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What Is Bitcoin?

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Bitcoin is a digital currency that was created in January 2009. It follows the ideas set out in a whitepaper by the mysterious and pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The identity of the person or persons who created the technology is still a mystery. Bitcoin offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and, unlike government-issued currencies, it is operated by a decentralized authority.

 

Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency. There are no physical bitcoins, only balances kept on a public ledger that everyone has transparent access to. All bitcoin transactions are verified by a massive amount of computing power. Bitcoins are not issued or backed by any banks or governments, nor are individual bitcoins valuable as a commodity. Despite it not being legal tender, Bitcoin is very popular and has triggered the launch of hundreds of other cryptocurrencies, collectively referred to as altcoins. Bitcoin is commonly abbreviated as “BTC.”

Why bitcoin?

Bitcoins can be used to buy merchandise anonymously. In addition, international payments are easy and cheap because bitcoins are not tied to any country or subject to regulation. Small businesses may like them because there are no credit card fees. Some people just buy bitcoins as an investment, hoping that they’ll go up in value.

Buying bitcoins

Buy on an Exchange

Many marketplaces called “bitcoin exchanges” allow people to buy or sell bitcoins using different currencies. Coinbase is a leading exchange, along with Bitstamp and Bitfinex. But security can be a concern: bitcoins worth tens of millions of dollars were stolen from Bitfinex when it was hacked in 2016.

Transfers

People can send bitcoins to each other using mobile apps or their computers. It’s similar to sending cash digitally.

Mining

People compete to “mine” bitcoins using computers to solve complex math puzzles. This is how bitcoins are created. Currently, a winner is rewarded with 12.5 bitcoins roughly every 10 minutes.

Bitcoin wallet

Bitcoins are stored in a “digital wallet’, which exists either in the cloud or on a user’s computer. The wallet is a kind of virtual bank account that allows users to send or receive bitcoins, pay for goods or save their money. Unlike bank accounts, bitcoin wallets are not insured by the FDIC.

Wallet in cloud: Servers have been hacked. Companies have fled with clients’ bitcoins.

Wallet on computer: You can accidentally delete them. Viruses could destroy them.

The anonymity of bitcoin

Though each bitcoin transaction is recorded in a public log, names of buyers and sellers are never revealed – only their wallet IDs. While that keeps bitcoin users’ transactions private, it also lets them buy or sell anything without easily tracing it back to them. That’s why it has become the currency of choice for people online buying drugs or other illicit activities.

Bitcoin’s future in question

No one knows what will become of bitcoin. It is mostly unregulated, but some countries like Japan, China and Australia have begun weighing regulations. Governments are concerned about taxation and their lack of control over the currency.

Key Takeaways

Launched in 2009, bitcoin is the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. Unlike fiat currency, bitcoin is created, distributed, traded, and stored with the use of a decentralized ledger system, known as a blockchain. Bitcoin’s history as a store of value has been turbulent; the cryptocurrency skyrocketed up to roughly $20, 000 per coin in 2017, but less than years later, it was trading for less than half of that. As the earliest virtual currency to meet widespread popularity and success, bitcoin has inspired a host of other cryptocurrencies in its wake.

 

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