ICO Platform Review
Posted on April 23, 2018
In the past year, the ICO phenomenon has completely taken over how blockchain and traditional companies alike crowdfund their projects. Ethereum is by far the most popular platform for conducting an ICO, but there are many other options worth considering, depending on the type of project that is being built. Learn more in this ICO review from Icon!
This paper will present an overview of some of the most popular ICO platforms (based on the number of tokens launched on each platform) in an attempt to simplify the process of deciding which one to build on. All platforms offer trade-offs to choose from, based on current and future functionalities, developer activity, and transaction speed and cost, so projects will need to choose wisely, based on the fundamental needs of their project.
It is important to note that the platforms listed below offer many different functionalities other than the ability to do ICOs, but the goal of this paper is only to compare those platforms’ features from an ICO point of view.
|Platform||Focus||Transaction speed (tps)||Average Transaction cost ($/tx)||Developer activity (github)||# of Token released|
|Ethereum||Turing-complete smart contracts||15-30 tps||$0.905/tx||840 commits||475|
|Waves||Volatility-free tokens||190 tps||$0.0036/tx
|Bitshares||High-performance financial smart contracts||3300-100000 tps||$0.0046/tx||284 commits||18|
|Omni||Asset creation and crowdfunding on Bitcoin blockchain||7 tps||$1.18/tx||1000+ commits||12|
|QTUM||Smart contracts on mobile||60 tps||$0.01/tx||1093 commits||11|
|NEO||Smart regulated economy||1 000-10 000 tps||$0||108 commits||9|
|Nxt||Enterprise blockchain solutions||3-5 tps||$0.1/tx||no commits since August 2017||8|
|NEM||Ready-to-use blockchain solutions||3 000 tps||$0.01-$0.29/tx
|Stellar||Multi-currency and asset transactions||1000 tps||$0.000002/tx
|Stratis||Permissioned blockchains||20 000 tps||$0.08/tx||1065 commits||0|
|Aion||Fast Blockchain Interoperability||80 tps||$0.00007/tx||992 commits||0|
The intent of Ethereum is to create an alternative protocol for building decentralized applications, with particular emphasis on situations where rapid development time, security for small and rarely used applications, and the ability of different applications to efficiently interact, are important. Ethereum does this by building what is essentially the ultimate abstract foundational layer: a blockchain with a built-in Turing-complete programming language, allowing anyone to write smart contracts and decentralized applications where they can create their own arbitrary rules for ownership, transaction formats and state transition functions.
A bare-bones version of Namecoin can be written in two lines of code, and other protocols like currencies and reputation systems can be built in under twenty. Smart contracts, cryptographic “boxes” that contain value and only unlock it if certain conditions are met, can also be built on top of the platform, with vastly more power than that offered by Bitcoin scripting because of the added powers of Turing-completeness, value-awareness, blockchain-awareness and state.
Ethereum’s goal is to build a platform for the development of DApps in order to create a “more globally accessible, freer, and more trustworthy Internet”: an internet 3.0. It allows for the creation of complex smart contracts that can govern the totality of a DApps ecosystem interactions. It is a great fit for ecosystems requiring complex crypto-economic governance (e.g. token curated registries, staking) or the use of many flexible smart contracts (e.g. prediction markets, gambling, insurance).
The Ethereum development is very active and widespread. In the last 12 months, there have been 840 commits on github by over 100 contributors.
Ethereum can process between 10 to 30 transaction per second. They already have many solutions in the works to upgrade the transaction speed like Plasma, sharding and Truebit. The average transaction fee is currently around 0.207$/tx as of writing.
In 2018, Ethereum plans to fix their scaling issues with the introduction of on-chain (sharding, PoS) and off-chain (state channels, Plasma, Truebit) solutions to bring Ethereum to Visa-scale transaction capacity.
Ethereum also plans to switch from Proof-of-Work to Proof-of-Stake in 2018 with the introduction of Casper, a partial consensus mechanism combining proof-of-stake algorithm research and Byzantine fault-tolerant consensus theory.
Ethereum is the most popular ICO platform for good reason. It is extremely flexible due to it’s Turing-complete smart contracts and the high amount of developers working on it increases the odds of successful platform development. The current scaling issues prevents Ethereum from being the most adequate platform for a project that requires high transactions throughput or that needs to host a large amount of data. In its current form, Ethereum is more suited for complex DApps that require Turing-complete programming and the knowledge of the tens of thousands developers working on the platform.
Despite some lacking metrics, Ethereum is the most adopted platform by DApps and users alike. Building on Ethereum allows for great network effects, better tools being built for the community as a whole, and access to more talent interested in contributing to the growth of the blockchain industry. It should be considered in all cases, especially for founders with a long-term vision.
Waves is a decentralized financial trading platform written in Scala and built on its own blockchain with custom tokens being its main feature. Custom tokens, or ‘Custom Application Tokens (CATs), allow for a wide range of uses. They enable decentralized crowdfunding as well as transferring, trading and storing of fiat and digital currencies. In essence, a custom token can represent any value assigned to it while being cryptographically secured through the Waves blockchain.
The involvement of mass audience is of utmost importance. This reflects in the ease-of-use of the wallet, the resemblance of the user interface to traditional online banking applications and the fast set-up process of the native wallet through a Lite Client, eradicating the need for a blockchain download. On the other hand, Waves Platform encourages advanced users, namely blockchain developers and businesses, to create their project on top of the Waves blockchain through its public API and cutting-edge technology.
Waves intends to impact fiat currency transfers and crowdfunding markets on the blockchain with their custom tokens, most noticeably fiat tokens which allow users to transfer fiat currency over the blockchain without any volatility. It is a great fit for non-blockchain based businesses looking to tokenize processes or loyalty without investing too much time and capital in development (e.g. Burger King).
Waves is programmed in Scala which is known by most developers. This makes working on Waves very accessible for anyone.
The Waves developing community is very active. In the past 12 months, there have been 2,365 commits by 29 contributors on their Github.
The Waves blockchain can process up to 190 transactions per second with an average fee of 0.001WAVES/tx or about $0.0036/tx at time of writing.
Q1 2018: Smart contracts (non-turing), Hardware wallets, shapeshift, Mobile apps update, Decentralized voting, Simple messaging 
Q2 2018: Atomic swap, Voting (front-end)
Q3 2018: Messaging, off-chain, front-end
Q4 2018: Lite-client, Turing complete smart contracts
Waves is the ideal choice if the goal is to create a “worthless” token that represents an asset on the blockchain. For example, it could be used to represent items or gold in a video game on the blockchain. These assets could be traded for items in another game that is built on the same blockchain.
BitShares 2.0 is an industrial-grade decentralized platform built for high-performance financial smart contracts. The decentralized exchange that allows for trading of arbitrary pairs without counterparty risk facilitates only one out of many available features. Market-pegged assets, such as the bitUSD, are crypto tokens that come with all the advantages of traditional cryptocurrencies like bitcoin but trade for at least the value of their underlying asset, e.g. $1. Furthermore, BitShares represents the first decentralized autonomous company that lets its shareholders decide on its future direction and products.
For smart contracts, the Bitshares platform is the first one to include a built-in support for subscription payments and recurring payments. This will allow users to authorize third-party companies to withdraw funds from their account.
Bitshares 2.0 is a development platform used to create financial blockchains and smart contracts. Its unmatched transaction speed and the use of stablecoins allow for high transaction throughput DApps (e.g. decentralized exchanges, remittance, POS systems) to thrive within its ecosystem.
BitShares 2.0 is written in C++, which is a very common programming language.
BitShares has a pretty active development community on github with 284 commits from 34 contributors over the last 12 months.
BitShares transacts at 3,300tps with a theoretical maximum of over 100,000tps. All fees and associated parameters on the BitShares blockchain are set by the committee, whose members are elected by the stakeholders. They currently hover around $0.0046/tx.
In 2018, BitShares plans to release BitShares 3.0, implement BTC as a sidechain, create lending/leverage markets, add vote expiration and runner up witnesses.
BitShares is the ideal choice for creating any financial smart contract because of their market-pegged assets like bitUSD. Their fast transaction time and low transaction fees are also ideal for high performance smart contract with substantial transaction volume.
Omni is a platform for creating and trading custom digital assets and currencies. It is a software layer built on top of the most popular, most audited, most secure blockchain — Bitcoin. Omni transactions are Bitcoin transactions that enable next-generation features on the Bitcoin Blockchain. Their reference implementation, Omni Core is an enhanced Bitcoin Core that provides all the features of Bitcoin as well as advanced Omni Layer features.
With Omni, users can create tokens to represent custom currencies or assets and to transact these via the Bitcoin blockchain. They can also participate in decentralized crowdfunding. Finally, participants can use the distributed exchanges provided by the Omni Layer to exchange tokens for other tokens or bitcoins directly on the blockchain without the need for a third-party exchange.
Being one of the first ICO platforms (2013), Omni’s focus is simply to allow the creation of assets on the Bitcoin blockchain and to allow decentralized crowdfunding. It is an interesting fit for projects looking to leverage Bitcoin’s security for simple coin creation (e.g. IOU stablecoin).
The development of Omni is very centralized. In the past 12 months, there have been over 1200 commits on Github by only 3 contributors.
Being built on the Bitcoin blockchain, the Omni platform can transact up to 7 transactions per second with an average of $1.18/tx at the time of writing.
The Omni team doesn’t have a clear roadmap, but they have a few ongoing projects in the works. They are currently working on a Litecoin port, Rivetz integration, Futures/CDF trading, a fee distribution system, digital objects and a few more.
Since Omni is one of the first ICO platforms out there, it offers the least amount of functionalities and features. Also, the fact that it’s based on the Bitcoin blockchain makes any asset built on it very inefficient due to Bitcoin’s high transaction fees and scalability issues.
Combining a modified Bitcoin Core infrastructure with an intercompatible version of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), Qtum merges the reliability of Bitcoin’s unfailing blockchain with the endless possibilities provided by smart contracts.
Building on Bitcoin’s UTXO model, the simple payment verification (SPV) protocol is supported by the Qtum codebase by default. As a result, it is now possible to execute smart contracts from lite wallets, which can be easily installed on any given mobile device, heralding an age of mobile decentralized applications.
Designed with stability, modularity and interoperability in mind, Qtum is the foremost toolkit for building trusted decentralized applications, suited for real-world, business-oriented use cases. Its hybrid nature, in combination with a first-of-its-kind PoS consensus protocol, allow Qtum applications to be compatible with major blockchain ecosystems, while providing native support for mobile devices and IoT appliances.
Qtum is looking to push mobile blockchain development to new levels and its use of Bitcoin’s UTXO, which will allow smart contracts to be executed from light on mobile devices. Qtum’s DApps are readying for the mobile age (e.g. social media platforms, personal data sharing)
Currently, smart contracts have to be programmed in Solidity (Ethereum’s language), but that will soon change with the release of the x86 VM. Qtum’s x86 VM will support all compiler and programming languages. Developers will only have to make some modifications so that it can run on Qtum’s operating system like environment. This makes Qtum very accessible for any developers.
The Qtum community is very active with 1,093 commits on Github by over 100 contributors in the last 12 months.
The Qtum network currently can process up to 60 transactions per second. The average transaction fee is currently around $0.01/tx.
Early 2018: x86 Virtual Machine Testnet
Late 2018: x86 Virtual Machine integration to the Mainnet
Qtum is an interesting option to build on a completely decentralized platform that can support as many dApps as possible. With the UTXO model, it is more secure than Ethereum and allows smart contracts to be executed on lite wallets, which opens up a whole new market.
NEO (formerly Antshare) is a decentralized and distributed ledger protocol that digitalizes real-world assets into digital ones, enabling registration, depository, transfer, trading, clearing and settlement via a peer-to-peer network.
NEO uses e-contracts to keep record transfers of digital assets. In NEO, digital tokens generated by e-contracts function as a general underlying data that could be used for recording titles and assets like equities, creditor’s claims, securities, financial contracts, credit points, bills and currencies, and can be applied for equity crowdfunding, equity trading, employee stock ownership plans, peer-to-peer financing, loyalty programs, private equity funds, supply-chain financing, etc.
NEO is used like a share of the company that can be used to vote and mine. Holding NEO gives dividend paid in GAS. GAS is a coin that is used to run all smart economy platforms created on NEO. They are both tradable and hold different value. Since NEO is a share of the company, it is not possible to trade fractions of it.
NEO is a blockchain project “that utilizes blockchain technology and digital identity to digitize assets, to automate the management of digital assets using smart contracts, and to realize a “smart economy with a distributed network.” Because of its high cost for smart contract set up, high transaction speed and low cost, NEO represents a good fit for DApps with a limited amount of smart contracts to deploy and large number of transactions (e.g. decentralized exchanges, big data & algorithm transactions, AI training).
NEO supports many programming languages (e.g. C#, VB.Net, F#, Java, Kotlin) which is a plus for attracting new developers.
NEO has a pretty active development community on github with 108 commits from 19 contributors over the last 12 months.
NEO can transact at 1,000tps with a maximum of 10,000tps. There are no transaction fees on NEO, but a user can pay GAS for transaction priority.
In the first quarter of 2018, two new changes will happen for NEO:
- There will be a published list of candidates, so voters know who they are voting for
- The NEO Council shall operate less than two thirds of consensus nodes by the end of quarter 1, 2018.
Trinity Foundation is also looking to bring a lightning network-like solution to the Mainnet in Q2 2018 to scale through an off-chain solution.
NEO is an excellent choice for creating simple smart contracts that do not require Turing-complete code. Its fast transaction time and non-existent transaction costs makes it ideal for DApps that require a large amount of transactions. Also, since NEO wants to create a smart economy (that includes government regulations), all the digitized assets on the NEO blockchain will be regulatory compliant. Though, smart contract deployment costs between 10 to 500 GAS depending on their nature, which can become restrictive in highly dynamic environments.
Nxt is an advanced open source blockchain platform that builds on the functionality of the first wave of pioneering cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The Nxt platform includes many core-level features, such as a Decentralized Asset Exchange, Marketplace, and Voting system, all in addition to the NXT digital currency itself. Nxt is easy-to-use, permissionless and gives its users complete freedom in many ways. For example, using the NXT currency as a payment system cannot be restricted, creating a marketplace listing cannot be denied, and, for developers, neither is creating advanced blockchain-based applications through the Nxt Application Program Interface (API).
Jelurida, the company behind Nxt, has released in January 2018 a new blockchain platform named Ardor. This new platform utilizes a parent-chain/child-chain architecture to increase scalability. While Nxt is still being supported, all their focus is on Ardor.
The Nxt blockchain provides a simple, robust and secure private blockchain solution to tokenize any kind of assets an enterprise desires (e.g. shares, bonds, vouchers), which do not require the implementation of complex smart contracts or complex web site back-end and considerably reduces the security risks.
Nxt is coded in Java which is a widely known programming language amongst developers.
When looking on Github, only Jelurida has worked on Nxt since August 2017. This shows that there are no active developers working on the project, demonstrating a lack of interest from the community.
The Nxt blockchain can handle up to 4.25 transactions per second with an average of $0.1/tx.
There will be no new updates on Nxt. All the developers will work on Ardor and the new Ardor updates that can be incorporated to Nxt will be merged.
Like NEM, Nxt offer a wide range of pre-built blockchain solutions that anyone with little prior knowledge can implement. The fact that the team behind it is currently working almost exclusively on another project is definitely a big concern as the sustainability of the platform.
NEM’s blockchain platform was designed and coded from the ground up for scale and speed. NEM’s permissioned private blockchain delivers industry-leading transaction rates for internal ledgers. Its revolutionary consensus mechanism (Proof-of-Importance) and the Supernode program ensure that NEM’s open, public blockchain can grow without ever compromising throughput or stability.
NEM is built with a powerful modular customization for virtually any application called the Smart Asset system. With it, NEM lets users focus on building exactly what they need, whether that’s a fintech system, tracking logistics, an ICO, document notarization, decentralized authentication, or much more.
NEM is aimed at enterprises that want a blockchain solution that’s ready to use, handles most data needs, is secure, fast and compatible with current systems. Projects don’t need a team of specialized programmers for NEM. It also has a specific focus on digitizing assets on the blockchain, which opens up interesting avenues for tokenization of internal processes and properties within companies (e.g. escrow services, financial payments, equity markets).
NEM’s blockchain exposes its functionality through an API interface that can be used with any programming language, not a specific “smart contract” language. This means that any programmer can easily code on the NEM platform.
NEM’s developing community is relatively small with only 37 commits by 4 contributors in the last 12 months.
The NEM blockchain can process in excess of 3000 tps with fees varying between 0.05 and 1.25 XEM or $0.01 to $0.29 at this time based on the amount of XEM transacted.
NEM doesn’t have an official roadmap but their next big update should be the release of Catapult, extension of the private chain into the NEM public chain.
NEM is an enterprise-ready blockchain for traditional companies who are not experts in blockchain technology as they offer a wide variety of pre-built functions and smart asset classes when creating a new token using their platform. NEM should be considered for companies looking to tokenize or add transparency and speed to internal processes.
Stellar is an open-source, distributed payments infrastructure. It is a leapfrog technology that connects people, payment systems, and banks with a focus on the developing world. It facilitates multi-currency and asset transactions quickly, reliably, and for a fraction of a penny by using a crypto-asset called Lumens (XLM) as a bridge.
Stellar also provides Dapps with a viable platform to create tokens based on its smart contract layer. It is a faster and cheaper network than Ethereum, but it is not Turing-complete so can be more restrictive.
Stellar developed their own protocol to verify transactions: The Stellar Consensus Protocol (SCP). This protocol is the only one who allows decentralized control, low latency, flexible trust (users have the freedom to trust any combination of parties they see fit) and asymptotic security.
Stellar’s primary goal is to facilitate issuing and trading tokens, especially those tied to legal commitments by known organizations, such as claims on real-world assets or fiat currency. It is a great fit for projects looking for high transaction throughput at very small costs (e.g. remittance, payments, users in developing countries)
The Stellar developing community is pretty active with 579 commits by 46 contributors in the past 12 months.
The Stellar blockchain can process 1000+ transactions per seconds with a base fee of 0.00001 XLM/tx or about $0.000002/tx at time of writing.
2018 will be an important year for Stellar as two major updates to the blockchain should facilitate both the growth of ICOs within its platform and the transaction speed it offers. Stellar has released the SDEX – the Stellar Decentralized Exchange, which provides Stellar ICOs with Day 1 liquidity, and they plan to implement the Lightning Network on Stellar.
Stellar is an excellent choice for any ICO that does not require Turing-complete smart contracts and can benefit from immediate creation of a secondary market. Their extremely low fees and fast transaction times makes them an ideal choice for any ICO project with a lot of microtransactions.
Stratis is a flexible and powerful Blockchain Development Platform designed for the needs of real-world financial services businesses and other organizations that want to access the benefits of Blockchain technologies without the overheads inherent in running their own network infrastructure. Stratis offers a turnkey solution that enables developers and businesses to develop, test and deploy blockchain-based applications quickly and easily, and without the costs and security concerns that would otherwise arise from an in-house implementation.
Blockchain platforms building on Stratis can create a sidechain that will act as its own blockchain, while still being attached to the Stratis mainchain network. This relieves a lot of congestion from the mainchain and allows each sidechain to act independently.
Stratis is a Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform that allows companies to create permission blockchains inside the enterprise in order to tokenize elements of their business processes. It is a great fit for enterprise looking to cut infrastructure and record keeping costs (e.g. supply chain, data management, identity and reputation).
On Stratis, the contracts are written in C# language, the common language of the developer community. This means that developers do not have to learn an entirely new language to write smart contracts.
The Stratis developing community is pretty active. In the past 12 months, there have been 1,065 commits by 42 contributors on their Github.
The Stratis blockchain can process up to 20 000 transactions per second with an average fee of $0.04/tx at the time of writing.
Q1-Q2 2018: – ICO platform full production release
– Full node GUI mainnet beta release
– Full node mainnet beta release
– Breeze privacy protocol mainnet beta release
– Stratis identity iOS release
– Smart contracts alpha release
– Sidechains alpha release
– Stratis academy community section
Stratis is ideal for companies that don’t have a lot of experience in blockchain technology. They can easily create their own blockchain, in order to decentralize parts of their business process, without having to worry about running their own infrastructure.
The Aion network is a multi-tier blockchain network designed to support a future where many blockchains exist to solve unique industry problems and to power the services of the modern world. Aion will become the common protocol used for these blockchains, enabling more efficient and decentralized systems to be built.
Users will be able to deploy adjacent participating networks suitable for their own use cases and communicate with other networks through an accountable routing architecture. Users ranging from large enterprises hosting consortium networks to community-oriented open networks are all welcome to participate. In the future, decentralized applications could sit on top of the connecting network with logic driven by integrating data from a multitude of blockchain networks.
With a vision towards enabling the decentralized internet, the Aion network will enable any public or private organization, enterprise, community or individual to:
- Federate: Send data and value between any blockchain in the connected Aion ecosystem
- Scale: Provide fast transaction processing and increased data capacity to all connected blockchains.
- Spoke: Allow the creation of customized public or private blockchains that maintain interoperability with other blockchains, but allow publishers to choose governance, consensus mechanisms, issuance, and participation.
The first release of the Aion Network – Kilimanjaro features the FastVM – a performance optimized version of the EVM. This provides new or experienced solidity dApp developers with a familiar experience while launching contracts that execute faster and cheaper.
Developers on Aion can leverage two production-grade API’s; a Java API and the familiar Web3.js API. The Aion Github is extremely active with 992 commits by 18 contributors in the past 12 months.
The Kilimanjaro release of the Aion blockchain can process up to 80 tx/s with a basic account transaction costing $0.00007/tx (based on current network dynamics).
The Kilimanjaro mainnet release occurs in late April, 2018. This release features the FastVM, PoW mining based on the optimized Equihash2109 algorithm and subsequently the Ethereum to Aion token transfer bridge. Future Denali (late 2018) and Everest (2019) releases include the Aion Virtual Machine, hybrid consensus and generic bridging protocol.
Aion is ideal for developers looking for immediate improvements in performance and seeking to leverage interoperability, while retaining compatibility with solidity and EVM design.
As projects and investors hunt for the “Ethereum killer”, it is essential to understand that not all ICO platforms are born equal. Some offer incredible flexibility, others are focused on Visa-like scale, while some bet on the adoption of blockchain at the enterprise level. New blockchains that are too immature or have yet to launch on Mainnet (Eos, Cardano, Dfinity, etc.) may or may not overthrow their elders but founders looking to launch their project in 2018 should definitely have a close look at this list and understand what is the right fit for them.
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 Any system or programming language able to compute anything computable given enough resources is said to be Turing-complete.
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This document is intended for informational purposes only. The views expressed in this document are not, and should not be construed as, investment advice or recommendations.