The terms ‘coin’ and ‘token’ are often used alike. In practice, there are some differences… sort of.
One of the problems of such a new and cutting-edge sector, particularly one that arises from the grassroots, is that regulation tends to lag behind the technology. The same is true of language. Terms are created and evolve as they are needed, and there is not always clear agreement about what they mean.
Two terms used to describe units of blockchain value are COIN and TOKEN. Their meaning and usage overlaps considerably and they are often used interchangeably, but — strictly speaking, at least — there are some differences.
Function vs form
Very broadly, a crypto coin is just that: a coin, or means of payment, whilst a token has wider functionality.
The express purpose of a coin is to act like money: as a unit of account, store of value and medium of transfer. Coins tend to take the form of native blockchain tokens like bitcoin (BTC), Litecoin (LTC), Monero (XMR), and so on, though they do not have to. ChronoBank’s Labour Hour (LH) tokens, which are hosted on Ethereum, can be considered as coins. Their purpose is solely to act as a form of money, storing value over time and enabling businesses to account and pay for services. They are created as ERC20 tokens for reasons of convenience.
Blockchain tokens do have value, but they cannot be considered money in quite the same way that a straightforward coin can. Tokens are generally hosted on another blockchain, like Ethereum or Waves: 2.0 protocols that allow users to create them using the core coin (e.g. ETH or WAVES — though there’s some debate about whether ETH and WAVES, both of which act like ‘fuel’ for their systems, are coins in the same way that BTC acts as a simple currency).
Tokens offer functionality over and above that of digital cash. They may deliver value to investors, beyond speculative returns; this is one of the purposes of ChronoBank’s TIME token. That can occur in a variety of ways, though typically through buybacks (since dividend payments entail regulatory problems). They may be used to hold votes by the community on key business decisions, or even technical changes to the platform.
In practice, the line between coins and tokens is not clear and sharp. Both are used to transfer value, as a means of payment, in a similar way to that both USD and shares are used to reward people for work (though predominantly the former). It’s possible to host coins as tokens on 2.0 platforms, as is the case with LH on Ethereum. And the purpose of coins can go beyond simple payments; Crown (CRW), for example, uses batches of 10,000 coins locked in ‘Trons’ — masternodes — as a kind of electoral college for governance votes.
Whilst the language will no doubt continue to evolve with the technology, most people therefore agree on the broad strokes: coin = cash, token = everything else.