When most people think of ICOs, they think of Ethereum. The decentralized computer has been a favorite platform of initial coin offerings for so long that they might as well be synonymous. Sure, there are a lot of different cars, but they mostly drive on Ethereum’s roads and pump Ethereum’s gas.
At least, that’s how things used to be. These days there are many new vehicles on the highway, and the gas stations have recharging stations, too. EOS and Tron are opening high-speed railways, Stellar’s got an electric plane, and even Skycoin is launching a blimp.
What’s Wrong With Ethereum?
While it’s hard to say that there’s anything objectively wrong with the second largest cryptocurrency, the engineering decisions behind it came with plenty of tradeoffs. One of them is the well-known scaling debate, a problem which has created several cat-related traffic jams. Another is the proof-of-work system, the inefficiency of which has caused many leading figures to support a gradual migration to staking.
Those bottlenecks have impelled many cryptonauts to find alternative modes of transport for their tokens.
So here’s a quick rundown of alternatives to the Ethereum platform for ICOs.
It’s not hard to see why ICOs would prefer Stellar’s low-fee, five-second transactions over Ethereum’s volatile gas prices. The Stellar network is now home to a whole constellation of ICOs: Mobius, billed as “the Stripe for Blockchain,” cleared $39 million in its token sale earlier this year. We’ve also covered Pigzby, an adorable app that teaches kids to be their own piggy bank.
Part of Stellar’s advantage is a more lightweight codebase. Unlike Ethereum, Stellar is not Turing Complete: it can’t handle the same complex contracts, any more than Bitcoin can. But it can move its tokenized assets a lot more efficiently than ERC-20s, and Stellar’s native Decentralized Exchange makes the process a lot simpler than Bitfinex.
“We believe Stellar is the best choice for ICOs that do not require complex smart contracts,” the company said on its blog. “Stellar’s primary goal is to facilitate issuing and trading tokens, especially those tied to legal commitments by known organizations, such as claims on real-world assets or fiat currency.”
As an example of this kind of token, Stellar founder Jed McCaleb uses the example of a coded bond. Using a smart contract, debtors can repay their creditors through tokens that can be exchanged as easily as Stellar Lumens. By programming debt, the bond token “becomes an asset that can be traded between accounts and it will continue to issue the bond interests payments to whatever the current account that owns it is.”
After the past year, EOS, NEO and Tronix have been covered so thoroughly that they will not need any introduction to regular readers. Although they are very different projects, they’re all presented as solutions to Ethereum’s (perceived) problems.
They’re all Turing-complete but, unlike Ethereum, they use variations of proof-of-stake protocols in favor of mining. They also address another perceived shortcoming: instead of Solidity, their smart contracts use more commonly-used programming languages.
Most people forgot all about Ethereum Classic after the 2015 fork, when Vitalik Buterin and the rest of the Foundation walked out with about 90% of the hashrate. Since both Ethereums (Etherea??) shared most of the same functionality, it’s no surprise that most ICOs went with the larger network.
But Classic still has users, and that means are still raising funds for developments. Although the ecosystem is a bit of a desert, there are some plants taking root: including Saturn, an inter-blockchain decentralized exchange which has also issued tokens on other platforms. Another, Corion, provides a decentralized exchange, wallet, and pegged token. And since Eth Classic is now supported by Coinbase, there could be a revival of greater magnitude in the offing.
Yes, believe it or not, those complicated Bitcoin blocks can also include ICO tokens. The Omni layer, which consists of a second layer on top of Bitcoin, includes transactions in other digital assets as well. It’s like a second accounting-book, written into the margins of the Bitcoin Ledger—with hundreds of thousands of transactions.
There aren’t a lot of ICOs on the Bitcoin Chain, and most of them predate Ethereum. Besides the Omni Token (launched in 2014, currently ranked 498), MaidSafeCoin is near the top, and has held its value surprisingly well since 2014. Like Siacoin and Storj, MaidSafeCoin represents a system for users to rent out their computing resources via the blockchain.
There’s one more token running on Bitcoin which you’ve probably heard of: Tether, the leading stablecoin and a favorite bête noire for Bloomberg and other crypto-skeptics. At $ 2.6 Bn by market cap, Tether constitutes the lion’s share of the Omni layer. And, although it has plenty of investors, this is one token we don’t expect to moon.
If that wasn’t enough to remember, there’s a whole orchard of blockchain trees which are just starting to bear fruit. Besides Zilliqa, Qtum, Lisk, and the rest of the crypto-alphabet-soup, some older platforms are starting to explore smart contract functionality.
Ripple, whose founding company explicitly distanced itself from ICOs, will nonetheless have to share its XRP Ledger with Allvor tokens. Bitcoin Cash recently flipped a set of programming switches, enabling it to run dApps and simple smart contracts; Calvin Ayre has offered a substantial reward for anyone who can add asset tokens. And Skycoin, which has spent five years developing its “better than blockchain” Fiber platform, already has at least one ICO waiting in the wings.
That might seem like a long time, but they were busy adding their own cats.
The author is invested in Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and other cryptocurrencies mentioned in this article.