What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin‘s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, described Bitcoin as “A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” in the original 2009 Bitcoin whitepaper – the document which created the roadmap for Bitcoin. To date, this is still the most simple and accurate description. Bitcoin is a consensus network that enables a new payment system and a completely digital money. It is the first decentralized peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen. From a user perspective, Bitcoin is perhaps best described as ‘cash for the Internet’, but Bitcoin can also be seen as the most prominent triple entry bookkeeping system in existence. It is also known as digital cash, cryptocurrency, an international payment network, the internet of money – but whatever you call it, Bitcoin is a revolution that is changing the way everyone sees and uses money.
The beauty of Bitcoin is that it requires no central servers or third-party clearing houses to settle transactions – all payments are peer-to-peer (P2P) and are settled in about 10 minutes – unlike credit card payments, which can take weeks or months before they’re finally settled. All Bitcoin transactions are recorded permanently on a distributed ledger called the “blockchain” – this ledger is shared between all full Bitcoin “miners” and “nodes” around the world, and is publicly-viewable. These miners and nodes verify transactions and keep the network secure. For the electricity they use to do this, miners are rewarded with new bitcoins with each 10-minute block (the reward is currently 12.5 BTC per block).
The Bitcoin protocol is also hard-limited to 21 million bitcoins, meaning that no more than that can ever be created. This means that no central bank, individual or government can come along and simply ‘print’ more bitcoins when it suits them. In this sense Bitcoin is a deflationary currency, and as such is likely to grow in value based on this property alone. Bitcoin is still a cutting-edge experiment in technology and economics, and like the worldwide web in 1995, its myriad potential, purposes and applications are yet to be decided. Is it just electronic money? A foundation for smart contracts and electronic shares? Is it underground and subversive, challenging the power of governments, or will it integrate into mainstream finance and go unnoticed? If you know the answers to any of these questions, or if you can figure out how to capitalize on them there may be many lucrative opportunities for you in the Bitcoin space.
The Bitcoin universe is changing fast and often – to stay ahead of the game it’s necessary to follow the news almost-hourly and discuss the latest events with other members of the community. Bitcoin.com exists to be a reliable information hub for beginners and industry insiders alike. That being said, ‘staying ahead of the game’ is not a necessity if you simply wish to use Bitcoin as a currency to purchase goods and services, or wish to accept Bitcoin for transactions – something thousands of people around the world do every single day.
No Central Command
Bitcoin isn’t owned by anyone. Think of it like email. Anyone can use it, but there isn’t a single company that is in charge of it. Bitcoin transactions are irreversible. This means that no one, including banks, or governments can block you from sending or receiving bitcoins with anyone else, anywhere in the world. With this freedom comes the great responsibility of not having any central authority to complain to if something goes wrong. Just like physical cash, don’t let strangers hold your bitcoins for you, and don’t send them to untrustworthy people on the internet.
Secure Your Wallet
There are several different types of Bitcoin wallets, but the most important distinction is in relation to who is in control of the private keys required to spend the bitcoins. Some Bitcoin “wallets” actually act more like banks because they are holding the user’s private keys on behalf. If you choose to use one of these services, be aware that you are completely at their mercy regarding the security of your bitcoins. Most wallets, however, allow the user to be in charge of their own private keys. This means that no one in the entire world can access your account without your permission. It also means that no one can help you if you forget your password or otherwise lose access to your private keys. If you decide you want to own a lot of Bitcoin it would be a good idea to divide them among several different wallets. As they saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Like everything, Bitcoin’s price is determined by the laws of supply and demand. Because the supply is limited to 21 million bitcoins, as more people use Bitcoin the increased demand, combined with the fixed supply, will force the price to go up. Because the number of people using Bitcoin in the world is still relatively small, the price of Bitcoin in terms of traditional currency can fluctuate significantly on a daily basis, but will continue to increase as more people start to use it. For example, in early 2011 one Bitcoin was worth less than one USD, but in 2015 one Bitcoin is worth hundreds of USD. In the future, if Bitcoin becomes truly popular, each single Bitcoin will have to be worth at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to accommodate this additional demand.
There are several ways to buy Bitcoin, but trusted exchanges are a great way to acquire Bitcoin. Because there are inefficiencies in the traditional banking system, exchanges will sometimes have slightly different prices. If the difference is too great, traders will buy low on one an exchange and sell high on another and close the gap. If an exchange constantly has substantially different prices than others, it is a sign of trouble and that exchange should be avoided. As with everything else, do your research and find an exchange you can trust. It’s also a good idea not to use an exchange as a wallet. Move your Bitcoin to your personal wallet so that you have control over your funds at all times. You can view a list of Bitcoin exchanges here.
Bitcoin Isn’t Completely Anonymous
Because all Bitcoin transactions are stored on a public ledger known as the blockchain, people might be able to link your identity to a transaction over time. Some companies offer various tools such as Bitcoin mixers to help achieve greater privacy, but it takes a huge amount of effort to use Bitcoin anonymously. You may want to follow your country’s tax regulations regarding Bitcoin in order to avoid trouble with the law, but you have the power not to should you choose to take that risk. To improve privacy, most newer Bitcoin wallets will use a new Bitcoin address each time someone sends bitcoins to you.
Bitcoin transactions are seen by the entire network within a few seconds and are usually recorded into Bitcoin’s world wide ledger called the blockchain, in the next block. While it’s possible that a transaction won’t be confirmed in the next block, in the vast majority of circumstances it is fine to accept a transaction as soon as it has been seen by the network. Unlike traditional payment systems, Bitcoin transactions are lightning fast and can be sent globally. Bitcoin is still relatively new, but with each passing day the technology becomes more reliable. It is more and more unlikely that a major bug will emerge in the system as time goes by, and people can trust the technology more with the passing of time. Each month people transact hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin.
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