Bitcoin was invented as a peer-to-peer system for online payments that does not require a trusted central authority. Since its inception in 2008, Bitcoin has grown into a technology, a currency, an investment vehicle, and a community of users
Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems.
It’s the first example of a growing category of money known as cryptocurrency.
What is Bitcoin?
Since anything digital can be copied over and over again, the hard part about implementing a digital payment system is making sure that nobody spends the same money more than once. Traditionally, this is done by having a trusted central authority that verifies all of the transactions. The core innovation that makes Bitcoin special is that it uses consensus in a massive peer-to-peer network to verify transactions. This results in a system where payments are non-reversible, accounts cannot be frozen, and transaction fees are much lower.
Where do bitcoins come from?
We go more in-depth about this on the page about mining, but here’s a very simple explanation: Some users put their computers to work verifying transactions in the peer-to-peer network mentioned above. These users are rewarded with new bitcoins proportional to the amount of computing power they donate to the network.
What are its characteristics?
Bitcoin has several important features that set it apart from government-backed currencies.
1. It's decentralized
The bitcoin network isn’t controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network, and the machines work together. That means that, in theory, one central authority can’t tinker with monetary policy and cause a meltdown – or simply decide to take people’s bitcoins away from them, as the Central European Bank decided to do in Cyprus in early 2013. And if some part of the network goes offline for some reason, the money keeps on flowing.
2. It's easy to set up
Conventional banks make you jump through hoops simply to open a bank account. Setting up merchant accounts for payment is another Kafkaesque task, beset by bureaucracy. However, you can set up a bitcoin address in seconds, no questions asked, and with no fees payable.
3. It's anonymous
Well, kind of. Users can hold multiple bitcoin addresses, and they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information. However…
4. It's completely transparent
…bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger, called the blockchain. The blockchain tells all.
If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address. They just don’t know that it’s yours.
There are measures that people can take to make their activities more opaque on the bitcoin network, though, such as not using the same bitcoin addresses consistently, and not transferring lots of bitcoin to a single address.
5. Transaction fees are miniscule
Your bank may charge you a £10 fee for international transfers. Bitcoin doesn’t.
6. It’s fast
You can send money anywhere and it will arrive minutes later, as soon as the bitcoin network processes the payment.
Where do bitcoins come from?
Some users put their computers to work verifying transactions in the peer-to-peer network mentioned above. These users are rewarded with new bitcoins proportional to the amount of computing power they donate to the network.
Who controls Bitcoin?
As we mentioned above, there is no central person or central authority in charge of Bitcoin. Various programmers donate their time developing the open source Bitcoin software and can make changes subject to the approval of lead developer Gavin Andresen. The individual miners then choose whether to install the new version of the software or stick to the old one, essentially “voting” with their processing power. It is in the miners’ best interest to only accept changes that are good for the Bitcoin currency in the long run. These checks and balances make it difficult for anyone to manipulate Bitcoin.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BITCOIN
There are endless resources on the internet and published books providing in-depth knowledge regarding Bitcoin and the blockchain technology.
Below are a few links providing high quality information relevant for Bitcoin investors:
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