Cryptocurrency Basics (And Why Bitcoin Is Still Around)

Cryptocurrency Basics (And Why Bitcoin Is Still Around)
Cryptocurrencies let you buy goods and services, use apps and games or trade them for profit. Here’s more about what cryptocurrency is and how it works.
What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency (or “crypto”) is a digital currency, such as Bitcoin, that is used as an alternative payment method or speculative investment. Cryptocurrencies get their name from the cryptographic techniques that let people spend them securely without the need for a central government or bank.
Here are a few examples:
Bitcoin was initially developed primarily to be a form of payment that isn’t controlled or distributed by a central bank. While financial institutions have traditionally been necessary to verify that a payment has been processed successfully, Bitcoin accomplishes this securely, without that central authority.
Ethereum uses the same underlying technology as Bitcoin, but instead of strictly peer-to-peer payments, the cryptocurrency is used to pay for transactions on the Ethereum network. This network, built on the Ethereum blockchain, enables entire financial ecosystems to operate without a central authority. To visualize this, think insurance without the insurance company, or real estate titling without the title company.
Scores of altcoins (broadly defined as any cryptocurrency other than Bitcoin) rose to capitalize on the various — and at times promising — use cases for blockchain technology.
Why do people invest in cryptocurrencies?
People invest in cryptocurrencies for the same reason anyone invests in anything. They hope its value will rise, netting them a profit.
If demand for Bitcoin grows, for example, the interplay of supply and demand could push up its value.
If people started using Bitcoin for payments on a huge scale, demand for Bitcoin would go up, and in turn, its price in dollars would increase. So, if you’d purchased one Bitcoin before that increase in demand, you could theoretically sell that one Bitcoin for more U.S. dollars than you bought it for, making a profit.
The same principles apply to Ethereum. “Ether” is the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain, where developers can build financial apps without the need for a third-party financial institution. Developers must use Ether to build and run applications on Ethereum, so theoretically, the more that is built on the Ethereum blockchain, the higher the demand for Ether.
However, it’s important to note that to some, cryptocurrencies aren’t investments at all. Bitcoin enthusiasts, for example, hail it as a much-improved monetary system over our current one and would prefer we spend and accept it as everyday payment. One common refrain — “one Bitcoin is one Bitcoin” — underscores the view that Bitcoin shouldn’t be measured in USD, but rather by the value it brings as a new monetary system.

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