Ether is the native currency of Ethereum, an open-source blockchain platform. Ethereum was founded in 2013 by Russian-Canadian programmer Vitalik Buterin and several other crypto entrepreneurs. Many of the people who started Ethereum were previously involved in bitcoin.
For Buterin, bitcoin was too limited in functionality. In an interview with Business Insider, he compared it to a pocket calculator that “does one thing well,” whereas he said Ethereum is more like a smartphone with multiple applications you can use.
That’s the main premise of Ethereum. Like bitcoin, it’s built on blockchain technology — essentially a distributed computer network that records all cryptocurrency transactions. But unlike bitcoin, people can build apps on top of Ethereum.
In Buterin’s own words, Ethereum is “a blockchain with a built-in programming language” and the “most logical way to actually build a platform that can be used for many more kinds of applications.”
The Ethereum network hosts what’s known as smart contracts — collections of code that carry out a set of instructions and run on the blockchain.
These contracts are what power decentralized applications, or dapps, which are similar to smartphone apps that run on Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS operating systems, except they don’t answer to one company or authority.
Recently, activity on ether’s network has surged thanks to the rise of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital assets designed to represent ownership of unique virtual items. That’s because many NFTs — from the colorful online cats of CryptoKitties to the cyberpunk-inspired avatars of CryptoPunks— run on Ethereum.