What is a cryptocurrency? The easiest description I’ve heard is “crypto money.” Bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency, is an electronic currency. It has no physical form; it’s not like a bank note or gold coin. What’s important about a cryptocurrency is that like most of the world’s currencies, its value isn’t based on anything tangible: it can be whatever people choose to give it value. Why would anyone want something that has no intrinsic value?
Cryptocurrencies are a special kind of digital money—they’re decentralized, meaning that they aren’t controlled by a single company or government. But unlike many other digital currencies, they’re not just available online; they can also be used as a payment system in real life. This means that you can use cryptocurrencies to buy things in stores and at ATMs and online.
One problem with cryptocurrencies is that their value can go up and down like crazy—which sometimes makes them hard to spend. Another problem is that there’s no way to get your hands on them except by buying them on an exchange or mining them yourself. You can’t hold them for future use unless you have some bitcoins or ethereum sitting around with which to pay for them. Overstock uses bitcoin for payments because it’s easy to
Binance is the largest exchange by daily trading volume. It’s also the only one that allows its users to deposit cryptocurrency and fiat funds directly. The deposit method makes it easy to buy new altcoins, which is why it has risen in popularity over the past few months.
Binance charges a fee of 0.1% per trade on both sides of an order, but offers a referral program that gives you an additional BNB in your account after you send $100 worth of cryptocoins to someone else who then signs up through your referral link and deposits $200 worth of coins on Binance.
Other exchanges offer similar referral programs, where you can get paid for sending new customers our way. But Binance has a better system: If a user signs up using your referral link and buys $100 worth of coins using your link, then you get $10 in BNB credited to your account. That’s better than other exchanges because it means there’s a direct incentive for you to send new customers our way.
All of these currencies are based on blockchain technology, which is a form of distributed ledger that maintains a continuously-updated record of the entire transaction history. This is done by encrypting and distributing this information across multiple computers. What makes blockchain technology special is that it guarantees trust in the network.
The process of adding transactions to the ledger is called mining, and the people who do this spend a lot of computer power to mine new blocks. The more cryptocurrency you have, the more mining power you can buy and thus the more transactions you can include in your ledger and thereby make secure.
There are two things to understand about mining: how much it costs, and how long it takes. Mining has two components: hardware cost (CPU, GPU), and electricity cost (cost when running your computer 24/7). For example, if you buy a $1,000 rig with an Intel Core i3 processor and Radeon HD 6950 graphics card at $135 per month for 12 months, you will spend $1,230 on hardware alone. The rig will operate for about 2 thousand hours per month, or about 2% of the time (24 hours). If you buy 1 MH/s worth of mining power from Butterfly Labs (currently selling at $2k per MH/
Cryptocurrencies, like gold or oil, are a form of limited good. They are like gold in the sense that they have intrinsic value, but unlike gold they aren’t useful for anything. Like oil, their value as an investment is based on their supply and demand.
And like most forms of financial speculation—stocks and housing come to mind—cryptocurrency prices rise and fall according to the whims of investors looking for quick gains. There are several reasons for this. One is that there isn’t much yet to be invested in: Bitcoin, if you bought $100 worth today, wouldn’t be worth more than $100 tomorrow. Another is that there are many cryptocurrencies, and not all of them are easy to trade with each other.
There’s also a wild card: Bitcoin has been wildly successful at attracting investors. When it was first created in 2009, no one thought it would be much different from any other cryptocurrency. But it became so popular that its success attracted more people into the field, creating a speculative bubble. And bubbles don’t burst suddenly; they tend to manifest themselves over time, like the bursting of an air bubble.
The blockchain, which underlies bitcoin, is a revolutionary invention for the creation of new kinds of money.
The idea of using the internet to create a distributed database that records the history of transactions is a good one. It’s got potential to replace all kinds of services anyone runs on payment cards. It will also change our understanding of what money is. The blockchain will be the first widely used digital currency where every transaction is recorded forever.
But there is an important difference between bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which we can call digital gold, digital silver, and so on. Bitcoin has no practical use except as a speculative asset. Every bitcoin transaction is public to everyone and permanent, but there’s no reason you would want to own some and leave others in your wallet to pay for things later. There is no obvious way it can be used to transfer wealth or make purchases or pay your bills or anything else that most people do with money today.
The other two cryptocurrencies are also speculative assets like bitcoin. But silver has industrial uses; it’s useful for industry because it’s useful to store value against inflation and it’s hard to detect counterfeit coins when they are small enough to fit in a pocket or a purse. Silver isn’t useful as a speculative investment because its value depends on
In the early days of Bitcoin, there were only three main ways to get into it without buying a whole coin. You could use a gift card. You could buy Bitcoins on an exchange. Or you could use a service called a “mixing service” to anonymously transfer your funds from one Bitcoin address to another.
Mixing services have since been outlawed by the U.S. government because they are a major way that criminals launder money and fund illegal activities, but they were quite popular in the early days of Bitcoin when the best way to buy Bitcoins was not to actually own them but instead to move them quickly and anonymously around the network to keep them from being traced back to you as the owner.
The first big innovation in Bitcoin was creating a more efficient system for moving around coins than mixing: what we now call “transactions.” This meant that if you wanted to send money, you didn’t have to move it around between addresses. Instead, you could just send it directly into someone else’s wallet, and they would receive it automatically without having to move the coins themselves or worry about whether anyone else is trying to steal their coins or use them in other illicit ways.
This made transactions easier and faster, but created another problem: how do we know which
Blockchains are the most promising way to store and transmit information. But you can’t trust them because they’re just computer programs, so how can we use them? The answer is that we can’t. We have to trust the people who write the programs, but we don’t know who those people are.
The reason this matters is that though blockchains are a technology, they are at the same time a system of rules, enforced by computers and maintained through consensus. This means that if you want to work with a blockchain, you have to trust the people who are the users of that blockchain.
Trust doesn’t mean blindly trusting everyone. If your goal is merely to send and receive money without having to deal with banks or governments, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding people willing to trade with you on a blockchain. But if you want to build something more ambitious than sending money, then you will have trouble finding people who agree on what it means for something to be “valid.”