Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain platform with smart contract functionality. The Ethereum platform has its own cryptocurrency called Ether, which also known as ETH or interchangeably as Ethereum. The Ethereum platform is effectively a world computer that allows developers to build applications called Smart Contracts with money (an exchange of value) built into the code.
Ethereum the cryptocurrency token (ETH) is:
Frankly, Ethereum is several things all at once and can be difficult to understand at first. I highly recommend this essay Own the Internet: The Bull Case for Ethereum by Packy McCormick to learn more.
To understand the importance of Ethereum, you must first understand Web3, the next generation of the internet. While Web2 refers to the social and collaborative nature of centralized content platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, Web3 is a vision of the internet that is based on decentralized networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum that enable internet native money. One of the key changes these networks bring is that since they are decentralized protocols, no single entity has control, however all participants are able to trust the network. The second key innovation of Web3 is that these decentralized protocols allow value to be transferred between two parties through code that is native to the internet, enabling global, instant, permission-less Internet Money.
To learn more about Web3, I recommend reading What is Web 3? from Decrypt.co.
As of 2021, the Ethereum network is currently undergoing an upgrade called ETH2 that transitions the platform from a proof-of-work model to a proof-of-stake model. This aims to improve the network's security and scalability. As part of this ETH2 upgrade, ETH token holders can stake their ETH and earn staking rewards in return. Staking is the process of depositing ETH (putting your ETH at "stake") in validator software to participate in transaction validation and help to secure the network. In return for staking your ETH, you earn staking rewards, like a dividend yield on a stock.
You must have 32 ETH or more to run your own validator node. You can learn more about running your own validator here. If you have less than 32 ETH, you can still earn staking rewards by participating in staking pool. With staking pools, you simply deposit your ETH with a company, like Coinbase, and they handle all the technical stuff. Coinbase, the largest US-based crypto exchange, is currently rolling out Ethereum staking to customers on their waitlist, with staking rewards of up to 6.0% APR.
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