What is a token?

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You've likely come across the term "token" in your crypto ventures, or heard Bitcoin and Ethereum described as a token, but what does this all mean? In this article, we're breaking down what a token is, and how to distinguish a coin from a token and how it can be used as a tool to store value.

Token Definition

A token, in the cryptocurrency sense of the world, represents a particular asset or utility. It's worth noting in this item that tokens and cryptocurrencies are terms often used interchangeably however they technically differ. Tokens typically fall into one of the following three categories:

Payment tokens

These tokens allow users to purchase goods and services outside of the blockchain, offering an alternative currency. 

Security tokens

Similar to initial public offerings (IPOs) on the stock market, security tokens offer users an ownership stake or entitle the holder to dividends in a blockchain project. 

Utility tokens 

Utility tokens offer users access to a service within a particular ecosystem, similar to loyalty points on a Starbucks card. These points hold value within their own ecosystem but cannot be used outside of that. 

Coins vs Tokens

Getting more technical, when exploring coins vs tokens, tokens are categorised as crypto assets that have been built on top of another blockchain while coins are built on their own blockchain. 

Ether, for example, is the native token to the Ethereum blockchain, however, the platform allows developers to create a range of token standards on top of it. Based on this information, all ERC-20 tokens are therefore categorised as tokens as opposed to coins. 

USD Coin (USDC) and Tether (USDT) are therefore tokens as they are built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. While each network is operated by its own leadership, both use Ethereum's blockchain to facilitate all transactions.

How Are Tokens Traded?

Much like coins, tokens can be bought, sold and traded on exchanges, or sent directly from one wallet to another. This is facilitated by blockchain technology, in the same way that coins are transferred from one location to another. Unlike coins, which are all fungible in nature, tokens can sometimes be non-fungible, meaning that they are not identical in value and function. 

Tokens are sent using the wallet address of a recipient's blockchain-compatible wallet. The address is often represented by a barcode in the form of a QR code, or through a lengthy alphanumeric code. All transactions take place from the wallet holding the tokens and are sent directly to the wallet of the recipient without the need for a centralized authority like a bank. Tokens can typically be bought on exchanges, often with Visa or Mastercard, or exchanged between users.

How is an NFT Different from Cryptocurrency?

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are all different from each other as they each represent a real-world object, whether a digital piece of artwork or a bottle of fine wine. Bitcoin can be traded for anything around the world, whereas NFTs are unique in nature and while they hold value they cannot be used interchangeably. 

What Are NFTs Used For?

NFTs are used to represent a particular asset, whether it be physical or digital. When minted, these tokens will permanently represent that asset and cannot be changed. For example, one NFT could represent an apartment in London while another could represent a song by Kings of Leon. The possibilities are endless, and the marketplaces are huge.

Users can easily trade NFTs on marketplaces (through a website or mobile app) such as OpenSea or Rarible. Once you own an NFT you are credited with the ownership rights of the asset the NFT represents. Due to the nature of blockchain technology, this is permanently displayed on the network's public ledger for anyone to review. This process ensures that the ownership of an NFT cannot the changed and the information is available for anyone to credit.

Note that several blockchain networks currently support the minting of NFTs, and the holder will need a wallet specific to that blockchain in order to hold the NFT.

Are Tokens Regulated?

When it comes to regulation, countries around the world are currently drawing up legal frameworks to better implement cryptocurrencies into our current financial system. This includes the likes of tokens.

Once cryptocurrencies are regulated by government authorities, they could provide the world with unrealized use cases like being used to manage a prescription at a pharmacy or clinical services or to provide feedback to IT support. While there are plenty of tokens available on the market today, it's likely that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of their potential to improve issues faced around the world.

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