Everyone's heard of bitcoin, sure. But the ballooning cryptocurrency has over 1,000 competitors. There's a coin for pot smokers called Kushcoin. A coin for betting on Fantasy Sports called No Limit Coin. A coin aimed at women called, yes, Women Coin. A coin promising to make America great again named TrumpCoin. And many, many coins for purchasing pornography, like Titcoin and Spankchain. There are ironic coins for people who are too cool to take cryptocurrency seriously, like Dogecoin or the now defunct Coinye (a completely and utterly unendorsed Kanye West coin). Heck, there's even a coin called PonziCoin that essentially admits its coins are a scam–but buy them anyway!
Often dubbed altcoins, these competitors range from copy and pasted Bitcoin code to truly innovative, secure software platforms that might birth not just another way to buy groceries, but a whole new internet. Many believe cryptocurrencies will soon be a trillion-dollar industry, driven by speculative investments, futures traders, and so many server farms mining new coins and enabling transactions that they're actually accelerating global warming.
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At least some of their success must be attributed to the ethos that cryptocurrencies embody. For many, they represent a utopian second economy, where money is managed by people rather than banks. It seems like an egalitarian reboot of the global economy, a system that, not long ago, our tax dollars bailed out–and which has only come back more powerful and greedy than ever. But these altcoins are also a story of brilliant grassroots branding, through which the right website and a bit of witty clipart can rally redditors and create market caps in the tens of millions out of nothing but electricity.
Most of these currencies will wither away as the market matures. Yet after talking to half a dozen people in every position across the industry, one thing is clear: Cryptocurrencies, through their names, websites, logos, and brands, resonate with people in ways far beyond getting rich quick. In a world where most of us feel helpless amidst big corporations and an indifferent government, we may define ourselves by the type of money we spend–and the special culture that our chosen coin represents (in that sense, altcoins may be less an escape from capitalism than its zenith). Today, identity defines not just what we buy, but the currency we use to buy it.