You've probably heard about the digital currency called bitcoin. But you may not realize there are literally dozens of other so-called alt-currencies out there that work in a very similar way and that, like bitcoin, their value has been soaring in the last year.
While bitcoin is far and away the biggest—its market cap is more than twice all the other alt-currencies combined—some of its rivals are gaining traction. These include Litecoin, a currency introduced in 2013 by former Google employee Charlie Lee, and that is currently the fourth most valuable alt-currency.
Litecoin, as its name suggests, is a "lighter" version than bitcoin. It can process transactions four times faster and has not run into the sort of controversies related to scaling for growth that are currently consuming the bitcoin community.
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But despite its history and positive reputation, it hasn't experienced the same recent dramatic increase in value as bitcoin or ethereum, which is the No. 2 alt-currency on the list.
One reason for this could be that Litecoin is harder to obtain than those other two currencies. That changed, however, on Wednesday as the popular digital currency exchange service Coinbase made it possible for people to buy and sell Litecoin. And, indeed, prices jumped over 25 percent on the Coinbase news according to the site Coin Market Cap.
The Coinbase tie-in is significant because is by far the most popular way for ordinary people—as opposed to dedicated crypto-heads—to buy and sell digital currency. Litecoin's appearance on the platform means it is suddenly a lot more liquid as an asset.
Lee, the Litecoin creator who is now head engineer at Coinbase, is (unsurprisingly) bullish about the currency's potential. But his optimism is not just due to the fact it's now easier to buy and sell Litecoin.
As Lee points out, Litecoin is in the middle of adopting a number of new technologies (such as Segregated Witness or SegWit) that increase its transaction speed—bitcoin backers have been trying to implement similar improvements for months, but the process has been caught up in internecine fighting.
"We have all the cool scaling technology. But the reason we adopted SegWit was not for the scaling features, but because it allows for instant payments off-chain," said Lee, referring to a method for clearing transactions using a variation of the digital currency's core computer protocol.
This week's development is likely to give a boost to Litecoin, though it's unlikely the currency will ever emerge as real challenger to bitcoin—a mantle increasingly being adopted by relative newcomer ethereum.