While bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency, Ethereum is a distributed computing platform featuring smart contract functionality. The platform has been extensively used for ICOs, which leverage the Ethereum ERC20 standard. ERC20 allows for the implementation of a standard API for tokens within smart contracts, allowing anyone to spin up a new cryptocurrency within minutes. The increased load has on a few occasions reached the network's full capacity for hours at a time.
The platform's native token, Ether, has experienced dramatic gains since launching just over two years ago. The token started this year around ~US$10, peaked around US$400, and currently sits at ~US$280.
The Ethereum Foundation has been rapidly putting additional resources toward increasing the efficiency of the network, alongside planning longer-term changes that will greatly increase the network's scalability.