The first cryptocurrency to capture the public imagination was Bitcoin, which was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. As of February 2019, there were over 17.53 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $63 billion (although the market price of bitcoin can fluctuate quite a bit). Bitcoin's success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, known as "altcoins" such as Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin, as well as Ethereum, EOS, and Cardano. Today, there are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence, with an aggregate market value of over $120 billion (Bitcoin currently represents more than 50% of the total value).

To lower the costs, bitcoin miners have set up in places like Iceland where geothermal energy is cheap and cooling Arctic air is free.[213] Bitcoin miners are known to use hydroelectric power in Tibet, Quebec, Washington (state), and Austria to reduce electricity costs.[212][214] Miners are attracted to suppliers such as Hydro Quebec that have energy surpluses.[215] According to a University of Cambridge study, much of bitcoin mining is done in China, where electricity is subsidized by the government.[216][217]

The overwhelming majority of bitcoin transactions take place on a cryptocurrency exchange, rather than being used in transactions with merchants.[146] Delays processing payments through the blockchain of about ten minutes make bitcoin use very difficult in a retail setting. Prices are not usually quoted in units of bitcoin and many trades involve one, or sometimes two, conversions into conventional currencies.[36] Merchants that do accept bitcoin payments may use payment service providers to perform the conversions.[147]

Any services that are centralized can be decentralized using Ethereum. Think about all the intermediary services that exist across hundreds of different industries. From obvious services like loans provided by banks to intermediary services rarely thought about by most people like title registries, voting systems, regulatory compliance and much more.
Physical wallets can also take the form of metal token coins[107] with a private key accessible under a security hologram in a recess struck on the reverse side.[108]:38 The security hologram self-destructs when removed from the token, showing that the private key has been accessed.[109] Originally, these tokens were struck in brass and other base metals, but later used precious metals as bitcoin grew in value and popularity.[108]:80 Coins with stored face value as high as ₿1000 have been struck in gold.[108]:102–104 The British Museum's coin collection includes four specimens from the earliest series[108]:83 of funded bitcoin tokens; one is currently on display in the museum's money gallery.[110] In 2013, a Utahn manufacturer of these tokens was ordered by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to register as a money services business before producing any more funded bitcoin tokens.[107][108]:80
When it comes to other, less popular cryptocurrencies, the buying options aren’t as diverse. However, there are still numerous exchanges where you can acquire various crypto-coins for flat currencies or Bitcoins. Face-to-face trading is also a popular way of acquiring coins. Buying options depend on particular cryptocurrencies, their popularity as well as your location.
Ethereum's smart contracts are based on different computer languages, which developers use to program their own functionalities. Smart contracts are high-level programming abstractions that are compiled down to EVM bytecode and deployed to the Ethereum blockchain for execution. They can be written in Solidity (a language library with similarities to C and JavaScript), Serpent (similar to Python, but deprecated), LLL (a low-level Lisp-like language), and Mutan (Go-based, but deprecated). There is also a research-oriented language under development called Vyper (a strongly-typed Python-derived decidable language).
Ethereum was announced at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, in January, 2014.[9] During the same time as the conference, a group of people rented a house in Miami: Gavin Wood, Charles Hoskinson, and Anthony Di Iorio, a Torontonian who financed the project.[9] Di Iorio invited friend Joseph Lubin, who invited reporter Morgen Peck, to bear witness.[9] Six months later the founders met again in a house in Zug, Switzerland, where Buterin told the founders that the project would proceed as a non-profit. Hoskinson left the project at that time.[9]

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The one and only, the first and most famous cryptocurrency. Bitcoin serves as a digital gold standard in the whole cryptocurrency-industry, is used as a global means of payment and is the de-facto currency of cyber-crime like darknet markets or ransomware. After seven years in existence, Bitcoin‘s price has increased from zero to more than 650 Dollar, and its transaction volume reached more than 200.000 daily transactions.

Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language.[7]:ch. 5 Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain.[81] The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer.[81] Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.[81]

An initial coin offering (ICO) is a controversial means of raising funds for a new cryptocurrency venture. An ICO may be used by startups with the intention of avoiding regulation. However, securities regulators in many jurisdictions, including in the U.S., and Canada have indicated that if a coin or token is an "investment contract" (e.g., under the Howey test, i.e., an investment of money with a reasonable expectation of profit based significantly on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others), it is a security and is subject to securities regulation. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency (usually in the form of "tokens") is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, often bitcoin or ether.[47][48][49]
Litecoin was one of the first cryptocurrencies after Bitcoin and tagged as the silver to the digital gold bitcoin. Faster than bitcoin, with a larger amount of token and a new mining algorithm, Litecoin was a real innovation, perfectly tailored to be the smaller brother of bitcoin. “It facilitated the emerge of several other cryptocurrencies which used its codebase but made it, even more, lighter“. Examples are Dogecoin or Feathercoin.

Last week was relatively quiet in Ethereum land; the World Bank sold $33.8 million in another round of its private Ethereum blockchain bonds (not public chain activity but interesting nonetheless) and Mark Carney (Bank of England Governor) discussed the major advantages of a world reserve currency at an annual gathering of central bankers in Wyoming – drawing many parallels to that proposed by Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

Third-party internet services called online wallets offer similar functionality but may be easier to use. In this case, credentials to access funds are stored with the online wallet provider rather than on the user's hardware.[102] As a result, the user must have complete trust in the online wallet provider. A malicious provider or a breach in server security may cause entrusted bitcoins to be stolen. An example of such a security breach occurred with Mt. Gox in 2011.[103]

Though each bitcoin transaction is recorded in a public log, names of buyers and sellers are never revealed – only their wallet IDs. While that keeps bitcoin users’ transactions private, it also lets them buy or sell anything without easily tracing it back to them. That’s why it has become the currency of choice for people online buying drugs or other illicit activities.
Venture capitalists, such as Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, which invested US$3 million in BitPay, do not purchase bitcoins themselves, but instead fund bitcoin infrastructure that provides payment systems to merchants, exchanges, wallet services, etc.[162] In 2012, an incubator for bitcoin-focused start-ups was founded by Adam Draper, with financing help from his father, venture capitalist Tim Draper, one of the largest bitcoin holders after winning an auction of 30,000 bitcoins,[163] at the time called "mystery buyer".[164] The company's goal is to fund 100 bitcoin businesses within 2–3 years with $10,000 to $20,000 for a 6% stake.[163] Investors also invest in bitcoin mining.[165] According to a 2015 study by Paolo Tasca, bitcoin startups raised almost $1 billion in three years (Q1 2012 – Q1 2015).[166]
Homero Josh Garza, who founded the cryptocurrency startups GAW Miners and ZenMiner in 2014, acknowledged in a plea agreement that the companies were part of a pyramid scheme, and pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 2015. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission separately brought a civil enforcement action against Garza, who was eventually ordered to pay a judgment of $9.1 million plus $700,000 in interest. The SEC's complaint stated that Garza, through his companies, had fraudulently sold "investment contracts representing shares in the profits they claimed would be generated" from mining.[70]
According to The New York Times, libertarians and anarchists were attracted to the idea. Early bitcoin supporter Roger Ver said: "At first, almost everyone who got involved did so for philosophical reasons. We saw bitcoin as a great idea, as a way to separate money from the state."[131] The Economist describes bitcoin as "a techno-anarchist project to create an online version of cash, a way for people to transact without the possibility of interference from malicious governments or banks".[134] Economist Paul Krugman argues that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are "something of a cult" based in "paranoid fantasies" of government power.[135]
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.[101]
Since prices are based on supply and demand, the rate at which a cryptocurrency can be exchanged for another currency can fluctuate widely. However, plenty of research has been undertaken to identify the fundamental price drivers of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin has indeed experienced some rapid surges and collapses in value, reaching as high as $19,000 per bitcoin in December of 2017 before returning to around $7,000 in the following months. Cryptocurrencies are thus considered by some economists to be a short-lived fad or speculative bubble. There is concern especially that the currency units, such as bitcoins, are not rooted in any material goods. Some research has identified that the cost of producing a bitcoin, which takes an increasingly large amount of energy, is directly related to its market price.
If the private key is lost, the bitcoin network will not recognize any other evidence of ownership;[36] the coins are then unusable, and effectively lost. For example, in 2013 one user claimed to have lost 7,500 bitcoins, worth $7.5 million at the time, when he accidentally discarded a hard drive containing his private key.[82] About 20% of all bitcoins are believed to be lost. They would have a market value of about $20 billion at July 2018 prices.[83]