Then cryptocurrencies came along and turned this traditional source of wealth creation on its head. When 2017 began, the aggregate value of all digital currencies combined equaled just $17.7 billion. However, as recently as this past weekend, the combined market cap of the nearly 1,400 investable cryptocurrencies was almost $836 billion. That better than 4,500% increase in value is something that the stock market would take multiple decades to accomplish.
Bitcoin is pseudonymous, meaning that funds are not tied to real-world entities but rather bitcoin addresses. Owners of bitcoin addresses are not explicitly identified, but all transactions on the blockchain are public. In addition, transactions can be linked to individuals and companies through "idioms of use" (e.g., transactions that spend coins from multiple inputs indicate that the inputs may have a common owner) and corroborating public transaction data with known information on owners of certain addresses. Additionally, bitcoin exchanges, where bitcoins are traded for traditional currencies, may be required by law to collect personal information. To heighten financial privacy, a new bitcoin address can be generated for each transaction.
Blockchain technology helps counter issues like double spending. The simplest way to think of blockchain is as a large distributed ledger of sorts that stores records of transactions. This “ledger” is replicated hundreds of times throughout the public network so it is available to everyone. Every time a transaction occurs, it is updated in ALL of these replicated ledgers, so everyone can see it.
The Bitcoin blockchain's functionality and security results from the network of thousands of nodes agreeing on the order of transactions. The diffuse nature of the network ensures transactions and balances are recorded without bias and are resistant to attack by even a relatively large number of bad actors. In fact, the record of transactions and balances remains secure as long as a simple majority (51 percent) of nodes remains independent. Thus, the integrity of the blockchain requires a great many participants.
Small wonder that Bitcoin emerged in 2008 just after Occupy Wall Street accused big banks of misusing borrowers’ money, duping clients, rigging the system, and charging boggling fees. Bitcoin pioneers wanted to put the seller in charge, eliminate the middleman, cancel interest fees, and make transactions transparent, to hack corruption and cut fees. They created a decentralized system, where you could control your funds and know what was going on.
One of the greatest aspects of blockchain technology is the ability for a developer or business to customize it. This means a blockchain can be completely open to the public and allow anyone to join, or it can be totally private, with only certain folks allowed access to the data, or allowed to send and receive payments. Bitcoin is an example of an open-source public blockchain that allows anyone to join, whereas a private blockchain would be perfect for a corporate customer.
One of the Bitcoin blockchain's most innovative aspects is how it incentivizes nodes to participate in the intensive consensus-building process by randomly rewarding one node with a fixed bounty (currently 12.5 BTC) every time a new block is settled and committed to the chain. This accumulation of Bitcoin in exchange for participation is called "mining" and is how new currency is added to the total system afloat.
In Person: Over-the-counter platforms such as CoinCola or LocalBitcoins are resources to find people in your area to trade bitcoins with. Trust and security can be a concern, which is why it's recommended you transact in a public place, and not necessarily with large amounts of cash. Some of those platforms, such as CoinCola, will allow its users to upload an ID proof. In this case, you will be able require the ID proof of your trade partner for added security.
In addition to lining the pockets of miners, mining serves a second and vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically "minting" currency. For example, in February of 2019, there were a little over 17.5 million Bitcoin in circulation. Aside from the coins minted via the genesis block (the very first block created by Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto himself), every single one of those Bitcoin came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million. (Related reading: What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined?)
Although blockchain can save users money on transaction fees, the technology is far from free. The “proof of work” system that bitcoin uses to validate transactions, for example, consumes vast amounts of computational power. In the real world, the power from the millions of computers on the bitcoin network is close to what Denmark consumes annually. All of that energy costs money and according to a recent study from research company Elite Fixtures, the cost of mining a single bitcoin varies drastically by location, from just $531 to a staggering $26,170. Based on average utility costs in the United States, that figure is closer to $4,758. Despite the costs of mining bitcoin, users continue to drive up their electricity bills in order to validate transactions on the blockchain. That’s because when miners add a block to the bitcoin blockchain, they are rewarded with enough bitcoin to make their time and energy worthwhile. When it comes to blockchains that do not use cryptocurrency, however, miners will need to be paid or otherwise incentivized to validate transactions.
Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. To achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain. About every 10 minutes, a new group of accepted transactions, called a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes, without requiring central oversight. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin was spent, which is needed to prevent double-spending. A conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, but the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.:ch. 5