Ethereum is one of the upcoming “cryptocurrency 2.0” systems that will create a currency that is more than just a currency. There are multiple systems attempting something similar, such as NXT, Mastercoin, and Counterparty, but the way Ethereum is being developed makes it quite unique.
What is so special about Ethereum?
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Ethereum, unlike the other 2.0 currencies, is being developed from the ground up. It will not be based on the Bitcoin blockchain at all, and the development team are taking the idea of mining, and a blockchain, to the next level. Most of the 2.0 currencies are being developed with the ability to create some sort of smart contracts, or smart properties, and Ethereum is doing the same.
However, unlike the other 2.0 currencies, Ethereum is not defining what the contracts will be capable of doing, nor is it putting any sort of limit on the creation of new uses for it’s system. Instead, Ethereum is using “contracts” as the building blocks for the network, and each contract is a program that can be designed however the app developer would like. The basic Ethereum system is there to provide decentralization, maintain contracts, and provide trustless transactions, while the contracts are defining what the transactions themselves are.
What are some potential applications of this?
So far, independent developers, working on the test network, have developed, or begun developing, a wide range of applications to fill the “contract” role. Some are building a distributed cloud storage program, that would functionally act as a decentralized version of Dropbox. Others are designing new digital currencies, which effectively would act as a digital currency built inside of another cryptocurrency. One creative developer is even building a visual smart contract builder, which would allow users with no programming experience to have the ability to design a functional smart contract, or program.
This is what makes Ethereum so amazing. The functionality of the Ethereum network is not predefined. It is only limited by the imagination of the developers who decide to build within it.
How can I get involved?
Ethereum is still being tested, and so the “ethers”, which are the basic currency of the network, cannot be permanently earned at the moment. Any ethers that are earned will cease to exist at the end of the testing period.
However, there is a growing community forming around Ethereum, and the core development team is encouraging anyone with even basic programming ability to join in. With the test network, developers can build and test potential applications of the network, and prepare their product for the live launch.
If you do not have programming skills, you are still welcome to help test the other applications that are being created, or to join the discussion about the future of Ethereum. Also, at some point in the near future, there will be a pre-sale announced, which will allow investors to pre-purchase ethers that will be distributed shortly after the finished system goes live. Read more about Ethereum here.