Josiah is an assistant editor at CCN. A former ancient and medieval literature teacher, he has been reporting on cryptocurrency since 2014. He lives in rural North Carolina with his wife and children. He holds investment positions in bitcoin and other large-cap cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter @Y3llowb1ackbird or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.
Bitcoin's origin story sounds like something out of science fiction: It was launched in 2008 on the heels of a white paper published by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, whose real identity – and country of origin – are unknown. Nakamoto conceived of Bitcoin as a currency that was 1) encrypted; 2) decentralized, i.e. it was ungoverned and did not belong to any nation; and 3) a digital "distributed ledger," such that everyone can verify online the legitimacy of transactions.
We will look at bitcoin as currency and bitcoin as a store of value. In order to place a value on bitcoin we need to project what market penetration it will achieve in each sphere. This article will not make a case for what the market penetration will be, but for the sake of the evaluation, we'll pick a rather arbitrary value of 15%, both for bitcoin as a currency and bitcoin as a store of value. You are encouraged to form your own opinion for this projection and adjust the valuation accordingly.
It’s decentralized and brings power back to the people. Launched just a year after the 2008 financial crises, Bitcoin has attracted many people who see the current financial system as unsustainable. This factor has won the hearts of those who view politicians and government with suspicion. It’s no surprise there is a huge community of ideologists actively building, buying, and working in the cryptocurrency world.
No one knows. Not conclusively, at any rate. Satoshi Nakamoto is the name associated with the person or group of people who released the original Bitcoin white paper in 2008 and worked on the original Bitcoin software that was released in 2009. The Bitcoin protocol requires users to enter a birthday upon signup, and we know that an individual named Satoshi Nakamoto registered and put down April 5 as a birth date. And that's about it.
In January 2012, bitcoin was featured as the main subject within a fictionalized trial on the CBS legal drama The Good Wife in the third-season episode "Bitcoin for Dummies". The host of CNBC's Mad Money, Jim Cramer, played himself in a courtroom scene where he testifies that he doesn't consider bitcoin a true currency, saying "There's no central bank to regulate it; it's digital and functions completely peer to peer".
The most recent exciting news in Bitcoin history began in November 2017 and led to the current all-time high for the cryptocurrency. In 2017, Bitcoin went from trading at just over $900 to about $20,000. This was a journey with many ups and downs along the way, a drop in trading volumes due to the People’s Bank of China tightening oversight of Bitcoin exchanges and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rejecting a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund.
Lightweight clients consult full clients to send and receive transactions without requiring a local copy of the entire blockchain (see simplified payment verification – SPV). This makes lightweight clients much faster to set up and allows them to be used on low-power, low-bandwidth devices such as smartphones. When using a lightweight wallet, however, the user must trust the server to a certain degree, as it can report faulty values back to the user. Lightweight clients follow the longest blockchain and do not ensure it is valid, requiring trust in miners.
Bitcoin is one of the first digital currencies to use peer-to-peer technology to facilitate instant payments. The independent individuals and companies who own the governing computing power and participate in the Bitcoin network, also known as "miners," are motivated by rewards (the release of new bitcoin) and transaction fees paid in bitcoin. These miners can be thought of as the decentralized authority enforcing the credibility of the Bitcoin network. New bitcoin is being released to the miners at a fixed, but periodically declining rate, such that the total supply of bitcoins approaches 21 million. One bitcoin is divisible to eight decimal places (100 millionth of one bitcoin), and this smallest unit is referred to as a Satoshi. If necessary, and if the participating miners accept the change, Bitcoin could eventually be made divisible to even more decimal places.
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After Bitcoin nearly reached $20,000, it was not able to maintain those figures. January did see a high of over $17,500 around the 7th, but this was short-lived and followed by a steady drop. By the end of January 2018, Bitcoin was at just over $10,000. By Feb. 5, it was under $7,000. It rallied again, getting over $11,000 in early March, but this was followed by a drop back below $7,000. The largest recent high for Bitcoin was in early May, when it was above $9,500. By late June, it was under $6,000. Following a rise to more than $8,000 in late July, Bitcoin has remained around $6,000 to $6,500, other than a brief spike up over $7,300 in September.
It's impossible to say how much bitcoin has increased in price single its earliest incarnation, because its value back then was in the fractions of cents. A conservative estimate, based on bitcoin's current price being around $6,300 per coin, and its early price being less than $0.01, would see bitcoin's value increasing more than 1 million fold in the last decade.
In October 2013, the FBI seized roughly 26,000 BTC from website Silk Road during the arrest of alleged owner Ross William Ulbricht. Two companies, Robocoin and Bitcoiniacs launched the world's first bitcoin ATM on 29 October 2013 in Vancouver, BC, Canada, allowing clients to sell or purchase bitcoin currency at a downtown coffee shop. Chinese internet giant Baidu had allowed clients of website security services to pay with bitcoins.
Unfortunately, these new highs for Bitcoin were so far from the past figures that the price was very volatile. The volatility was fueled by rumors of poor security on Mt. Gox exchange, which was part of about 70 percent of Bitcoin transactions of the time. This was likely a contributing factor in the drop of Bitcoin’s price from $1,230 on Dec. 4, 2013, to $750 by Dec. 7.
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A wallet stores the information necessary to transact bitcoins. While wallets are often described as a place to hold or store bitcoins, due to the nature of the system, bitcoins are inseparable from the blockchain transaction ledger. A better way to describe a wallet is something that "stores the digital credentials for your bitcoin holdings" and allows one to access (and spend) them. Bitcoin uses public-key cryptography, in which two cryptographic keys, one public and one private, are generated. At its most basic, a wallet is a collection of these keys.
Bitcoins can be accepted as a means of payment for products sold or services provided. If you have a brick and mortar store, just display a sign saying “Bitcoin Accepted Here” and many of your customers may well take you up on it; the transactions can be handled with the requisite hardware terminal or wallet address through QR codes and touch screen apps. An online business can easily accept bitcoins by just adding this payment option to the others it offers, like credit cards, PayPal, etc. Online payments will require a Bitcoin merchant tool (an external processor like Coinbase or BitPay).
The price of bitcoins has gone through cycles of appreciation and depreciation referred to by some as bubbles and busts. In 2011, the value of one bitcoin rapidly rose from about US$0.30 to US$32 before returning to US$2. In the latter half of 2012 and during the 2012–13 Cypriot financial crisis, the bitcoin price began to rise, reaching a high of US$266 on 10 April 2013, before crashing to around US$50. On 29 November 2013, the cost of one bitcoin rose to a peak of US$1,242. In 2014, the price fell sharply, and as of April remained depressed at little more than half 2013 prices. As of August 2014 it was under US$600. During their time as bitcoin developers, Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn warned that bubbles may occur.