Like most people I know I heard of Bitcoin only when it was too late to profit spectacularly from it. Even so, cryptocurrency rarely popped up in my local newspapers, except in highly technical articles buried in the business or finance pages, or whenever someone made a killing off crypto — or when crypto is related to a crime, be it large-scale losses like the Mt. Gox hack or WannaCry demanding ransom in Bitcoin. After joining Steemit half a year ago, I started delving into crypto in a major way, and I have a few findings to report.
- Value Trends Upwards
Day by day, hour by hour, the prices of some major cryptocurrencies fluctuate wildly, sometimes at breathtaking speeds. But if you take the long view, over months and years, the inescapable conclusion is that prices trends upwards. Crypto may be a risky short-term speculation vehicle, but the longer you hold cryptocurrency the more valuable it becomes.
The corollary is that early adopters win. The earlier you enter the game the bigger your pay off. The more money you’re willing to sink into crypto early on, the more money you’ll make later.
The inverse is that latecomers lose. The later you enter the market the higher the prices you have to contend with. As it stands, the price of bitcoin is so astonishingly high that it is difficult for anyone but the most well-heeled or risk-loving people to buy anything larger than fractions a bitcoin at once. In the future this generates correspondingly lower payoffs. If you want to get into the crypto game, you have to start now.
- Utility Drives Value
The major cryptocurrencies have one thing in common: they fill a need. By virtue of possessing utility, they deliver value to people. This naturally drives demand for the coin, which organically increases price over time.
This utility can come in many forms. For the everyman, cryptocurrencies offer the ability to quickly, cheaply and securely remit funds. Other platforms offer additional benefits: Ethereum provides an infrastructure for decentralised computing, Dash is user-friendly, Ripple allows secure and swift currency conversion and remittance.
When people recognise the utility of a cryptocurrency and see its potential for growth, they will flock to it. Investors will sink money to fund its development, communities of developers will emerge to improve it, advocates will promote it everywhere. As the crypto comes ever closer to fulfilling its original vision, this creates a virtuous cycle that further increases value.
*Crypto Self-Corrects for Losses
The traditional wisdom is that cryptocurrency is extremely volatile. That is true…but only in the short term. In the long term, crypto self-corrects for losses and outgrows them. One might even say that crypto is antifragile.
The Mt. Gox hack was a disaster when it occurred; three years on, if you look at the prices it’s like it never happened. When the Bitcoin ETF failed, the price of Bitcoin plummeted. Two months later, the price of Bitcoin soared to new all-time highs. The DAO heist was a calamity, but after the hardfork, the value of both ETH and ETC rose dramatically – today, they have the second- and fifth-highest crypto market cap respectively.
Black Swans, price crashes and crime are inevitable. In the short term they are painful losses. But the affected crypto will tend to self-correct. Too many intelligent people have invested too much time, money and energy for these tokens to fail just like that. So long as the token itself can continue to deliver value, there will still be demand, and with demand comes increased value. It may take months to recover the value, but recovery will happen.
This is not to say that all crypto are good and will appreciate over time, rather that well-designed crypto that deliver value to people will tend to grow. Experts can analyse coins, figure out the pros and cons, and attempt to squeeze maximum profit from their investments, but as a rule of thumb, a coin with a clear value proposition and robust design infrastructure will tend to set up a virtuous cycle that generates long-term growth. Market cycles and price patterns may be unpredictable — but human nature is well-known.
With these heuristics in mind, I’m going to briefly analyse some of the cryptocurrencies I have touched. Bear in mind that this is not investment advice, just some thoughts on Bitcoin and other altcoins.
Bitcoin remains the king of the hill. If you grab a hundred people on the street and ask them if they have heard about cryptocurrency, chances are the most common answer you will hear is ‘Bitcoin’. It’s got the first mover advantage, the brand name and newsworthiness.
But I don’t think Bitcoin will stay that way forever. Not without major changes, such as Segwit. Bitcoin transactions are sluggish and wallet addresses are long strings of alphanumeric combinations few people want to type, much less memorise. By today’s standards, much of the technology behind Bitcoin is obsolete. As a general-purpose currency Bitcoin still reigns supreme by dint of its branding, but for more specialised use cases there are far better options.
Going forward, I think Bitcoin will be a gateway token for regular people. People may buy it, hold it for a while, explore the cryptosphere and discover altcoins. I still see whales and investors and speculators moving Bitcoin in massive amounts for huge profits (which will further drive interest), but for other people, I expect them to explore other altcoins after seeing initial profit with Bitcoin and the potential other coins offer.
Steem and its sisters, Steem Power and the Steem Dollar, are also gateway tokens. They are among the easiest to obtain today: sign up on Steemit and you get free Steem; start posting and voting, and you get more steem.
With that said, the platform rewards a specific kind of person: a creator who regularly and tirelessly invests value in the platform by producing popular, quality content and supporting fellow users through comments, discussions, suggestions and votes. Their presence, content and advocacy will drive more people to the platform, creating organic growth, and the crypto rewards will incentivise them to keep going on and on. Such creators will be rewarded for passion, in turn growing even more passion.
Steemit’s reward system makes the virtuous cycle tangible, transparent and easily accessible. You don’t have to be a witness, a developer or a software whiz to get in on the action and be rewarded for it. This decreases the barrier to entry. In half a year of blogging on Steemit I have made more money than I had blogging elsewhere for a decade. I’m with Steemit in the long haul, and, I suspect, so many of the long-term users.
How would to like to know the future?
Augur is a futures market. It allows people to purchase and sell shares on the outcome of an event. Utilizing the wisdom of the crowd, Augur aims to provide the most accurate answer to a question and is designed to reward people who get it right.
Augur seems to be a niche service, but we live in what seems to be increasingly uncertain and unpredictable times. Should Augur go live, I expect to see surprising amount of demand, be it for sports, politics, or other causes.
Dash is the digital cash Bitcoin tried to be. From a user perspective, transactions are nearly instant, just as secure and far more private than Bitcoin. The currency itself is resistant to a single point of failure, and its use of multi-phased forks means that hard forks can be fully tested and debugged before implementation. More importantly, Dash has better marketing.
I think merchant adoption is critical to Dash’ long-term growth. There’s no point having digital cash if you can’t spend it. You can use it for remittance, but in many countries (like Singapore) there aren’t easy ways to obtain Dash in the first place. Consequently, I think for now demand for Dash will be driven mainly by North America and Europe, where such merchants are primarily based, and where Dash is more readily available.
Ethereum is interesting in that it’s not primarily a currency, rather an open source blockchain-based distributed computing platform with smart contract functionality. The token’s use case is to compensate users for performing computations — it is not necessarily meant to pay for goods and services.
Despite that, Ethereum presently has the second-highest crypto market cap. The Ethereum platform is being adopted all over the world — Singapore, for instance, is using Ethereum to tokenise the Singapore dollar. Ethereum offers capabilities that other computing platforms can’t. The increased interest and investment in Ethereum will see greater development of Ethereum, and with it increased value of Ether (both ETC and ETH). The value of the token lies in the value the platform delivers, and Ethereum’s increasing adoption rates suggests it will be a rising star.
William Gibson wrote, ‘The street finds its uses for things’. Dogecoin is proof.
Dogecoin looks like a joke coin. However, the Dogecoin community refused to treat it as such, instead finding a unique value proposition: charity. Among the cryptocurrency foundations I have examined, Dogecoin is the only one where goodwill and charitable endeavours is explicitly written into the mission statement.
Never underestimate the power of human goodness. Not just in real-world effects, but also on the market. The technical analyses I’ve seen suggest that Dogecoin is on track for stable long-term growth. Dogecoin is mostly under the radar and each token doesn’t hold much value, so it’s not normally a major target for hackers looking for multi-million-dollar heists, granting it some innate protection from Black Swan crashes. At the same time, there will always be people who want to do good, and Dogecoin gives them an easy way to do it, which would tend to drive demand upwards. Bitcoin may be for speculating and Dash for buying, but Dogecoin is for saving the world and the moon.
A Different Kind of Currency
The value of gold lies in its stability and its scarcity. The value of fiat comes from customary use and general use. The value of a cryptocurrency comes from its inherent utility.
As computing becomes increasingly ubiquitous, people will find innovative ways to use that computing to meet human needs. Cryptocurrency will be there to fulfil those needs. Well-designed crypto that offers the greatest utility for people will attract the people and funding needed to grow, creating a virtuous cycle of long-term growth.
By applying an understanding of human nature and technology to crypto technical analysis, I think people will be able to make better choices if they choose to dip into cryptocurrency.