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 Charles Stross' 2013 science fiction novel, Neptune's Brood, the universal interstellar payment system is known as "bitcoin" and operates using cryptography. Stross later blogged that the reference was intentional, saying "I wrote Neptune's Brood in 2011. Bitcoin was obscure back then, and I figured had just enough name recognition to be a useful term for an interstellar currency: it'd clue people in that it was a networked digital currency."
A smart contract is a computer code that can be built into blockchain to facilitate, verify, or negotiate a contract agreement. Smart contracts operate under a set of conditions that users agree to. When those conditions are met, the terms of the agreement are automatically carried out. Say, for example, I’m renting you my apartment using a smart contract. I agree to give you the door code to the apartment as soon as you pay me your security deposit. Both of us would send our portion of the deal to the smart contract, which would hold onto and automatically exchange my door code for your security deposit on the date of the rental. If I don’t supply the door code by the rental date, the smart contract refunds your security deposit. This eliminates the fees that typically accompany using a notary or third-party mediator.
Since bitcoin mining has become a hardware intense and therefore expensive process, most individual miners join a so called mining pool. One of the mining pools you can conect to is BitMinter for example. By providing computing power to their pool you can earn Bitcoins from mining without the need to build your own big mining farm. There are entire communities around Bitcoin mining and besides the fact that you earn Bitcoins it's also fun. You meet new people online and get in-depth knowledge about Bitcoin as a protocol and technology.
Many blockchain networks operate as public databases, meaning that anyone with an internet connection can view a list of the network’s transaction history. Although users can access details about transactions, they cannot access identifying information about the users making those transactions. It is a common misperception that blockchain networks like bitcoin are anonymous, when in fact they are only confidential. That is, when a user makes public transactions, their unique code called a public key, is recorded on the blockchain, rather than their personal information. Although a person’s identity is still linked to their blockchain address, this prevents hackers from obtaining a user’s personal information, as can occur when a bank is hacked.
The receiver of the first bitcoin transaction was cypherpunk Hal Finney, who created the first reusable proof-of-work system (RPOW) in 2004. Finney downloaded the bitcoin software on its release date, and on 12 January 2009 received ten bitcoins from Nakamoto. Other early cypherpunk supporters were creators of bitcoin predecessors: Wei Dai, creator of b-money, and Nick Szabo, creator of bit gold. In 2010, the first known commercial transaction using bitcoin occurred when programmer Laszlo Hanyecz bought two Papa John's pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin.