The problem with bitcoin's dominance of the crypto market

I sometimes wonder whether bitcoin is ultimately a boon or a curse to the broader blockchain community.

The obvious answer is "boon," all the way. Bitcoin was the world's first cryptocurrency, after all, and it still represents over half the value of the entire global market in crypto tokens. To many non-geeks, the phrases "bitcoin" and "blockchain" and "cryptocurrency" are all but synonyms.  

But that's also a big problem, I think. Having covered more traditional markets like stocks and commodities for a long time as a journalist, I'd say it's usually unhealthy to any market as a whole for so much public attention (and actual dollars) to be invested in just one issue. A healthy market should essentially work like an ecosystem in nature that includes robust biodiversity.

For example, the U.S. stock market topped $30 trillion in total value earlier this year. As of this writing, the largest single company by market cap is Microsoft, at about $850 billion, with Amazon and Apple so close behind that either of them could claim the number-one spot on a given day. Thus the largest single stock represents less than 3 percent of the total stock market.

In croptocurrency, the total market cap is currently about $111 billion. Bitcoin constitutes about 55 percent of that market cap, with a valuation of $61 billion alone, according to CoinMarketCap.

That means the crypto market is about 18 times more concentrated in its number-one issue than the U.S. stock market is. Yowza.

Notably, CoinMarketCap tracks this particular market-share stat, which it calls "BTC dominance," right in the header of its homepage summarizing a couple of key market indicators each day. That's essentially tacit acknowledgement that the lop-sided reliance on bitcoin is problematic for the broader crypto market.

CoinMarketCap also makes BTC dominance handily chartable, which is fascinating in its own right. (If you're a big enough market nerd. Which I am.) Going back to 2013, BTC dominance peaked above 90 percent, and has fallen nearly to 30 percent at its trough.

The closest any other token has ever come to de-throning BTC as the number-one crypto token was in June 2017, when the ether pulled within 8 percentage points of BTC's market share.

And that's where the real rub of this situation begins to become clear, I think. Notice that the ether is designed to be a software-development tool, whereas bitcoin is more of a pure currency, a means of exchange.

It strikes me that there's a broad philosophical tug-of-war between these two use cases – utility versus currency – that will ultimately determine the sustainability of the crypto market. Long term, a healthier market will almost by necessity have to be a more utility-focused market, since that would entail supporting a vast number of applications and use cases.

By comparison, the currency use case is more straightforward and limited. From a pure technical standpoint, yes, it was cool when BTC solved that problem. But now that it has done so, how much more work is there left to do on making a better form of digital money, really?

I'm thus increasingly interested in BTC dominance as a handy shorthand to gauge how well the concept of utility is getting through to investors and the public at large. It looks like an uphill struggle right now, to be frank. The market is almost entirely focused for now on the currency use case, to the point I find most non-geeks I know are all but oblivious of the very concept of the blockchain as a software platform. But the good news may be there's nowhere to go but up from here.

Disclosure: I currently own no bitcoin or cryptoassets of any kind. However, I do work in marketing for Dispatch, a San Francisco startup working on a new blockchain platform that aims to make improvements upon Ethereum. So I do stand to gain if that utility-focused platform catches on in 2019 and beyond. I'd also add – just in case it needs stating aloud – nothing I've said herein should be construed as investment advice for individuals. My intent here is only to provide news analysis that some people may find interesting, or at least rant to anyone who will listen, since it feels good (C:

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