Bitcoin has come a long way since its inception a decade ago, when it was considered Satoshi Nakamoto’s quirky brainchild. There are now a wide range of mainstream Bitcoin usages from gold to gambling. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these Bitcoin usages, focusing on the most exciting areas where Bitcoin has made inroads. Strap in!
A Modern Day Gold
Bitcoin has taken the financial industry by storm — or, it would if the financial industry ever let cryptocurrency become mainstream. As of yet, institutional players largely have not embraced Bitcoin, but the tide is beginning to turn. For example, recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones III invested a sizable percentage of his assets in Bitcoin. However, Jones, like many others starting to see the light, sees Bitcoin primarily as a hedge against inflation, as a modern day gold promising security and predictability.
Investors like Jones certainly have a point — hard coded into its network is a limit of 21 million Bitcoin that will ever go into circulation, and no print-happy government can ever change that. This stands in sharp contrast to fiat currency, which has historically been inflated with reckless abandon by short-sighted governments strapped for cash. The worst example of such inflation is probably 1920s Germany, where the German Mark became worthless over night, one loaf of bread costing nearly three million marks. Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin is immune from this sort of government manipulation, and all centralized manipulation.
Historically, this immunity is a big part of what made gold a safe haven for investors. There is a stable supply of gold, and its rarity prevents misguided institutions from inflating its value. In this sense, investors like Jones see Bitcoin as a modern day gold, with cryptography and blockchain technology promising more stability than gold can ever have. Bitcoin’s market cap is currently roughly 1/60th of the market cap of gold, which means that if Bitcoin truly does emerge as the new safe haven for investors, its price could balloon to over $500,000 per token. However, blockchain technology in general and Bitcoin in particular has much more exciting applications. While Bitcoin can modernize the notion of a store of value safe from inflation (like gold), it may revolutionize industries like gambling, or, more importantly, worldwide financial transactions.
Gambling With BTC
The online gambling community has thrived in recent years, but a lack of anonymity and high transaction fees have hampered the growth of the industry. However…Bitcoin to the rescue! In the last few years, so-called “Bitcoin Casinos” have begun to establish themselves as the gambling arena of choice for those who want to remain anonymous while gambling online, and also avoid significant transaction fees. Bitcoin operates on a completely anonymous network, with each node on the network represented by a unique string of letters and numbers. At risk of oversimplifying, each person who owns some Bitcoin in what is called a Bitcoin wallet has complete anonymity while transacting.
Unlike with fiat currency, this anonymity does not come at the expense of security, as the Bitcoin network is self-authenticating, with no transaction being added to the blockchain unless it is verified independently by a miner. This anonymity enables gamblers to forego any sort of application or verification process. Instead, they simply have to log on, link their wallet to the Bitcoin casino, and gamble to their hearts’ content. However, the lack of verification and centralization does present certain regulatory challenges. For example, there is no way to verify that the gambler is of age, so minors can easily get around many states’ age restrictions on gambling.
The online gambling market is valued at over $53.7 US. Bitcoin casinos like SatoshiDice, Bitzino, and Satoshibet have grown massively in popularity in the past few years, but have still only captured a small fraction of the enormous market. However, the increasing awareness of digital currency and crypto gambling portends a promising future for Bitcoin casinos. In just the last two years, over 24 billion Bitcoin bets have been placed, and the emergence of dApps has provided yet another useful platform for Bitcoin gambling. Gambling has been around for millenia. In fact, the origins of poker lead back to the Minoan Civilization more than 3,500 years ago. But it is high time for an upgrade. Bitcoin casinos are the future of gambling, as they continue to capture more and more of the tens of billions of dollars in market value, and become firmly entrenched as one of the primary use-cases of Satoshi Nakomoto’s revolutionary technology.
In order for the Bitcoin blockchain to operate, miners must bundle five hundred transactions in a block and then solve a complex hash function to permanently add their version of events to the network. Solving this hash function requires an immense amount of computing power, as the function can only be solved by trial and error, with the winning miner often guessing trillions of solutions before hitting on the right one. In reward for their efforts, the miners who succeed at solving the hash function receive a certain number of Bitcoin (today 12.5 BTC after the most recent halving on May 11, 2020).
A reward of 12.5 Bitcoin is tantalizing, with today’s current value at nearly $14,000 US per token. However, the computing power necessary to guess the right solution often enough to turn a profit is immense, and a standard laptop or desktop computer does not have enough juice. Furthermore, accessing such a large amount of computing power yields astronomical electricity costs. Thus, even the most successful miners lay out thousands of dollars in exchange for the chance to win a Bitcoin mining reward awarded after each block is added to the blockchain. Nevertheless, for the well-informed and well-equipped, Bitcoin mining can be highly profitable.
There are several factors that any potential miner needs to look into before diving into the world of Bitcoin mining. The most important factor is the hashrate of the hardware used. The hashrate is measured in megahashes per second, and refers to the number of calculations that the hardware can perform each second. Another crucial factor that is often overlooked is the price of energy consumption. Running hashes on your hardware will increase your electricity costs, and you must use basic arithmetic to determine whether it is worth it for you to mine Bitcoin considering the increased cost of electricity consumption. Different regions can have widely differing electricity rates, so before investing in any hardware be sure to look up the rate in your area. There is a lot more to know about mining and mining hardware than the brief overview provided in this article, so check out some more in depth articles on the subject. But if there’s one thing you should walk away with from this short article, it’s that a basic CPU (like your standard Mac or P.C.) is not viable as Bitcoin mining hardware, and you must do your research before becoming a Bitcoin miner.
We’ve already covered the recent shift that institutional investors have made into Bitcoin. However, aside from this sort of Bitcoin investing, there is a wide swath of the community that engages in trading. Bitcoin investing and Bitcoin trading sound like similar enterprises, but they are actually worlds apart. The most elemental difference between the two is that investors are generally in it for the long haul, while traders look for short term gains. Investors generally engage in intense research that is focused on the long term potential and viability of Bitcoin (and, often, other cryptocurrencies). In other words, an investor in Bitcoin expects that Bitcoin’s value will increase down the road even if its daily price fluctuates wildly, or even dips for a considerable amount of time. Daily fluctuations and down periods do not phase the hardy investor, because he knows that eventually the price will go up.
A Bitcoin trader is an entirely different animal. Traders try to take advantage of Bitcoin’s daily price fluctuations and capture the trading upside available in such a volatile asset. Bitcoin traders share some common traits with penny stock traders in that they capitalize on an asset’s volatility as opposed to its long term value. Let’s imagine the typical day of a Bitcoin trader. He wakes up at 9am and checks his current Bitcoin holdings, which, let’s say, stand at 0.5 Bitcoin (roughly $7,000 US). By 10am Bitcoin’s price has increased 1% and our trader’s 0.5 Bitcoin is now worth $70 more than it was an hour ago (I’ve excluded fees from this example for simplicity’s sake, but they will be discussed below). At this point, our trader will likely liquidate his holdings, and now wait for the Bitcoin price to dip below what the price was at 9am, at which point he will exchange his $7070 for something resembling 0.505 Bitcoin. Lather, rinse, repeat. Our trader will continue this process throughout the day hopefully making a nice profit from Bitcoin’s volatility.
Bitcoin traders should be concerned with three primary limits on Bitcoin trading profits. Firstly, every Bitcoin exchange platform carries trading fees. That is, for each exchange (or swap) you make from fiat currency to cryptocurrency and back again, the platform charges you some percentage of the trade in fees. For example, if you exchange $200 US for X Bitcoin, the platform may charge a 0.5% fee, which amounts to $1. Before you laugh off that miniscule fee of $1, remember that traders typically make only a few percentage points off of each trade, often as little as 1%. This means that the 0.5% fee amounts to roughly half of a trader’s total profits — not so miniscule after all.
The second thing that a Bitcoin trader should keep in mind may seem fairly obvious, but many traders forget that it is a possibility in their excitement to become a Bitcoin billionaire like the Winklevoss twins. And here’s the obvious reminder: Bitcoin prices can go down after you buy some Bitcoin. Trading is exceedingly risky because of this simple fact. Personally, I invested a few hundred dollars in Bitcoin a few years ago only to see its price plunge immediately, ultimately halving in just a few weeks. At that point, I just gave in to the market and left my Bitcoin untouched (I assume many of you would have done the same), as it would have taken me months of Bitcoin trading for 1% gains to regain my original seed money.
The final thing for a trader to be aware of is that Bitcoin trading requires constant monitoring. You must always monitor the price of Bitcoin in order to know when the opportune time to sell and buy are. Of course, there are mechanisms like limit and stop orders that allow for a large degree of automation in the process, but unless you are able to program your own functional trading algorithm, you will still have to check in on Bitcoin’s price very often. Many traders enjoy the thrill of watching their small gains at first, but their enthusiasm eventually fizzles out as the small gains made from each trade no longer get them going. If you want to trade successfully, you have to motivate yourself to get excited about the incremental profits by recognizing the potential of sustained growth over a long period of time. If you increase your holdings by 1% each day, then after 100 days you will have doubled your original seed money.
Fees, market crashes, and constant monitoring define the life of a Bitcoin trader, and if you want to make a profit trading, they will define your life as well. If I could give you one bit of advice it would be to avoid assuming that you will be able to make a living Bitcoin trading. Instead, trade on the side and watch as your earnings grow steadily, supplementing your primary source of income.
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of Bitcoin is the ability to make fast, secure transactions from anywhere in the world. As the world financial system stands now, it would take weeks for me to send money from the United States to a relative in Africa. Inexplicably, simply transferring funds from the most trusted bank in the US to a crypto exchange platform takes days. Why does it take so long? Because money managers like banks to ensure that the transaction is secure and that there is no double spending going on (consider checks that bounce).
Bitcoin solves these problems. A Bitcoin transaction takes an average of just ten minutes to be permanently fixed on the ledger. A Bitcoin transaction is entirely secure — even more secure than any brand name bank — but takes only minutes to go through. This kind of sea change is truly revolutionary, and if (more like when) Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies become more mainstream, it will change the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Anybody will be able to neat-instantly transfer money across the globe in just minutes, enabling a free and completely secure flow of the global economy.
Recently, some big name corporations have caught on to Bitcoin’s potential, and have started offering Bitcoin payments as an option on their platforms. Some of these companies include PayPal, Wikipedia, Norwegian Air, and even PornHub. Try it yourself. Next time you make a purchase, donation, or transaction relating to any of these companies, pay in Bitcoin, and you’ll be able to recognize for yourself the power of Bitcoin.
The world of Bitcoin is fascinating and multifaceted. There are gamblers, investors, traders, miners, and so many more that keep the Bitcoin economy churning along. Getting involved in the world of Bitcoin is exhilarating, and I hope this article gave you a brief overview of the industry that waits for you to decide to take the plunge.
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