Bitcoin is a digital asset and a payment system invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakamoto introduced the idea on 31 October 2008 to a cryptography mailing list, and released it as open-source software in 2009. There have been several high profile claims to the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto; however, none of them have provided proof beyond doubt that back up their claims.
The system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary.:4 These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called the blockchain, which uses bitcoin as its unit of account. Since the system works without a central repository or single administrator, the U.S. Treasury categorizes bitcoin as a decentralized virtual currency. Bitcoin is often called the first cryptocurrency, although prior systems existed[note 5] and it is more correctly described as the first decentralized digital currency. Bitcoin is the largest of its kind in terms of total market value.
Bitcoins are created as a reward for payment processing work in which users offer their computing power to verify and record payments into a public ledger. This activity is called mining and miners are rewarded with transaction fees and newly created bitcoins. Besides being obtained by mining, bitcoins can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. When sending bitcoins, users can pay an optional transaction fee to the miners.
In February 2015, the number of merchants accepting bitcoin for products and services passed 100,000. Instead of 2–3% typically imposed by credit card processors, merchants accepting bitcoins often pay fees in the range from 0% to less than 2%. Despite the fourfold increase in the number of merchants accepting bitcoin in 2014, the cryptocurrency did not have much momentum in retail transactions. The European Banking Authority and other sources:11 have warned that bitcoin users are not protected by refund rights or chargebacks. The use of bitcoin by criminals has attracted the attention of financial regulators, legislative bodies, law enforcement, and media. Criminal activities are primarily centered around darknet markets and theft, though officials in countries such as the United States also recognize that bitcoin can provide legitimate financial services.
The word bitcoin occurred in the white paper that defined bitcoin published in 2008. It is a compound of the words bit and coin. The white paper frequently uses the shorter coin.
There is no uniform convention for bitcoin capitalization. Some sources use Bitcoin, capitalized, to refer to the technology and network and bitcoin, lowercase, to refer to the unit of account. The Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Oxford English Dictionary advocate use of lowercase bitcoin in all cases. This article follows the latter convention.
Number of bitcoin transactions per month (logarithmic scale).
Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published the invention on 31 October 2008 in a research paper called "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System". It was implemented as open source code and released in January 2009. Bitcoin is often called the first cryptocurrency although prior systems existed. Bitcoin is more correctly described as the first decentralized digital currency.
One of the first supporters, adopters, contributor to bitcoin and receiver of the first bitcoin transaction was programmer Hal Finney. Finney downloaded the bitcoin software the day it was released, and received 10 bitcoins from Nakamoto in the world's first bitcoin transaction.
Other early supporters were Wei Dai, creator of bitcoin predecessor b-money, and Nick Szabo, creator of bitcoin predecessor bit gold.
Based on bitcoin's open source code, other cryptocurrencies started to emerge in 2011.
In March 2013, a technical glitch caused a fork in the blockchain, with one half of the network adding blocks to one version of the chain and the other half adding to another. For six hours two bitcoin networks operated at the same time, each with its own version of the transaction history. The core developers called for a temporary halt to transactions, sparking a sharp sell-off. Normal operation was restored when the majority of the network downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software.
In 2013 some mainstream websites began accepting bitcoins. WordPress had started in November 2012, followed by OKCupid in April 2013, TigerDirect and Overstock.com in January 2014, Expedia in June 2014, Newegg and Dell in July 2014, and Microsoft in December 2014. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group, started accepting bitcoins in January 2011, stopped accepting them in June 2011, and began again in May 2013.
In May 2013, the Department of Homeland Security seized assets belonging to the Mt. Gox exchange. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shut down the Silk Road website in October 2013.
In October 2013, Chinese internet giant Baidu had allowed clients of website security services to pay with bitcoins. During November 2013, the China-based bitcoin exchange BTC China overtook the Japan-based Mt. Gox and the Europe-based Bitstamp to become the largest bitcoin trading exchange by trade volume. On 19 November 2013, the value of a bitcoin on the Mt. Gox exchange soared to a peak of US$900 after a United States Senate committee hearing was told by the FBI that virtual currencies are a legitimate financial service. On the same day, one bitcoin traded for over RMB¥6780 (US$1,100) in China. On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins. After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped, and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services. Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency has been illegal in China since at least 2009.
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