to gather data on economic activity, which are used by governments to steer the economy". He cautioned that virtual currencies pose a new challenge to central banks' control over the important functions of monetary and exchange rate policy. While traditional financial products have strong consumer protections in place, there is no intermediary with the power to limit consumer losses if bitcoins are lost or stolen. One of the features cryptocurrency lacks in comparison to credit cards, for example, is consumer protection against fraud, such as chargebacks.
Many of the altcoins are built up on the basic framework provided by Bitcoin. Thus most altcoins are peer-to-peer, involve a mining process by which users solve difficult problems to unlock blocks, and offer efficient and cheap ways to carry out transactions on the web. But even with many overlapping features, altcoins vary widely from each other - altocoins differ themselves from bitcoin with a range of procedural variations, including different proof-of-work algorithms, different means by which users can sacrifice energy to mine blocks, and application enhancements to increase user anonymity.
Altcoins can be a fun and profitable investment! Investing in altcoins can be a lot like trading penny stocks – you can invest very small amounts of money in a wide-reaching portfolio, and you can choose the coins that you think have the best chance of long-term success. Imagine if you had invested in bitcoin back when each cost only pennies! If you’d held on to the bitcoins for just a few years, you could have been pleasantly surprised when the coins peaked at over $1,000 USD each in 2013… then of course if you had held until 2017 you would have been even more surprised to find bitcoin trading as high as $5,000. Of course, cryptocurrency market is volatile, so be aware of the risk (not every coin makes it long term).
By October 2009, the world’s first Bitcoin exchange was established. At the time, $1 was the equivalent of 1,309 Bitcoin. Considering how expensive Bitcoin is today, that was a real steal. Bitcoin traded at a fraction of a penny for quite some time. Things started changing in 2010; as the distribution of Bitcoin increased, the digital currency became inherently more valuable.