Unless you’ve been living under a rock or marooned on a desert island for the last few years you’ve probably heard of bitcoin. That’s not to say you know what bitcoin is but you will have undoubtedly heard of it.
Depending on who you ask, bitcoin is many things to many people. Libertarians see it as freedom from governments and central banks. Bitcoin investors see it as a speculative asset which has shown excellent returns so far. Technologists think it could be the biggest thing to happen since the internet. Diehard bitcoiners say it is the future of money and will fundamentally change the world. Cynics see it as nothing more than a ponzi scheme.
Bitcoin is one of the most divisive topics in technology today and over the years has been a mainstay in the news cycle usually because of its valuation.
In January 2012 one bitcoin cost around $6. Today, at the time of writing in November 2020, one bitcoin costs around $16,000. Indeed bitcoin is the fastest growing asset in the last ten years.
While it’s a growing digital asset it’s also been a volatile one too. In January 2018 one bitcoin cost around $15,000 while a year later, in January 2019, it cost just $3,800. The adage what comes up must come down certainly applies to bitcoin which is why it’s been considered a high-risk asset in the past. As bitcoin matures, its price is less volatile and has in recent months been on a steady climb upward.
Most people initially get into bitcoin to try and make some quick money. Some do, others lose but often many who originally came for the money end up sticking around after they go down the proverbial bitcoin rabbit hole.
Below the surface level of what the media covers, bitcoin is about a new kind of philosophy and way of viewing what money is.
In January 2020, bitcoin celebrated its 11th birthday and with each passing year the bitcoin network becomes stronger as new people buy into it, more trading of it takes place and more ways to send and buy with it are introduced.
This is called the Lindy Effect, the concept which says the longer a technology is in use the more likely it will remain in use.
This is the dummies guide to everything you need to know about bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency industry.
What it is, how it started, where it’s currently at, the people involved, how to buy it, where to store it and more.
First off, let’s get the disclosures out the way first.
- This is not investment advice and I am not an investment advisor. Never invest in anything you can’t afford to lose.
- I own bitcoin so bear in mind everything stated here is through the lens of someone who believes in the future of it and puts his money where his mouth is.
What is bitcoin?
Quite simply, bitcoin is money.
Bitcoin is first and foremost a new form of money. It’s a new form of thinking about money, storing money, transferring money and dealing with and organising money.
The definition of money has changed throughout the ages.
The excellent book, Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein, goes into great deal in how our definition of money has changed from ancient Greece to present day. As does the equally excellent book, The Bitcoin Standard, by Saifedean Ammous.
It’s a medium of exchange, like the US dollar or the British pound, but it’s digital and uses encryption techniques to control its creation and to verify the transfer of funds.
The ultimate goal for bitcoin is what has been called hyperbitcoinization. This is the he theory where bitcoin surpasses all global currencies, including the US dollar, to become the world’s reserve currency and, ultimately, the world’s only currency.
Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and although there are many more cryptocurrencies, bitcoin is the original and by far the biggest. Cryptocurrency is combination of two words: Crypto and currency.
Crypto is short for cryptography which is a software technology used for securing and hiding information. Currency just means a system of money used.
Put crypto and currency together and what you have is electronic money which has a way of controlling how many units of it can be made which is also
Bitcoin works peer-to-peer which removes the need for banks to act as the middleman between digital transactions. Instead, you can send money directly to someone else while you both simultaneously record the transaction to the bitcoin blockchain.
The bitcoin blockchain is decentralized which means it’s not hosted from one central location but rather many location points around the world. This is beneficial in a couple of ways. Firstly, it means it’s almost impossible to hack and secondly it means no one single entity owns or controls the bitcoin blockchain much like no one owns email.
Cryptocurrency provides liberty to control your own funds without the need for an institutional middleman like a bank. You can send it to someone else without the need for a bank or a service like PayPal.
The history of Bitcoin
Nobody knows – publicly at least – the identity of who created Bitcoin and it remains a mystery to this day. It was created by someone (or some people) using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto and opinions are divided as to who it is.
Whoever Nakamoto is is rich as he is reported to own 980,000 bitcoins making him a billionaire and one of the richest people in the world today. True to form and maintaining anonymity, Nakamoto has never touched any of the bitcoin he owns.
Embedded in the first bitcoin blockchain block was a quote saying, 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of
This was a headline from a London Times article that was published around the same time as when bitcoin launched. Could the person or people behind bitcoin be British or did they just include it to show the current state of the financial world and the intention of bitcoin’s creation?
Accompanying the launch of bitcoin was the bitcoin whitepaper. Titled, Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System which lays out what it’s meant to do, the advantages is has and the philosophy behind it. Reading the whitepaper is always a good place to start when learning about bitcoin.
In 2010, more than a year after its launch, one bitcoin was still only valued at just $0.04. At the time it was used mainly among tech geeks and as an underground payment system for criminals. Eleven years on, bitcoin is worth many billions and has a vast network of investors and developers focussed on bringing it to the masses.
This time has also spawned hundreds if not thousands of other cryptocurrencies. While a few show promise with genuine use-cases, many are what the bitcoin community call ‘shitcoins.’ Get-rich-quick schemes disguised as cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin facts and notable events
- 3 January 2009 the bitcoin whitepaper released. The catalyst of the entire bitcoin industry when Satoshi Nakamoto released the whitepaper.
- There will never be more than 21 million bitcoins. This was purposely written in the code to ensure it can’t be inflated like regular currency. No one knows why this number is 21 million but what it means is that it is a scarce asset, much like gold but even more scarce.
- A fraction of bitcoin is called a “satoshi”. The unit of measurement is named after bitcoin creator Nakamoto and is equivalent to one hundred millionth (0.00000001 BTC) of one bitcoin.
- The first recorded Bitcoin transaction was a pizza purchase. In 2010, 100,000 bitcoins were traded for two pizzas making them worth somewhere in the region of $860 million each by today’s value.
- Bitcoin is now the world’s 6th largest currency. The USD, EUR, CNY, JPY, and INR are the only world currencies with a larger money supply than Bitcoin.
- Bitcoin is notoriously energy intensive. A study found that a single transaction of bitcoin took around 4,000 times more energy to execute as a credit card transaction.
- The FBI has its own crypto wallet. It’s used for storing seized bitcoins, and at
lastcount, stored more than 144,000 of them.
- As of August 2018, there were more than 55 million bitcoin wallets in existence. However, this does not mean there are 55 million individual investors as many
holdmore than one wallet.
- Bitcoin has a higher transaction value than Paypal. According to a cryptocurrency analyst, bitcoin surpassed the Paypal payment network in 2017 in transaction value (not
The benefits of bitcoin over other types of money
You might ask why anybody would want to use bitcoin in the first place? Isn’t the money that we have today good enough?
Actually, no, it’s not. When you look at the fundamentals of what bitcoin represents it’s difficult not to disagree with it being the future of money. While it might take years – decades even – it will inevitably happen.
Note: In crypto circles, they tend to use the term ‘fiat’ when talking about a country’s currency. There are many buzzwords and jargon to learn covered in the ‘Crypto
Bitcoin is provably scarce.
While scarce, it is easily divisible.
One bitcoin can be cut into 100 million pieces and recombined at will. In terms of divisibility, bitcoin wins hands down over both fiat currencies and gold.
Bitcoin is borderless
You can send it anywhere on earth at very little cost. It moves across borders with ease. It has no weight, smell or physical body. It is the only form of money today that can moved at distance without trusting a third party.
Bitcoin is durable.
A Bitcoin exists as a ledger entry, backed up on thousands of computers around the world. In ten years it’s never been hacked and it can never be fraudulently duplicated.
Bitcoin has no single point of failure.
There’s no single piece of hardware or infrastructure or no building you can destroy that bitcoin depends on. There’s no single individual or organisation that bitcoin depends on to function.
Bitcoin does not depend on any banks, governments or countries to function.
Bitcoin is fungible.
Each bitcoin is worth the same as every other and always will be.
Bitcoin is recognisable.
Every bitcoin wallet can quickly attest whether a bitcoin is legitimate or not.
Bitcoin cannot be counterfeited.
Bitcoin is programmable.
It possesses an important attribute that will one day be seen as critical for good money: programmability. Bitcoin can be programmed to all kinds of economic activity often without a middle man, escrow agent or human arbitrage of any kind
Using bitcoin to pay for your coffee
For the moment, bitcoin
This is because in its current form it simply can’t compete with Mastercard, Visa and Paypal when it comes to processing transactions.
When it comes to paying for your morning coffee at your local coffee shop you are currently better off using your debit or credit card.
Visa and Mastercard use networks that can process 5,000 transactions per second. In comparison, bitcoin currently takes 10 minutes to clear and settle a single transaction.
Plans are in place to speed up bitcoin payments using what is being called the Lightning Network. This is a payment system which is an additional layer on top of the bitcoin blockchain to allow users to make fast payments to one another.
Until the Lightning Network is rolled out, bitcoin is being used as a store of value by most investors who are in the cryptocurrency game for the long term.
How does it compare alongside ‘traditional’ stores of value like gold and fiat currencies? Bitcoin expert Vijay Boyapati put together a comparison of each and how they compare alongside key attributes that make them appealing as a store of value.
Bitcoin vs gold vs regular money
In Boyapati’s original post, he details each of the key attributes that contribute to making it a good store of value. These being
Durability – how difficult it is for it to perish or be destroyed.
Portability – how easy it is to move and store.
Fungibility – how easy it is to change one specimen with another while still retaining the same value.
Verifiable – how easy the goods can be identified and verified as authentic.
Divisible – how easy the goods are to divide.
Scarcity – how abundant and easy to create it is.
Censorship restraint – how difficult it is for a corporation of government to prevent the owner from using it.
Boyapati’s table above shows the scores he’s market bitcoin, gold and fiat against each key attribute.
And the winner?
It’s important to point out that Boyapati’s marking is based on the assumption each attribute has equal weighting but perhaps this is not the case.
For example, should gold having a more ‘established history’ be weighted the same as bitcoin being less likely to be ‘censored’?
My thoughts are no.
Investors want a place to store value and, for now, gold has the best and longest reputation.
Nevertheless, bitcoin is increasingly been used as a store of value and the longer it’s around the more it will be considered so.
The entire cryptocurrency market is constantly in a state of flux. The market caps of most cryptocurrencies including bitcoin are highly volatile. This volatility is to be expected in a growing market and some argue that volatility is a good thing as it shows a growing asset class.
If bitcoin is to become the newest form of
At the time of writing, bitcoin’s market cap is $302 billion according to CoinMarketCap. Here you’ll find the top 100 cryptocurrencies by market capitalization, their current price, trading volume and circulation supply.
Bitcoin has the largest market cap by far and has a share of around 64 percent of the entire cryptocurrency market. Many bitcoin purists believe, over time, this share will continue to increase as other cryptocurrencies continue to fail.
Other cryptocurrencies are often called ‘altcoins’ which is short for alternative cryptocurrencies. There are thousands of altcoins on the market (investing.com is currently tracking over 2,500 of them) which claim to have different features to bitcoin and promise to target the perceived limitations the original has.
These new altcoins promise competitive advantages like different economic models or different programming language to build other things like apps on top of.
In reality, most of them are not worth looking at. Most altcoins are rip-offs of bitcoin and likely why 86 percent of cryptocurrencies that have launched over the years are worth less than they were when they were listed.
The ones that are truly different are the most popular and generally have different governance models, philosophies, intended use-cases and communities.
Some of them promise faster processing speed, more security, more privacy than the original and are growing in market
Notable pro and anti bitcoin proponents
Bitcoin and the wider crypto industry are technically complex and it impacts many different industries and disciplines. While the industry is becoming more professional each year, it’s still in some ways in its ‘Wild West’ days.
Before I invested, I
There are a lot of well-known people from the world’s of business and technology who have been vocal about bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency industry.
Some are heavily invested whereas others are more cynical about the industry which illustrates how polarizing it can be. It must be said, however, increasingly more people are coming around to bitcoin. In other words, once someone is bullish on bitcoin they rarely – if ever – go bearish.
Here are a selection of pro and anti cryptocurrency industry names.
Michael Saylor – If anyone has skin in the game when it comes to bitcoin it’s Michael Saylor. The founder and CEO of MicroStrategy bought $425 million worth of bitcoin with its cash reserves and Saylor himself personally invested roughly $175 million of his own cash into bitcoin.
Jack Dorsey – The CEO of both Twitter and Square says bitcoin will be the native currency of the internet. Square’s CashApp allows its users to buy and sell bitcoin and in October of this year the company announced it had put 1% ($50 million) of its holdings in bitcoin.
The Winklevoss twins – Arguably the early founders of what became Facebook, the Winklevoss twins were early investors in bitcoin and own a lot of them. They founded cryptocurrency exchange, Gemini, in 2013. They are rumoured to own 1% of the entire bitcoin supply.
Paul Tudor Jones – The billionaire hedge fund manager says he sees a massive upside in bitcoin and likens it to investing in Apple and Google early.
Jamie Dimon – For years the CEO of JP Morgan was critical of bitcoin calling it a “fraud” in 2017. How things change. Now JP Morgan works with crypto exchanges, Coinbase and Gemini, and is in the process of launching its own cryptocurrency.
Edward Snowden – The former CIA employee who leaked classified information says he ‘may have’ used bitcoin to buy server space and finds cryptocurrency “interesting”. This video of him covers him talking about the value of cryptocurrency.
Naval Ravikant – The CEO and co-founder of AngelList is a crypto investor and has been public about his thoughts on the cryptocurrency industry and where it’s heading. This interview with Tim Ferriss provides some interesting insights.
Alexis Ohanian – Co-founder of Reddit who has publicly stated he is bullish on bitcoin.
Bill Harris – Former CEO of Intuit and founding CEO of PayPal and Personal Capital, says bitcoin is “colossal pump-and-dump scheme, the likes of which the world has never seen.”
Nouriel Roubini – The economist Roubini, also known as “Dr Doom” because he predicted the financial crash of 07, has spoken out against bitcoin for years. “It’s just
Carl Icahn – Billionaire investor, Carl Icahn, said bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are “ridiculous” and “maybe I’m too old but I wouldn’t touch the stuff.”
Initially it was the tech-focussed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, investors and billionaires who saw the potential in bitcoin before executives from the traditional financial institutions.
This is beginning to change as bears become bullish on bitcoin.
Anti-bitcoiner, Paul Krugman did say in 1998 the internet would have no more impact on the economy than the fax machine, proving even economists and New York time pundits can’t predict the future.
For bitcoin to really take off, buying and storing it needs to be made easier. Many people equate today’s industry like the internet of the 90s. It was available but it was hard to obtain and not many people were using it. Same as bitcoin today and that’s because of the current technical barriers to entry.
Like all emerging technology it gets easier to use over time. Buying and storing bitcoin gets easier each year and requires less geeky know-how as third-party services make the process easier.
When buying cryptocurrency you don’t have to buy one full coin. Buying a bitcoin today is expensive but it’s divisible so instead, you can purchase all the way down to one-hundred-millionth.
To buy bitcoin you need five things:
Bitcoin key – This is your personal unique string of numbers that allows you to receive bitcoin into your wallet.
Wallet – A secure place to store bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Wallets can be a software program that runs online, on your computer or on a hardware key.
Cryptocurrency exchange – A site where you can buy bitcoin and other
Credit or debit card – To pay for your purchase.
Form of identity – You’ll need a driver’s license or passport for ID purposes.
When it comes to storing it you have to take care of your own. It can’t be stored with a bank to allow them to take care of it though that may change in the future.
This is what can happen if you neglect how you store your bitcoin.
This is not the only incident of someone losing their bitcoin but it certainly is the most well-known one.
One UK man left 7,500 bitcoins on an old laptop which he threw away in the rubbish and which was subsequently dumped in a landfill site.
At its highest peak so far, the bitcoin he lost would have been worth over $148 million.
Storage is very important.
When buying bitcoin (or even just using the internet) you should follow a good privacy and security protocol. Here are some privacy and security tips to help you.
Use a VPN – A virtual private network will mask your IP address so hackers can’t identify you and your location
Ditch Chrome – Use a privacy browser like Brave which is just like Chrome except it doesn’t include all the tracking software Chrome uses to track you
Have good password hygiene – Always use long, complex and unique passwords, and use a password manager to keep them secure
Turn on two-factor authentication – Most bitcoin services include 2FA these days which provides an additional security layer when logging into them
● Use a hardware wallet. To be as safe as possible, use a hardware wallet instead of a software wallet. The Coldcard wallet is the best hardware available
● Keep your information secure. One of the more recent types of attacks is hackers moving your phone number to their device so hacking into your email and stealing your phone number they can get your online identity and your crypto. Don’t shout across social media about your cryptocurrency.
● Use a new secure email. Use Protonmail specifically for your cryptocurrency accounts as it is encrypted so no one can interfere with your emails.
● Avoid fake websites and emails. Phishing websites and emails that pretend to be legit.
● Spread out all your cryptocurrency. If you have a substantial amount don’t save all of your cryptocurrency on one key.
● Tell a trusted family member about your crypto. Show them where it is and how to access it in case something happens to you.
With an entirely new industry comes an entirely new terminology you have to learn.
The cryptocurrency industry is full of industry jargon and acronyms and it’s a learning process in itself to understand them all.
Below is some of the words and terminology you should learn if you intend to get involved in the cryptocurrency space.
I intend to update this list as the industry develops.
• ATH – All Time High – when a crypto is at its highest point
• Altcoin – Alternative cryptocurrency to bitcoin
• Bearish – An expectation of decreasing prices
• Blockchain – A data system that allows the creation of a digital ledger of transaction on a non centralized network
• Bullish – An expectation of increasing prices
• Block time – how long a transaction takes from one person to another
• Cold storage – Moving cryptocurrency offline to hardware wallet
• Double spend – The risk that
• Fiat – Currency that is government issued legal tender. E.g. $USD
• Fork – When an existing blockchain splits into two separate blockchains
• FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out
• FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
• FUDster – An entity that spreads FUD
• Hashrate – The speed at which a block is discovered and the rate
• HODL – Hold On for Dear Life (hold on to your coins – don’t sell)
• ICO – Initial Coin Offering. A type of crowdfunding
• Immutable – When the past record can’t be altered.
• Maximalist – Belief that you should maximise your efforts into one coin
• Market cap – The market cap = total supply x current price
• Mining – The term used for discovering and solving blocks on the blockchain
• Mooning – Crypto prices going up extremely high
• Privacy coin – Implement functionality to hide your identity when making transactions
• Proof of stake – When a person can mine or validate block transactions according to how many coins he or she holds. This means that the more bitcoin or altcoin owned by a miner, the more mining power he or she has
• P&D – Pump and dump schemes that attempt to boost the price of a coin
• Satoshi – 0.00000001 bitcoins (1 billionth of a bitcoin)
• Smart contracts – a digital contract/agreement that doesn’t require a middleman like a lawyer
• Stablecoin – A crypto with extremely low volatility sometimes pegged to a fiat like
• Token – Two meanings: a crypto unit or something built onto the Ethereum network
• Wallet – Software or hardware – storage for cryptocurrencies
• Whales – Big money bitcoin players with a lot of bitcoin
What to do now
Now that you have an understanding of bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency industry and you if want to pursue it further, your next steps are simple.
There’s no other way.
Learn about the different cryptocurrencies, read the white papers, read the blogs, listen to the podcasts, follow the communities on Twitter, Reddit, Slack and elsewhere.
Buy a hardware wallet, download a software wallet, practice buying small amounts of cryptocurrency and become personally invested if you so wish.
The industry is moving at a rapid pace and I struggle to keep up with it all and I gave up a while ago.
The naysayers and skeptics believe it’s a scam but the sheer hive of activity that is taking place in cryptocurrency around the world proves to me at least it’s a burgeoning industry.
And as I said earlier in this article there’s no other way to get involved other than to buy the ticket and take the ride.