Bitcoin (BTC) is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system, the first cryptocurrency to be invented and released to the public.
Debuting in 2009, Bitcoin has grown to become a powerhouse in world financial markets due to its high value and its decentralized structure, with no controlling authority. (1)
Bitcoin is fully digital currency, utilizing blockchain technology to enable direct, peer-to-peer transactions between users, powered by “miners” who generate new Bitcoins through the use of their computers. (2) (3)
Bitcoin’s increasing popularity has led many vendors and businesses to begin accepting it as legal tender and many investors to adopt it as a means to make money. (4)
While newer cryptocurrencies have improved on Bitcoin’s basic design, Bitcoin remains the world’s leading cryptocurrency and an important part of any investor’s portfolio.
Bitcoin was first proposed in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, an anonymous and possibly fictitious Japanese programmer. In a white paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” Nakamoto laid out the basis for a worldwide fiat currency accessible to all, cutting out the middlemen of world governments. The name “Bitcoin” is derived from this concept, combining “bit” (the smallest unit of digital storage) with “coin.” (5) (6) (7)
Nakamoto’s concept relied on a technology called the “blockchain,” a public ledger that records all transactions occurring on the network. The blockchain is fueled by “miners,” users who utilize their computers or specialized mining rigs to solve the blockchain’s complex math problems, creating new Bitcoins as a reward for success. Miners are also responsible for processing network transactions, assessing fees for doing so. (8)
There is also a hard limit of 21 million Bitcoins that can be created by miners as a means to combat inflation, though the rate at which new coins are created will naturally slow down as the number of Bitcoins in circulation increases. (9)
Bitcoin transactions take place on a peer-to-peer basis. Transactions are handled by miners, who process them in exchange for fees. Bitcoins are stored in a digital wallet which is identified by an address and can be stored on a computer. (10)
On January 3, 2009, Nakamoto released the Bitcoin client as open source software, though it wasn’t until 2011 that the currency began to gain notoriety. In that year, several major organizations, such as Wikileaks and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, began accepting donations in Bitcoin. The dark web marketplace Silk Road, only accessible through Tor, also became notable for allowing customers to purchase illegal drugs with Bitcoins. (11) (12) (13)
In 2013, Bitcoin saw major expansion, with Bitcoin-based payment processor Coinbase selling over one million dollars worth of Bitcoins in one month. Also, in October that same year, Silk Road was shut down by the FBI and administrator Ross William Ulbrecht (aka “the Dread Pirate Roberts”) was arrested, with 26,000 BTC seized by the government as part of his apprehension. (14) (15)
In 2014, Mt. Gox, one of the oldest and most popular Bitcoin exchanges, was shut down after filing for bankruptcy, with 744,000 Bitcoins going missing. Former CEO Mark Karpelès would later be arrested by Japanese police in 2015 on charges of embezzlement. (16) (17)
Despite these setbacks, Bitcoin has continued to grow as a cryptocurrency. In 2013, growth in Bitcoin spiked after residents of Cyprus began transferring their money to Bitcoin wallets in response to the European Union’s proposed “haircut” of bank accounts in the country due to the financial crisis. (18)
As of 2017, Bitcoin has exploded in popularity, value, and mainstream acceptance. Several countries, including Japan and Russia, have passed legislation legalizing Bitcoin as a form of valid tender. Countless merchants and businesses now accept Bitcoin as payment, and Bitcoin ATMs have become a major presence throughout the world. (19) (20)
However, recent problems with Bitcoin’s scale resulted in a hard fork of the blockchain on August 1, 2017, splitting the currency into two: regular Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Bitcoin Cash is distinguished from Bitcoin by its higher block size limit, a significant bottleneck with Bitcoin because it significantly slows down transactions and has also caused transaction fees to spike. (21) (22)
Additionally, Bitcoin now faces competition from numerous other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dash, which have significantly cut into its market share. Many of these altcoins boast improvements over the basic Bitcoin design.
Despite this, Bitcoin’s longevity and reliability have established it as a force in the cryptocurrency markets, and one that is here to stay.
Bitcoin can be “mined,” a process that allows users to make money and also facilitate transactions on the network.
Mining is the term used to refer to using a computer or ASIC mining hardware to solve math problems on the Bitcoin blockchain, which expands the blockchain, makes transactions possible, and also allows the miner to earn Bitcoin passively. (23)
While mining was relatively easy in the early days of Bitcoin, the increasing size of the blockchain has upped the difficulty level considerably. However, it is still possible to turn a profit on the network. (24)
Mining can be done by using a computer’s CPU, its GPU, or a dedicated ASIC mining rig. However, due to the size of Bitcoin’s blockchain, CPU and GPU mining are no longer economical. It can take months, if not years to earn Bitcoin using CPU and GPU mining, and electricity costs could eat away any profits you could make. (25)
Instead, prospective miners should purchase dedicated mining rigs, which possess the horsepower necessary to mine Bitcoin in economical and profitable amounts. (26)
However, mining is costly in terms of electricity. If electricity is expensive where you live, it can significantly eat into or eliminate your profits. To ensure that you can turn a profit mining Bitcoin, make sure that electricity in your area is reasonably priced. (27)
With these caveats out of the way, Bitcoin mining can still be a profitable enterprise.
As the oldest and most recognized cryptocurrency, Bitcoin played an integral role in shaping the current cryptocurrency scene and revolutionizing money.
While it has its flaws and is not as technologically advanced as some of its newer competitors, Bitcoin’s stability and popularity with traders and businesses make it a strong player on the cryptocurrency markets.