Bitcoins, What Are They and How to Get Them?
Bitcoin is often associated with the darker corners of the internet…
What are Bitcoins, really?
So, you’ve heard of Bitcoins. You’ve seen that you can buy Steam games with them. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bitcoin in the news, or you’ve got a friend who’s made (or lost!) quite a bit from it. Just maybe you’d heard it being associated with some of the darker corners of the Internet.
That’s all very well and good, but what is Bitcoin, really? What is this mystery thing? Is it money? Is it something you can invest it? Can anyone use it?
Yes… to all of these. Bear with me, and I’ll explain.
Bitcoins are basically just like cash, except they don’t exist in your physical wallet, but only exist on the Internet. In the same way as emails are like digital letters, bitcoins are like digital cash. But because bitcoins exist on the Internet, they get some bonus features you can’t get with regular cash.
With email, you can send a message to anyone in the world in only a few seconds. With Bitcoin, you can send digital cash to anyone in the world, in (you guessed it) only a few seconds.
But We Already Have PayPal?
The quick thinkers among you are probably pondering why this is such a big deal. We already have PayPal, online bank transfers and the like which let you do pretty similar things already. This is where Bitcoin is really different. There is no PayPal or banks, or third-parties controlling your money. Transfers go directly from you, to your friend Jordan, to his friend Mr BrainyBeard, and back again.
This pretty much means that bitcoins are open for everyone to use. No one can deny you access or prevent your payments from going through, and this is what a lot of people are excited about.
But, it’s not just digital cash.
No, it’s actually its own currency. This means Bitcoin has its own exchange rates to other currencies. So people interested in investing and trying to make some money are getting into Bitcoin too. Bitcoin is pretty volatile compared to most currencies, and because it runs completely online, all the time, the markets never close.
Compared to other currencies, Bitcoin is pretty volatile..
How Do I Get Bitcoins?
At the time of writing, 1 Bitcoin is worth about £920 GBP, or about $1150 USD. You can also check out the current or historical prices if you’d like.
All you need to receive bitcoins is a Bitcoin address, which is very similar to your bank account, but you don’t need a bank account to store bitcoins. You store them in a digital wallet, via a phone app, a website, or on your computer.
Installing either of these will give you a Bitcoin address. You can have as many of these as you like. In fact, it’s encouraged to make a new one for every payment you receive, but that’s entirely up to you.
That’s what a Bitcoin address looks like. Not very exciting, but give that to a friend who’s already got some bitcoins (or let them scan the QR code), and they’ll immediately be able to send you some. Nice.
The best way to get bitcoins is just to get a friend to send you some. If you don’t know anyone willing to give up or sell their bitcoins, there are plenty of places to buy bitcoins from in the UK or anywhere else in the world. There are dedicated Bitcoin ATMs that let you put in cash and get bitcoins out.
Alternatively, there are plenty of online exchanges which work similar to foreign currency exchanges – you buy bitcoins with your pounds, euros or dollars. You can even use a service called Local Bitcoins to trade person-to-person.
Make sure you’re aware of the dangers of using Bitcoin..
Be careful though. Although Bitcoin’s core protocol has been running for many years without any issues, unfortunately websites can still be hacked. Try not to leave your bitcoins stored in online services for longer than you need to. Ensuring your account is secure with a strong password and two factor authentication (where available) is a must!
I hope you’ve now got a better idea of what the heck Bitcoin actually is. If you’re interested in getting started, download one of the apps and try it out!
Side note: Please be aware there are more complex areas of Bitcoin this article doesn’t really cover. Things like public/private key cryptography, peer to peer networking and the blockchain are not really things you need to think about if you just want to use Bitcoin. However, if you’re technically minded, they’re great topics to look into.
About The Author
This is a guest post by Jordan Hall, you can find more information about him over at Twitter.
Help & Resources
For more information about Bitcoin, take a look at some of the following links.