The world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain continues to expand from its humble beginnings to becoming buzzwords by the conclusion of 2017, to now, when more people and businesses understand the new technology, as well as, its range of applications. One common point of confusion that has arisen surrounds the frivolous nature in which some refer to the digital coins, such as Bitcoin, and tokens as the same entity. Tokens and coins are, in fact, very different aspects of blockchain technology and its ilk, offering different applications on the blockchain and when making transactions.
What are digital coins?
Digital coins, or cryptocurrencies, often have a sole function: to be used as a payment method. The original cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was introduced with the sole purpose of eradicating fiat currencies with its trusted and immutable decentralised public ledger, known as the blockchain. The focus for Bitcoin and most other coins is on the speed, safety, and affordability of making payments while it primarily denotes value to be used to exchange for services and goods.
Each coin is an asset native to its blockchain, with their function and operation being solely on their specific blockchain. They are first introduced from the blockchain following an initial coin offering (ICO), which allows people to pay money to acquire the digital coins for use within the blockchain. Exchanges and trading platforms, such as Coinbase and Kraken, have emerged to cater to the fiat money and cryptocurrency exchange of digital coins for users who aim to make a profit on the rise in the value of coins. The most famous incident involving the price of a digital coin on the stock exchange was Bitcoin in December 2017, when its price soared to $19,343.04.
The use of coins is primarily as a payment method for services or goods on a blockchain. While some coins, such as Ethereum’s Ether, have other functions as well, the primary function of the coin is to denote value for a payment, with Bitcoin being the prime and most recognisable example.
What are digital tokens and how do they work?
The reason why coins and tokens are often mistaken as the same digital item is not only because the two terms are somewhat interchangeable in the physical world, but also because they both hold value within their specific blockchain. Tokens are created within decentralised apps (dApps) that are hosted by a blockchain that functions on smart contracts, such as Ethereum. By funding a smart contract with the blockchain’s native coin, the user receives an allocated amount of tokens which, in turn, allows the user to interact with the dApp. The dApp which received coin in exchange for its tokens will then further develop its service with the new capital. Tokens often represent some form of value for use within or concerning the dApp which released them and are used as a medium of exchange.
Anyone who operates a dApp can create and issue customised tokens for use within their dApp. To create these tokens, the developer must pay a fee in the form of the blockchain’s native coin, such as Ether on the Ethereum blockchain, to pay the miners who validate the tokens. Coins are also required to exchange the tokens from peer-to-peer. Those who have created a token model for their dApp will often set specific methods in which users can earn the tokens. If constructed well, users will perform these actions to gain the desired tokens to use on their favourite goods and services. If a token ecosystem is well-crafted, it can add another incentive for users to interact with the dApp’s offering, giving it more value than just monetary.
The benefit of developers employing the token model on an existing blockchain, thus being required to pay the coin fees for the creating and distribution of coins, is that the blockchain provides structure, upkeep, validations, and security through its vast network of computers.
There are four different forms of token according to the definitions of Swiss financial regulators FINMA, all of which have the goal of gaining capital from users spending coin on using the tokens for the dApp at hand. The four definitions of token are as follows:
- Utility Tokens: The utility tokens are used to gain access to a certain part of a dApp, such as a particular service or product offering. Due to their limited supply, utility tokens are often expected to increase in value.
- Payment Tokens: Similar to how coins function, but more specific in their usage, payment tokens have the sole use of payment for services or goods.
- Security/Asset Tokens: These are the tokens issued by the initial token sale (ITS), which people will invest their money in with the aim of making a profit.
- Equity Tokens: This is an uncommon form of token at this time, but equity tokens are those that represent equity or stock in a company.
Tokens in practice
Ethereum is a grand example of how tokens work within a blockchain. The Ethereum network operates on the issuing and completion of smart contracts with its coin, Ether, working as the ‘fuel’ and payment method of the smart contracts. Within the network, there are many dApps which function token-providing smart contracts which require Ether to fuel.
Many decentralised apps deploy tokenised models, and Golem is one of the most popular examples. Golem grants people remote access to its supercomputers for work in many different computing fields such as cryptography. To keep the Golem network working at optimum levels, it draws computing power from its users’ computers, servicing the processing needs. To incentivise this, Golem rewards tokens to those who allow the Golem software on their computer to aid the network, which users can then use on Golem services.
The Musicoin dApp issues tokens that can be purchased in exchange for coins which then allow the user to activate certain features of the Musicoin platform. With a token, users can stream and listen to music hosted by Musicoin, working as a digital version of the old jukeboxes which required customers to insert a specific token before being able to select the song that they wanted to be played.
Tokens are also being used as vessels that represent products and items of the physical world. While Ripple is a recognised coin service, providing fast and low commission transactions as well as its own coin, it utilises tokens within its network as representatives of monetary values. The Ripple token starts as a form of joker card which can represent almost any value of a transfer of cryptocurrency or fiat currency across the network. WePower works similarly, with users able to purchase and sell tokens which denote values of electricity on the WePower blockchain.
Coins versus Tokens
To state a rough coverall distinction between coins and tokens; the primary purpose of a coin is to make a payment or monetary exchange while tokens are put to use by consumers looking to activate features of a decentralised app within a blockchain that has a native coin and features smart
contracts. However, coins can be multifunctional, such as Ethereum’s Ether coin which acts as fuel for smart contracts, and tokens take more forms than just granting users access to products and services offered by a dApp. Some tokens work as assets or equities, while others are also used for payments. The primary difference is that tokens tend to be dApp-specific, whereas coins are mostly used as money.