The average price of a bitcoin can increase and decrease unpredictably. For example, in one week in November, 2015 Bitcoin went from $318 on a Monday to $492 on a Wednesday, falling back under $400 by Thursday. Do not put too much money into bitcoin, as it's seen as a high-risk asset. Only buy enough bitcoins to make convenient online purchases.
Once you have a Bitcoin wallet, you use a traditional payment method such as credit card, bank transfer (ACH), or debit card to buy Bitcoins on a Bitcoin exchange (example: Coinbase). The Bitcoins are then transferred to your wallet. The availability of the above payment methods is subject to the area of jurisdiction and exchange chosen. Here is a screenshot of the Bitcoin interface showing how to buy and sell not just Bitcoin but also Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin, which are other popular virtual currencies. As you see, it's as straightforward as clicking on the "Buy" tab if you want to buy, and "Sell" tab if you want to sell. You select which currency you are buying/selling and which payment method (your bank account or credit card) you want to use.
Block-chain technology is broader than finance. It can be applied to any multi-step transaction where traceability and visibility is required. Supply chain is a notable use case where Blockchain can be leveraged to manage and sign contracts and audit product provenance. It could also be leveraged for votation platforms, titles and deed management - amongst myriad other uses. As the digital and physical worlds converge, the practical applications of Blockchain will only grow.
Bitcoin is a perfect case study for the possible inefficiencies of blockchain. Bitcoin’s “proof of work” system takes about ten minutes to add a new block to the blockchain. At that rate, it’s estimated that the blockchain network can only manage seven transactions per second (TPS). Although other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum (20 TPS) and Bitcoin Cash (60 TPS) perform better than bitcoin, they are still limited by blockchain. Legacy brand Visa, for context, can process 24,000 TPS.
The Bitcoin world, in my opinion offers such arbitrage opportunities. But they are not as simple to execute as it might seem at first sight. Price differences between exchanges often come for certain reasons. The speed of fiat money transfers and access restrictions are just the most striking ones. You have to find out the concrete opportunities yourself. One place to start is this thread on Bitcoin StackExchange. Also, not every opportunity is available to everyone. Go and have a look at the price differences between exchanges and check out if you can find opportunities.
Proof of work does not make attacks by hackers impossible, but it does make them somewhat useless. If a hacker wanted to coordinate an attack on the blockchain, they would need to solve complex computational math problems at 1 in 5.8 trillion odds just like everyone else. The cost of organizing such an attack would almost certainly outweigh the benefits.
People need to understand that “blockchain” is NOT the same thing as “bitcoin”. Bitcoin was the first blockchain system designed, but there have been a number of others since then which are very different – they were designed by different people, often for different purposes. The ones moving into the business world today are NOT systems for electronic money. They are “ledger” systems that are used to replace existing methods, almost none of which are electronic money. Examples of such blockchain systems are Hyperledger (which has several different schemes, the most popular being Hyperledger Fabric), Ethereum, R3 Corda, and some others. They were NOT designed by “some guy” somewhere – they were designed by highly capable groups of people who are in the business of designing things for use by corporations to operate their businesses. Several of these are in open-source projects, where they are being developed jointly by many people, and are subject to study and analysis by all of them. There is work in early stages to define regional and international standards that will define some requirements for the blockchains. (I happen to be involved with some of those standards activities, as well as development on one of the blockchain systems.)
Getting your monthly paycheck in Bitcoins is probably the steadiest way to earn Bitcoins. There aren't many organizations who would pay you in Bitcoins but there are some at least. And maybe there will be more as acceptance increases continuously. Gavin Andresen, core Bitcoin developer of the Bitcoin Foundation stated in this interview that he gets paid in Bitcoins. And chances are, that when your employer accepts Bitcoins they might be willing to pay you in Bitcoin, too.
Researchers have pointed out at a "trend towards centralization". Although bitcoin can be sent directly from user to user, in practice intermediaries are widely used.:220–222 Bitcoin miners join large mining pools to minimize the variance of their income.:215, 219–222:3 Because transactions on the network are confirmed by miners, decentralization of the network requires that no single miner or mining pool obtains 51% of the hashing power, which would allow them to double-spend coins, prevent certain transactions from being verified and prevent other miners from earning income. As of 2013 just six mining pools controlled 75% of overall bitcoin hashing power. In 2014 mining pool Ghash.io obtained 51% hashing power which raised significant controversies about the safety of the network. The pool has voluntarily capped their hashing power at 39.99% and requested other pools to act responsibly for the benefit of the whole network.
Perhaps one of the best real-world examples of blockchain in action is the partnership between Ripple (CCY: XRP-USD) and banking giants American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Banco Santander (NYSE:SAN). It was announced in mid-November that American Express users would be able to send non-card payments to U.K. Santander accounts over AmEx's FX International Payment network and have those transactions processed over Ripple's blockchain. The allure of this partnership is Ripple's instantly settling cross-border payments, as well as the expectation of small transaction fees.