“The Flippening”: When Ethereum Overtakes Bitcoin (Term of the Day)

The flippening is a hypothetical moment in the future when ethereum, ripple, or another cryptocurrency overtakes bitcoin.

Bitcoin is currently the largest cryptocurrency on the planet, but it’s not impossible to imagine ethereum or ripple catching up.

At the start of 2017, bitcoin had a true monopoly in the world of digital currency. It accounted for 87% of the total crypto market value. By January 2018, that figure had fallen to 33% with ethereum, ripple and others eating into bitcoin’s market share.

Some predict that one of these altcoins (alternative cryptocurrencies to bitcoin) will overtake bitcoin entirely. That future moment is the flippening.

The Rise of Altcoins

While bitcoin dominated the blockchain space for eight years, new cryptocurrency projects were stirring under the surface.

Vitalik Buterin launched Ethereum – a “world computer” which took the concept of blockchain way beyond money transfers. Ethereum became a platform for companies and developers to build anything on the blockchain.

Ripple emerged to revolutionize the way we transfer money between banks and across borders. Ripple’s native cryptocurrency XRP was the fastest growing token in 2017, briefly overtaking ethereum.

These altcoins gained huge media attention through 2017 and rose more than 1,000% in value. The momentum lead many to predict that ethereum and XRP could surpass bitcoin in the coming years.

The Flippening: A Measure of Market Capitalization

It’s worth pointing out that the flippening refers to market capitalization (or market cap), not the price per coin.

For example, XRP is worth just 27c per coin, compared to ethereum’s $195 and bitcoin’s $6,332.

Bitcoin is by far the most expensive coin because there are only 17 million in existence (there are 100 billion XRP tokens and more than 100 million ethers).

Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple: Where Do They Stand?

At the time of writing, the top three by market dominance looks like this:

1. Bitcoin – 56%
2. Ethereum -10%
3. Ripple – 6%

chart depicting bitcoin, etheruem and ripple market capitalization
Chart: CoinMarketCap

Through the course of 2018, “the flippening” has moved further away. Bitcoin has re-established its dominance, while altcoins like ethereum and ripple have fallen. This is perhaps because bitcoin is seen as a “safer” haven during the long market downturn.

Could the Flippening Really Happen?

Theoretically, yes. Bitcoin has a number of practical issues that hold it back, not least its transaction speed when compared to other blockchains. There are faster, more efficient projects out there that could, ultimately, become more valuable than bitcoin.

However, bitcoin has one major advantage: reputation. 71% of Americans have heard of it. Could the same be said for XRP?

For most people, bitcoin is the first cryptocurrency they buy. On many of the major exchanges, you have to purchase bitcoin before you can buy an altcoin like ethereum or ripple.

Not only that, but Wall Street is slowly embracing bitcoin. We’ll soon have a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) and institutional money pouring into the market. That money will go to bitcoin first.

In other words, it’s very difficult to knock bitcoin off the throne, because it’s engrained as the world’s first and largest cryptocurrency.

Ethereum or Ripple?

Let’s say the flippening did happen. Which coin is the most likely to overtake bitcoin?

Ethereum has tremendous practical application. The likes of JP Morgan, MasterCard and Microsoft are all experimenting with the Ethereum system. Others are building dapps, smart contracts and new cryptocurrencies. These projects each require ether as a payment token. As Ethereum grows and develops, the demand for (and the price of) ether may rise higher than bitcoin.

Ripple also has a practical application. Ripple aims to deploy its cryptocurrency, XRP, as a “bridge currency” for banks to transfer money abroad without fees or delays. If the world’s banks opt to use the XRP token, the market cap could soar beyond bitcoin’s. It’s worth pointing out, however, that no bank is yet using XRP beyond a pilot scheme.

Ultimately, Ethereum remains the best candidate if the flipping were to happen, simply because it is easier to buy than ripple. Only a handful of exchanges allow you to purchase ripple with fiat currency (like USD). You can’t buy ripple on Coinbase, for example. Instead, you would have to purchase bitcoin or ethereum before transferring it to another exchange to buy ripple.

The difficulty in buying it means it’s unlikely to overtake bitcoin anytime soon.

Does It Matter?

Ultimately, bitcoin, ethereum and ripple each exist for very different reasons. They are not direct competitors, so comparing them as such doesn’t get us very far.

However, it’s still an important (hypothetical) moment. If another coin overtook bitcoin, it means that particualr coin was being used in a meainstream, day-to-day, practical way. And that’s an exciting prospect for blockchain technology.

Ben Brown

Editor, Block Explorer News

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