One of the great things about Bitcoin is that the code is completely open source, and that anyone with the necessary skills can go over it all and see if it’s really what it’s cracked up to be or not.
This also means that anyone who has a bright idea about how to make Bitcoin better, or do Bitcoin one up, can take that code, modify it, and start it up as their own personal currency. There are currently three, or possibly four, versions of the Bitcoin code that are trying to be the one true Bitcoin. It doesn’t seem like the current main developers should have any fear of being unseated, but it’s another feature of Bitcoin that if the main developers ever get too full of themselves, someone else can come along with better code and maybe, just possibly, get everyone to switch over to their version and become the developer of the one, true Bitcoin.
Most of the of the clones of Bitcoin don’t do that, though. They are different enough so they aren’t compatible with other Bitcoin software, and therefore they are considered alternative, or alt, coins. There are a few of these that have unique and interesting features, and some people think that altcoins are a testing ground for new features that could be imported into Bitcoin at some later date.
Some of them, like Litecoin and Dash, have features and traction that make them seem like they might be companion, and not just alt, coins.
The vast majority of new coins we’ve seen to date, though, don’t have any of this. They are coins created with a profit motive in mind. The creators push them out, pump them up, and as soon as they seem to be gaining any traction, bail and leave anyone who was foolish enough to buy in holding an empty wallet.
One new coin, Decred, we did a piece on at the beginning of the year here. We cannot say for sure that they are a scam coin like we’ve seen so many times before. We do think that people, including the Chicogo Tribune, should take a close look before risking any of their cash, virtual or not, on it.