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I wrote a 30,000 ft. "executive summary" intro document for cryptos. Not for you, for your non-technical parents or friends.
This document was originally written for my dad, an intelligent guy who was utterly baffled about the cryptocurrency world. The aim was to be extremely concise, giving a broad overview of the industry and some popular coins while staying non-technical. For many of you there will be nothing new here, but recognize that you are in the 0.001% of the population heavily into crypto technology. I've reproduced it for Reddit below, or you can find the original post here on my website. Download the PDF there or hit the direct link: .PDF version. Donations happily accepted:
This document is purely informational. At the time of writing there are over 1000 cryptocurrencies (“cryptos”) in a highly volatile, high risk market. Many of the smaller “altcoins” require significant technical knowledge to store and transact safely. I advise you to carefully scrutinize each crypto’s flavor of blockchain, potential utility, team of developers, and guiding philosophy, before making any investment  decisions. With that out of the way, what follows are brief, extremely high-level summaries of some cryptos which have my interest, listed in current market cap order. But first, some info: Each crypto is a different implementation of a blockchain network. Originally developed as decentralized digital cash, these technologies have evolved into much broader platforms, powering the future of decentralized applications across every industry in the global economy. Without getting into the weeds,  most cryptos work on similar principles: Distributed Ledgers Each node on a blockchain network has a copy of every transaction, which enables a network of trust that eliminates fraud.  Decentralized “Miners” comprise the infrastructure of a blockchain network.  They are monetarily incentivized to add computing power to the network, simultaneously securing and processing each transaction.  Peer-to-peer Cryptos act like digital cash-- they require no third party to transact and are relatively untraceable. Unlike cash, you can back them up. Global Transactions are processed cheaply and instantly, anywhere on Earth. Using cryptos, an African peasant and a San Francisco engineer have the same access to capital, markets, and network services. Secure Blockchains are predicated on the same cryptographic technology that secures your sensitive data and government secrets. They have passed seven years of real-world penetration testing with no failures. 
The first cryptocurrency. As with first movers in any technology, there are associated pros and cons. Bitcoin has by far the strongest brand recognition and deepest market penetration, and it is the only crypto which can be used directly as a currency at over 100,000 physical and web stores around the world. In Venezuela and Zimbabwe, where geopolitical events have created hyperinflation in the centralized fiat currency, citizens have moved to Bitcoin as a de facto transaction standard.  However, Bitcoin unveiled a number of issues that have been solved by subsequent cryptos. It is experiencing significant scaling issues, resulting in high fees and long confirmation times. The argument over potential solutions created a rift in the Bitcoin developer community, who “forked” the network into two separate blockchains amidst drama and politicking in October 2017. Potential solutions to these issues abound, with some already in place, and others nearing deployment. Bitcoin currently has the highest market cap, and since it is easy to buy with fiat currency, the price of many smaller cryptos (“altcoins”) are loosely pegged to its price. This will change in the coming year(s).
Where Bitcoin is a currency, Ethereum is a platform, designed as a foundational protocol on which to develop decentralized applications (“Dapps”). Anyone can write code and deploy their program on the global network for extremely low fees. Just like Twitter wouldn’t exist without the open platform of the internet, the next world-changing Dapp can’t exist without Ethereum. CurrentDapps include a global market for idle computing power and storage, peer-to-peer real estate transactions (no trusted third party for escrow), identity networks for governments and corporations (think digital Social Security card), and monetization strategies for the internet which replace advertising. Think back 10 years to the advent of smartphones, and then to our culture today-- Ethereum could have a similar network effect on humanity. Ethereum is currently the #2 market cap crypto below Bitcoin, and many believe it will surpass it in 2018. It has a large, active group of developers working to solve scaling issues,  maintain security, and create entirely new programming conventions. If successful, platforms like Ethereum may well be the foundation of the decentralized internet of the future.
Ripple is significantly more centralized than most crypto networks, designed as a backbone for the global banking and financial technology (“fintech”) industries. It is a network for exchanging between fiat currencies and other asset classes instantly and cheaply, especially when transacting cross-border and between separate institutions. It uses large banks and remittance companies as “anchors” to allow trading between any asset on the network, and big names like Bank of America, American Express, RBC, and UBS are partners. The utility of this network is global and massive in scale. It is extremely important to note that not all cryptos have the same number of tokens. Ripple has 100 Billion tokens compared to Bitcoin’s 21 Million. Do not directly compare price between cryptos. XRP will likely never reach $1k,  but the price will rise commensurate with its utility as a financial tool. In some sense, Ripple is anathema to the original philosophical vision of this technology space. And while I agree with the cyberpunk notion of decentralized currencies, separation of money and state, this is the natural progression of the crypto world. The internet was an incredible decentralized wild west of Usenet groups and listservs before Eternal September and the dot-com boom, but its maturation affected every part of global society.
Cardano’s main claim to fame: it is the only crypto developed using academic methodologies by a global collective of engineers and researchers, built on a foundation of industry-leading, peer-reviewed cryptographic research. The network was designed from first-principles to allow scalability, system upgrades, and to balance the privacy of its users with the security needs of regulators. One part of this ecosystem is the Cardano Foundation, a Swiss non-profit founded to work proactively with governments and regulatory bodies to institute legal frameworks around the crypto industry. Detractors of Cardano claim that it doesn’t do anything innovative, but supporters see the academic backing and focus on regulation development as uniquely valuable.
Stellar Lumens (XLM)
Stellar Lumens and Ripple were founded by the same person. They initially shared the same code, but today the two are distinct in their technical back-end as well as their guiding philosophy and development goals. Ripple is closed-source, for-profit, deflationary, and intended for use by large financial institutions. Stellar is open-source, non-profit, inflationary, and intended to promote international wealth distribution. As such, they are not direct competitors. IBM is a major partner to Stellar. Their network is already processing live transactions in 12 currency corridors across the South Pacific, with plans to process 60% of all cross-border payments in the South Pacific’s retail foreign exchange corridor by Q2 2018. Beyond its utility as a financial tool, the Stellar network may become a competitor to Ethereum as a platform for application development and Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”). The theoretical maximum throughput for the network is higher, and it takes less computational power to run. The Stellar development team is highly active, has written extensive documentation for third-party developers, and has an impressive list of advisors, including Patrick Collison (Stripe), Sam Altman (Y Combinator), and other giants in the software development community.
Iota was developed as the infrastructure backbone for the Internet of Things (IoT), sometimes called the machine economy. As the world of inanimate objects is networked together, their need to communicate grows exponentially. Fridges, thermostats, self-driving cars, printers, planes, and industrial sensors all need a secure protocol with which to transact information. Iota uses a “Tangle” instead of a traditional blockchain, and this is the main innovation driving the crypto’s value. Each device that sends a transaction confirms two other transactions in the Tanlge. This removes the need for miners, and enables unique features like zero fees and infinite scalability. The supply of tokens is fixed forever at 2.8*1015, a staggeringly large number (almost three thousand trillion), and the price you see reported is technically “MIOT”, or the price for a million tokens.
The most successful privacy-focused cryptocurrency. In Bitcoin and most other cryptos, anyone can examine the public ledger and trace specific coins through the network. If your identity can be attached to a public address on that network, an accurate picture of your transaction history can be built-- who, what, and when. Monero builds anonymity into the system using strong cryptographic principles, which makes it functionally impossible to trace coins,  attach names to wallets, or extract metadata from transactions. The development team actively publishes in the cryptography research community. Anonymous transactions are not new-- we call it cash. Only in the past two decades has anonymity grown scarce in the first-world with the rise of credit cards and ubiquitous digital records. Personal data is becoming the most valuable resource on Earth, and there are many legitimate reasons for law-abiding citizens to want digital privacy, but it is true that with anonymity comes bad actors-- Monero is the currency of choice for the majority of black market (“darknet”) transactions. Similarly, US Dollars are the main vehicle for the $320B annual drug trade. An investment here should be based on the underlying cryptographic research and technology behind this coin, as well as competitors like Zcash. 
Zero fees and instantaneous transfer make RaiBlocks extremely attractive for exchange of value, in many senses outperforming Bitcoin at its original intended purpose. This crypto has seen an explosion in price and exposure over the past month, and it may become the network of choice for transferring value within and between crypto exchanges. Just in the first week of 2018: the CEO of Ledger (makers of the most popular hardware wallet on the market) waived the $50k code review fee to get RaiBlocks on his product, and XRB got listed on Binance and Kucoin, two of the largest altcoin exchanges globally. This is one to watch for 2018. 
Developed as a single answer to the problem of supply-chain logistics, VeChain is knocking on the door of a fast-growing $8 trillion industry. Every shipping container and packaged product in the world requires constant tracking and verification. A smart economy for logistics built on the blockchain promises greater efficiency and lower cost through the entire process flow. Don’t take my word for it-- VeChain has investment from PwC (5th largest US corporation), Groupe Renault, Kuehne & Nagel (world’s largest freight company), and DIG (China’s largest wine importer). The Chinese government has mandated VeChain to serve as blockchain technology partner to the city of Gui’an, a special economic zone and testbed for China’s smart city of the future. This crypto has some of the strongest commercial partnerships in the industry, and a large active development team.
“Investment” is a misnomer. Cryptos are traded like securities, but grant you no equity (like trading currency).
It is impossible to double-spend or create a fake transaction, as each ledger is confirmed against every other ledger.
Some utility token blockchains use DAG networks or similar non-linear networks which don’t require mining.
In practice, these are giant warehouses full of specialized computers constantly processing transactions. Miners locate to the cheapest electricity source, and the bulk of mining currently occurs in China.
Centralized second-layer exchange websites have been hacked, but the core technology is untouched.
A Beginners Guide to Bitcoin, Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
As cryptocurrency, and blockchain technology become more abundant throughout our society, it’s important to understand the inner workings of this technology, especially if you plan to use cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle. If you’re new to the crypto-sphere, learning about Bitcoin makes it much easier to understand other cryptocurrencies as many other altcoins' technologies are borrowed directly from Bitcoin. Bitcoin is one of those things that you look into only to discover you have more questions than answers, and right as you’re starting to wrap your head around the technology; you discover the fact that Bitcoin has six other variants (forks), the amount of politics at hand, or that there are over a thousand different cryptocurrencies just as complex if not even more complex than Bitcoin. We are currently in the infancy of blockchain technology and the effects of this technology will be as profound as the internet. This isn’t something that’s just going to fade away into history as you may have been led to believe. I believe this is something that will become an integral part of our society, eventually embedded within our technology. If you’re a crypto-newbie, be glad that you're relatively early to the industry. I hope this post will put you on the fast-track to understanding Bitcoin, blockchain, and how a large percentage of cryptocurrencies work.
Altcoin: Short for alternative coin. There are over 1,000 different cryptocurrencies. You’re probably most familiar with Bitcoin. Anything that isn’t Bitcoin is generally referred to as an altcoin. HODL: Misspelling of hold. Dank meme accidentally started by this dude. Hodlers are much more interested in long term gains rather than playing the risky game of trying to time the market. TO THE MOON: When a cryptocurrency’s price rapidly increases. A major price spike of over 1,000% can look like it’s blasting off to the moon. Just be sure you’re wearing your seatbelt when it comes crashing down. FUD: Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. FOMO: Fear of missing out. Bull Run: Financial term used to describe a rising market. Bear Run: Financial term used to describe a falling market.
What Is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin (BTC) is a decentralized digital currency that uses cryptography to secure and ensure validity of transactions within the network. Hence the term crypto-currency. Decentralization is a key aspect of Bitcoin. There is no CEO of Bitcoin or central authoritative government in control of the currency. The currency is ran and operated by the people, for the people. One of the main development teams behind Bitcoin is blockstream. Bitcoin is a product of blockchain technology. Blockchain is what allows for the security and decentralization of Bitcoin. To understand Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, you must understand to some degree, blockchain. This can get extremely technical the further down the rabbit hole you go, and because this is technically a beginners guide, I’m going to try and simplify to the best of my ability and provide resources for further technical reading.
A Brief History
Bitcoin was created by Satoshi Nakamoto. The identity of Nakamoto is unknown. The idea of Bitcoin was first introduced in 2008 when Nakamoto released the Bitcoin white paper - Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. Later, in January 2009, Nakamoto announced the Bitcoin software and the Bitcoin network officially began. I should also mention that the smallest unit of a Bitcoin is called a Satoshi. 1 BTC = 100,000,000 Satoshis. When purchasing Bitcoin, you don’t actually need to purchase an entire coin. Bitcoin is divisible, so you can purchase any amount greater than 1 Satoshi (0.00000001 BTC).
What Is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a distributed ledger, a distributed collection of accounts. What is being accounted for depends on the use-case of the blockchain itself. In the case of Bitcoin, what is being accounted for is financial transactions. The first block in a blockchain is referred to as the genesis block. A block is an aggregate of data. Blocks are also discovered through a process known as mining (more on this later). Each block is cryptographically signed by the previous block in the chain and visualizing this would look something akin to a chain of blocks, hence the term, blockchain. For more information regarding blockchain I’ve provided more resouces below:
Bitcoin mining is one solution to the double spend problem. Bitcoin mining is how transactions are placed into blocks and added onto the blockchain. This is done to ensure proof of work, where computational power is staked in order to solve what is essentially a puzzle. If you solve the puzzle correctly, you are rewarded Bitcoin in the form of transaction fees, and the predetermined block reward. The Bitcoin given during a block reward is also the only way new Bitcoin can be introduced into the economy. With a halving event occurring roughly every 4 years, it is estimated that the last Bitcoin block will be mined in the year 2,140. (See What is Block Reward below for more info). Mining is one of those aspects of Bitcoin that can get extremely technical and more complicated the further down the rabbit hole you go. An entire website could be created (and many have) dedicated solely to information regarding Bitcoin mining. The small paragraph above is meant to briefly expose you to the function of mining and the role it plays within the ecosystem. It doesn’t even scratch the surface regarding the topic.
How do you Purchase Bitcoin?
The most popular way to purchase Bitcoin through is through an online exchange where you trade fiat (your national currency) for Bitcoin. Popular exchanges include:
There’s tons of different exchanges. Just make sure you find one that supports your national currency.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are EXTREMELY volatile. Swings of 30% or more within a few days is not unheard of. Understand that there is always inherent risks with any investment. Cryptocurrencies especially. Only invest what you’re willing to lose.
Transaction & Network Fees
Transacting on the Bitcoin network is not free. Every purchase or transfer of Bitcoin will cost X amount of BTC depending on how congested the network is. These fees are given to miners as apart of the block reward. Late 2017 when Bitcoin got up to $20,000USD, the average network fee was ~$50. Currently, at the time of writing this, the average network fee is $1.46. This data is available in real-time on BitInfoCharts.
In this new era of money, there is no central bank or government you can go to in need of assistance. This means the responsibility of your money falls 100% into your hands. That being said, the security regarding your cryptocurrency should be impeccable. The anonymity provided by cryptocurrencies alone makes you a valuable target to hackers and scammers. Below I’ve detailed out best practices regarding securing your cryptocurrency.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
Two-factor authentication is a second way of authenticating your identity upon signing in to an account. Most cryptocurrency related software/websites will offer or require some form of 2FA. Upon creation of any crypto-related account find the Security section and enable 2FA.
The most basic form of 2FA which you are probably most familiar with. This form of authentication sends a text message to your smartphone with a special code that will allow access to your account upon entry. Note that this is not the safest form of 2FA as you may still be vulnerable to what is known as a SIM swap attack. SIM swapping is a social engineering method in which an attacker will call up your phone carrier, impersonating you, in attempt to re-activate your SIM card on his/her device. Once the attacker has access to your SIM card he/she now has access to your text messages which can then be used to access your online accounts. You can prevent this by using an authenticator such as Google Authenticator.
The use of an authenticator is the safest form of 2FA. An authenticator is installed on a seperate device and enabling it requires you input an ever changing six digit code in order to access your account. I recommend using Google Authenticator. If a website has the option to enable an authenticator, it will give you a QR code and secret key. Use Google Authenticator to scan the QR code. The secret key consists of a random string of numbers and letters. Write this down on a seperate sheet of paper and do not store it on a digital device. Once Google Authenticator has been enabled, every time you sign into your account, you will have to input a six-digit code that looks similar to this. If you happen to lose or damage the device you have Google Authenticator installed on, you will be locked out of your account UNLESS you have access to the secret key (which you should have written down).
A wallet is what you store Bitcoin and cryptocurrency on. I’ll provide resources on the different type of wallets later but I want to emphasize the use of a hardware wallet (aka cold storage). Hardware wallets are the safest way of storing cryptocurrency because it allows for your crypto to be kept offline in a physical device. After purchasing crypto via an exchange, I recommend transferring it to cold storage. The most popular hardware wallets include the Ledger Nano S, and Trezor. Hardware wallets come with a special key so that if it gets lost or damaged, you can recover your crypto. I recommend keeping your recovery key as well as any other sensitive information in a safety deposit box. I know this all may seem a bit manic, but it is important you take the necessary security precautions in order to ensure the safety & longevity of your cryptocurrency.
Technical Aspects of Bitcoin
Address: What you send Bitcoin to.
Wallet: Where you store your Bitcoin
Max Supply: 21 million
Block Time: ~10 minutes
Block Size: 1-2 MB
Block Reward: BTC reward received from mining.
What is a Bitcoin Address?
A Bitcoin address is what you send Bitcoin to. If you want to receive Bitcoin you’d give someone your Bitcoin address. Think of a Bitcoin address as an email address for money.
What is a Bitcoin Wallet?
As the title implies, a Bitcoin wallet is anything that can store Bitcoin. There are many different types of wallets including paper wallets, software wallets and hardware wallets. It is generally advised NOT to keep cryptocurrency on an exchange, as exchanges are prone to hacks (see Mt. Gox hack). My preferred method of storing cryptocurrency is using a hardware wallet such as the Ledger Nano S or Trezor. These allow you to keep your crypto offline in physical form and as a result, much more safe from hacks. Paper wallets also allow for this but have less functionality in my opinion. After I make crypto purchases, I transfer it to my Ledger Nano S and keep that in a safe at home. Hardware wallets also come with a special key so that if it gets lost or damaged, you can recover your crypto. I recommend keeping your recovery key in a safety deposit box.
What is Bitcoins Max Supply?
The max supply of Bitcoin is 21 million. The only way new Bitcoins can be introduced into the economy are through block rewards which are given after successfully mining a block (more on this later).
What is Bitcoins Block Time?
The average time in which blocks are created is called block time. For Bitcoin, the block time is ~10 minutes, meaning, 10 minutes is the minimum amount of time it will take for a Bitcoin transaction to be processed. Note that transactions on the Bitcoin network can take much longer depending on how congested the network is. Having to wait a few hours or even a few days in some instances for a transaction to clear is not unheard of. Other cryptocurrencies will have different block times. For example, Ethereum has a block time of ~15 seconds. For more information on how block time works, Prabath Siriwardena has a good block post on this subject which can be found here.
What is Bitcoins Block Size?
There is a limit to how large blocks can be. In the early days of Bitcoin, the block size was 36MB, but in 2010 this was reduced to 1 MB in order to prevent distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), spam, and other malicious use on the blockchain. Nowadays, blocks are routinely in excess of 1MB, with the largest to date being somewhere around 2.1 MB. There is much debate amongst the community on whether or not to increase Bitcoin’s block size limit to account for ever-increasing network demand. A larger block size would allow for more transactions to be processed. The con argument to this is that decentralization would be at risk as mining would become more centralized. As a result of this debate, on August 1, 2017, Bitcoin underwent a hard-fork and Bitcoin Cash was created which has a block size limit of 8 MB. Note that these are two completely different blockchains and sending Bitcoin to a Bitcoin Cash wallet (or vice versa) will result in a failed transaction. Update: As of May 15th, 2018 Bitcoin Cash underwent another hard fork and the block size has increased to 32 MB. On the topic of Bitcoin vs Bitcoin Cash and which cryptocurrency is better, I’ll let you do your own research and make that decision for yourself. It is good to know that this is a debated topic within the community and example of the politics that manifest within the space. Now if you see community members arguing about this topic, you’ll at least have a bit of background to the issue.
What is Block Reward?
Block reward is the BTC you receive after discovering a block. Blocks are discovered through a process called mining. The only way new BTC can be added to the economy is through block rewards and the block reward is halved every 210,000 blocks (approximately every 4 years). Halving events are done to limit the supply of Bitcoin. At the inception of Bitcoin, the block reward was 50BTC. At the time of writing this, the block reward is 12.5BTC. Halving events will continue to occur until the amount of new Bitcoin introduced into the economy becomes less than 1 Satoshi. This is expected to happen around the year 2,140. All 21 million Bitcoins will have been mined. Once all Bitcoins have been mined, the block reward will only consist of transaction fees.
Any computer that connects to the Bitcoin network is called a node. Nodes that fully verify all of the rules of Bitcoin are called full nodes.
In other words, full nodes are what verify the Bitcoin blockchain and they play a crucial role in maintaining the decentralized network. Full nodes store the entirety of the blockchain and validate transactions. Anyone can participate in the Bitcoin network and run a full node. Bitcoin.org has information on how to set up a full node. Running a full node also gives you wallet capabilities and the ability to query the blockchain. For more information on Bitcoin nodes, see Andreas Antonopoulos’s Q&A on the role of nodes.
What is a Fork?
A fork is a divergence in a blockchain. Since Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer network, there’s an overall set of rules (protocol) in which participants within the network must abide by. These rules are put in place to form network consensus. Forks occur when implementations must be made to the blockchain or if there is disagreement amongst the network on how consensus should be achieved.
Soft Fork vs Hard Fork
The difference between soft and hard forks lies in compatibility. Soft forks are backwards compatible, hard forks are not. Think of soft forks as software upgrades to the blockchain, whereas hard forks are a software upgrade that warrant a completely new blockchain. During a soft fork, miners and nodes upgrade their software to support new consensus rules. Nodes that do not upgrade will still accept the new blockchain. Examples of Bitcoin soft forks include:
A hard fork can be thought of as the creation of a new blockchain that X percentage of the community decides to migrate too. During a hard fork, miners and nodes upgrade their software to support new consensus rules, Nodes that do not upgrade are invalid and cannot accept the new blockchain. Examples of Bitcoin hard forks include:
Note that these are completely different blockchains and independent from the Bitcoin blockchain. If you try to send Bitcoin to one of these blockchains, the transaction will fail.
A Case For Bitcoin in a World of Centralization
Our current financial system is centralized, which means the ledger(s) that operate within this centralized system are subjugated to control, manipulation, fraud, and many other negative aspects that come with this system. There are also pros that come with a centralized system, such as the ability to swiftly make decisions. However, at some point, the cons outweigh the pros, and change is needed. What makes Bitcoin so special as opposed to our current financial system is that Bitcoin allows for the decentralized transfer of money. Not one person owns the Bitcoin network, everybody does. Not one person controls Bitcoin, everybody does. A decentralized system in theory removes much of the baggage that comes with a centralized system. Not to say the Bitcoin network doesn’t have its problems (wink wink it does), and there’s much debate amongst the community as to how to go about solving these issues. But even tiny steps are significant steps in the world of blockchain, and I believe Bitcoin will ultimately help to democratize our financial system, whether or not you believe it is here to stay for good.
Well that was a lot of words… Anyways I hope this guide was beneficial, especially to you crypto newbies out there. You may have come into this realm not expecting there to be an abundance of information to learn about. I know I didn’t. Bitcoin is only the tip of the iceberg, but now that you have a fundamental understanding of Bitcoin, learning about other cryptocurrencies such as Litecoin, and Ethereum will come more naturally. Feel free to ask questions below! I’m sure either the community or myself would be happy to answer your questions. Thanks for reading!
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