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A Short Guide to Bitcoin in 2017

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and payment system. Coindesk has written up a fairly concise article to quickly answer ‘What is bitcoin?’ and if you want more, dive into the wikipedia entry. A good place to find bitcoin enthusiasts discussing the latest news would be r/bitcoin or r/btc.

I’ve been interested in the technology for about four years now. When I first read the white paper I knew it would change the world. That opinion has never wavered. More importantly, I think it will change it for the better. I’ve turned all my dollars into Bitcoin because I want to encourage the technology and help shape its direction and believe the best way to do that is with participation.

Bitcoin is a new way to look at things like power, trust and value so it may take awhile to fully grasp how great it’s potential is. Likewise, it will appeal to different people for different reasons.

I am excited by the notion that Bitcoin tends towards decentralization and removes power from governments and gives it to users. I’ve written on these subjects in various publications: can it make illicit markets safer (VICE); can it slow war (Contributoria);  can it help us subvert the media paradigm (Truth).

Bitcoin, released in 2009, was the first but it has since inspired hundreds of other cryptocurrency projects. Beware as some are worthless, but there are a handful that hold great potential. In fact, I’ve sold off some Bitcoin in the past year to diversify into a couple of other cryptos. Bitcoin has become very conservative in its development approach, which may be appealing to a more mainstream audience and remove some risk but I believe this also removes a lot of it’s potential. For this reason I’m now also interested in Monero, which has a strong focus on anonymity, and Ethereum which seeks to better harness the full potential of the blockchain (the decentralized ledger that keeps track of all transactions). Currency is just the first and most obvious use of this new technology, but the blockchain has almost unlimited potential beyond that. Ethereum’s goal is to create a decentralized platform for smart contracts. That could be anything from storing public records transparently and trust-lessly to creating an app that automatically rents out your car or hardware space when you are not using it. Monero and Ethereum are both more experimental than Bitcoin which makes them more exciting to me, but also carries greater risk (and reward).

It’s possible that bitcoin or another crypto succeeds and does not create a better world. They will be shaped by their users and especially the earliest ones. And this is still very early. It’s also possible that you will lose any money you invest. The price may change, but that’s not the only way. Part of the appeal of crypto, that you have control, also means that if you make a mistake, and send to the wrong address for example, then no one will fix it for you.

Look into it for yourself. If you think the tech has long term potential, buy some and hold onto it. My suggestion is to get a smaller amount on Coinbase (use my referral and get $10 of bitcoin after you buy $100 worth) and play around with it. Create a new wallet and and send it back and forth. Buy something with it. Make a donation. Send me a tip.

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